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Is Raising Sheep Worth It? (Will your flock make money?)

Will your flock make money? That is a tough question to answer, since the real answer is “it depends”. But, since “it depends” is not a helpful answer in the slightest, let’s dig into the things that will be helpful.

Let me be upfront with you, you’ll have to do some math here and do your own research to find the prices for your area. I’ll give you some ideas on where to look, but you will still have to figure it out.

No need to worry, this is all basic stuff that should be fairly easy to find and even if your area does not have specifics, you can find information that is close enough to get you started.

sheep grazing

Sheep can make money

Year over year, sheep can and do make money, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your sheep will make money. Profitability depends on the fit of your sheep, your costs, your area and you.

Let’s say it costs you $80 to feed and care for each ewe per year. This will be winter hay, some medical things like dewormer, mineral, etc.

If she raises one lamb that you sell off of pasture for $100, you keep $20. If she raises one lamb that you sell off of pasture for $200, you keep $120.

If your feed costs for the ewe are more in the $110 range, then raising a single lamb that sells for $100 loses money, but selling it for $200 would make money.

Twins bring in more, but don’t count on higher numbers or close to perfect results until you are sure you can repeatedly get them.

Raising Sheep For Profit is my article that gives you a look at expenses and income from raising sheep for the year.

Prices for lambs, at least in our area, are lower than they were last year and that has a lot of folks who got into sheep recently very disappointed.

Consider the longer term and you’ll probably see that prices are still good, just not as good as the super high prices of last year.

If sheep were a good fit for you and your situation last year, they are probably still a good fit for you and your situation this year if you run the numbers.

Sell at a different time or to a different customer

You have some other options, two that come to mind are private sales or wean the lambs and feed them separately before they are sold. If you go with either, add in those costs as well.

For instance, in my area lambs straight off of pasture in the late summer, early fall are $100-120. If we feed them inside for a few months for $20 more a head, then we get $75-100 more per lamb.

So, for us a single producing ewe with us selling straight off of pasture lambs is not that great money wise. They are making money, but not what they bring with a bit of extra work and time.

You choose when and how you sell lambs

This is the kind of thing that you need to consider, not doing it our way, but the different options that you have and how will that affect your profitability. Do the math on a few options and see what you find.

None of these numbers include things like your time, rent, etc. Those numbers are definitely important, but I leave them out on purpose, since these things vary significantly from person to person.

Best Sheep To Raise For Profit (no matter where you live!) is my article that will help you match your wants and needs with the type of sheep that will make the best use of your resources.

First few years, probably not

The first few years, you probably will not make money. Between getting your management figured out and normal beginner type mistakes, it will take a few years to get your flock rolling and productive.

You are working against the initial price you paid for the sheep, plus feeding them and caring for them (add in things like fencing) and your inexperience (which you’ll only get by trying!).

Once again, this is normal and to be expected. If the sheep have to pay you back, or even make money for you the first year, that is probably not going to happen.

This is the hardest part of sheep raising to get through, figuring out your new role as a shepherd and figuring out what the sheep need. You’ll get there, if you are willing to put in the work and learn.

There is the potential, depending upon the prices in your area, to buy feeder lambs, feed them out and resell the finished market lambs for a profit, but that is about it for making money the first year.

This would eliminate some of the common problems with ewes raising lambs, but would give you more to deal with in the lambs since they would be under more stress after moving and changing feed rations.

In our area, at least right now, this is the idea that has the most potential, since you could get the lambs for just over the cost of feeding the ewe for the year.

Of course, this idea has it’s own set of learning and experience required, mainly handling the feeder lambs that have just went through the stress of the sale, but from the numbers, it’s an option.

white faced sheep eating haylage out of a wooden feeder

What are your feed costs for the flock?

Feed costs are your biggest expense each year. Everyone has this cost but how much it is and what you are paying for vary.

Here are the variables you’ll work with: weight of the ewe, length of hay feeding season and cost of hay.

I started out with an example of $80 per ewe, which is mostly winter feed costs. You’ll need to calculate 4% of her bodyweight per day in hay for all the non grazing season then get the cost of that hay.

For example: if your hay costs $200 a ton and you need to feed your sheep for 4 months a year on this hay, you would figure 150 pound ewe x 4% = 6 pounds of hay per day.

4 months x 30 days per month= 120 days x 6 pounds of hay/day = 720 pounds of hay, which is .36 of a ton of hay per ewe or 14.4 square bales (50 pounds each) of hay per ewe.

If your hay is $200 per ton and each sheep is eating .36 (just over 1/3) of a ton each, it will cost you $72 in hay for that ewe.

Don’t get too hung up on these numbers exactly. Your sheep need what they need and you have to adjust to that as you go. The reasons for variation could be the sheep or your management.

Are you able to graze in your area 9 months per year? Then you’ll be feeding less hay than most other folks. If you feed your sheep inside most of the year, factor that in, as well.

Do you rent pasture lands? Are you creep feeding lambs (giving them grain)? If so, add in those costs.

How Many Bales Of Hay Do Sheep Need? is my article that will help you work through figuring out how much hay your sheep will need for the non grazing season on your farm.

