Sheep Can Profit Farmers

Whether used for meat, wool or show, sheep may prove to be an economically viable option for small farms in 2011.

by Dani Yokhna
Raising sheep for meat, wool or show can profit small-scale farmers, experts say.

Although volatile livestock and agriculture markets have caused producers headaches during the economic downturn, small-scale farmers hoping to earn a profit from their livestock might want to consider turning to sheep. According to reports from this year’s North American International Livestock Exposition, North American sheep producers remain optimistic despite tough economic conditions because of the viability of keeping sheep for meat, wool and show.

Sheep for Meat
Goat and lamb meat are two of the most consumed meats in the world, therefore the markets for them remain steady, says Stanley Poe, a sheep breeder who, with his sons, manages 500 sheep at Poe Hampshire Farm in Indiana.

Unlike beef and pork, lamb faces fewer religious restrictions on consumption, he says, which boosts its international sales. And global demand for lamb is expected to grow. In the United States alone, New York and New Jersey are consuming increased levels of lamb due to diverse ethnic populations.                       

Sheep for Wool
Sheep wool is also experiencing a steady market upswing and being sold at record-high prices, Poe says.

Demand for wool is especially high in foreign countries, suck as China, according to Dean Wallace, former sheep producer and a University of Kentucky county extension agent. A versatile raw material, he notes that in addition to the fiber materials, wool products include piano keys, tennis balls and insulation.

Show Sheep
Profitability from sheep does not only exist with sheep byproducts, but also with the buying and selling of show animals. Some sheep breeders make their money selling breeding stock, Poe says.

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Many sheep-breeding programs produce successful show and market animals with desirable genetics and build. At the 2009 North American International Livestock Exposition’s Sale of Champions, the selling price for the champion market lamb was $13,000.

Although not every sheep entry is eligible for the Sale of Champions at the NAILE, sheep exhibitors can still make a sizable profit by selling their sheep at various county fairs or private auctions. Market lambs appeal to FFA and 4-H members because they can be bought, raised, exhibited and sold in the same year. Plus, they cost less to show than other livestock, like market hogs or market steer, says Poe.

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