You may be hoping for an easy, “just get ______ sheep and they will make you the most money”. I wish it were that easy or that straightforward! But, it’s not.
That approach does not account for your resources or your needs, it’s more of a “do what the other person is doing” idea. To me, that is a mistake, why not do what suits you the best?
If you want sheep that will be the most profitable for you, we have some work to do.
How do you plan to make money with your sheep?
Since we are talking about raising sheep for profit, not just pasture ornaments, we’ll have to figure out which way you want to go with your flock.
Believe it or not, there are multiple ways to raise sheep and multiple ways to make money from sheep, what is the direction you want to take?
Selling meat lambs
If you are planning to sell lambs at the local auction, what are the best selling lambs in your area and when are they available? What weight and condition are they selling in? What do they look like?
In some areas, the looks of the lambs seem to matter quite a bit, in other areas it’s all about weight and finish of the lambs and looks do not matter. What is the case for your selling outlet?
Are you planning on privately selling lamb? If so, is there a demand for your lamb? Do folks who would buy from you want lamb raised the way you plan to raise it?
If not, are you willing to travel to a different area for something like a farmer’s market or will you put up a sales site and ship cuts?
How Much Will My Lambs Sell For? is an article I wrote to teach you how to read a market report. This will give you an idea of the going prices in your area.
Selling grazing services
What if your reasons are not do much about the sheep themselves, but what they can do, for example grazing off problem vegetation areas?
CudCrew. com is a sheep grazing service in central Georgia that gets paid to eat grass and weeds on other people’s property! This is one example of many sheep based grazing services across the country.
A word on wool sales
I would caution you to think carefully about money from wool sales. Unless you are willing to do a lot of legwork yourself and have wool that is in high demand, making money from wool sales is a tough one.
There are a few breeds that have pricey wool, but the sheep itself is also pricey and don’t forget that not all of the wool on the sheep is top quality only the best parts get the best price.
The folks who sell specialty wool do a lot of extra work to make sure the wool stays in good condition for the handcrafter, all this extra work probably makes specialty wool not so profitable.
If you want more pricing information on specialty wool, search for the breed specific wool online and see what farms pop up and click around on Etsy.
Where To Sell Your Wool goes over the main wool selling options that I know of, spoiler alert: right now, selling commercial wool does not look good.
There must be demand for your sheep
The reason I’m nattering on about this is an important one, we are taught that if you just produce the thing, the buyers will want it. Not exactly.
That’s only true if the buyers want what you are producing when you have it available. Adding more sheep to an area that is already over supplied with sheep does not make you money!
There has to be a need for what you are producing and you have to be able to produce it in a way that you are happy with the results.
What does your area need? What will it take to make you happy with suppling that need?
If you are willing to sell online, your area is as big as you can ship to, so don’t get hung up on that part. However, if you are not willing to do anything online, now you are limited to your local area.
What is your top priority for your flock?
Now that you know what need you plan to fill with your sheep, we move to figuring out how to do that. The next step is to choose a main focus, which I am calling a priority.
Choose a top priority for your flock, you can only have one priority. Of course, there are a number of other things you want, but what is the main thing that tops all?
Do you want:
- black faced lambs
- all white lambs
- chunky 55 pound roaster lambs
- larger market lambs (more than 100 pounds)
- to not shear
- to never feed grain
- low maintenance (hoof trimming, deworming, etc.)
- out of season lambs
- little no lambing time work (great mothering skills)
Chances are that you’ll have a list of 5-10 things that you would like, now rank order them.
If that is hard for you (it is for me) ask yourself, would I rather have A or B? Of course, you’d like both or they wouldn’t be on your list, but which one do you want or need the most?
For example, I tend to think something like “I want the fastest growing lambs” and who wouldn’t?
But when I break that down and think what it would take to get that growth, it probably involves ewes and lambs inside only, not on pasture and, at least for us, the majority purchased feed.
Am I willing to do that? No, I’m not. It doesn’t match what I want to do.
I’m sure that’s the ideal situation for someone else, but not me, so I really want something else. I need to keep simplifying until I get to the one thing.
Another example that is always attractive to me is specialty wool sheep, I love the idea of spinning wool from my own “spinner’s flock”, it’s such a neat idea. I could breed for handspinning, work on color, etc.
I even have a spinning site where I write all about it, the site is Woolmaven.com if you want to check it out, learn more about spinning or verify that my love for wool is real. (It is.)
But…when I do the math, having my own specialty wool flock makes no sense at all! This would land solidly in the hobby section of sheep. Nothing wrong with that, I just have be honest with myself about it!
