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How Much Are Rabbits And Cost To Raise Them


black and white rabbit resting in cage

Meat rabbits are finally becoming more of a popular animal and for good reason! Not too many other animals are family friendly and can be comfortably raise in even the smallest backyard!

Now, to the big questions: what is the cost of getting into meat rabbits and what will it cost you to raise them?

Breeding stock quality rabbits cost between $25-80 each, with exceptionally productive individuals, unusual breeds and show stock on the higher end of the range. Fryers (young meat rabbits) $6-6.80 each to raise to 5 pounds.

RabbitCostKey points
Proven breeding stock$50-80 eachmost reliable producer
hard to find
Breeding age rabbits$40-60ready to produce
production ability varies with individual
Junior rabbits $20-30less expensive way to start
months from breeding age and size
Fryers$10-20cheapest way to get rabbits
furthest from being productive

We’ll go over the rabbits you should buy, from the best breeds to choose for meat rabbits, including the advantages and disadvantages of different ages of breeding stock, and get into the costs of feeding your rabbits.

Is Raising Rabbits For Meat Worth It? is an article I wrote to help you compare raising your own meat rabbits to buying rabbit meat from a farmer, which will help you put a value on the meat you raise for yourself.

This is a great looking pen of fryers at our local fair.

Cost to buy a rabbit is $25-80

How Much Meat From A Pair Of Meat Rabbits goes over how to calculate the amount of meat you will get from one pair of rabbits, depending upon when and how often you breed them.

The cost to buy adult breeding stock quality rabbits is going to be anywhere from $25-80 each for a high quality commercial meat rabbit.

Of course, special breeds, especially breeds that are hard to find in your area, breeds that are surging in popularity and potential show stock can cost significantly more.

It is most common to buy a breeding trio, which is one buck and two does. If you have done the math and need more production, consider an extended trio, which is one buck and three does.

How Many Rabbits Do You Need? shows you how to calculate the number of adults you need based on fryer production.

Buying proven adult breeding stock

Pros: great choices for starting your rabbitry, full size so you know structure and meatiness with proven reproductive ability

Cons: hard to find and will be higher cost

Ideally, you will be buying proven breeding stock. By proven, I mean rabbits that have had a litter or two and have proven that they are good moms or good breeders, in the case of the buck.

Rabbits in this group are going to be the highest cost and the hardest to get a hold of, but I mention them to make sure you know that if rabbits like these come up for sale, this is the best group to buy.

Expect to pay on the higher end of what rabbits normally sell for in your area for a trio of breeding rabbits in this group. Proven rabbits are going to be $50-80 each. Rare or unusual breeds will be more.

The reason I say “ideally” is because these are rabbits that are at their peak value, have a known temperament and raising litters right now, so the breeder is less likely to want to part with them than rabbits that are not productive yet.

If you can, get proven stock, if you can’t, just get ready to breed breeding stock.

There are occasional opportunities: all breeders will eventually run out of space, want to take their breeding program in a different direction or just want to downsize the rabbitry. This is a golden opportunity for you, take advantage of it!

In each of these situations, proven rabbits will be available to buyers that the breeder would normally keep, but has decided to sell. If you happen across something like this, consider yourself lucky and get some great rabbits!

ARBA Recognized Breeds is a quick to read list of each breed with links to the supporting organization that you can contact to get in touch with rabbit breeders that may have breeding stock for sale.

Of course, you do not need to get registered rabbits, but you should at least look around on ARBA’s site and get familiar with the shape and key characteristics of high quality rabbits.

Buying adult ready to breed breeding stock rabbits

Pros: ready to produce litters for you, full size so you don’t have to guess at structure or meatiness

Cons: no track record individually, in the higher price range for rabbits

I have to admit, it is much more likely that you will be able to get rabbits in this category, ready to breed but have not produced a litter. These rabbits will also be on the higher end of the price range in your area.

I would expect to pay $40-60 each for rabbits that are high quality, ready to breed rabbits since these guys will get you started producing litters right away.

These rabbits should be from high quality parents with a great track record as parents, making it more likely the rabbits you buy will also be great parents. Of course, you don’t know for sure, but a good family track record is a good start.

Buying half grown (junior) breeding stock

Pros: less money to purchase, gives you time to get used to owning and working with rabbits before adding in the additional management needs of breeding

Cons: will not be productive for a few months, unknown how they will look as adults, since they are still growing

It is much more likely that you will be able to get rabbits from this junior age group, potential breeding stock rabbits that have been kept back to see how they grow but are still a few months from breeding age and size.

Rabbits in this age group are probably going to be in the 3-6 month old range, so smaller than adults but bigger than fryers. I would expect to pay $20-30 each for these rabbits.

Chances are this is the group that the breeder herself has selected her keepers out of and is offering the rest of the group of good, well grown junior rabbits for sale.

This is a great group of rabbits for you to start with, since they were selected as potential breeding stock. This group will be a bit older than fryers, so you’ll have more of an idea of their growth and conformation, as adults.

Buying weaned fryers to keep for breeding

Pros: easy to find, least expensive way to get started with raising meat rabbits

Cons: it will be a long time until these rabbits are productive and you do not know their suitability as breeding stock, you can only guess

Weaned rabbits, also called fryers, are the youngest group of rabbit that are likely to be available for you to buy. These are kits that are eating well on their own and would be the least expensive.

I would expect to pay $10-20 for rabbits in this group. In my area, Ohio, I have seen a few special breeds advertised for $25 per fryer, but that is because of the unusual breed, which was Champagne D’Argent.

The reason fryers are the least expensive is that they are also the furthest from being productive and you can not tell what their build or temperament will be as adults, since they have quite a bit of growing yet to do.

Don’t get cheap rabbits!

If there is a section here that deserves “red alert” status, this is it: do not get cheap rabbits! I’m not suggesting looking for outrageously expensive breeding stock rabbits, but I am definitely saying steer clear of cheap.

Buying cheap breeding stock seems like a way to get ahead, but it is actually the best way to set yourself and your rabbitry on a collision course with disaster. No joke, cheap is never a good idea.

Quality pays, actually quality pays repeatedly. Get good stock to begin with, since all of your future rabbits will come from these. Growth and carcass traits are genetic. To get good results you have to start with good genetics.

This is a pen of Cinnamon fryers, a nice colored breed of meat rabbit if you are looking for something other than white.

Get meat rabbit genetics

The other mistake new folks make is thinking that any rabbit will work well as a meat rabbit. Close, but not quite.

Any rabbit can be used as a meat rabbit, of course. But for your rabbits to perform well, now that’s the result of management, good breeding stock and selection for carcass traits. It doesn’t happen by accident!

16 Breeds Of Rabbits For Meat gives you some options for your meat rabbit breed selection. The best performance, growth wise, will come from high quality Californian or New Zealand White rabbits.

Get meat rabbits that are bred to be meat rabbits. None of the other breeds will perform as meat producers as well as the meat breeds, easy examples of which are Californian and New Zealand White, the meat rabbit all stars.

If you want a bit more color in your rabbitry, you can branch out slightly to New Zealand Red, Blue, Black or Broken or another meat breed like Cinnamon or Palomino, but keep it to a meat breed for results that you will be happy with.

Can you use any breed of rabbit you want? Sure, but you’ll get not so great to very poor results depending upon what rabbits you are working with. Just go with one of the more common meat breed rabbits to start with.