Problems can increase feed costs

When things go wrong in your flock it will generally result in an increase in feed costs. Until you get the problem straightened out, you’ll continue to have higher than expected costs.

For instance, if your sheep need dewormed, your numbers will be a mess. Why? You’ll be feeding all kinds of hay and getting no results (or the sheep can be losing weight) because of the worms.

You’ll still have to get it sorted out and of course pay for the hay, but that is not normal costs, just pricey learning.

white faced ewes with lamb in barn

Cost for flock is upfront

Another challenge with getting started with sheep is that you will have some substantial costs upfront, before any income is even close to coming in.

The first year’s costs that I can quickly think of are:

  • getting the sheep themselves
  • feeding, grass and hay
  • fencing portable, permanent or combination of both
  • shelter, barn or shed

The main catch is that these costs are all paid before you sell any lambs, so you have the starter flock purchase and the first year’s worth of expenses before you get any money coming back in.

This is not an insurmountable problem, it is just a hurdle that you need to plan for and get past in order to succeed.

How Much Do Sheep Cost? is my article that helps you figure out the cost of high quality sheep in your area.

Raise your own ewe lambs to grow flock

You can keep your initial costs lower by keeping back some of the ewe lambs that are born the first year to grow your flock size, that’s what we did, but the catch there is that means you have less lambs to sell.

If you keep back replacements, you’ll also have more head to feed over the non grazing time. Adding to the flock is great, once they start to bring in money, but at first it does cost more in feed and time.

How Much Does A Ewe Lamb Cost? is my article that goes into what to look for in ewe lambs.

Caring for your flock will take some effort

Caring for your flock will take some time and effort on your part. The sheep will not take care of themselves. Even low maintenance or easy care sheep still need some care and management.

How much care your sheep need will depend upon what sheep you have and your farming situation.

It’s tough to give an exact number here, but plan to spend some time with them twice a day or so until you have them figured out.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to observe your sheep so you learn what is normal for them and what is odd.

This takes time and must be done in person, there are no substitutes or quick fix alternatives to time spent with the flock.

Your sheep plan will take some adjustments

Your plan for the flock will need some adjustments. What adjustments? You don’t know until you get in there and give it a shot, then adjust as you go. This is all part of livestock husbandry.

If your sheep came from a similar situation to yours

If you got your flock from a farm that is similar to yours and you are raising the sheep in a very similar manner, things should be easier the first few years since little changed for the sheep themselves.

Even so, once you get going, you may have to make some small changes to get the results you want.

Since you have started with sheep from a flock similar to yours, the changes should be minor, but there will still be some. Expect and welcome them, it means you are getting somewhere!

If your sheep came from a different management situation

If you sourced your sheep from a farm using different management than you plan on using, or from a different situation than you have for your sheep, you’ll have some sheep that will not make the switch.

These sheep will need to be culled or given extra care. This is normal but should get sorted out in the first few years, as long as you keep track of the ones that are not doing well for you and sell them.

Remember, you decide what is good and what is not. If you love the sheep that needs extra feed in the winter, keep her, just realize what you are doing.

The other aspect of your sheep plan is probably you, your thoughts and how you had envisioned shepherding to be before you got started. Once again, this is normal.

It’s likely that some of the things that you were worried about will be less of a big deal than you thought they would be and other things turn out to be a bigger problem that needs sorted out.

You’ll get there, this part of the process for everyone.

Sheep 201: A Beginner’s Guide to Raising Sheep is a good place to start. It’s an index of sheep management topics that are linked more articles on the site, it’s definitely worth a look.

6 Reasons Why People (Just Like You!) Raise Sheep

Sheep are becoming more popular and for good reason, they are a family friendly livestock that fits well into many situations, even folks with minimal acreage available.

Since raising your own flock has potential and you have the space to put them, the only thing left is to figure out if raising sheep going to be worth it for you.

white faced sheep with green ear tag looking at camera

Their flock has a specific purpose

Lots of folks choose to raise sheep and each flock has it’s own purpose, with most falling into a few larger categories, for example the sheep are a home based business or the kid’s fair project.

Folks have sheep for all kinds of reasons for having sheep, what is the main thing you want sheep for?

You need to start here because there are a lot of varieties of sheep and tons of different ways to raise them and ideas of when they are best to sell and to whom. You need to have a direction in mind.

Don’t overthink this one, the answer is generally quite simple, what is the main purpose of your flock?

Sheep as a business

Are you considering sheep as a business? Do you have a place to keep them and some area to graze? You don’t have to keep sheep on pasture but it is generally the most economical way to raise sheep.

Raising sheep as a business means that you are going to need to think about the math part first. No worries, we can work through that in Raising Sheep For Profit, my article that goes over a flock budget.

Some breeds of sheep will work much better than others for your situation if you want to have your flock as an income producer. There is no “best breed” but there are a few reliably good choices.

white faced sheep in pen waiting to be shorn

Sheep for meat

Are you thinking about sheep for home raised meat? Sheep are an under utilized meat source that many families could easily be using.

Even if you have only the grass that you would otherwise mow, a few lambs could keep that eaten down for you and provide quite a bit of meat for the freezer.

