By Marvin R. Gray – With spiraling sheep feed costs and unpredictable fuel prices, flockmasters raising sheep for profit are seeking ways to operate their flocks more profitably and efficiently. Here are 14 cost-cutting and time-saving suggestions for the sheep farm.
1. Know Your Flock
Try to spend a few minutes daily at non-feeding times looking for any unusual behavior on your sheep farm. Don’t put off checking animals that isolate themselves and spend lots of time lying down. Any animal that is not eating calls for immediate attention. Losing a ewe (particularly when she is carrying lambs) puts a major dent in the pocketbook.
2. Educate Yourself on Sheep Husbandry
Pick the brains of your veterinarian and knowledgeable sheep farm people. A number of useful books are available such as Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep. Sheep workshops are a good investment and the internet has a wealth of information. Being better informed allows you to focus sooner on appropriate cost-saving management and health measures.
3. Flocks Are Healthier When Kept Outside
Shade should be available during hot weather. You’ll save on bedding and have less manure to haul, both of which save money. And, a well-tended flock creates a pleasant pastoral scene which gives our industry a favorable image.
4. Cut Your Feed Costs By Using All Available Pasture
If pasture is limited, can more be rented? Neighbors may even let you use theirs free just for the “mowing.” Be sure sheep fencing is reasonably secure and predator problems are minimized. A pastured flock will need a regular rotation and worming schedule, particularly with the lambs.
5. Consider Supplemental Feed Sources to Cut Costs
Wondering what to feed sheep to cut costs on the sheep farm? Among those used have been corn stalks, turnips, apples, pumpkins, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, celery, and unsalable bread. Check with grocery stores for some discarded food items. We have used “fines” (crushed corn kernels) free from a neighbor’s grain bin. And, ethanol by-products are a reported food source for sheep.
6. Clean, Fresh Water Should Always Be Available
Water is your cheapest and most valuable food source. Keep it ice free in the winter and shaded in the summer. Feeding loose sheep mineral as directed is essential to avoid expensive deficiency problems. Use only mineral formulated specifically for sheep with its lower copper levels.
7. Learn Health & Management Procedures
Hoof trimming, worming, shearing, giving shots, assisting with births, etc., are money savers on a sheep farm. Seek professional help with a problem beyond your experience. Sometimes, you can avoid the veterinarian’s trip fee by hauling the animal to the clinic yourself. Learn all you can at each visit.
8. Shop Around
Health products vary in price. Buy only what you need for your sheep farm and make certain dated medications don’t expire soon. You can save money by working with your veterinarian or a knowledgeable sheep person in establishing a sound vaccination program. Some common household items can be a cheaper treatment alternative. Using baking soda and cooking oil to treat bloat, molasses as an energy booster, and Pepto-Bismol for scours are among the examples.
9. Improvise, Using Everyday Items to Save Money
Rugs and discarded doors make great windbreaks and small pieces of carpet are comfortable to kneel on when assisting lambs. Pallets can be used for temporary fencing. Plastic jugs can be altered for feed scoops or to disinfect feet. Tarp straps can create a self-closing gate. A hanging tire can be used as a mineral feeder. Bathroom scales can be used to weigh lambs. An old elevator bed with the chain removed makes a durable feeder. The list is endless.
10. Seek Alternative Markets
Sell to 4-H exhibitors, freezer lambs to individual customers, Easter lamb sales, and other religious holiday events. Ethnic markets have a lot of potential in urban and university areas. If you raise a wool breed, spinners may be interested in your fleeces. You can avoid sale barn fees by selling cull ewes privately in the spring as “grass ewes.”
11. Triplet Lambs Present a Challenge
Generally, the mother is unable to raise them (she’s a keeper if she can) and you may need to supplement her milk supply. Raising lambs solely on the bottle is a time-consuming, non-profitable chore. There may be a market for bottle lambs at your local sale barn. We have found it financially beneficial and prudent time-wise to give bottle lambs to others who enjoy raising them. Some life-long sheep breeders got their start this way.
12. Rigidly Cull All Ewes Not Earning Their Keep
They’re costing you money! That includes non-breeders, late lambers, chronic problem lambers, poor mothers, light milkers, and those whose lambs do not grow well.
13. The Best And Cheapest Way To Expand Your Flock Is To Keep Your Best Ewe Lambs
Choose early-born twins who were born and nursed easily from productive mothers. Make certain they are structurally correct and otherwise sound and healthy. Home-born lambs have some resistance to existing diseases on the premises. Don’t keep any off-spring from the ewes described in No. 12.
14. And Finally…
Remember your sheep should be working for you—not the other way around! It’s time to re-evaluate your sheep farm when you find yourself spending too much non-productive time dealing with flock health and management problems.
Originally published in the July/August 2008 issue of sheep! magazine.