Rabbit housing can be cages or hutches

The housing needs of your rabbits are pretty simple. You can get started with all new equipment (wire cages, feeders and waterers) for a trio for about $350, read Meat Rabbits Worth It for the specifics here.

Alternatively, you can go the used route and pick up hutches and cages as they become available in your area.

This is a great way to get started for less costs, but will be much more of a hit or miss opportunity since you never know when these deals will become available.

How To Start Raising Meat Rabbits goes over the basics you need to get started with raising your own meat rabbits.

You should have cages with wire floors

If at all possible, go with wire floor rabbit cages. The thicker the wire the better. With wire floors, the manure pellets and the urine drop through the mesh, which keeps the rabbit’s feet and underside clean.

If you feel that your rabbits need a more foot friendly flooring material than wire, consider getting a resting board for each cage. These are wide mesh plastic mats that give the rabbit time off the wire, yet still keep the cage clean.

Avoid wooden floors, if you can. Here’s why: when the rabbit pees the urine runs along the boards, creating a wet spot that the rabbit has to walk through to get to the other side of the cage. Not great.

The other down side of wooden floors is that the urine will soak into the wood and make the cage smell, not great either, especially on warmer days! Go with a sturdy wire cage or hutch floor, instead.

Feed your rabbits pelleted feed

The easiest way to feed rabbits is to give them pellets.

Shop around for a high quality pelleted feed, not the cheapest. I made that mistake once, I bought the generic store brand rabbit feed, yikes! They hated it and I wasted my money. Double yikes.

Feed is an important aspect of raising rabbits because it accounts for about 75 percent of your production costs.

https://www.canr.msu.edu/resources/rabbit_tracks_feeds_and_feeding

Buy a name brand feed that is formulated for your rabbits at their growth stage. This means that young rabbits and does will need a different feed than bucks or juniors that you are keeping as replacements.

If you keep everyone on the same feed, the lower energy needs rabbits, in this case the buck and the replacements, will get fat. This is a big problem because fat rabbits do not reproduce well, and that’s the whole point of this group!

But, if you keep high energy needs rabbits like nursing moms or younger fryers on a maintenance rabbit diet, they will not get the energy they need to perform well and their health will suffer.

Rabbit Tracks: Feeds and Feeding is a nice overview of rabbit feeding from Michigan State University.

Creative feeding will slow growth

Anytime you move your rabbits from a pelleted feed to other feed sources, you will see a reduction in growth rate. This is fine, as long as you are aware of it.

The occasional snack, like a very small handful of nice hay once in a while, is fine. But to have all they can eat hay in their cage will result in slower growth.

Cost to raise a fryer to 5 pounds is $6-6.80

The cost to raise fryers to 5 pounds is $6-6.8 based on a 3:1 feed to gain ratio and $0.40-0.44 per pound feed costs.

Not so surprisingly, if you have a more expensive feed, your rabbits are going to cost more to finish out. The feed costs I used here are 50 pound bags of feed at TSC, at $20-22 per bag. Small bags are outrageously priced, don’t buy those.

If you decide to go with an alternative feeding plan, for instance providing lots of hay or going with fresh greens, you will also have an altered finishing time for your fryers.

Since these feedstuffs are lower in energy than pellets, the fryers will take longer to reach 5 pounds than fryers on the pellets only diet.

As to whether or not you end up saving money by feeding alternative feeds, I don’t know. Why? Because as a rabbit gets older it also gets more inefficient in growth. These fryers will take longer to grow they will also take more feed.

Does that pay for your situation? It depends upon what is most important to you. If you want lowest cash expenditure, it probably does pay to use all of the non pelleted feeds your rabbits can safely consume.

If your main purpose is growth, stick to a pelleted feed and get those fryers growing and finishing quicker.

Count the cost of feeding the breeding stock rabbits, too

An additional point that most new folks don’t think of: cost of feeding the breeding stock.

Since you are producing fryers, it’s common to just count the cost of feeding the fryers. If you really want to have an accurate picture of costs, you also need to take into account the cost of feeding the rest of the breeding stock, as well.

Generally, the easiest way to figure feed costs for the entire rabbitry is to use a 4:1 ratio for your fryers. You are counting 3 pounds for the fryer and one pound for another adult rabbit, per pound of gain for the fryer.

The costs for the entire rabbitry will be another few dollars per fryer, taking the feed cost per fryer from $6-6.60 up to $8-8.80 each.

Obviously, this is not super accurate, since the exact costs for you will depend upon how many non productive rabbits you are currently feeding, but gives you a place to start.

If you have a ton or replacements that you are raising, then your rabbitry feed cost will be higher and your feed efficiency will be lower, since you have a lot of eaters that are not yet producers.

If you just have a trio and put all the fryers in the freezer, then your feed to gain will be at the most efficient, since you will have no rabbits that are eating yet no producing.

Is Raising Your Own Meat Rabbits Worth It?


Californian rabbit at a local auction

Thinking of getting into raising your own meat rabbits? Home raised meat is wonderful and rabbits fit well into yards that would be too small or too close to neighbors for other meat animals.

What do you need to consider before getting started with meat rabbits? Will raising meat rabbits be worth it to you or should you just buy fryers from someone else?

Rabbits raised for meat cost $11-11.60 each (feed and processing costs only). You will need to spend $355.75 for the cages and equipment and purchase an adult breeding trio (one buck, two does) that will cost between $100-150, which takes the total start up costs to $455.75-505.75, depending upon the cost of the breeding trio.

Purchased itemCost
Trio of adult breeding stock rabbits (one buck and two does)$100-150
Cages and equipment for trio and fryers$355.75
Feed per fryer (to live weight of 5 pounds)$6-6.60
Whole rabbitry feed per fryer (includes feed for adult rabbits)$8-8.80
Cost to purchase dressed fryer from a farm$30-40
Cost per fryer for processing and packaging$5+
Cash cost for feed and professional processing per fryer$11-11.60

To get going with rabbits, the first thing you’ll need to do is research! Yes, do a little reading up on breeds before you buy. Then get a high quality trio (one buck, two does) to start with.

Amount Of Meat From A Pair Of Rabbits shows you how to figure up the production of your rabbits based on the meat you hope to get from the pair.

How To Get Started Raising Rabbits For Meat walks you through choosing the breed that will work for you and picking your breeding stock.

I would start with adults, but buying junior rabbits (rabbits under 6 months old) is an option.

Rabbits, Blue New Zealand fryers at the fair
These are some blue New Zealand fryers at our local fair. I love the color!

Cost to buy a junior rabbit is $10-25

The lower cost way to get into raising rabbits is to purchase a junior rabbit. This rabbit will be around 8 weeks old and should have reached the ideal weight for fryers (young meat rabbits) of that breed.

The reason you want your rabbit to have reached ideal fryer weight is that shows this rabbit has the ability to grow well for the breed. Of course, you’ll want a nice meaty build, as well, but weight is an easy place to start.

How Many Meat Rabbits Do You Need For A Family? goes over the math of raising rabbits for meat.

Expect to pay from $10-25 for this rabbit, since it is young. Older rabbits will cost more since more work has gone into them and they are closer to breeding age.

I do have to mention, you can get rabbits for significantly less money at an auction, if you have one in your area. Auction prices are more like $5-10 each for really nice looking fryers and probably $20-30 for adults.

The catch here is that you never know what you are getting. If you want high quality breeding stock, go to a breeder for your starter trio and get adult rabbits that are ready to go.

