I see a lot of small farms (5-ish acres) both here and in PA that are raising sheep, apparently as a full deal. i.e. that seems to be the full-time job of the folks living there, or at least one of them. What are they doing to make money with 5 acres of sheep?
Just curious...I don't plan to get into sheep raising, but was interested to know what the market is like.
Year 2 of Homesteading. 9 Longhorn/Corrientes, 7 hens, 30 chicks, 3 meat rabbits, 2 horses, 1 mini, 1 English Shepherd and 2 barn cats.
Well, I would think that if you replaced a lot of your purchased meat with lamb and mutton that would equal a fairly tidy sum. Couple that with selling a few lambs per year, plus fiber sales and you *might* break even, but I doubt it.
I think that a lot of people just like having sheep around. When the day comes that having an animal or two on the homestead becomes a reality, sheep will be my first choice. Partially because I am a hand spinner (although, I'm sure I could buy many wonderful fleeces for the cost of sheep feed), but also because I think that sheep are WONDERFUL creatures to have around.
Life is what happens while you are making other plans. (John Lennon)
Most of the "full time" shepherds I know are retired or semi-retired so the pension is actually what they're living on in lean times (meaning:mortgage paid off, wouldn't have to work with the sheep or without them). I do know people who are making enough to live off but the start up was all paid for when they worked off farm, had already developed the infrastructure etc.
The only person I know who isn't retired and is almost doing it has a lot more than five acres. He moves 100s of sheep a year, has spent a lot of time making a name for himself in specialty markets (ie upscale restaurants) because he's got a specialty breed/product.
I know that once my infrastructure is in I may be able to start working off farm part time rather than full time which will be a treat. But I have no illusions about living on my farm full time. And that's being a professional with a decent pay etc.
I was thinking before posting this and I wanted to mention as well that you never know what someone's life circumstances are. I have a friend who, to all outward appearances, seems like a master budgeter or something. She and her dh only work very very part time (she around 20 hours per week - he about 10 hrs). They consolidated all of their debts into their mortgage renewal and then didn't pay off one of the debts. They're living off the thousands that should've gone to that. I think I'm about the only person who knows that - to everyone else they're just in this fairytale life that I know no shortage of people envy. Often one of them get asked how they do it - it's a bit hard to hear the answer because usually it's close to true but spun. So, the people you see could think they are going to be able to do it but are living off credit etc. and getting themselves in a big hole.
People have sheep because they love them, or love wool or lamb, or working their herding dogs. It's hard to make a profit with sheep (...at least that's our experience) but it is great fun to shepherd.
I've heard that the most reliable "profit" comes from marketing lamb (meat).
If you already have the facilities and GOOD pastures, you CAN make money with sheep.
The best way to do it is with registered stock, so you can sell registered breeders.
If you have to spend a lot of money to get set up, it will take a LONG time to get your investment back.
I think the biggest market is in breeding stock and meat lambs, since wool isnt a big money maker when you consider the labor involved in shearing and prepping the fleeces.
My son just asked me this question, so I am researching it for him. My brothers had sheep for a while. It wasn't their living and I don't know how they made out money wise--this was about 15 years ago, their wives didn't realize how much work it was and weren't impressed. I think it depends on the area you live in and the kind of sheep you have---I have a friend that raises sheep also. He has had sheep for 40 of his 50 years. He can have up to 300 sheep, but now with the drought we have--not severe yet, but he is watching it, he nowhas about 75 ewes. He raises his own hay and feed, and he also varies with the amount of cattle he keeps---I think he said the largest number of cows he has had is 50. But the big turnover for him is the birds---he raises all kinds of chickens. turkeys, ducks and geese. Thanksgiving-Christmas is a big time for him for fresh turkeys, ducks and geese. But he has sheep also, because he says he sticks with it through thick and thin and when it is a bad year, he looks for income in other ways. However I have another friend that raised sheep for years and she loved it, but she is master spinning so she also used and sold her wool to handspinners. She also spins her own yarn and makes hats, scarves, mittens and shawls for sale in the fall and will sell 95% of her products. It varies from year to year how many she has time to make--smallest amount of hats she makes is 50, I am a lot of craft forums and wool roving is really big right now for needle felting and for spinning to knit and crochet-- and wool soakers are a really big thing with cloth diapers--yes cloth diapers, which I make also. I visited an Islandic sheep farm about 10 years ago and saw her operation--- but the big thing was the washed and carded wool she had to sell-- hmm I can't remember the price/oz, but I know that I spent $150 and came back with a brown paper bag of clean carded wool. My now adult children worked with my brothers sheep and it was a good healthy learning experince for them. I don't know if it is possible to make money with sheep and I am sure you would have to have a lot of sheep to make a living on them, but my children would keep their jobs and have a few sheep as a side thing---we already have dairy goats and DD's and DIL make and sell goats milk soap ( couldn't keep up with the orders) had to buy a couple
more goats (and we may need 1 more for house milk and cheese). well if it didn't work, we could sell the few we had and move on. I am going to look around. CArolyn
I've a calculation for you... take your "lawn" (the area around your house that you mow) and figure once/twice a week, a couple gallons of gas an acre, multiply by $4.00 a gallon, and then add THAT to how much the sheep are saving you. They are certainly "break even" today, and perhaps more depending on your state, climate, and the breed.