Best Breeds Of Sheep For Meat is my article that gives you some great meat breeds to give you some ideas of what you might like, breed wise.

We put some of our lambs in the freezer and do all the work right here, with just a few basic tools. Even good sized market lambs are manageable for home butchering if you are inclined to give it a try.

Sheep as a hobby

Many folks keep sheep as a hobby, some for pets and others for show or just because they like to have a few sheep around.

Showing sheep

In my area, showing sheep is a fairly popular hobby. Lots of folks enjoy having a small flock of sheep that they travel around the region showing both market lambs and breeding stock.

BFL (blue faced leicester) in front and long wool sheep in back

Fiber flock

Wool enthusiasts would consider keeping a few sheep as a fiber flock, so that they would have their own source of wool.

This is especially true for handspinners, there are some neat crosses and difficult to get a hold of colors that you would have all the wool you wanted if those fleeces were raised at home.

Of course, you can use wool from your commercial flock for your fiber projects, I do.

Most folks that love to craft with wool will find that they gravitate towards a specific breed or type of wool that may or may not be what you raise for your main flock!

Best Breeds Of Sheep For Wool is my article that gives you an idea of breeds that you might consider for a fiber flock.

Please note: currently commercial wool has little to no value (as far as selling it). You must have an in demand wool and plan to market it yourself to make a fiber flock go from hobby to income producer.

Preserve a rare breed

Another reason sheep farmers keep sheep for a hobby is to help preserve a rare breed.

While I know these folks are serious about their flock, I put them in hobby since it would be tough for this type of operation to make money. It’s certainly possible, just difficult.

I just purchased a CVM (California Variegated Mutant) fleece this weekend at a local fiber festival. These sheep are rare but increasing in numbers and have wonderful wool to work with, it’s a treat to spin.

This is just one example of many rare breeds that are being raise by small farmers who want to help a great breed of sheep. If you have never looked into it, dig in. There are tons of neat breeds out there!

Sheep as pets

An increasingly popular way to have sheep in your life is to have a few sheep strictly as pets. This could be sheep that are kept just to eat the pasture or sheep that like to be petted and interact with people.

Babydoll Southdown sheep seem to excel as pets, as they are naturally more people friendly than most other breeds of sheep and is one of the most popular pet sheep breeds.

Bottle babies are popular pets, all that human contact early in life tends to make these lambs super friendly. For most other sheep, they are a bit skittish of people unless they were raised on a bottle.

Vegetation control with sheep

Do you live in an area where you need vegetation control? In most areas, this is a common concern, either to prevent the spread of wildfires or to keep potentially out of control weeds in check.

Actually, there are multiple folks who get paid to take their flock to other people’s land to eat the out of control or unwanted vegetation like Cud Crew, a prescribed grazing service in central Georgia.

I have also run across several farms that bring their sheep to you up in my area (Ohio) so this is a need across the country, especially with the growing awareness of the downsides of pesticide use.

whited faced ewe with yellow ear tag

Costs to raise sheep in your area

What are the costs to raise sheep in your area? This is one of the two key things to figure out if you are interested in the business side of sheep, the other being income. That’s next, for now, we’ll focus on costs.

The biggest reoccurring cost to any livestock enterprise is feeding them.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • What feed sources do you have available for sheep?
  • How easy is it to get the feed?
  • Are you set up to handle the feed?
  • What about in the off season (normally winter)?

Another cost that will come up first thing is fencing, how’s your set up? What will it cost to get your fence up to speed?

Read my articles 7 Tips To Help You Choose High Quality Hay and Sheep Fencing: Pros And Cons Of Electric Vs Woven Wire to get you started with this section.

If folks in your area are raising other hay eaters like cattle, goats or horses, you can find sheep appropriate hay and fencing. Check on local online ads or look at the bulletin board at the feed store.

If there is no livestock in your area, at all, finding winter feed will be harder and probably much more expensive.

Income from sheep in your area

What is the potential income for sheep in your area? You’ll have to do some research and find the numbers for your area, prices paid for sheep varies significantly.

Prices for sheep vary from season to season, throughout the season and depending upon what the buyers in the area want.

How Much Will My Lambs Sell For? is my article that shows you how to read a market report for your area’s sheep and lamb prices.

When you are finding your prices, be sure you are aware of the timing and what specifically sold for which price. We find prices in the late summer and early fall to be much lower than prices in the winter.

For example, in my area there is a noticeable demand for 55 pound chunky lambs and finished market lambs, but not a big market for sheep that are more thinly built.

Your area may be completely different. This is something that I can not figure out for you, you must do the research and run some numbers to see what is going on with sheep in your part of the country.

How far do you need to transport the sheep to sell them?

How far do you have to transport the sheep you will be selling? This could be to an auction or the slaughterhouse to get the meat into retail packages for your customers. What will this cost you?

If you are sending sheep to market, that could be done in one or two loads that you could pay a hauler to drive for you. We have a our hauler handle any load that is over 8 head or so.

The other thing you may not be figuring into your calculations is that if you have to drive 3 hours away to take your animals to a custom slaughter house, that’s 6 hours per trip, 3 there and 3 back.