Cost to buy a breeding rabbit is $25-80

To get going with rabbits more quickly, purchase an adult breeding trio. The selection of breeding stock quality rabbits will have been done for you by the breeder and you’ll be able to jump right into production of fryers.

Buy a trio, one buck and two does

I would expect to pay an above average price for your breeding pair or trio of rabbits. If just an everyday rabbit of your chosen breed costs you $50, then you should expect to pay more than that for a rabbit of breeding stock quality.

I would expect your trio of rabbits to cost $150 for a ready to breed, structurally correct starter herd. Of course, this cost will vary with area, breed and time of year, but plan to pay a bit more than average rabbit cost per breeder.

Does breed choice matter?

Breed choice will matter to your results. First off, you will get meat rabbits that look like their parents, no shocker there! What is surprising is how many folks fail to take this into consideration when picking out rabbits for breeding stock.

If you want 4.5-5 pound fryers at 8 weeks, you’ll need to get parent stock that are capable of making that level of growth happen, most likely be from the normal commercial meat rabbit breeds like Californian and New Zealand.

If, on the other hand, you prefer a smaller breed of rabbit or a rabbit that tends to grow more slowly, that’s fine, just know that the small breed or the slow growing breed will take longer, if ever, to reach the size you want.

So, that’s the growth or performance side of breed choice, but there’s also the price side. Where I’m going here is that special breeds will cost you more, just because they are special.

For instance, if in your area a nice Californian trio will cost you $100-150, it is very likely that a rare breed trio will cost you double that price. Why? Simply because they are rare. If that extra cost is worth it to you, go for it.

If you just want rabbits for meat, stick with a more common breed if only for the sake of performance.

Cost to feed rabbits to processing size is $6-6.60

Rabbits gain 1 pound for every 3 pounds of feed, this is a 3:1 feed to gain ratio. Since most fryers are processed at 5 pounds live weight, 3 pounds of feed per pound of gain x 5 pounds of gain is 15 pounds of feed per fryer.

The cost to feed your rabbits to processing size is $6-6.60, which is 15 pounds of rabbit feed at TSC priced at 40-44 cents per pound.

Of course, you can feed your rabbits different feed or add hay or grass to their diet, as well. This will lower the feed costs per day but increase the time it takes to finish (grow out) your rabbits.

You’ll also notice there is no labor cost figured in here, it’s just feed. I am putting your labor in as free. If you want to factor in your time, go for it. I tend to leave it out when figuring up initial budgets.

It is also important to know that you could easily add another pound of feed per pound of gain to the fryers to account for the feed going into the adults. So instead of figuring 3:1 gains, figure 4:1 gains to account for the adult’s feed, too.

If you are putting in the adult rabbit’s feed, as well, you are now looking at each fryer costing you between $8-8.80. Of course, the fryers did not eat all of that feed, but someone did and you pay for all of the feed no matter who ate it!

Value of custom raising your rabbits

The value of custom raised rabbits will depend upon how easily you can purchase rabbits raised the way you want them to be raised when you want to buy them.

Look at the sources of rabbit meat available to you now, which could be a local rabbit raiser or an online rabbit meat source and consider these points:

  • Is the rabbit you are able to buy raised in a way that you are happy with?
  • Is the supply available when you want to order rabbit, or are you iffy on getting your order filled?
  • What about the cost of the meat? Is the price per pound (and shipping) a cost you are comfortable paying?

If you do not like the meat you can get currently, or you can’t get any, now raising your own rabbits for meat starts to possibly make sense. Now, we need to dig deeper.

So far, just getting started with rabbits will be somewhat costly, you have the rabbits themselves for $100-150 and the equipment, listed below, for $355.75. That’s a total cash expenditure of $455.75-505.75 plus feed costs.

If you are planning on just eating rabbit a few times a year, you may just be better off paying for someone else to do the work. To be blunt, you can buy a lot of rabbit meat for $455.75.

For example: in my area there is a weekly auction that sells poultry and rabbits and I can buy fryers from $2-8 each. If prices go high, more like $10 each.

If I’m okay with these rabbits and willing to go to the auction then butcher the rabbits when I get home, why would I raise my own? The money does not make sense, since it would cost me $6 to raise each one!

On the other hand, if I want to raise my own rabbits so I know exactly what they ate and how they were treated, the prices at auction or online ads are irrelevant. It’s not the same rabbit as I would raise, myself.

If you are planning on eating a lot of rabbit, or you already do and spending this much on rabbit meat is normal for you, then raising your own is looking good. After all, you only need to buy the trio and equipment once!

I’m not trying to talk you out of raising rabbits here! I’m trying to get you thinking about all of your options so you can decide which one is best for you.

Rabbit feeding alternatives

Rabbits can eat a number of other foods, in addition to their normal pelleted ration.

But should they? The catch here is that rabbits have a sensitive digestive system so feeding a variety of other foods can cause serious upsets to your rabbit’s health.

You’ll have to work slowly towards transitioning your rabbits to a new forage and see how it goes. Look around on YouTube for rabbitries, especially outside of the U.S. that are mostly forage based and see what they are feeding.

If you are wanting to get the best growth of your rabbits for your time, stick to a pelleted ration. If you need to minimize pellet use to reduce feed costs, know that any other feeds will make the rabbit grow more slowly.

brown and white rabbit resting in cage
This rabbit is relaxing at the fair. Notice the black mat, this is the resting board that gives the rabbit a place to hang out that is off of the wire.

Cost of facilities for rabbits

The cost of the facilities for rabbits is a huge variable, one that will greatly depend upon what buildings you already have in place.

Most folks would be thinking of putting a few rabbit cages in an existing shed or garage or under the shady area created by the overhang of a roof. This is one of the beauties of rabbits, they can comfortably fit a lot of places!

What You Need To Raise Rabbits goes over your equipment needs to get your rabbit operation up and running.

We’ll go with the idea that you have a shed or overhang and you just need the actual wire cages that you’ll set on a raised support or hang. This could be sawhorses, cement blocks with boards or you can hang the cages.

Rabbit equipment costs Price (per cage)Total cost
36x30x18 wire cage$45$225 (5 cages)
Feeder$5.55$27.75
Waterer$5$25
Resting board$3.95$19.75
Nest boxes$28$56 (2 nest boxes)
All equipment$59.95 each for buck or fryer cages
$87.95 each for doe cages
$355.75

In this case, your cost per rabbit cage will be $45, which would buy a 36x30x18 cage at Bass Equipment.

Since you are breeding these rabbits, you’ll want to have a cage for each adult plus a cage per litter. You have 3 adults and potential of 2 litters per breeding, so you’ll need 5 full size cages.

Each cage will need a feeder, waterer and bedding, plus nest boxes for the does. You may also want to have a resting board to make a nice spot for the rabbits to get off of the wire floor.

Feeders are $5.55 each, waterers are $5 (depending upon what you get), resting boards are $3.95 each and nesting boxes are $28 at KWCages, another great rabbit supply business.

Of course, you can also raise rabbits in more of a hutch, prices of which will vary depending upon if you buy new or not. Keep an eye out for online ads, I often see hutches selling for very reasonable prices, compared to buying new.

Californian fryers
Here are some great looking fryers!

Ease of raising rabbits at home

If anything recommends rabbits as a good meat animal it’s this, they can be raised by nearly anyone. All you need is a small area of space and you have a great place to raise high quality meat for your family.

