If your homestead includes more than an acre, one of the first things you will consider investing in is livestock. Many homesteaders keep a flock of chickens, a milk cow, or even a flock of sheep or herd of goats. Luckily there are several purebred animals that fit the homestead well. Let’s consider sheep.
From the very beginning Farmer (my other half for 30 years) and I knew we wanted sheep. We were very fortunate to have access to additional acreage. And although I would have been happy with a dozen sheep, we knew we wanted this to be our main source of farm income. After visiting with several breeders and attending several sheep functions, we finally settled on purebred Suffolks and Southdowns.
Over the years we have explored several different income streams with the sheep, from purebreds to selling lamb at farmers markets to now raising show lambs for 4-H and FFA kids. There are times I would classify our sheep endeavor as an addiction (yeah! did you know you can buy sheep online!?!). However, for the most part we have always focused on how to make money from the sheep.
Our Purebred Sheep Flock
As I mentioned, we currently raise sheep for show lambs. This has worked out very well for us. It provides an income stream throughout the year and scratches that competitive itch both Farmer and I have. Due to trends in the show stock world, our purebred Suffolks have been replaced with purebred Hampshires and Hampshire crosses.
Because we have access to larger acreage on Farmer’s family farm, we have 60 momma ewes. We typically keep 3-4 rams, normally 1-2 are farm raised, the others purchased from top breeders throughout the country. We definitely have more rams than need be. But our industry is fast moving and very specific in the phenotype demanded by the show ring.
Raising Show Lambs
Breeding and selling show lambs is a very competitive and can be very expensive. We have paid anywhere from $500 to thousands of dollars for one ram. And high quality breeding ewes are not much cheaper. Where we live there is a cap on what kids will pay for a show lamb, which means we have to be able to pencil out any purchase. We base this on the lambs he or she will give us in future years.
The majority of our money is made in the spring when we sell our lambs. The way the 4-H and FFA sheep project works is that kids get young lambs and raise them to market weight. They learn nutrition, animal husbandry, record keeping, commitment, and responsibility… and so much more.
Both Farmer and I are strong advocates of both organizations due to the life lessons they teach. Typically the project ends at the county or state fair where the kids show and sell their animals. This has changed a lot over the years and can include several shows throughout the spring and summer. And although this is how our county works, not every area is the same.
How We Make Money From Sheep
We are able to sell our wethers (castrated males) pretty much right after weaning. This means we have very little feed or management expense in the lamb.
Next, we sell ewe lambs as both show lambs and replacement females throughout the spring and summer. Our best ewes are kept to put back into the flock.
Then in November / December we sell bred ewes. These are mature ewes and ewe lambs that have been exposed to our rams.
And after lambing we will sell a handful of mature ewes (perhaps they lost lambs, are just getting too old, or not working in our system).
This gives us several opportunities to market our sheep throughout the year. Which means we are able to generate income throughout the year. Again, we definitely make most of our income in the spring, but it is nice to have pay checks year round.
And this does not just apply to sheep! Raising purebred animals, whether they are cows, chickens, rabbits, goats, or sheep give you the same marketing and income advantages.
What Does Purebred Mean
A purebred animal is one whose parents are both of the same breed. The goals of a purebred flock or herd include preserving and providing superior genetics to other breeders. This is often referred to as seedstock.
Purebred livestock breeds have breed associations whose duty is to promote the breed and make certain that each purebred animal meets specific breed qualifications.
To insure you are purchasing purebred sheep, I recommend purchasing “registered” sheep. These are sheep that have been registered with the breed association and can verify that several generations of their ancestors are of that breed.
Choosing Purebred Animals
There will be very few homesteads that take the approach we have with our sheep. It requires a lot of work and expertise and is exceptionally competitive. It can also be cost prohibitive. Remember, we started this 30 years ago before the price of entry got so ridiculous.
Even though our situation is a bit different, still, I recommend purebred animals for homesteading. Your initial breeding stock is a bit more expensive, but you have so many more marketing opportunities. Not only can you raise meat for yourself and to sell, but you can raise and sell quality breeding stock to others. Most importantly, you have the opportunity to sell animals throughout the year.
What Purebred Sheep Do I Recommend
Recently I had the privilege to attend the Annual Katahdin Expo in Fishersville, Virginia. Boy are these sheep beautiful! Breeders have worked hard to improve the breed’s performance and the quality of the animals in recent years.
If I were to get into sheep today, I would definitely get Katahdins. Katahdins are the perfect sheep for homesteaders. They are beautiful, performance oriented, and are fairly low maintenance. Repeat after me… no shearing required! [insert mic drop]
What do I mean by performance?
The benefits of Katahdins include being easy keepers, good foragers, and good mothers. Breeders have increased their overall size, giving you higher weaning weights, i.e. more pounds per lamb to sell, if you sell lambs conventionally.
In addition, a study performed by Virginia Tech showed that Katahdins are more parasite resistant. This may be because the breed is derived from thin-tailed Caribbean hair breeds, where parasite resistance would have been hugely advantageous. Keep in mind that this does not mean they are parasite free. Small ruminants, especially sheep, need to be on a good deworming program.
For more info on Katahdins visit the Katahdin Hair Sheep International website.
I hope as a homesteader you will consider raising purebred animals. If you are just getting start, take a look at the Katahdin breed. They are great sheep and a perfect fit for homestead.
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below or would like to learn about purebred animals in other species. I would love to hear your thoughts and what has worked for you as well!
Other Sheep Posts You Might Like:
- Caring for Pregnant Ewes Before Lambing
- Making Newborn Lamb & Goat Blankets for Winter
- Buying Sheep: When is the Best Time?
- Making Money Homesteading and Why We Quit Farmers Markets
- 9 Ways to Make Money with Chickens