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The idea of raising sheep and goats may be an enterprise of increasing interest to both beginning and experienced farmers according to Lee Meyer, UK Extension Specialist for Agricultural Economics. One advantage of small ruminants is their size. Compared to cattle, small ruminants are good for several reasons. First, you need less land. A typical stocking rate is about one-half acre for each ewe or nanny goat, compared to three to five acres for each cow. Small animals are easier to handle and manage when administering veterinary or basic health care. And the initial investment is much smaller than for cattle.
If you are considering sheep and goats, start your evaluation with a budget. Make or use an enterprise budget, similar to the ones found at http://www.ca.uky.edu/agecon/index.php?p=29. The budget starts with an income section. A well run enterprise should produce about two lambs or kids per female per year. To increase the size of the enterprise, you will want to keep female lambs or kids to breed. Holding on to animals rather than selling them will limit your income until the enterprise is the size you want. Prices are strong now, which does increase start-up costs. However, lambs and kids can bring over $2 per pound.
Of course, cost remains an important consideration. The advantage of goats especially, is that they are foragers—they eat pasture and brush. This makes them a good fit for many parts of Kentucky, where some land is not well suited to row crops. Another consideration is fencing. Fencing may need upgrades, because sheep and especially goats are hard to keep inside fences. Feed and mineral supplements are another cost. The most profitable sheep and goat enterprises depend upon pasture and use only a small amount of feed supplement. The price of purchased feed has gone up dramatically, so this is an important factor.
Marketing the product is another issue to consider. Both lambs and kids can be sold at established auction markets, with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture graded sales being the best. Auction sales take minimal marketing effort on the farmer’s part—you just take them to market on sale day. Prices are currently quite good. Another option to increase income further is selling directly to consumers, but this method takes increased effort over auction sales.
Finally, good managers can control potential pitfalls that may cause major headaches for novices. Predators such as coyotes and dogs can wreak havoc on your flock or herd. Having guard dogs is one of the best ways to protect your sheep and goats. Parasites are another issue that requires both management and medication.
For more about production, economics and marketing, visit http://www.ca.uky.edu/agecon/ or contact the Trimble County Cooperative Extension Service.
Source: Lee Meyer, extension professor, Agricultural Economics
Michael Pyles is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for agriculture.