Rabbits are also pretty family friendly. I have to admit to having some scars from rabbit scratches I got when I was younger, but overall, rabbits are easy keepers and work for most any area.

Rabbits are easily butchered at home

One of the beauties of rabbit is that you can butcher them yourself, very easily with simple equipment that would be available in any household.

You just need a knife and a way to hang the rabbit, which could be a porch railing or a tree branch, and pan to put the carcass in. Once you wash it up a bit, you just stick the fryer in the fridge overnight and it’s ready to cook the next day.

The other advantage to home butchering is that you get to pace your meat production and the flow into your freezer.

You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever tried to fit 25 meat chickens or a half beef into your freezer at once! With rabbits, you can space out the processing or do the entire litter, it’s your choice.

Cost to buy rabbit meat from a local farm or online source

Look around and see what sources of rabbits or rabbit meat are available in your area.

If you are willing to butcher the rabbits, you can often find a source of reasonably priced fryers and butcher them yourself. The catch here is you do not control availability or how the rabbits were raised.

You can also find a source of fryers and pay for them to be butchered. This is tough to find, but doable. In our area, rabbits cost $5 each for processing, if they have space in the schedule since their main business is poultry.

There is an obvious exception here: when you are raising rabbits on a specific diet. Now you are getting into some wiggle room with your rabbit raising budget.

For instance Polyface Farms sells forage raised rabbit fryers for about $10/pound of meat. A 3.1-3.4 pound dressed fryer is $33.32 to be specific.

So, if you were to raise rabbits like Polyface, a litter of 8 would be worth $266.56. That will add up quickly and pay for your investment in breeding stock and cages very quickly!

angora rabbit with litter
Here’s an Angora rabbit with her litter, an excellent example of rabbits to sell, not the best choice for production!

Additional income opportunities with rabbits

Of course, there are additional income opportunities with rabbits. Especially if you are on point with your management and end up raising 8 or so fryers per litter for most of the year. With two does that will be around 80 fryers per year.

Unless you cook at home the majority of the week, that’s a lot of fryers to eat!

Selling extra rabbits

One of the easy ways to profit from your rabbits is to sell extra live rabbits. These could be the occasional pet or production rabbits.

Some folks plan to sell tons of rabbits as pets, before you do, make sure there is a demand. The popularity of rabbits as a pet and the specific breed of rabbit people want seems to change frequently.

Selling meat

You can sell processed rabbits to all of the folks just like you who are wanting a great, local source of rabbit meat, but haven’t found it yet.

Selling manure/urine

While selling manure and or urine from the rabbitry is not a popular idea here, at least not in my experience, this is a money maker for some folks in areas where high quality, natural garden fertilizer is pricey.

Natural fertilizers are catching on as people realize the incomplete nutrient profile that chemical fertilizers are providing for the plants and ultimately the eater of the plants, (you!) and want to increase the nutrients in their food.

Hatching Your Own Turkey Poults? 6 Things You Need To Know


turkey poult and turkey eggs

Thinking about hatching your own turkey poults, that’s exciting! Here are the 6 aspects of hatching and raising turkey poults that you need to consider to have a great result and healthy, well grown poults.

Consider the cost to hatch your own turkeys vs buying eggs or poults

Believe it or not, you’ve got some options when it comes to getting poults. You can have the adults and let them hatch the poults, have someone else incubate the eggs for you, buy poults or buy fertile eggs.

How To Raise Turkey Poults shows you the specifics of keeping your poults healthy and happy.

Your breeding pair of turkeys can hatch their own eggs

Pros: you are hands off until poults hatch

Cons: keeping hen with poults is not likely to work, you need to care for poults just like you ordered them from a hatchery and you have the year round cost of keeping the adults

If you have a breeding age pair of heritage breed turkeys, you are set. The cost of hatching your own poults is no more than the normal cost of feeding your adult turkeys! Bargain!

I have always been amazed at how great heritage breed turkey hens are at incubating and hatching eggs! Wow are they incubation all stars!

10 Breeds Of Turkeys To Raise For Meat gives you an idea of which breeds will work best for you based on what you want from your birds.

Where things go wobbly is they are the worst moms ever! Once those poults are hatched the mom will take off walking and the poults get lost.

You’ll have 15-20 poults in the morning and be down to 3 by the evening. No joke.

We handle this by gathering up the poults and putting them in a brooder to be raised without their mom. Sad to say, but significantly better than dead.

You could try keeping the hen and poults in a roomy pen, like a box stall.

Be sure the hen is staying calm (she’ll freak out when you come in to feed and accidentally hurt the poults) and the area is cat and rat proof.

The main down side of keeping the hen with her poults is cost of feed. The hen will scarf the expensive game bird starter that the poults must have.

Try to keep the hen with the poults if you want, but honestly, you’ll most likely end up kicking out the hen and putting in a heat source.

Buying fertile eggs to hatch at home

Pros: lower cost, 12 eggs for around $75

Cons: incubation requires attention to detail and small mess ups cause big problems

I did a quick online search for “turkey hatching eggs” and got quite a few results. Here is the turkey hatching eggs page at Murray McMurray Hatchery to give you an idea of ordering options and prices.

I have to be honest here, I would buy day old poults rather than ordering hatching eggs.

The economics of buying hatching eggs never works out for me when poults of the same breed are available. I can hear you say “what is she talking about, eggs are way cheaper”. Yes, but you need more than the eggs.

You’ll need to get a decent incubator, the styrofoam ones are not accurate enough unless you are willing to check them every hour or so, you’ll need something more like a Brinsea incubator.

Here’s where the economics start looking not so great, that incubator is $1,100. It’s top of the line, but still, $1,100, so unless you are hatching nearly constantly throughout the year, I can’t see how that math works out.

If your interest in turkeys is casual, just buy some poults from a hatchery or someone who has the breeding pair, rather than incubate them yourself.

Pay a person to hatch them for you

Occasionally, we see ads online for a person with a large incubator wanting to hatch eggs for you in return for half of the hatchlings.

You would take your clean, fertile eggs to the incubator owner, who would monitor incubation and hatching for you.

If you do not have a nice incubator yourself, this is not a bad idea. Incubation is an exacting process that requires you to either have an automated incubator or be constantly monitoring the eggs.

If you are not willing to carefully tend the eggs, let someone else do it for you.

The incubator we use. It requires tending to run accurately and hatch well.

Purchase and run the incubator yourself

There are some really great incubators available, if you are thinking of hatching your own eggs. We have always used the square styrofoam incubators that you can find at most any farm store.

These work well, as long as you are willing to tend them a bit.

What do I mean by tend them? These incubators need to have the humidity controlled by adding water to the bottom of the inside of the incubator. You’ll also need to monitor the temperature and change it as needed.

Additionally, you will need egg turners, if you do not want to turn the eggs buy hand.

How To Successfully Use A Still Air Incubator shows you the steps we take to hatch eggs with our incubator.

There are incubator models that will do everything for you, monitor humidity, temperature, turning, the works. The catch is the price.

The good news is each hatch of birds sold at retail prices would nearly pay for the incubator. If you are planning on selling the hatchlings, this is something to consider.

Turkey poults require specific care

Turkey poults are not as “tough” as other hatchlings, they need specific care and are unforgiving of “mess ups”.By unforgiving, I mean you have to raise them as specified or they die.

How Much Space For Turkeys goes over the space requirements for your birds, both in the brooder and as they grow.