But, you need to go back and pick up your order, that’s another 6 hours driving, plus you’ll need a place to put the packaged meat. All of this is doable, for sure, but still needs to be factored in.


Once you have worked through most of this article, read my article Raising Sheep For Profit which goes much more into the numbers and shows you how to find the income and expenses for your area.

The reason you want to do this “boring stuff” first is you want to get the sheep that will suit you the best, so you have to know what it is that you are trying to do in order to get the flock that will work for you.

For another look at the background things you probably should think over before getting sheep, read my article Best Sheep To Raise For Profit, which does not have numbers, it’s more about ideas and your plans.

There are a lot of right ways to raise sheep and wonderful sheep to raise, going through this process will help you figure out which way is best for you.

How To Get Started With Sheep by Ulf Kintzel is a nice overview of things a beginning sheep farmer will want to take into account.

How Do You Know If A Sheep Is In Labor?

Most of your sheep production year is centered around lambing. You plan the best time for lambing in your area and you’ve kept the ewes in good condition, so you are as ready as you can be.

Then, when the lambing season is only days away, you wonder how do you know if a ewe is in labor and what, if anything, should you do about it?

white faced sheep and lambs at salt block on pasture

Early labor in sheep is more subtle

In the early stages of labor, the ewe will, for the most part, seem to be normal. There are just a few odd things that, if you are paying attention, you will notice.

This is the “huh, that’s odd” or “I wonder why she is doing that” type stuff. If it’s lambing time, chances are good you’ll be seeing her go deeper into labor in short order.

Lambing Season: What to expect and how to be ready is my article that gives you some things to get set up and be ready for to have a more successful lambing season.

Ewe will be restless

At first a ewe will just be restless. You don’t really see anything specific going on, it’s more that you notice she seems uncomfortable and the rest of the flock is just hanging out and chewing their cud.

What we see the most is that a soon to be new mom, gets up and lays down repeatedly, almost like she just can’t quite decide which will be best.

Clearly she is uncomfortable. When you think about it, this is a good bit of extra work that she is putting in, it would be easier just to plop down like everyone else. But she doesn’t.

Keep an eye on this gal and if you don’t see any progress soon, might just be the time to mosey on out there and see what’s up.

The other part of being restless is that she will be doing something that the rest of the flock is not.

For instance, why is one ewe standing when everyone else is laying down? Maybe she is first to stand or last to lay down, but if it’s lambing time, she’s one to check back on later today.

Lambing Time Supply List: What you really need and what you don’t is my article that shows you the things that we have found important to have on hand for lambing time.

Ewe stands off by herself

Is the ewe standing off by herself? Sometimes ewes can sneak away and be off in her own corner of the world without you ever realizing what happened, which is super if things look like they are going well.

If you see a ewe off by herself, just check back on her in a bit. If she seems to be off by herself for a while without progress (no lambs yet) go look closer and see if there are problems. If not, give her some time.

A ewe will naturally remove herself from the group, if the situation allows it. To eliminate confusion, she wants to have a separate area to keep her lambs to herself until they can bond well to her and be mobile.

ewe with newborn twin lambs
Here is one of our ewes with newborn twins.

Signs that the lamb will be born soon

Once the ewe gets past the restless stage she moves into the more advanced labor stage, which is where you can fairly easily see that she is working to give birth.

Signs of active labor in ewes include:

  • sides heaving
  • legs and neck straining
  • may see glimpse of feet

Sides heaving means that the ewe is working to push the lambs through the birth canal. She will work in spurts, a few heaves and then take a mini break of sorts then a few more.

As the lambs get closer to being born the pushes by the ewe will be more intense.

What do you need to do here? Nothing, leave her alone and see what happens for a while. Labor is a process that takes time, leave her in peace and just keep an eye on her while giving her plenty of space.

Now is not the time to hover, in fact, hovering over her will cause some of your more flighty sheep to get up and zoom away from you. Keep your distance for now and give her some time.

Legs and neck straining means that she is really getting somewhere now. You should be seeing feet soon, if not already and that lamb should be born shortly.

If you see the ewe straining for longer than you are comfortable with, move around unobtrusively as you can, to see if the lamb is positioned appropriately.

You should see the bottom of two hooves facing toward you or down, depending upon the position of the ewe. The lamb will “dive” out to be born, feet first, then head on knees, then shoulders.

Some ewes are smoking fast at giving birth, others seem to take more time and that’s fine. Give them space to work on birth themselves before start poking around.

Will A Ram Hurt Lambs? is my article that gives you some things to look for to make sure that your ram is not bothering your ewes or new lambs at lambing.

What if you need to help with the birth?

Most ewes give birth without any need to be assisted.

The newer folks are with sheep and especially the first few lambing seasons, the more likely them seem to be to want to interfere. Resist the urge to jump in and let your ewe work things out herself.

If you feel that you need to assist the ewe, my first question is are you sure or are you getting antsy? Go quietly look, while keeping your distance so you don’t upset the ewe.

If you catch her attention, you are too close. If you don’t see any problems, note the time and come back to her later, like in 10 or 15 minutes.

Do you see something that makes you sure that things are not going super well, like head only or one leg? If so, grab her or get her into a lambing jug and straighten things out.

