You want to be a Sheep Farmer.
I began as a sheep farmer when I helped my stepson by purchasing two ewes he had in 2016. I made the decision to be a sheep farmer when I found a lamb with the ewes while doing morning chores. I had no plan. Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing.
I was not new to animals. I had raised horses, training horse and a riding instructor for several years. My children were in 4-H, and my daughter did a market lamb project, although it did not turn out very well.
My thoughts were, I am a sheep farmer, I need more sheep. I had been going to the livestock auction to see what ewes were selling for, only now I was going to purchase ewes. I would sit at the auction watching “sheep and goats” go by and bid on very few. There are buyers, people who go to livestock auction for feedlots, brokers or are the brokers. Buying livestock is what these buyers do as their occupation.
One day a cattle buyer asked me “what are you looking at buying?”
I said “Sheep, I want to get a few ewes.”
He giggled and said ” I asked a sheep guy one time, how can you tell which ones are sheep and which ones are goats, they all the same to me. The sheep guy told me sheep tails go down, goat tells go up.”
I was embarrassed, felt like a fool. I had been sitting there for almost two months, I did not even know what I was trying to buy. This buyer was not being mean, he was trying to help without making me look bad. What he said was helpful and as I spent more time at the livestock auction, he would give me tips on how to bid, like “choice” or “cut one out”. Most people at the livestock sales are willing to help you.
The first decision for a beginning sheep farmer is to decide what breed of sheep you are going to raise. There are hundreds of different breeds of sheep for various purposes. I began with two hair type ewes of mix breeding. Today I raise Dorper sheep. I worked my way to buying mixed Dorper ewes, and eventually registered Dorper ewes.
I wanted to make money raising sheep by selling the lambs at the auction for the feedlots and processors. I chose to raise Dorper as they perform well for this purpose. Dorper ewes are docile, easy to work with, good mothers, produce good milk for lambs, and easy lambing. The lambs thrive when born, are up and nursing within 5 minutes. Dorper lambs have a fast growth rate. My lambs weigh 55 – 60 pounds at eight weeks of age. I wean at eight weeks, and sale the lambs a week or two later. This short period from birth to weaning to sale keeps the expenses low and profits higher. I raise sheep that are good for meat.
As a beginning sheep farmer, what purpose do you want from the sheep you raise? Sheep are raised for many functions, wool, meat, milk and cheese, sportsman trophies, show lambs, just to be cute in the pasture and other reasons.
Another item to consider when selecting a breed is the cost and availability of the breed you choose. A few years ago these super cute, white wooly sheep with black noses and feet and spiral horns hit the internet in numerous videos. The breed of these sheep is Valais Blacknose in Switzerland. These sheep are extremely cute and docile. The Valais Blacknose is a rare heritage breed of Switzerland. The breed cannot be imported into the United States. There are a few farms in the United States that have imported semen and are percentage breeding to get 100% Valais Blacknose. The farms are few and with this being a rare breed, the price is going to be high.
I live in north central Texas where the majority of sheep are hair breeds raised for meat and sportsman trophies. In Texas we have a large non-traditional market for lamb that is 60 to 65 pounds. A person can get into sheep farming with mixed hair sheep ewes with not much money invested. There is a demand for Dorper rams in my area as Dorper lambs bring more at the livestock auctions. The demand in an area drives the supply and cost of the sheep.
A helpful tool to assist you in your selection is a directory at the American Sheep Industry Association in the United States. The directory has pictures and short description of Sheep Breeds in the United States. I have included the website address/link below.
The choice of sheep breed to raise is an individual choice. Regardless of the breed, all sheep have the same basic needs and care. Take a little time in selecting your sheep breed. The next Sheep Farming blog with be “What do sheep Need”. Currently, I am doing a series on “Beginning Sheep Farmer Guide”. These posted will be saved under Sheep Farming on the website.