I am not saying that turkeys are hard to raise, they aren’t. They are just less able to handle stress than other baby birds.

Turkey poults must have a secure brooder with game bird starter (not chicken feed!) and be kept dry and draft free.

When you are raising turkey poults, you need to be on your game.

Give them what they need, you’ll have a great time raising turkeys. Skimp on something and the poults will have a hard time recovering and you’ll be disappointed.

Turkeys need a secure shelter

Turkeys do not need much in the way of a place to stay, but they do need something. Shelter makes them feel more secure and protects them from weather, specifically rain.

Sectioning off a corner of the garage or putting them in a home made pallet or cattle panel shelter would work fine.

Turkey poults, like all young poultry, need a brooder of some sort. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to be warm and secure.

Be aware that your turkeys are going to be predator magnets once they come out of the brooder! Really the shelter is to keep others out, not so much to keep the turkeys in!

Penn State Small Flock Turkey Production article, great stuff in here, check it out.

As far as cost of the shelter goes, that completely depends upon you and your situation. You may have something already that will work great or you may have to buy or build.

Turkeys are predator magnets

Predators love to get ahold of a turkey, from baby to adult, doesn’t matter.

At the top of your turkey raising list needs to be a plan to keep predators out of your turkeys!

The easiest thing to do is to lock the turkeys up in a secure shed overnight.

If you feed them in the shed, they’ll go in at night to bed down. Give them a roosting option if you have the lighter built heritage birds.

Turkeys must have high protein feed

In some areas the high protein feed that turkeys need can be hard to find. What you are looking for is game bird starter for the first few weeks and then game bird grower for the rest of their growing period.

Once turkeys get to adult size they can eat an all flock type feed, but not as babies!

Feed For Turkeys shows you what feed you need to start out your birds then what to change to as you raise them.

If you are having trouble finding the feed you’ll need (you are figuring all of this out before you have the turkeys, right?) call your local extension office.

This is state run office that handles the 4-H programs for the county fair. If your county fair has turkeys, someone here has the information you need.

This is our pair of Bourbon Red Turkeys just walking around looking for snacks.

Heritage breed turkeys can wander

Wandering off, or just flying up into trees is more of a heritage breed turkey thing. The broad breasted birds are too heavy to make this happen!

When Can Turkey Poults Go Outside? goes over how to tell when your poults are big enough to venture out of the brooder and how to set up a poult safe outside area.

The lighter built turkeys have the ability to get out and can even fly a little. The good news is that turkeys aren’t big thinkers, if they like where they are they’ll stay.

As long as you are giving them a comfortable place to live where they feel secure, your birds will stick around the feed. If they are scared or you are not keeping them full, they will feel obligated to leave.

Best Breeds Of Sheep For Meat


black sheep with white lamb

Sheep are wonderful livestock to raise that are finally becoming more popular. You’ve got quite a few choices, there are quite a few breeds of sheep!

What are the best breeds of meat sheep and how do you choose the one that will work best for you and your farm?

The best breeds of sheep for meat are: Cheviot, Dorset, Dorper, Hampshire, Katahdin, Shropshire, Southdown, Suffolk and Texel. These breeds are popular as both purebred sheep and for use as terminal sires.

I’ve broken this article down into 3 sections, breeds for meat, better moms (ewes to cross with a meat breed ram, if you want to have more maternal ability in your flock) and how to figure out what type of lamb will work best for you.

Raising Sheep For Profit goes over the numbers of raising sheep and shows you how to find the prices for your area.

Here’s how we feed our flock on pasture. We have only one colored sheep, but I get a kick out of her, so I like to see what she’s doing.

9 of the best sheep breeds for meat

The most popular breeds of sheep for meat are:

  • Cheviot
  • Dorset
  • Dorper
  • Hampshire
  • Katahdin
  • Shropshire
  • Southdown
  • Suffolk
  • Texel

These 9 sheep are the all stars of lamb production, at least in the U.S. These sheep are breeds that are known for producing growthy, well filled out lambs that produce a nice carcass.

The specific breed you choose should be based on what exactly you want from your sheep. Scroll down to the “Type of sheep best for meat” section to get an idea of the selection parameters you might want to consider.

Pros And Cons Of Raising Sheep is a nice overview of the good and the not so good parts of shepherding.

BreedAppearanceKnown for
Cheviotall white, no wool on face or headchoice 40-60 pound lambs
spunky lambs
Dorsetall whitegreat moms
an all round type sheep
Dorperhair sheep, black head and white body or all whitemeaty lambs
largest hair sheep
Hampshiredark head, white bodylarger market lambs
crossbreeding sire
Katahdinhair sheep, many colorsgreat moms
all round type hair sheep
Shropshiredark head, white bodylarger market lambs
crossbreeding sire
Southdownlightly colored face, white body, shorter sheepchoice 40-60 pound lambs
smaller market lambs
Suffolkshiny black head, white body, taller sheeplarger market lambs
crossbreeding sire
Texelall white, no wool on head, distinctly wide buildchoice 40-60 pound lambs
chunky market lambs

You’ll notice that there are a few distinct groupings of the sheep listed above, which are basically white face, black face and hair sheep.

From a production standpoint, it does not matter much which breed you choose (aside from shearing) as long as the lambs are well finished, but your buyers may prefer one look of lamb over another.

Tunis ewes at the local fair
These are some Tunis ewes at our local fair. Tunis would be a wonderful breed to raise. They could be used for purebred lambs or as moms to crossbred lambs by using a terminal sire, like a Texel or Suffolk.

10 breeds that are great moms (for better market lambs)

Now, we move to the ewe flock and the idea of producing crossbred lambs, which is something that you may not have considered.

There is nothing wrong with purebred lambs, of course! If you like the list above, stick with the breed that will give you the lambs you want.

However, if you want nice market lambs and more maternal ability on the part of the ewes consider producing crossbred lambs for your meat lambs. This is common in most bigger flocks producing market lambs.

Easy Breeds Of Sheep goes over a list of versatile, easy to raise sheep breeds that are good choices for just about anyone.

Sheep breeds that are great moms to produce purebred or crossbred lambs:

  • Border Leicester
  • Columbia
  • Coopworth
  • Dorset
  • Katahdin
  • North Country Cheviot
  • Polypay
  • Rambouillet
  • Targhee
  • Tunis

For dry, range type areas: consider Columbia, Rambouillet or Targhee.

For small farm flocks: consider Border Leicester, Coopworth, Dorset, Polypay or Tunis.

For sheep with an extended breeding season: consider Dorset, Katahdin, Polypay or Tunis.

For easy to care for, hardy sheep: consider North Country Cheviot or Katahdin.

While these breeds themselves are not specifically known for their market lamb production, they are known for being great moms and are popular to use as a ewe flock which is crossed with a meat type ram to produce market lambs.

The reason I include these breeds in a meat sheep list is that sometimes meat sheep, while capable of producing beautiful market lambs are not the best moms or do not have great lambing percentages.

Using maternal type ewes crossed with meat type rams will give you the best of both worlds, great moms that have and raise more lambs and nice carcass traits from the ram.

If both parents are from the meat group, you get one super lamb per mom, rather than two slightly less awesome but still very nice lambs that you get when you have maternal moms crossed with a meat group ram.

Why would you want the slightly less meaty lambs? Because you have two of them so for the money and time you have in the ewe, you will get twice as much income from her lambs when compared to selling the single lamb.

