Why do you want to raise sheep?
There are many reasons to raise sheep. At the same time, the reason or (reasons) why people choose to raise sheep will have a significant impact
on the breed(s) that are raised and the manner in which the sheep are fed, managed, and marketed.
Traditionally, sheep have been raised on farms and ranches for
the purpose of generating an income for the farm and family. While some farms
make a majority of their income from raising sheep, sheep
production is very often a secondary or tertiary enterprise on a
farm. In fact, sheep raising compliments many other agricultural enterprises.
It is a popular enterprise for many part-time and lifestyle farmers.
There can be numerous tax advantages to raising sheep or engaging
in similar agricultural activities. Some people raise sheep for
the primary purpose of having their land holdings taxed at (lower) agricultural
rates. The legal definition of a farm (for real estate tax purposes)
varies by state and country.
While all agricultural enterprises are expected to eventually
generate a profit (and pay taxes!), many people raise sheep (and other livestock)
as a "tax write-off." Farm expenditures, including capital purchases,
can be written off against ordinary income. Most sheep-related purchases are exempt from sales tax.
Some people keep sheep to improve and/or maintain their landscapes. Due to their
small size, upland grazing preferences, and desire for a mixed
diet, sheep are ideal for vegetation control, especially where the primary vegetation is grass and forbs.
Their small hooves minimize soil compaction and erosion.
They shy away from fragile riparian areas.
In fact, opportunities
for fee-based grazing by sheep (and goats) are expanding as society seeks more environmentally-friendly ways to control invasive weeds and other unwanted vegetation. But even when they're not being used to clean up a landscape, sheep (and other livestock) help to keep land in open space and preserve
Quality of life
Many families enjoy the agricultural lifestyle and wish to expose
their children to plant cultivation, animal husbandry, and other
aspects of the rural way-of-life. Sheep are an ideal small farm (or ranch) enterprise. They're especially suitable for
women and children, due to their small size and gentle nature.
Showing (or exhibiting) sheep can be an enjoyable activity for people of all
ages, but especially youth. Sheep and lambs make excellent 4-H
and FFA projects. In fact, 4-H and FFA is how many people get
started in the sheep business. Sheep are suitable projects for home schoolers. There are many science fair projects that can be done with sheep and wool.
There is a certain satisfaction to growing your own food and fiber.
Many people keep a few sheep to provide meat, dairy products, and/or fiber for
their family. Small flock owners contribute to the supply of local food and fiber. Some people wish to support livestock conservation
efforts by raising and helping to preserve a rare or heritage breed of
Many people raise sheep because of their desire to train and trial
herding dogs, usually Border Collies. It is hard to train and
work a herding dog without having access to a flock of sheep.
Hair sheep are usually kept for this task, as they are more tolerant
of the heat and rigorous workouts. Wethers are often preferred
because they can be worked on a year-round basis.
Sheep raising can be an enjoyable activity for retired or disabled persons.
Sheep are easier to handle than larger livestock and the investment
in breeding stock, equipment, and facilities is usually much less. In some situations,
the sheep enterprise can supplement the retirement income. Empty-nesters
and single people may keep sheep so they have something to care for.
Increasingly, people are keeping sheep (and other farm animals)
as pets or companions. Wethers and ewes should be chosen for this
purpose. Intact males and horned animals should not be kept as
pets. Hair sheep are a good choice because they do not require
shearing. Bottle babies make the best pets because they will bond
to whoever feeds them. Sheep are social animals. Pet sheep should be
kept in pairs or small flocks (ideally).
The love of sheep and animal husbandry is the motivation for many
shepherds, both commercial producers and lifestyle farmers. In
fact, if you don't genuinely like sheep, there are a lot easier
ways to make money or spend your leisure time.
Goal and objectives
Once you have decided to raise sheep and have defined your reason (or reasons)
for raising them, it's time to set goals for the sheep operation,
especially if it is a commercial undertaking. Goal-setting includes
determining which aspect(s) of sheep production -- meat, fiber, or
dairy-- will be the focus of the operation, what products will
be sold, how they will be sold, and who will be the primary
customer(s). It is a good idea to have a business plan.
Success will be defined differently by different sheep owners.
For the commercial producer, success will likely be to make a financial
profit and return on investment, though the farm may have additional
goals that pertain to quality-of-life and stewardship of their farm.
Winning shows or selling expensive breeding stock or club lambs
may define success for some producers. For the performance-minded
seedstock producers, having the ram that ranks the highest in
the breed's sire summary or has the best EBV (estimated breeding value) for a specific trait may be the mark of success.
Some producers will measure success by achieving certain production
goals. Marketing a 200 percent lamb crop would be a worthy
accomplishment for most producers. Not losing a single lamb
during the lambing season may be a goal of some small-scale
producers. Keeping pre-weaning death loss below 5 percent would be good accomplishment for large commercial growers.
Raising thoughtful, responsible children who have a healthy respect for animals
and the environment could define success for the many families that
undertake sheep raising as a 4-H, FFA, or home school project. Livestock production is an excellent way to enhance a child's science education and encourage science-related careers.