The lamb needs to be in the birth position, which is front feet first with legs extended, head on knees, then shoulders and the rest of the lamb.

Reposition the lamb if you need to. This can be hard to do, if you need help call your vet.

A common malpresentation we see is elbows tucked back. In this case, just grab one foot, pop it forward, then pop the other one (do them one at a time) then the lamb is in the right position to be born.

Head only is a tough one, what you really need to do is push the whole lamb back in, grab front feet and make the lamb come out the way it should. Don’t forget to make sure the head is right, as well.

You may be better off with vet help for this situation.

Another problem that can crop up is two feet but from different lambs. We rarely see this but have had it happen once or twice. Be sure that if you are helping a ewe that the feet you see go to the same lamb.

white faced ewes with lambs on pasture
Some of our main flock on pasture with new lambs.

How many lambs will she have?

The next question is how many lambs will your ewe have? Unless you have ultrasound scanned the group, you don’t know until you see the afterbirth.

If the ewe is up and licking off the lamb and you see a bit of flopping from the lamb, she should be okay (as long as the weather is acceptable).

If there is another lamb, it should be born shortly.

As long as she is doing well and in a good place in the barn or pasture, you can leave her to finish bonding or move her to a lambing jug, if that is your preference.

Can You Keep Rams With Ewes Year Round? is my article that goes over how to schedule your lambing season to better suit your resources, including your time and available feeds.

When is the ewe done giving birth?

You can tell that the ewe is done giving birth when the afterbirth starts to come out.

Once a lamb is born, there will be a “string or rope” hanging out of the ewe that was attached to the lamb. You will see one rope for each lamb. This is not the afterbirth.

The afterbirth will be a bigger blob that hang out of the ewe and will eventually detach and fall out on it’s own. You do not need to mess with any of this, leave it alone.

Once out of the ewe, the afterbirth kind of looks like a jellyfish puddled on the ground. If the afterbirth takes some time to detach, fine. Birth is on the ewe’s timetable, so is expelling all of the afterbirth.

For a more detailed explanation of lambing, especially lamb presentations (birth positions) read Sheep 201: The lambing process.

Do Lambs Need Water?

Lambs that are nursing are already on a watery diet, as are lambs on lush grass. Do lambs need drinking water as well or is grass wet enough?

All lambs need water. Bottle lambs need access to water at a week of age or as soon as solid food is available to them. Weaned lambs and ewe raised lambs need access to water at all times, even if on some days they do not drink any.

Lambs need water when they eat solid food

Lambs need to have access to water when they are able to eat solid food. If the lambs are with their mom and you see the lambs eating hay, you should make sure that the lambs can also reach the water.

Notice the “reach the water” part here. Not so surprisingly, the ewes will also drink from the same trough, which makes the water level go lower, maybe too low for the lambs to reach it.

If you are not using an automatic waterer, use a float valve to keep the water level high in the trough or plan to check water multiple times a day and refill as needed.

Do Lambs Need Creep Feed? is my article that goes into more details on when and how to use creep feed for your lambs, if you decide they need it.

Have water in place before the lambs need it

Have water available to the lambs earlier than you think they will need it, since sheep like things that are familiar and the lambs need time to explore and get used to a water source before they will use it.

I know this sounds a bit crazy, but if your lambs are bottle lambs or weaned, they can be scared of the new thing on the edge of their pen and not go over to drink if things are too new.

The easy way to prevent problems here is to put the water trough (or whatever you are using for water) in the pen with the ewes and lambs then use the same trough when you have lambs only.

The confusing part here is that we think of sheep as needing water (they do) and drinking some when they are thirsty (they will) but we forget that the ewe taught the lambs about drinking water.

If your lambs are not used to water troughs or are bottle lambs so they grew up without a mom, these lambs can be too scared of the trough to drink.

If you need to switch from bucket to water trough for lambs that are new to drinking water, put both in the pen, then when you see some of the lambs drink from the trough, take out the bucket.

Until you see that some of the lambs have accepted the new trough, leave the filled bucket in the pen also.

bottle lambs in trough
These are some of our bottle lambs. In the yellow circle is creep feed and they have a small bucket of water, as well.

Bottle lambs need water after first week

Bottle lambs do not need water, at first, but as soon as they start to explore around a little or you put hay or lamb feed in their pen, they must also have water to go with it.

Lambs that were raised on a bottle then abruptly switched to water will not make this transition well. There are too many things happening at once.

The change from bottle to water trough must be made slowly and you need to be sure that the lambs are drinking the water, not just spilling it, before you totally wean them off of the bottle.

You can help them learn to look for water by having a low bucket in the pen once they are about a week old and a good while before you need them off of the bottle.

When you get close to weaning time, start cutting back the bottle amounts to encourage them to look for water to drink.

When you see that they have found the water and are drinking it, this takes a few attempts to get right, then the lamb can be weaned.

If there is more than one lamb in the pen, this will go faster. All you need is one of the lambs to figure out the water drinking idea, then the rest will mimic the leader and soon figure it out.