Type of sheep best for meat

The best type of sheep for meat is more of a question of what your area’s lamb buyers want in an ideal lamb. If you are your customer, then get the sheep that you want. If you are selling at least some of the lambs, read on.

Of course, you should be choosing a breed that suits you and your farm! But unless you are going to direct market all of your lambs to the customer, the local preferences for lamb type and size need to factor in to your plans.

How Much Will You Get For Your Lambs? shows you how to figure up the current prices for lambs in your area. Even if you plan to privately sell your lamb, you should know area prices and trends.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself before you get sheep:

  • Is the 50 pound finished lamb popular with the local buyers? If this is the case, a Cheviot or Texel ram would produce these type of lambs for your market.
  • Do the folks in your area want more of a 100-120 pound lamb, more for retail cuts, like chops? If so, you’ll want to have more size to the lambs, which would mean you’ll want a bigger sire, more like a Suffolk or a Hampshire.
  • Do people in your area like white face, black face or speckle faced lambs? What about the looks of the wool? Shaggier fleeces vs more neat and tidy fleeces?
  • Do the buyers in your area like hair lambs? Then consider Katahdin or Dorper. A word of caution here: while hair sheep are the fastest growing group of sheep currently, not all buyers like the lambs.
  • Can you get a shearer in to shear the flock? This is a tough one for some areas. Just know that if other folks have wool sheep around you or there are market lambs or breeding stock sheep at the county fair someone in your area shears.

I know that some of these things seem like minor points, but at our local auction we can see a marked difference in the prices paid for a white faced tight wool lamb compared to a speckle faced shaggy one.

Is the lamb any different underneath? Apparently someone thinks so. You’ll need to spy around your area, in some areas these things seem to matter, in other areas, not at all.

Also, in my opinion, people overemphasize the problems of getting shearing done. Plenty of folks get their sheep shorn, every year. Stop into a few farms and ask how they handle shearing.

If you are a small flock, the charge to stop at your place will be high, per sheep. I want to be upfront about that, but go over the numbers of what the buyers in your area want. For us, the cost of shearing is more than worth it.

Here’s how I look at it: wool lambs are bringing a $0.20 premium over hair lambs, this is just what we have seen at the auction. If the lamb is 100 pounds, that’s $20 more per lamb.

Since we shear ewes, not lambs, and generally you get 1.5 lambs per ewe, that’s another $30 per ewe for getting the shearing done. Right now, the shearing costs us $5 per sheep, so we make $25 per sheep by shearing.

Granted, if or when the pricing evens out for hair lambs, this will not be the case, shearing will now be a cost to us. But, right now in our area, having wool sheep vs hair sheep is paying, even more than shearing.

When Is The Best Time To Sell Lambs? helps you figure out the seasonality of your lamb market so you can know when to sell your lambs to get better prices.

These are some of our early born lambs, you can see their creep feed in the upper right. The ewes are locked out of this area, this is lambs only. If you want to know more about this, read my article on Creep Feeding Sheep.

Certain types of lambs may be less attractive to buyers

I have no idea why, but, at least in my area (Ohio), we notice that hair sheep lambs at auction tend to get a bit lower of a price per pound, around $0.20 or so lower, than the price of a similar wool breed lamb.

Additionally, colored sheep and shaggy sheep seem to sell for a bit less, as well. Right now, our area buyers seem to prefer white faced tight wool lambs.

This is by no means universal and the price difference here could easily change over the next few years, but you should know that in some areas certain lambs sell better than others.

To get the scoop for your area, you’ll need to either attend a few auctions or, better yet, ask the folks eating the lamb what they prefer. In our experience, the perfect lamb varies by culture and intended use.

All sheep breeds can and are used for meat

All sheep have the potential to end up as meat animals, it’s just a matter of how good of a carcass are they able to produce.

If you are producing lambs for yourself, or just want a certain breed of sheep because you like their looks, super! Get the sheep that you like best.

If you are wanting to sell the lambs or get the breed or cross that will work the best in your area, now you need to do a bit of work first to figure out what you need then pick the breed that fits those criteria.

The easiest sheep to have for meat will be a more maternal ewe with a meat breed sire, for instance Dorset or Dorset cross ewes and a Texel or Suffolk ram.

Sheep Breeds is a wonderfully extensive list of sheep breeds put together by Oklahoma State University. I love to use this site as a resource, check it out for any sheep breed that you are interested in.

Sheep 101 is a wonderful site that is very beginner friendly. This is an article about the many types of sheep operations in the U.S. Click around on the site, there is a ton of great stuff here!

Best Breeds Of Sheep For Wool (Fine, Medium, Long and Specialty)


sheep owned by Cammy Wilson, The Sheep Game (YouTube)

Raising sheep is becoming much more popular, and, of course, sheep are known for their wool production! With all the breeds of sheep available and the different types of wool, choosing a flock for wool can be quite a task.

For someone looking to get started with sheep, what are the best breeds of sheep for wool?

The best breeds of sheep for commercial wool production are fine wool breeds: Cormo, Debouillet, Delaine-Merino, Merino and Rambouillet, which are all Merino based.

The best breeds of sheep for direct to customer sales are breeds that have specialty fleeces (fleeces that are very soft, easy to spin, or naturally colored) or have wool that will be in demand when made into wool products like yarn. Examples of popular sheep for specialty wool sales are Romney, Shetland and rare breeds.

If you want to raise sheep for wool as a hobby, you’ll need to either have customers for that wool or enjoy using the wool yourself. There are tons of choices will all manner of different fleeces!

However, if you are looking into selling commodity wool as an additional income for your farm, let me be upfront, wool sales will not make you much money.

You will be much better off, money wise, choosing a breed of sheep based on suitability to your area and how well those lambs fit the needs and wants of the local buyers.

ewe and lamb on grass
Here are some of our sheep, grazing. These are a Dorset/Polypay cross and would have medium grade wool. We raise them for market lambs.

Raising Sheep For Profit goes into the income side of sheep. Look over the budgets and run your own numbers if you are considering sheep for an income.

Getting Started With Sheep As A Business goes over whether or not sheep will work for you.

Where To Sell Your Wool gives you the run down of places to sell your wool. Unless you have a specialty wool or a specific customer that you are direct selling to, wool is going to be more of a cost than an income for most sheep.

5 common fine wool sheep breeds

The 5 common fine wool sheep breeds in the U.S. are:

  • Cormo
  • Debouillet
  • Delaine-Merino
  • Merino, fine, medium and superfine (fiber less than 18 microns)
  • Rambouillet

There are other breeds that have fine wool, but these 5 are the ones you are most likely to find.

Here’s what shearing looked like this spring for our flock.

Fine wool sheep breeds usually are Merino based

Fine wool is from sheep with fleeces measuring up to 22 microns, lower numbers, below 18, are superfine. Breeds that have fine wool are Merino based breeds.

Generally, sheep with fine wool are raised in dry parts of the country, for instance the western flocks are normally Rambouillet.

Fine wool sheep breeds have some commercial wool income

Of all the grades of wool, fine wool is the most valuable. How valuable, I don’t know. It’s tough to find a price for commodity wool and since that’s not the type of wool we have, I’m in the dark on this one.

Fine wool is sells well direct to customers

If you are looking to direct sell to customers, you can get paid pretty well for all star fleeces. Here’s a shop on Etsy getting $16.28 for 4 oz. of a beautiful Merino fleece.

