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The Shepherd
Part-time farmer

Range lambing
Range operation

Jr. sheep showmen
Youth project

Shepherd with herding dog
Shepherd with her dog

 Raising sheep in retirement
Retirement activity

Hampshire ewes 
Seedstock

 Showing sheep in Mexico
Showing sheep

They're posing
Hair sheep  

 


Why do you want to raise sheep?

There are many reasons to raise sheep. The reason(s) why a person chooses 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.

Economic

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 more 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.

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.


Environmental

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, the 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) keep land open and helps to preserve rural landscapes


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 also 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. Some people wish to support livestock conservation efforts by raising and helping to preserve a rare or heritage breed of sheep.

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 persons. Sheep are easier to handle than larger livestock and the investment in breeding stock, equipemnt, 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.

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's 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(s) 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 - a favorable outcome; accomplishing what was proposed; an event that accomplishes its intended purpose; the achievement of one's aim or goal; financial profitability.

Define success

Success will be defined differently by 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 highest EPD for maternal milk 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.

Raising thoughtful, responsible children who have a healthy respect for animals and the environment could define success for many families that undertake sheep raising as 4-H or home school projects. Livestock production is an excellent way to enhance a child's science education and encourage science-related careers.

Why do you want to raise sheep?


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Late updated 27-Apr-2014 by Susan Schoenian.
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