We are much better off to raise lambs that suit our area’s wants for market lambs and buy in a lovely fleece from someone else’s spinning flock.
Take your time here and think this through. Getting a flock of sheep that suits your needs will save you money and years of frustration.
Keep the priorities list you made. Once you have a few stand out candidates that will fit your main goal, you can select the specific breed by using the rest of your initial list to narrow it down to the best one.
What are your resources for your flock?
What are the resources available for your flock? Keep in mind this means what they eat, where they live and how much time you plan to put into their care.
Do you have pasture available or are these going to be indoor sheep? Are you able to get hay or do these gals need to forage for most of the year?
How much time do you plan to put into your flock? Your time is a resource, the most important one, actually.
How much purchased feed are you willing to use? Generally, fast growers or early finished lambs will need excellent nutrition, more than just hay or grass to keep up with their energy needs.
If you are not willing to purchase feed or use grain, getting quick growth will be tough.
Best sheep are highest margin for your situation
Now is the time to put all of your work together and pick out the breed or cross breed of sheep that you will be best suited to raise. If you have skipped any of the sections above, go back.
The truth of the matter is that you can put most sheep just about anywhere and see how it goes, but will you be successful? Are the sheep a match to your needs? Those are the sheep that will be profitable.
Raising Sheep For Profit is an article I wrote going over the numbers of what it costs to raise sheep and how to find the costs and income for your specific area.
Profitable sheep are lower cost to raise
The biggest expense of raising livestock, aside from getting the animals themselves, is feeding them. Do your ideal sheep like to eat and do well on the feeds that you have available?
If you are not with me on that question, consider that some sheep are scrappy and will find food nearly anywhere, but other sheep seem to have little drive to find anything other than the hay feeder.
Both sheep have their purpose and ideal situation to be in, the question is do you have the sheep that do best in your situation? The better you match this up, the more you are likely to be profitable.
Another big one is getting your facilities up to speed if you are not set up to run sheep, as is. For example, does it make money sense to build a barn for your sheep operation?
Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. Only the math will tell you.
You only get money for lambs that are sold!
A final thought to leave you with, you only get money for lambs that are sold! A sheep that has litters of lambs is only good for your operation if you can handle those lambs and profitably get them to market.
The opposite is also true, sheep with low lambing percentages need to produce lambs that sell for great prices or raise a lamb and take care of herself super cheap, so that you make some money on the deal.
Of course, I chose the two extremes, most sheep would be somewhere in between, but you get the idea. More lambs is ideal, but only if they are sold for a profit that you find acceptable.
Here are a few breed suggestions, which I left to the end on purpose so you would think this over first. These are just easy breeds to recommend since they seem to do well in a variety of situations.
If you skipped ahead, go back. This list is of little help to you if you don’t know how to choose from it.
Each of these breeds has pros and cons and is suited to a specific situation. The key to profitability is finding the sheep that match up for you and your farm.
For instance, the ideal situation that takes full advantage of the best traits of the the Suffolk and the Rambouillet are completely different.
Best Breeds of Sheep for Meat gives you some breed suggestions to get you thinking.
What if you don’t want the sheep that make the most sense?
What if you want a different breed than the one you come up with here? I think this happens a lot, folks are attracted to a look or a breed that does not suit their situation well. The question is can it work?
Probably, as long as you realize that you may have to do more work or have less profit since you have to use your time and money to make up for a mismatch between your sheep and your situation.
If I were raising sheep for a hobby, I’d rather have a breed that I enjoy or felt was important to raise and make adjustments to keep the both the sheep and myself happy.
For instance, if I felt I needed to have black sheep that will drastically limit my breed choices, simply because there are not that many black sheep breeds.
If black sheep matter that much to me, I should get the black sheep, as long as I have thought it through and realize that I am not choosing the breed to raise based on profit, but how attractive they are to me.
There is no one size fits all answer!
There is no “one size fits all” answer to choosing the best sheep for your farm and your situation, you’ll have to work through these ideas and see what you come up with then sort out the breed from there.
Also, there is no best breed for everyone, that is an oversimplification or someone who wants you to buy their stock!
You, the thinking and capable person that you are, have to work this out for yourself. You can. Grab yourself a pen and some paper and get started, good luck!
A site that I like for general information is Sheep 201 here’s the index at A Beginner’s Guide To Raising Sheep. Click around, this site has quite a bit of information.
If you want some data, check out Choosing Breeds For Producing Profitable Market Lambs on Ontario Ministry of Agriculture’s site. Read Table 2 for an average breed performance comparison.