5 Reasons To Not Keep Bottle Lambs As Breeding Stock is my article that goes over the disadvantages of keeping bottle lambs as compared to ewe raised lambs for replacement stock.

white faced lambs in creep area
These lambs are in a creep area and have creep feed in the hanging trough feeder on the right. To get water, they drink from a low water trough that is out in the bigger pen with the ewes.

Weaned lambs need water

If the lambs are weaned, they need to have water. When sheep are eating pasture, they can get quite a bit of their water needs from the grass, since it is a wet food.

If the weather is mild, they may even be able to get the majority of their water needs from grass and hardly ever go to the water, but it should still be available in case they need it.

Wind and heat makes lambs drink more

Even on nice days, if it is windy the lambs will need more water than you would guess and of course they always need more water when it is hot.

In the winter, lambs on grass with access to snow may get all of the water they need from the grass and snow, but until you know for sure, give them the option of water, as well.

Eating dry foods makes lambs drink more

Lambs on hay, which is a fairly dry food, or lambs on less succulent pasture will need to have water to add to the forage in order to digest it well.

We give all of our outside sheep water no matter the season, some days they drink it and other days they don’t, but since we do not know for sure when it’s a water day, they need water everyday.

The exception here is sheep that have access to a natural source of water, like a creek. These guys will just get their own water and we spy on the creek once in a while to make sure it’s still flowing well and clean.

Sheep 101: What else is there to eat? has a list of things a lamb can eat from nursing lambs and creep feed to weaned lambs, all of which will need water, as well.

Why Do You Cull Sheep? (& how to tell when you need to)

When you are new to raising sheep, you are happy to have as many sheep as you can and certainly wouldn’t dream of selling any of them.

Then you get a few years down the road you realize that maybe a few of the flock members need to be sold or replaced. How do you figure out which sheep to cull?

white faced ewes grazing winter pasture

Cull sheep to remove non productive flock members

Culling means to permanently remove a sheep from the flock. Culling is a tool that sheep farmers have to take out any lower value or non productive sheep in the flock.

The average culling rate in the U.S. is 14% which would have you replacing all of your flock about every 7 years. If you bump your cull rate to 20%, that has you replacing the flock every 5 years.

Since the average productive life of sheep tends to be 6 years or so, most flocks would cull between 14-20% just to keep up with the ageing of their stock. Culling 16% would give you an average age of 6.25.

Raising Sheep For Profit is my article that shows you some of the things to keep in mind when raising sheep for a small farm business.

Cull sheep to increase results for farm

When you cull out the low or non producers from the flock, the sheep farmer automatically makes more money for his or her time and the rest of the flock is better off.

Culling to increase flock results is a benefit in multiple ways:

  • farmer gets back more money in profit
  • removes individuals that are no longer suited to the flock
  • sheep that stay have more feed or grass available
  • increases overall health of flock

Your flock will continue to need management and direction throughout the year, every year.

Sheep that were all stars for you last year, may not be this year or some sheep that you picked out at the breeder’s may not work for you at all. This is normal.

Part of your job as the owner is to cull out the non performers so that you can spend your resources, including your time, with the sheep that have the ability to do what you need them to do.

Cull a sheep when it falls behind or takes more work

You should consider culling a sheep when she falls behind the group.

As an example, if 90% of the flock is doing fine on hay in the winter, but the other 10% just don’t keep on weight like the rest, consider culling that 10%.

You could separate out and supplement the 10%, feed the entire flock more or just cull the ones that are not fitting into your system and spend your time with the ones that are.

Some ewes are non cooperators, consider culling these, as well.

For example, let’s say you have 2 ewes that insist on being out of the fence no matter what the rest of the flock has to eat. The rest of the flock seems happy, it’s just those 2 escapees.

Those 2 ewes are not hungry, they are non cooperators. Cull them and make your life easier. You’ll be surprised how much more time you have and how much less you worry about the flock getting out.

We just put a ewe in the front field (next to the barn) with a big orange mark on her back because she and her lambs are clear up here while the rest of the flock is at the back of the farm.

She is a beautiful ewe but a fence popping machine. She burrows under the bottom strand of the netting but is not opposed to jumping either! That gal will be sold as soon as she weans the lambs.

ewes with new lambs on pasture
Some of our ewes with new lambs in the spring (May). Non producers should be culled.

Culling ewes non productive ewes

Culling ewes means to pull a ewe or a group of ewes out of the flock to sell due to lack of production ability.

The reason for culling could be an age related problem, poor performance at lambing, bad attitude, or any number of other things that make this sheep one you would rather sell than keep.

How Much Does A Ewe Cost? is my article that will help you find the cost to replace ewes in your area.

Two culling strategies

Where you specifically draw the line on keeping ewes is your choice.

You can decide to keep them for up to 6 years of age then automatically sell all ewes of that age or you can make your choices based on individual performance.

There is good and bad to both.

Culling based on age

If you choose an automatic culling age, you should not end up dealing with as many special needs sheep and should have a younger flock as you replace your older ewes with ewe lambs.

The not so great part of this is that you’ll have to come up with about 20% of your flock every year as replacements, depending upon age of ewe at first lambing.

This 20% of the flock replacement group would be a good amount of cash or a fairly large group of ewe lambs that were not sold, meaning they did not make you any money this year.

