- There are two main project types for sheep: market, and breeding. (Some projects are raised for wool production, and even some for dairy, but the majority of youth projects are market or breeding, and that will be the focus.)
- Market sheep are being raised to produce lamb (meat). This could be a wether (male) or a ewe (female). Both will reach market age and weight in less than 10 months.
- Breeding sheep are raised to become breeding stock and produce lambs. The majority of youth projects are ewes kept to be bred, not rams.
- Each project has different costs, time frame and manners of ending the project.
- The initial cost of a sheep project can be as low as market value and go up from there. For a show quality sheep, the minimum range is around $150 to $250 per lamb, due to the amount of cost for a sheep breeder to produce show sheep.
- The facilities costs are highly variable. The basic sheep facility provides a shelter from sun, rain and cold. It has enough feeders or feeder space for each sheep, and the same for waterers. There should be enough space for sheep to all lay down and stand up without stepping on each other, and easily turn around when full grown. The space should also be big enough to allow sheep to urinate and defecate away from their feeders and waterers.
- Sheep need plenty of space to exercise. Facilities should allow sheep to freely run and play or have access to an exercise area during the day.
- Breeding sheep will have the added costs of lambing facilities. Most breeders like to use lambing "jugs" or "jails". These are small pens under shelter to keep lambs close to their ewes the first few days after they are born. These pens can be home built or commercially purchased panels. If this is a one time "try it and see", it would be advisable to borrow or rent the panels.
- There will be veterinary costs associated with sheep projects. They will need to be vaccinated properly and de-wormed periodically to maintain proper health.
- Feed is the most expensive production cost. For market sheep, prices average around $12 to $15 per 50 lbs. bag of show feed.
- How much to feed will depend on breed and the genetics of your lamb. Sheep gain around 1/2 to 3/4 pounds per day. The rate of gain can vary as well. Sheep can gain 1 pound for every 3 to 7 pounds of feed they consume. With this in mind, you may feed 250 to 700 lbs. of feed depending on how well your sheep grows, its beginning weight and the final desired weight. Doing the math (Total Feed ÷ 50 lbs. per bag = # bags x $15 per bag = Final Cost) around $75 to $210 in bag feed.
- Sheep are ruminants. This means they have a 4 compartment digestive system and need roughage as part of their diet. To provide the proper roughage, quality grass, alfalfa or mixed hay is needed in their diet. As little as 1/4 pound of hay each feeding can help keep the ruminant system healthy and digesting feed properly. A small square bale of hay can range from $7 to $12 each and can last 60 to 90 days.
- There are also other feed supplements that can also be included. How beneficial the supplement is, and how much cost it will add is widely variable. I would suggest you visit with the breeder of the sheep to find out which supplements if any they recommend.
- There are two additional considerations when feeding sheep. First is a proper calcium and phosphorus ratio of 2:1. This means for every 2 pounds of calcium there should be 1 pound of phosphorus consumed. The second consideration is avoiding copper. Sheep can get copper toxicity. Be sure the feed and any supplements you are feeding are safe for sheep and free of copper.
- There are different and additional costs if you decide to do a breeding sheep project. They can include: extended feeding costs, breeding costs, lambing costs and marketing costs.
- If the ewe was shown, then her costs are the same as the market sheep above. Once the last show is over, feed costs will include feeding the ewe for additional time. Sheep are seasonal breeders and most sheep breeds will only breed during the fall.
- Between the last show and breeding season, most sheep are turned out on pasture to graze. Pasture rental can vary, but is usually much cheaper than feeding hay and grain.
- If pasture is not available, feeding a hay ration with some grain is normal. Ewes will consume 3% to 4% of there body weight in feed daily. So a 180 pound ewe will require 5 1/2 to 7 pounds of feed per day. The cost of hay is the same as above, $7 to $12 per small square bale. Bagged feed for ewes is less than show feed and can average $8 to $10 per bag. Ewe diets should be at least 50% or more hay, and grain is used as a supplement to provide added nutrition.
- It is a little hard to give an estimated cost on feeding since it depends on the quality of hay fed, the quantity of hay and grain fed and the amount of time between the last show and breeding. A good estimate is $.25 to $.50 per day to feed one breeding ewe. It should not cost more than $1 per day.
- Grain is also made available when the ewe is nursing her new lambs. A rule of thumb is 1 pound of grain per lamb she nurses. This could equal an extra $.20 per day for the 8 weeks lambs typically nurse.
- Most lambs are supplemented hay and/or grain during the weaning process. Depending on whether lambs are going to pasture or not will determine how much hay or grain supplement they receive.
- Breeding costs can vary widely depending on the sire (ram) you choose to breed to. Breeding is by natural service which means the ewe and ram must be together. If a youth has just one or two ewes, it does not make sense to buy a ram. Work with a breeder to place your ewes in with their flock during breeding season. You will have to pay something for the care and breeding, but it will be much cheaper than buying and owing a ram of your own.
- Some costs can be recovered and possibly a profit made by selling baby lambs. Ideally, a ewe has twins. If a breeding produces show quality lambs to sell, a good income can be made. The amount of income depends on how high quality the lambs are at weaning time.
- A market sheep project may only last 8 to 10 months. Lambs grow quickly. They are purchased a little after weaning around 8 to 10 weeks old and weighing around 30 to 40 pounds . They can reach market weight of 120 to 160 pounds by the time they are 7 to 8 months old. Market sheep are then sold once they have reached market weight.
- Breeding sheep can live several years and produce multiple lambs. Most breeding sheep projects will include two lambs each year. Once a ewe is done producing lambs, she too can be sold.
- A project lamb can be sold to a private buyer, a commercial buyer or kept for home consumption of the meat. Many county and state fairs will hold a sale to allow youth to sell their project animals. Some have a commercial buyer available for them to sell their sheep to after the shows are over. If the decision is to use the meat for home consumption, the youth and their parents will be responsible for delivering the lamb to a processor, the cost of processing and picking up the meat after processing is complete.
- No matter who buys the sheep project, they are all eventually destined to be processed for meat. Market lambs will be processed and used for fresh cuts such as lamb chops, leg, and ground lamb. Breeding stock is mostly processed into aged product called mutton.
Advantages and Disadvantages
- The length of time for a market sheep project is shorter, 6 to 10 months.
- There are several sheep breeds. A breed can be chosen to allow exhibitors of any size or age to show. For example, a Southdown lamb may only reach 80 pounds and be great for a young exhibitor, where a large crossbred lamb may be a better fit for a senior exhibitor.
- Showing sheep can be very physically demanding, especially when learning and working with the sheep to teach them to brace. Some younger exhibitors may not have the best experience if they feel their sheep is too big or strong for them to handle.
- There does not need to be a lot of tack involved or needed for raising sheep. The is grooming equipment like a trimming stand and clippers that can be borrowed, but can be expensive to buy.
- Show sheep projects are not always money makers. The difference between the cost of buying and feeding a show lamb versus the market price received for the lamb can be quiet noticeable. A good junior livestock sale is the best way to recover the investment. Selling show quality baby lambs can help to make a breeding project profitable.
Here are some additional resources to help you in your decision making about a swine project:
4-H/FFA Market Lamb Sheep Projects, Treasure Valley Sheep Producers, Idaho
4-H Show Lamb Guide, Texas AgriLife Extension Service
Kit Carson County
Golden Plains Area
Colorado State University Extension