Since the average weight of a superfine Merino fleece is 6-9 pounds, this sheep has some high value wool!

I’m sure you have to skirt off some of the fleece, not all parts of a fleece are premium, but even if you could get 5 pounds of highly sought after wool, this sheep fleece has a retail value of $65.12 per pound or $325.60 for the fleece.

I picked a best case scenario here, this shop is selling very high quality wool from a coated sheep (that requires extra work) and is, of course, running the shop and fulfilling orders.

Here’s another shop on Etsy, selling raw fleeces Merino for $15.00 per pound. At an estimated fleece weight of 6-11 pounds and taking off a few pounds for skirting, this fleece is selling for $90-150 retail.

There are 10 common medium wool sheep breeds

The 10 most common medium wool sheep breeds in the U.S. are:

  • Cheviot
  • Columbia
  • Corriedale
  • Dorset
  • Finn
  • Hampshire
  • Montadale
  • Oxford
  • Polypay
  • Shropshire
  • Southdown
  • Suffolk
  • Targhee (some individual sheep have fine wool)
  • Texel

Medium wool has little commercial value

Most commercially raised sheep that are not range ewes will fall into the medium wool group. This is where our sheep fit, we have a mixed flock that has a Dorset/Polypay base. This year we got $0.05 per pound for the wool.

Commodity wool for this group is a money loser once you take out the price of shearing, which for us is $5.00 each since we have a larger flock of sheep. It would be more per sheep if our flock were smaller.

Medium wool is from 22-30 microns and is the most common wool outside of the large range flocks, which are normally fine wool sheep like Rambouillet.

Medium wool sheep breeds can be used by handcrafters

There are folks privately selling fleeces, especially colored ones, to handcrafters and getting anywhere from $50-110. Look up any of the breeds listed above on market places like Etsy to see what folks are offering up for sale.

These are two fleeces I kept back from our flock. I like to have some of our wool on hand to mess around with when I’m feeling like spinning. It’s relaxing and nice to keep my hands busy when listening to podcasts and talking head style videos!

8 Long wool sheep breeds available in the U.S.

8 long wool sheep breeds in the U.S. are:

  • Border Leicester
  • Coopworth
  • Cotswold
  • Leicester Longwool
  • Lincoln
  • Romney
  • Shetland (actually a medium wool, but popular with handcrafters)
  • Wensleydale

For me, this is the wool that I like to work with the most, it is easy to spin, generally felts well and comes in all manner of different colors, perfect for anyone looking to work with wool that has a bit of flare to it!

As with the other categories of wool, look up the fleeces that are for sale on the online platforms and see what shepherds are providing and what fleeces are popular with shoppers.

Long is used by handcrafters

Long wool is over 30 microns. This wool really has near zero commercial value but is what I think of as the most popular class for handcrafters wanting an easy to work with wool.

This is a Shetland fleece I bought at a local fiber festival.

Natural colored wool is popular with handcrafters

Naturally colored sheep, wool, fleeces and wool products (yarn, roving, etc.) are very popular with handcrafters who like to work with wool that has color straight from the sheep.

Commercial value of natural colored wool is zero, the wool buyers do not want it. Natural colored wool is for specialty sales to handcrafters for knitting, spinning, felting, rugs, crafts, etc.

Specialty wool sales require more work from you

Some specialty wool farms are making quite a bit of money from their sheep with high demand fleeces. Be sure to check out what is needed to get these great fleeces to customers before you decide to go with direct wool sales.

A big deal with buying fleeces, even though they are usually skirted (the not so great parts sorted off) they can still have quite a bit of vegetable matter if the sheep are not carefully monitored or coated all year.

Are you willing to do the work it takes to keep these fleeces in top shape? If so, folks selling fleeces are getting $100+ per fleece by selling direct to customers.

Our shearer sells as shorn fleeces from his Icelandic flock for $50 each. He informs the buyer that there will be a bit of sorting off to do, and they sell out each year.

The crazy part here is, the Icelandic breed needs to be shorn twice per year, so that’s $100 per sheep from fleece income. Not too bad.

Sheep And Wool Festival goes over one of the great sheep and wool festivals held in our area. This is the place to go if you want to see what folks who are selling specialty wools are doing with their fleeces and their products.

I love naturally colored wool and get a kick out of spinning and knitting with it, you get such wonderful color throughout the yarn and the knitting!

Income from sheep wool, in general, is poor

As much as I enjoy the wonderful fleeces, to be upfront with you, even with direct to customer sales of specialty fleeces, you would still make more money with your sheep selling market lambs.

If you love working with wool and are looking into a hobby to please yourself, then, of course, get the sheep you with the wool you love!

If your main purpose for your flock is profit, look into sheep that will produce the best market lambs for your area and don’t worry about the wool.

Resources:

New Mexico State University: Wool Grades, chart on average diameter for sheep wool by breed

Grades And Lengths Of Grease Wool: Colorado University Extension, comparison of wool grading systems

Getting Started With Sheep As A Business


ewe with newborn twins

Sheep are the new up and coming livestock with a lot of folks looking into getting started with a flock of their own. But what are the first steps? What do you need to know in order to set up a successful sheep business?

To get started with sheep as a business, you need to know what lambs are selling for in your area, know what resources you have available for the flock and choose sheep that will produce lambs to fit your chosen market.

We raise sheep for a living and are seeing an increase in interest from folks thinking about getting into sheep, as well. Here are the things you need to consider before getting started with sheep as a business.

Sheep farming can be a profitable business

Sheep farming can be a profitable business, if you are able to keep costs down and manage the sheep in a way that keeps the sheep healthy and meets the demand for lamb in your area.

Here are some of the things you’ll need to figure out, before you get sheep:

  • What resources do you have for the sheep operation? grass, fence, building, etc.
  • Price of lambs in your area
  • What type of lambs sell well
  • Seasonality of lamb prices in your area

Raising Sheep For Profit is an article I wrote that goes over the numbers of sheep raising and gives you a budget to work with to see if raising sheep will work for you. The budget is based on our numbers but is easily adjusted to yours.

Here is a look at the summer management of our sheep.

Evaluate your situation to see if sheep work for your area

Sheep will need feed, a place to stay and some management, which means they need your time and attention. What you decide to feed them and where they stay depend upon your situation. Sheep needing your time is a constant.

What are the sheep going to eat?

The main thing to know about feeding sheep is that sheep are better suited to areas that have plenty of grazing. Some sheep are more adventurous eater than others, but overall, sheep are grass eaters.

  • What’s available for the sheep to eat?
  • Do you have pastures? If so, how much land do you have available?
  • What does that land grow, both what forages and how much of it?
  • What is your grazing season for the year?
  • What will the sheep eat in the winter?

How Many Sheep Do You Need? shows you how to figure out the number of sheep your land can support based on the amount of forages you land produces.

If you have a neighbor who has sheep, stop by and ask about how many sheep they have per acre and how much hay they feed in the winter. This first hand information will go a long way toward helping you plan for your sheep.

We have the main flock outside all year and bring the lambs into the barn at weaning. Which means we are feeding mostly grass from mid April through mid November and mostly hay for the rest of the year.

Where are the sheep going to live?

Where are your sheep going to live? If you have pastures, you already know where your sheep will be hanging out, but if you plan to keep sheep inside or do more of a dry/exercise lot plan, you’ve got more planning to do.

