I received .92 per pound on my 2003 lambs which were all sired by a registered polled dorset, dams are crosses with a few exceptions. The year before I received .69 per pound with the sires being either a suffolk X, a dorset or a romanov. I had a better and more consistant lamb crop this year than I had the year before by using only one ram. My wool doesn't pay for the shearing and is not of a grade that handspinners salivate over. I'm not getting rich but the "hobby" is paying for itself.
We raised Hereford Simintal cattle for around 15 years and then went to sheep. I've always said I'd have been twice the cattleman if I had sheep first! We switched to sheep primarily to have a variety of products to sell. It's taken ten years of learning and trying things to get where we are and I am glad we have another source of income so what profits we make on the farm can be plowed back into it! If I were to offer advice on choosing one breed over another it would be to find out what sells in your area. We dropped Suffolks because they simply didn't produce what would sell nearly as well as others. The meat went on too slowly they don't settle for milking very well, the wool is only marginally saleable. North County Cheviots had many of the same problems except they grew very well but often only had a single lamb. I don't need the managment headaches they give for fewer lambs so they're on the way out. (don't get me wrong they are one tough hardy breed with a place in sheep farming) NCC's are wild but almost never get sick or stay sick for long! Meat is our main focus and we sell to the Halal market, direct to the butcher or to individuals (we then deliver to the butcher) but freezer sales and farmers market sales also provide revenue. Ideally selling cuts direct to the consumer will make the most money but you have to like people for any sales job! Technically we do not make a profit, but we certainly make greater investments in capital items for the farm than most sheep farms here do. We have a full line of farm equipment, milking equipment, wool processing equipment, and retail sales equipment. Efficency has taken a back seat pretty much but you'll never know what works until you try it, you can always streamline later and hopefully that's our next step. I know what works for us and what we have to improve so we'll see what survives in the next five years.
I raise Columbias and Suffolks out in northern Montana. We are nowhere near a sheep consuming market, so all our lambs are sold as feeders to a sheep buyer for fattening in Colorado usually. I find that the Suffolks grow fast and get heavy quicker than the Columbias which grow taller. I use one ram of each breed and do a lot of cross breeding, unless I am trying to get purebred ewe lambs to keep as replacements. The price per pound varies year to year. 84 cents this year, 76 cents last year, 55 cents 2001 (ouch) and 85 cents 2000. I sell the lambs when they are about 4 1/2 months old and my flock average weight over the last 10 years has been around 118 lbs. We raise our own high quality alfalfa, feed no grain, have few vet costs--only need to worm once a year. Wool finally got back to a good enough price that I was in the black on shearing for a change. I have selected for multiples over the years and wean a nearly 200% lamb crop. I make more money per acre of pasture and ton of hay than we do on the cows. But how well you do depends on a lot of variables. Guess I would feel lucky to break even if I had to buy hay and grain and had a lot of vet costs.
Dishearting that no one seems to make a good profit on sheep! Did anybody keep track of input costs? Like x pounds hay per ewe or lamb? How about your other cost? How are they running for you? wormer, mineral, vets, supplaments , grain, etc?
Yeah well you're into a topic that most people won't discuss in detail, (their income) X amount of self produced hay costs less than X amount of purchased hay. Bulk grain is cheaper than bagged and often cheaper than growing it! Meds are meds and vet costs vary year to year. Lambing averages (of shipped lambs not lambs born) set your gross income from sheep but don't include custom work done of any value added work. I can say that my cost per ewe to keep her a year is around $45 (Canadian) I produce my own hay, do most vetting myself, buy what I need in bulk (mostly) and hire no one. I know over 10 years my lambing average on 200 ewes is in a range of 120%-180% and that has been improving. I know my value added efforts on wool and meat make a big difference to the net income; but, to share my exact dollar figures is not going to happen. I am fortunate to have enough non sheep income to use the profits for farm investment and trying new things. My dairy set up is paid for as I go along and will have cost around 20k by the time I'm done. The wool processing stuff is in the same position and who really knows how much we'll have in it by the time we're happy with it? You know the old saying, "You never see a rich farmer until he retires!" I certainly don't live rich now, and even if I stopped investing the sheep profits (as they are now) back into the farm I still could make more doing something else. I know my approach is costly and inefficient, it's also a darn sight cheaper than a university education I can't get anywhere else anyhow. If you want a strickly profitable operation you have to concentrate on a clearly defined goal and set the most efficient plan to get the results.
An example: If you're going to sell live lambs you should probably use an accelerated lambing program. Accelerated lambing with monthly lamb crops should give you the highest gross income and if you have working contracts for feed supply and the skill to keep around 400 ewes producing 1.5 lamb crops per year...... you'll make a living. I like lambing time fine but I wouldn't want to live it, not when there are other ways to make good money (from sheep) and more enjoyable ways to farm. You can either work a narrow margin on volume of live sales or the wider margin on value added. Sale barn last week paid .97-1.14 (CND) on 60-80 pound lambs. Woo hoo, here that's 164.16 return on my $45 ewe producing 1.8, 80 pound lambs. Those lambs probably cost me $40 each or 72 bucks for 1.8 of them, that's 117 total and a net of 47.16/ewe. That's pretty pathetic, and explains why I do not do this! Even live sales to the Halal butcher pay better than that! With an accelerated lambing program costs will be a bit higher but on contract feed your ewe will only cost about $15 more, and will produce .9 more lambs/year which is another 67bucks/ewe net. A lot more profit in that extra lambing isn't there! Now those prices are pretty poor for here, and if you're on an accelerated program you're going to be using forward contracts to sell too so those prices will be even higher. If you're willing to take on that kind of risk and work like that, and if you're in an area that will support that kind of operation. One abortion storm and you're in pretty dire straights! That's alot of contracts to default on!
I'll stay with the diversified hands on approach, using value added sales. One felt hat using 20% of a worthless fleece and 2 hours labour is $40++, that outstrips the poor schmuck killing himself in the lambing barn now dosn't it? Especially as my wife makes the hat! 8)
My lamb income comes through direct sales at a farmers market. In the past, I have been buying feeders, finishing them and having them butchered. Then I sell by the cut. Doing this, I can net about $40 a lamb. I am building my flock now and on lambs I raise myself I can squeak about 10 to 15 more, but I am not entirely convinced that extra money is fiscally worth it. If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't consider it. Money can be made for sure, but as Ross already pointed out so well, there are easier ways to make more. If it is what you want to do, though, it is certainly doable.
BTW, I was at an auction this evening where ewes were bringing 70cwt. Didn't make it in time to see what lambs were bringing, but based on the ewe price, I would guess around a buck a pound.
I like your approach, Ross. Tell us more about your felting business and technique and show us pictures of the hats.
My operation is strictly a hobby. With achieving a 194% lambing rate this year it finally went into the black for the year. 17 of my 20 ewes were born on the farm and I've had my ram for 3 years so they have all paid for themselves already. I would like to work on getting my feed costs down. I will feed round bales when I need to start feeding hay and switch to the higher quality bales that I already purchased when it is closer to lambing time. I would like to buy my grains in bulk but do not have the storage facility to do so at this time.
The felting is very new but seems to sell very well. My wife likes the wool processing and we have to equipment to get started. Not exactly factory scale but big enough for a farm! Yes i have pictures I'll have to get the camera back and resize upload etc. to show you. Early next week? My next to final duty as Farmers Market facilities director is this weekend.
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