The down side of an automatic culling age is that you are missing out on great years of some of your ewes in order to cull out the few that will not be able to continue to perform.

Increase Lamb Crop by Culling Ewes by Susan Schoenian lists the reasons for culling ewes by percent with 55.6% of culling due to age, which is by far the most common reason to cull.

For example, let’s say you choose 6 as your automatic culling age, so the ewes will lamb as 6 year olds, raise and wean lambs, then all be sold regardless of individual performance.

This mass sell off will have you selling off some nice, older ewes that still have some productive years left, but it should keep you from ending up with a bunch of older ewes that are no longer productive.

If you have the replacements to add to the flock, keeping a younger flock is something to consider. If you do not have plentiful replacements coming up, why not keep the older ewes that are performing well?

white faced sheep walking in winter pasture
Some of these gals will end up being culled this year, that is normal and will be around 16% of the total flock.

Culling based on individuals

The other plan of culling is culling based on individual performance of the ewes, meaning you keep her as part of the flock until you can see that she is not keeping up with her peers then she is culled.

This is how we cull ewes, mainly because there are younger ewes that will flame out with a variety of problems, so age is not the only reason for under performance of ewes.

Since we want to keep a certain flock size, we can either keep some of the older ewes that are doing well, or buy replacements. We prefer to keep the older ewes that pass the pre breeding season look over.

What should you be looking for? Well, there are some basics that all ewes need to be productive, like good teeth, udder, feet and keeping on weight, but there may also be some flock specific things for you.

Are you trying to go with a specific shape of ewe?

Do you find that certain traits in the ewe seem to make a more valuable market lamb? For instance, do lambs with tighter wool sell better in your area? If so, choose ewes with a more tidy wool cover.

Reasons to cull rams

So far, we have gone over the reasons you may want to cull some ewes, which is where most of your culling is going to happen simply because there more ewes than rams, but rams still need culled.

Some of the reasons to cull rams are pretty much the same as reasons to cull ewes, things like bad feet, or teeth and inability to keep on weight. Other reasons to cull rams are more about age or performance.

Age related reasons to cull rams are:

  • he’s not keeping up with younger rams
  • he is related to some ewe lambs you want to keep as replacements

There is no specific age when you need to get rid of a ram. As long as you like the lambs being produced, it looks like he is doing a good job of getting all of the ewes bred and you like him, he’s probably fine.

What is more likely to happen is that you will still like to use him but he will start having age related problems and he will need to be culled.

Production related reasons to cull rams are:

  • you want to switch the type of lambs you are selling
  • fertility problems
  • he is showing poor behavior towards people

Production related reasons to cull rams are a bit different, these need fixed quickly.

Please do not tolerate poor behavior towards people in your ram. Cull him before you get hurt.

If you suspect fertility problems, work with a vet to figure out the exacts or cull him and get another ram.

To change type of lambs, change the ram

One of the other reasons we see for changing rams is that in your area the demand for a specific type of sheep has changed and you want to use a different type of ram to fill that demand.

Cost To Buy A Ram is my article that will help you find the price for the ram you are looking for in your area.

As an example, in our area, the roaster or hothouse type of lamb is all the rage among sheep producers. These are the 55 pound chubby lambs that you see at the auction.

It’s almost crazy how many of these little guys sell each week and how much they bring, I can see why the farmers choose to go with this type of lamb.

Folks with an established ewe flock of pretty much any of the common breeds can produce lambs like this, if they use a meaty terminal sire and creep feed lambs, which is what they do.

This is an example of how just switching the ram and changing the management will give completely different results, it’s impressive.


Cull Ewe Checklist OSU Sheep Team I used the average culling stat of 14%

Increase Lamb Crop by Culling Ewes by Susan Schoenian has stats of reasons for culling by percentage, I sited the stat 55.6% for age

9 Things Dorper Sheep Are Known For

Dorper sheep have come on strong as a top breed for producing market lambs in the country. If there are a few sheep raisers in your area, chances are you have a Dorper flock or two pretty close to home.

With so many breeds of sheep available, what is it about the Dorper that makes it the breed of choice for so many folks getting into sheep?

black headed Dorper ewe with single lamb in foreground, Dorper ram in background

Dorper sheep have meaty lambs

Dorper lambs seem to be well grown and gain well, for producing roaster (also called hothouse) type lambs as well as more traditionally sized market lambs.

A live weight of about 36 kg can be reached by the Dorper lamb at the age of 3-4 months. 

Oklahoma State University Dorper Sheep

In case you are not aware of it, the meatiness of a lamb is genetic, carcass traits are highly heritable. This is the whole “like produces like” idea. Meaty parents get you meaty lambs, if they are all well managed.

Many folks who want to get started with a small flock of meaty sheep find that Dorper and Dorper cross breeding stock will produce lambs that are well suited to their farm.

Best Breeds of Sheep for Meat is my article that gives you some great sheep to consider raising for meat, one of which is the Dorper.

Dorper lambing percentage is 150%

The lambing percentage for a Dorper flock is 150% under good conditions. For first time lambers or a flock with a high number of first timers, the lambing percentage is going to be closer to 120%.