Granted, most folks would be keeping sheep outside, we certainly do, but it is possible to raise happy and healthy sheep inside a barn, as long as the sheep are dry, it’s well ventilated and the sheep have plenty of room.

Of course, with sheep inside you are also now responsible for feeding them. What’s the feeding plan? Purchasing hay and probably some grain? Where will you get the hay and grain and for what price?

Cheviot mule ewes in Scotland, image from The Sheep Game (YouTube)
These are Cheviot mule ewes in Scotland. Their owner, Cammy Wilson, is a shearer and sheep farmer who rents all of his land! He has a fun and interesting channel The Sheep Game (on YouTube) where he shows how he manages over 600 sheep and gets done loads of shearing, as well.

How many sheep will you be able to raise?

Now, if you don’t know already, you’ll need to figure up how many sheep you will be able to raise. This should be a number of sheep per acre that is common in your area.

Generally, the number of sheep you can have in an area is 5x the number of cattle that same area can support. For instance, if your area is normally has one cow on 10 acres then you will be able to support 5 sheep on 10 acres.

In my area, Ohio, the standard numbers are 5 sheep per acre, so if you had an acre yard you could fence it in and keep 5 sheep as lawnmowers.

Your state agronomy guide should help you figure this out. To find my state’s agronomy guide, I search “Ohio agronomy guide”. Your area will have something similar, click around to find the free online version.

Small Acreage Sheep is an article I wrote to give folks with a smaller land base some ideas of how to raise sheep with limited pasture area or even in your yard.

The number of sheep you can keep is strictly based on forage production, which you should already know from the “what are the sheep going to eat” section. If you skipped the math, go back and calculate this stuff out.

You can add sheep numbers by adding in hay to supplement the grass

I also want to remind you that the number of sheep you can raise is based on forage, not necessarily grass, meaning if you are willing to feed hay, you can have more sheep per acre.

I am specifically thinking of folks with little to no land, but who have a decent sized barn and want to raise sheep.

The catch here is overstocking your pasture will be hard on the land, increase parasites, and cost you more to raise the sheep, since you are increasing feed costs with hay or grain.

However, if you need more sheep to make your operation viable, you can add forage (in the form of hay, haylage or silage) to the system, as long as you have enough space to keep the sheep dry and comfortable otherwise.

Heavily stocking an area will require more management from you, but it is doable as long as you keep the sheep happy.

Know the price lambs are selling for in your area

Sheep farming hinges on selling lambs, usually market lambs, which are butcher ready lambs at the weight the customers of your area prefer.

You need to figure up the prices for lambs in your area. The easiest way to do this is to look at the market reports of an auction in your area, or something as close as possible, and see what the current prices are.

There is no definitive answer to price, it tends to be seasonal as well as vary with area.

For instance, we just sold a load of lambs for $225 each, that’s a pretty good price, since it’s mid December. We usually start selling in January, but this year price went up before the first of the year, so we sent some lambs that were ready.

How is the lamb price and seasonality in your area? Read How Much Will My Lambs Sell For? an article I wrote to show you how to read a market report and figure the lamb prices for your area.

Please, do not go any further until you have figured out the selling price and seasonality of lambs where you live.

This is a business, you must know the potential income you are working with before you can decide if sheep will work for you. Be sure to check back through the past few years of market reports and figure the price ranges.

How do I start sheep farming?

By now you should know if sheep will work for your farming situation and what the prices of lamb is in your area. Hopefully, you have done the math and feel that sheep will be a good business to get started with.

Now, how to start?

You need to know exactly what type and size of lambs you are trying to produce and when you need them.

Successful Farming: New Ideas For The Sheep Industry is an interesting article in an online magazine featuring three sheep operations in the U.S. that all serve different markets. Read through here for some ideas.

Know type and weight of lambs that sell best in your area

Since your main income will be from selling lambs, you need to see for yourself what type and size of lambs that are selling well in your area.

In our area a 55-60 pound, chunky little Cheviot cross lamb sells very well, they always top the sale. This weight group is very popular in our area and tons of folks are aiming to hit this market with their lambs.

We raise bigger lambs that finish out in the 80-100 pound range for folks who want cuts of meat, rather than whole lambs, like the Cheviot lambs.

Our lambs take longer to reach market weight, which has them selling later in the year when prices are normally much higher than that of the lambs sold directly off of pasture in the fall.

These are just two examples of type and sizes of lambs that buyers want. What is the type of lamb that sells the best in your area? What size do people want those lambs?

You also have the option of private sales, some folks do stunningly well privately selling all of their lambs, so this is a great option for you if you have customers in your area.

Each group of people have differing ideas of the ideal lamb, so make sure you know what the folks in your area want and what they are willing to pay.

Pros And Cons Of Raising Sheep goes over some of the things you’ll want to think about before getting your first flock.

Know when you will sell lambs

I’ve mentioned it earlier, but since it’s important, we’ll look into it again. You need to have a plan of when you sell your lambs, specifically which month or time of the year.

Your area will have a “glut” season for any livestock. This is when all of the farmers are selling their market animals for the year.

Not too surprisingly, prices during the glut are low because of all the lambs going to the sale at the same time, the supply is high, so the price per lamb will be lower.

The opposite is also true, when lambs in your area are not normally ready for market, in the off season, the prices will be higher, since there are less lambs for the buyers.

Seasonality of lamb prices is usually tied to grass growth

Normally, the seasonality of prices is directly related to grass growth. Lambs are born in the spring, grow through the summer and sell in the fall.

This is a very normal pattern that most folks will follow, which also means that anyone using this plan will automatically be selling their lambs in the glut.

If you want higher prices for your sheep, you need to figure out what the glut for your area is and then sell at a different time. This is why we feed our lambs, to keep them past the glut and sell at higher prices in the late winter.

Other folks are using sheep that breed year round, having the lambs born in the barn, feeding them a creep feed to get the most growth and selling the 50-60 pounders that are popular in my area.

Sheep Creep Feeder is one of my articles going over your options to creep feed your lambs.

These folks want their money back as quickly as possible and do it by selling smaller, well finished lambs that always sell well, or sell these lambs at the less popular times of the year for an additional bump in price.

Whichever way you choose to set up your business, know that nothing is perfect. All decisions require you to weigh the good and the bad and decide which one works best for you.

For example: the sheep that require the least extra work are the sheep that follow the normal pattern and sell in the glut. If you want the easiest plan, this is probably it. It is also likely to be the least profitable.

If you want to sell off season lambs, you’ll get more money for the lambs, but it will require more work and facilities on your part.

Selling direct to customers will likely get you the most money per lamb, but it takes work to find the customers and work out an arrangement that keeps both of you happy.

Choose the type of sheep that will fit your needs

Finally, you need to pick the sheep that will fit your needs. The ideal sheep for you will produce the lambs you are wanting to sell at the times you are wanting to sell them.

Best Sheep For Beginners gives you some breed ideas.

Your ideal sheep could be purebred or cross. The breed is not the main thing you should be picking on, it’s what the sheep can do and does it fit your needs.

If you are stuck on one breed and want it no matter what, know that you are probably not going to be able to get all of the things you want from your sheep business.

If that’s acceptable for you, choose the sheep breed first, then work with the characteristics of that breed. Since this is a business, I do not recommend choosing the breed first. Know your needs, then choose the breed that is a close match.

Sheep 201: Business Planning is a resource showing all of the paperwork you’ll want to have to make sure that your sheep business is a business and not just a hobby, meaning it will make you money, as intended.