I have a dream... how much $$$ required?

badmajonOctober 6, 2011

I am in my 30s, and right now I am pursuing a career in the military. I basically work a 9-5 office job. I hate the suburbs, and when I get out in a few years, I am thinking of moving to Montana and starting a small scale sheep farm.

The idea would be is that I would take the two houses I own and sell them and buy a property with enough room to graze enough sheep to make a small profit.

I figure, based on research, I'll need about 500 ewes to start out with. You can put approx. 5 sheep on an acre. That means 100 acres of pasture.

The point of the farm is to supplement my military pension income. That means breaking even and a little more.

My main question is, aside from the land, how much would I need to spend to support the animals in terms of equipment, medicine, supplemental foods, etc- basically anything aside from land and the sheep themselves... I'm not sure what this will cost.

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Putting a $ value on that will be difficult for anyone not in that area.

My suggestion to you is look up Cornell Univiverisies Sheep program. They have created calculators for figuring out profits & losses. I've never had a need, so I've never kept it. Micheal Thonney I think was the creator, or the distributor of the excel program. I think it's call CEWE.
I also suggest you join their listserve - or find one in your area.

I'm assuming these sheep are for slaughter? Wool? What are you planning on selling?

Equipment for that amount of sheep would be holding pens, catch pens, creepfeeders, probably a tractor (to move the large bales of hay).

Shelter of some sort- take into consideration the weather in Montana. Whatever you do for shelter make it easy...you will not have the energy for anything other than that.

You will need at least 2 livestock guardian dogs-maybe more depending on your fencing and predator load-I'm thinking you will need more but I'm not sure. Stick with the common breeds - NO cross breeds unless it is with another livestock guardian dog breed. Think anatolians, great pyrenees, kangal, komodore. visit www.lgd.org and read up on them.

Yearly costs per sheep (see also the CEWE above) will depend greatly on the hardiness of the stock you buy. Buy locally unless you grow your herd-if you don't it will take at least a year for the adults to acclimate to your management/climate etc.

It might be difficult to find a "clean" herd but I highly recommend it. Scrapi, Johne's, CAE (OPP in sheep), and CLA are all diseases that can seriously impact your bottom line. If you can I would start with the clean animals, and grow to your 500 ewe mark. I'm big on diseases, can you tell?

5 sheep per acre I don't think will cut it. I'm not a sheep person though. You may be able to hold 5 sheep per acre, however if you don't intensly manage a rotational grazing program your pastures will be useless in 2 years. Sheep eat right down to the roots of grass. Plan on re-planting as some point. My example is we had 3 sheep on 5 acres in our lush, wet climate. They ate it all down to almost nothing within 2 years, and we supplement.

As far as routine shots, they are probably fairly cheap. Hoof trimming probably-depends on your terrain & what you feed them. This is all very time consuming.

Research your markets before hand, find the best times to kid out (probably Easter), and a few other holidays for the best ROI. Also the more input the less profit. Feed the land and it will feed you.

That's all I can think of for now. I will say that rasing any animal for profit is very difficult. You may not turn a profit at all. Start slow...learn when you have a few to lose rather than all 500 to lose....Grow slow....


    Bookmark   October 6, 2011 at 11:58AM
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goodhors(z5 MI)

You also want to buy land with water rights on it. Water ownership in the Western States is a HUGE item, not something folks from the Eastern States are used to dealing with or thinking about.

Then there is how much rain, snow comes down on the lands you are looking at. How much cushion do you have if rains don't come? Improved land is more expensive than unimproved lands. Fixing land up can be just HARD work, often with little progress showing. Fencing is another item that will take CONSTANT attention to keep out the neighbors animals.

Certain areas of the state have much larger predator populations. Things like wolves, grizzly bears, cougers will make holes in your herd, losses you may not be able to recover from, when combined with ewes dying, lambs not surviving. A friend owns a ranch near Yellowstone, where EVERYONE goes armed because of the bears. She actually shot one on the way to the outhouse this summer!! The trash is in locked metal dumpsters, to keep bears out. She loses cattle regularly to bears, and her bears are always being added to, because that is the least populated part of Yellowstone where they dump the "bad" bears to rehome them. Pretty country, just really hard to live in. DEEP snow in winter where the ranch is often isolated from the outside world until they can dig out. She has other income, not dependent on ranch for money which is helpful when losses are big.

You will want to check how LONG it takes to grow a lamb up to market weight. The labeled "Western Lamb" meat sold, is MORE than one year old because those growers can't get lambs fed enough grazing, to sell at less than one year. This is a Gov't. loophole in marketing, to aid sheep raisers out West. Can your land carry those older lambs for an extra year and the ewes with new lambs too? Otherwise you may have to sell lambs for WAY LESS than your plans call for to make some cash.

Have you handled sheep in quantity before? You may want to start with smaller numbers, see how this will work for you, for a year or two before investing everything in this project. Will you be totally alone on the ranch? Might be you are overloading yourself, stress will make you sick because such responsibility is a big load to carry. Renting a ranch or acreage with buildings, could be a way to save money buying land. Would allow you to try sheep herding, without major investing.

Wow, such a big step! Just sounds like you may be jumping in over your head, in a place you are not familiar with. Even here in the East, 500 sheep is a vast quantity for one person to deal with. Land may be higher, but it produces better, closer to your markets and other sheep farmers. They could give you help, you help them, in work trades, equipment sharing, knowledge. Closer to places if you had to have an outside job for needed cash.

At this point, it sounds like you need more information. Especially from sheep raisers in areas you want to relocate to. Maybe some Google searches for Sheep in places you want to go, will find contacts to ask questions of.

I love the State of Montana, but it is a very hard place to live outside of town and make your living.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2011 at 10:37PM
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oregonwoodsmoke(5 OR Sunset 1A)

You might be able to graze 5 sheep on one acre, but that would be with irrigated pasture, and probably pasture rotation. I doubt that you can run 5 sheep per acre in Montana.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2011 at 7:54PM
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oregonwoodsmoke(5 OR Sunset 1A)

By the way, you can decide on an area and go look at real estate web sites to get an idea of what the land will cost you.

Registered sheep can be pretty expensive. The price of ordinary commercial sheep can be found on the livestock sales reports of any livestock auction. Those will be on-line.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2011 at 7:56PM
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