These numbers are for intensive lambing, which means the shepherd supervises and provides help, probably in the form of lambing jugs and being in a barn at least for when the lambs are young.

For extensive lambing, lambing outdoors or on pasture, the lambing percentage drops to about 100%.

In a year round breeding schedule, the Dorper can produce three sets of lambs in two years which makes the lambing percentage per year to be at or over 200% (2.25 lambs on an annual basis).

black headed Dorper sheep starting to shed
These ewes are starting to shed out their winter coats. Shedding starts on the underside and front of neck and come off of the back last.

Dorper sheep are an easy care breed

Dorper sheep are an easy care breed, which mainly means no shearing.

Since sheep are hard to find in some areas, shearing can also be a challenge for small flock owners, but not if you have Dorpers, which shed.

It is important to note that some Dorpers do not fully shed out and still require some shearing, which would defeat the purpose of having this breed if avoiding shearing is your main concern.

Be sure to choose stock from a flock that does not shear at all if you do not want to shear either!

Most Dorpers would still need to have other care, like feet trimming, vaccinations or deworming, just like other sheep.

The reason I am pointing this out is that they may be easy care, but that is different than no care, all domestic sheep need you in some capacity, including Dorpers.

Are Sheep Easy Keepers? 4 things you have to get right! is my article giving you a basic overview of the things that make a flock easy to keep.

Dorper sheep come in two colors

Dorper sheep come in two basic colors, a black headed version or an all white version.

There should be no difference between the black headed and white headed Dorper in conformation or performance, the difference is just whether or not the head and neck are black.

Dorpers can lamb out of season

Dorpers can lamb out of season since they have an extended breeding season.

This means that, with appropriate management, you can have your Dorper flock lamb 3 times in 2 years resulting in more like 200+% lambs per year since you are lambing every 8 months.

What Sheep Can Breed Year Round? is my article that gives you some commonly available breeds of sheep that can breed year round, which includes Dorper.

If you did not want to be that intensive with your flock, you could still move the lambing window up or back to suit your farm plan, like a specific market niche or holiday you are hoping to hit.

For instance, if you were interested in producing lambs to sell every 4 months, you could split your flock into breeding groups and get more use out of your facilities by lambing multiple times per year.

While this does give you more lambing work to do, it also gives you more opportunities to get income from your sheep by having for sale lambs every 3-4 months rather than just once a year.

University of Florida Sheep Breeds has a break down of the main hair sheep breeds and their characteristics, scroll down a touch for the Dorper section.

Dorpers are heat and insect tolerant

Sheep generally have trouble dealing with the stress of being in the heat but hair sheep seem to be able to handle heat better than most wool sheep.

Because of their Blackhead Persian origin, Dorpers have natural tolerance to high temperatures and heavy insect populations. They are productive in areas where other breeds barely survive.

American Dorper Sheep Breeders Society

Hair sheep come from hot or tropical parts of the world, this is why they tend to have extended breeding seasons and have the ability to handle heat and insects, it was needed when the breed developed.

If you live in an area where heat stress is a common problem for livestock, choosing one of the hair sheep breeds, like Dorper, will give you a leg up on dealing with local conditions.

Heat tolerance isn’t exclusively for areas known to be hot.

For example, we live in Ohio and adding in or switching to heat tolerant genetics would help the flock deal with one of the more difficult times of the year.

close up of Dorper head showing that the sheep is polled (naturally does not grow horns)
Close up look at head of Dorper showing that she is polled, that means there is naturally no horn growth.

Dorper sheep are polled

Dorper sheep are polled, which means that they do not grow horns.

The interesting part about a polled sheep is that you can cross it with a horned sheep or a sheep that has some horned genetics and still get polled lambs.

Using a polled sire, like a Dorper, with your flock, whether the ewes are horned or just occasionally have horned lambs will depress any horned genetics that you may have but not see in your ewes.

Dorpers have good gains on feed

If you are considering putting your lambs on feed to gain faster, Dorper or Dorper cross lambs have the potential to gain well, up to 1 pound per day when kept and fed inside the barn.

This is the main use of Dorper or Dorper cross lambs in my area.

Sheep farmers are putting the ewes in the barn to lamb then putting the lambs on creep feed to get them growing quickly with the plans to sell the lambs at about 55-60 pounds.

At the auction we send our stock to, these type of lambs bring top dollar, quite often just as much per lamb as you get from selling a 6-8 month old market lamb. It’s impressive.

 The Dorper does well in various range and feeding conditions and reacts very favorably under intensive feeding conditions.

Oklahoma State University Dorper Sheep

Local farmers, especially Amish with a bit of pasture to use, love the idea that they can quickly raise the lambs then sell to get a return on their flock more quickly.

Dorper breed was created in South Africa

The Dorper breed was created from a cross in the 1940’s in South Africa. Those hybrid sheep were selected from to form the base of the Dorper we know today. The breed society established in 1950.

If you are interested in the Dorper from a South African point of view, read Dorper Animal Genetics Training Resource, which goes into the breed history as well as current popularity and use.


Dorper Sheep Oklahoma State University Breeds of Livestock has the stats on lambing percentages for Dorpers under a variety of management conditions.