The Cost Of Raising Sheep To Eat, OR NOT

Farm Lambs,Hobby Farm Animals, Farm Animals,sheep on the farm

The last commonly raised farm animal that I can think of at least is sheep.  In an effort to help you decide if either these are one of the farm animals you want to raise.  And the cost to do so.  With this in mind as quickly and concisely as possible I will tell you all that I know about raising sheep.  Both the pros and the cons.  ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

OK now that we have that taken care of let us get get down to what I can find out for both of us.  See I have never raised sheep. Thinking about it but never have.   Never so much as touched one for that matter.  Is there a reason for this?  Of course!  Everything has a reason.  I was not raised with them around.  Or ever taken the opportunity to sample the meat and quite honestly until I began research for this was not consciously aware they were raised for milk and cheese as well as meat and wool.  I suspect many of us are in the same boat.  Not necessarily a prejudice against but a prejudice prompted and sustained by our lack of knowledge of and the comfortable feelings that come from at least having some knowledge with a subject.

So let’s see what we can find out together;

Mother Earth News says:Sheep provide wool and delicious meat, milk, and cheese, and they eat weeds other livestock species won’t touch. Plus, sheep are relatively inexpensive and reproduce quickly, so with minimal upfront cost, you can have a respectable flock in short order.

Raising sheep is an especially good choice for small-property owners who don’t have the space to raise cattle but still want to produce their own high-quality meat. Typically, five to seven ewes (female sheep) and their offspring can comfortably occupy the same amount of land as just one cow and calf, and sheep can graze lawns, ditches, woodlots, and mature orchards.  ( I personally think they would be willing to east flowers and decorative shrubbery as well if not watched closely)

Admittedly, there are some difficulties to raising sheep: They’re not as easily fenced as cattle (but they’re a lot easier than goats), and although they tend to be less susceptible to diseases than other types of livestock are, they’re more susceptible to parasites. Sheep are also more vulnerable to predators. In some areas of the country, you won’t be able to find a veterinarian who handles sheep, or a professional shearer, so you’ll have to find someone to show you how to shear.

There is a lot more said on the subject and if desired you can check that out at   .

WIKI has a more or less sheep raising for dummies type introduction.  A little to much the for dummies for my taste but quite a lot of info there as well.

From my personal perspective and one of the reasons I have never pursued the acquisition of them is my perception of the extra needs of the sheep outside the meat to be obtained such as shearing.  I don’t knit or weave and in all honesty don’t really like wool clothes so wool as a byproduct has never interested me.  Another prejudice?  The are or at least seem to me to be defenseless.  For whatever reason that bothers me.  Our cattle are horned, the goats when we had them had horns.  Both male and female.  Our hogs will if allowed to mature enough grow tusk or cutters as they are sometime called.  It is true that in most cases these weapons are used primarily to determine dominance within the breed itself.  But they are there.  Should coyotes come in our pasture to attack the calves momma has horns to help protect her offspring.  I like that.  All the sheep owners I see in our areas have guard animals of some type.  Dogs being the most common of course but then donkeys and burros are seen in with sheep flocks quite often as well.  I don’t hear so much about it recently but in the not to far and distant past there was much talk of donkeys and burros and even Lammas and alpacas chasing off or even killing coyotes and stray dogs and other small predators that might show up.  I am concerned for the safety of the young of all our animals when first born but within a few days to weeks they have reached the point that I am fairly confident of their safety unless attacked by numbers of the smaller predators.

How about the meat?  There again I have no experience in this.  The only time I have ever eaten lamb or sheep that I am aware of was once when my dad bought a piece in the store by mistake.  We lived on dad’s job and mom worked seasonal work away from home for several months out of the year.  When mom was working dad did most of the cooking and shopping for the household.  Mom worked a lot of twelve to sixteen hour days when working.  Dad was not aware of what had happened until after he was home and ready to prepare dinner.  We lived 16 miles out of town and this was after his 10-12 hr. day on the orange grove and returning the crew to town to their homes.  When it was discovered he was not about to return to town to return it, even if that could be done at that time.  So he cut it up and fried it.  That was the way he did most of his cooking.  It was fast and easy.  As I understand it lamb is greasy anyway and then add frying to it and it wasn’t something we rushed right back to get more of.  Over the years of me being a meat cutter a lot of lamb was sold through the store I worked in.  Mostly the more upscale grocer as it was a high priced meat.  I don’t know what it is today.

Back to the issue at hand.  From my reading because of it being naturally fatty lamb should be pastured with very little to no grain supplements.  This is good as it holds the cost down.  Even the articles that spoke of stock yard type raising systems the predominance of feeds was hay or grass products.  Again because they are smaller animals they do not require as much grass as the larger animals such as cattle.  The only health drawback I noted is that sheep have a very low  tolerance for copper.  All animals need copper but the amount of copper offered in the nutrient supplemental blocks for cattle and goats that can be fed to hogs as well will kill sheep.  With a very high pasturage diet hay is of course is the winter food.  Here again their size means that five or six sheep could live and do well off the same amount of hay as one cow or maybe even one cow and calf combination.

What breed is best then?  As with any livestock the breeds and varieties are numerous and increasing all the time.  All will make meat of course some more efficiently than others.  The Hair sheep was developed for those that wanted an animal to raise just for the meat market and not have to deal with the wool and yearly shearing.  Without even checking I am sure there are those that produce more and better quality milk than others and those that have a better carcass yield in both the wool and hair sheep.  If you are considering raising sheep for whatever purpose once you have narrowed it down to your purpose be it meat and wool or just wool or just meat or even the milk and cheese type you will want to talk to someone with far more knowledge than I have.

There are four primal cuts on a lamb carcass.  They include the shoulder, rack, loin, and leg.  These cuts can be processed further.  Below is an illustration of how the wholesale cuts are processed into retail cuts for consumers.  

Chart courtesy of 
Table 1. Average dressing percentages for the four major livestock species.  (FROM
Average dressing percentage (%)

Beef (grain-fed) 60 – 63

Beef (grass-fed) 56 – 58

Pork (skin-on) 70 – 73

Sheep (shorn) 50 – 53

Goat 45 – 50

The one thing that stands out about them to me is that because of the almost total reliance on grass they should be an economical animal to raise for home consumption.  Add that to the fact that a sheep that is, one, can be raised in a lot of approximately 4000 to 5000 sq. ft. of good grass and they seem ideal for the small acreage holder.  Five or six on an acre.  I would not recommend one though.  They are herd or social animals and would in my opinion do better with company.  If not with another sheep run him or her with the cows.  Not the goats they can cross breed.  Is that bad?  I don’t know.  They are called geep I believe.  Look it up.

Now for those of us that are ignorant of this subject as I am!  Sheep until relatively recently all had wool and required shearing  once a year.  These are the cute little white puff balls most commonly seen.  The hair sheep does not have wool it has hair and does not have to be sheared ever.  I have to admit here that had me confused for a while till one day it dawned on me, hair is hair and wool is wool and the two are totally different.

Ok there you have it!  All of my vast knowledge of raising sheep has been laid out at your dispo9sal at absolutely no charge.  Your cost will be the cost of the animal (s) the fencing required to keep them in.  Water of course.  The acquisition of and maintenance of a guard animal if you choose to go that way and the slaughtering of and processing of the carcass if you are not prepared to do it yourself.

In the same train of thought check out;  and  and  or  maybe  and

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