We raise both sheep and Boer goats on our farm. As a matter of fact, we bought our first sheep 30 years ago.
The reason I remember the exact summer is because we used the money we received as wedding gifts to purchase 4 mature ewes.
The goats came 20 years later as a 4-H project for my youngest daughter. Boer goats were hard to find at the time and she was insistent on breeding her own.
Although this article is titled, Buying Sheep: When is the Best Time?, the information below applies equally to both sheep and goats.
Let’s Get Started
So, you are ready to purchase your first sheep. Or perhaps expand your existing flock.
First, let me just say how excited I am for you. [You know that feeling most ladies get from a new pair of shoes? Well that is me when I’m buying sheep. 😉 ]
Next, let me add a caveat to this post. There is never a bad time to purchase sheep!
I mean who can resist?!?
It is important to understand that both sheep and goats are fairly seasonal. Lambs and kids are most often birthed in the spring, weaned in early summer, and then mommas are bred back again in the fall. This will play into your decisions when buying sheep.
Buying Lambs for Butchering
If your goal is simply to raise a group of feeder lambs or kids for butchering, then the ideal time to buy is in late spring or early summer.
Sourcing feeder lambs will be much easier and there will be more available as most farmers lamb in the spring.
It is also more economical to purchase feeder lambs in the late spring. Pastures are flush with grass allowing you to feed the lambs on pasture all summer.
Depending on the breed, most lambs are ready for butcher somewhere between 120 and 140 pounds. These weights are easily doable on grass from spring to fall.
Lambs and kids will be ready for butchering in the fall when the grass is fading. This means there is no need to over winter stock and no additional feed costs.
Buying Sheep for Breeding Stock
When buying sheep for breeding stock, consider purchasing bred ewes in the fall or early winter.
Buying sheep that are bred has many advantages.
If you are just getting started, this will mean that you can put off buying a ram until the following year.
This saves you money while giving you time to understand the ins and outs of managing your sheep, your facility, and your pastures.
It also means you don’t have the added pressure of setting up a separate pen for housing a ram after breeding season, at least for now.
If you already own sheep, buying bred ewes in the fall will give you the opportunity to expand your genetics. Unless all of your sheep are originating from the same place, the ewes you buy and the ewe lambs they raise will not be related to your current ram.
This gives you more options.
First, you can get additional years out of your current ram by breeding him to these unrelated females.
And second, you may just get a ram lamb out of your bred ewes with potential STUD written all over him!
Ah! The hunt for the perfect ram!
Good luck with that! 😉
Of course you will be buying these sheep when pasture is minimal and feed expenses are the highest. But you will be getting 2 or 3 animals for the price of one.
Speaking of cost, you should expect bred ewes to sell for more than open (non-bred) ewes. This is normal.
Whomever you are purchasing your sheep from needs to cover their costs of owning and keeping a ram. But don’t forget, they are adding value to the ewes by selling them bred.
And in most cases, it is still cheaper than owning your own ram. Especially if you are only looking to have a small flock.
Where To Buy Sheep
First, let’s go over where not to buy sheep.
Your weekly public livestock auction or stockyard is a great place to purchase feeder lambs and kids. Farmers have done the hard part of birthing and getting them started. Now your only job is to grow them out.
However, and this is a big however, I do not recommend buying breeding stock at stockyards. Mature animals that are being sold are someone else’s cull animals.
If I were to see a fat ewe or doe in early winter at the stock sale, I would not think she is bred. Just the opposite, I would assume she was a sheep that did not bred.
Mature ewes being sold at weekly public livestock auctions are being removed from someone’s flock and sold for a reason.
It could be any number of reasons… having bad feet, not getting bred, losing her lambs, being a bad mother, being hard doing, and the list goes on.
The one thing you can be sure of, it is probably not for being a good sheep.
So never purchase breeding stock at the stockyard.
Got it?!? Good.
So where should you buy them?
It really comes down to two options.
Buying Directly Off the Farm
The first is to buy your sheep or goats directly off of the farm.
Once you know what breed you are looking for, find a breeder that is within driving distance. Ask if you can come visit them to see their operation and view their sheep.
There are multiple advantages to buying sheep directly from a breeder.
Over time, especially if the sheep work well for you, you can foster a great relationship.
Breeders we purchased sheep from 25-30 years ago are now great friends. And we are still purchasing sheep from them.
Most breeders know what works and what doesn’t for the sheep they raise.
Building a relationship with your breeder gives you someone to answer questions, give suggestions on future rams, and trouble shoot if something goes astray.
Often times you can also get a better price when purchasing multiple sheep or goats from one breeder.
Buying Sheep Through a Bred Ewe Sale
The other option is to purchase sheep through a bred ewe sale or goats through a bred doe sale. Most states or geographical areas have one sometime between October and December.
A bred ewe sale is a public auction where several breeders come together to sell sheep.
By marketing the sheep together it allows smaller breeders to find a larger audience. As well as, satisfy buyers that are looking for more than just one or two bred ewes.
The advantage to buying sheep through a bred ewe sale includes having several options, ages, and breeders to choose from.
In addition, most bred ewe sales not only guarantee ewes to be bred, but will also provide you with due dates and number of lambs in uterus.
These are both valuable pieces of information for first time sheep owners.
Shoot! It makes everyone’s life a lot easier!
Especially those who may just happen to be in a freezing cold barn at 2 am waiting for a ewe to finish lambing.
Is she having one? Maybe two?
Should I wait? Can I leave?
You get the picture.
Knowing when and how many lambs is just plan awesome!
Repeat after me. There is never a bad time for buying sheep. 😉
But the most advantageous and economical way to go is buying sheep in the spring if you are only looking to butcher and buying bred ewes in the fall if you want breeding stock.
What has worked for you? Drop me a comment below. I am always happy to talk sheep!
Other Sheep Posts You Might Like:
- Purebred Animals on the Homestead
- Caring for Pregnant Ewes Before Lambing
- Making Newborn Lamb and Goat Blankets for Winter