When faced with issues in life, where do you look for the problem; out the window, or in the mirror?
window, I have to agree. People think we are crazy having sheep and chickens. I have to agree partly with the latter. I have to buy a lot of feed for the chickens, but the sheep eat mostly from the pasture. They keep the grass a great length, and fertilize it too. We bought lambs to raise for meat and will do it each year. I have no plans to keep them long term, but then again, I only have 1 acre. We do a lot on our little lot, but chicken feed and butchering costs are huge. I spend about 2.25 lb for whole chicken. I have to feed and care for them, buy feed, deal with losses, and then transport to the nearest poultry processor 2 hours away. All told, when I sold chickens for $18 per bird, I only made about $8 profit. That was with soy free, organic feed. This year, I am not doing organic, and it will cost the same, maybe more. I am thinking about going with all ruminants for meat. The butcher is just down the road and decently priced. I figure I should have, all told, about $1.60 lb for the lamb meat. That is not too bad. Next year, it will be a Dexter cow and will be raising the calves for meat, too.
Mark and Sara Cowperthwaite
Nathaniel, Virginia, Naomi, Samuel, and Josiah
I sell a meat lamb for $200.. which (confidentially) is outrageous. But it is Icelandic, which is a particularly mild lamb. If we figure that to get 2 lambs I must keep 1 ewe.. and one ewe is going to eat 40 bales of hay a year, at $5/bale, one lamb covers her feed. The other lamb covers a share of the ram, and misc other expenses (like the hay the lambs themselves eat). So at $400 for the pair I break even with a shadow of a profit. I'll take the fleeces off the lambs, and process it into wool yarn.. the yarn should sell for $18.50/skein to turn a full keystone profit. I tend to offer "buy 6 get one free" type deals, so it never goes for quite that... but it does over time start to break even as well.
I think, if you account for EVERYTHING you will find you break even on sheep. This means that you count the cost of your fences.. don't just wave a magic wand and pretend they didn't cost anything. And you account for the value of something like compost from the winter bedding. Badly done compost around here runs $55/yard. Mine will be black gold if I can keep from robbing the pile a year in advance.
But everything takes time to mature. Compost, properly done, will take 2-3 years. It takes me 2-3 years to amass, on my small flock, enough wool to make it cost effective to send it for processing. And it took me 6 years to amass enough wool yarn to be able to make a presentation of it, and have enough to realistically sell. It takes a year for a ewe lamb to mature into throwing twins.
On the other hand, the IRS insists (except for 2008) that you amortize your infrastructure investment. So you expense hay and other things you use up, but your fences are depreciated. It actually makes it easier to see exactly what the sheep are "making" or "losing" for you. Although there are the things you don't put on the IRS form: the savings in mowing the field, the fact that we haven't had to rent a brush hog in 6 years... simply release the sheep into a given area and let them go to town, the compost we haven't trucked, etc etc.
When you're looking at profit/no profit do you consider things like land cost?
Up here we have really strict meat regs and no slaughter house for hours. So, any of my meat must be sold for dog food - even if the butcher wraps it up all nice for me. It means I have way less of a meat operation than I want.
I do agree with you - people will pay premium prices for Icelandic- especially oncce they've tasted it.
I'm wondering too though, with a five acre parcel if you can really do it? We're moving up to ten+ acres just for the sheep next year - five is meadow and five is brush. I know that plus the local slaughter house (that is being built) we will turn a profit - especially given that the land has no debt associated.
I think also turning a profit and living off the proceeds are two different things. Had I stuck with my trio and sold a twins each year, I'd turn a profit really quick. But it wouldn't be a profit I cold live off. I live in an agricultural area and even our big dairy farms usually have a second home based business or at least one person working part time off the farm.