“I want to raise cattle, and I want to make a profit at it.”
That’s what I told my family 18 months ago. It caused some confusion because I came from a desk job in the retail marketing industry (which is still my full time job).
Looking back, I think the fact that I had no experience in agriculture was more of a help than a hindrance. I believe what the Bible says in Phil. 2:13: “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” The Lord gave me a desire, and He is also giving me creative opportunities to grow my farm business.
Here is a video I made sharing some of the ways I have diversified marketing for farm income this year:
“So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” 1 Corinthians 3:7
DISCLAIMER: This Small Farm Business article and video should not be used to replace legal or professional counsel. Use your brain, know your pocketbook, and make sure that at least one of the two has something in it at all times ;).
With the close of my first livestock sale, I have one full year of expenses and income under my belt. I am now ready to analyze profitability of my sheep farm. I have data from all 4 seasons, I have infrastructure costs, and now I have income from my first livestock sale. With the aforementioned, I have everything necessary to evaluate the profitability of my sheep farm.
The size of an operation has little or no connection to it’s overall profitability. In business the term “scaling” is used a lot. Scale is just another word for size. If you can be profitable on a small-scale, you can be profitable on a large-scale. If you cannot generate a profit on a small scale, you will not do so on a large scale.
The profit analysis I am getting ready to outlay is from my small-scale sheep farming operation. This season I had only 16 productive ewes. My ultimate goal is to have 80 productive ewes on my sheep farm.
It is critical that I evaluate the profitability of my farm at this 1/5 scale. If I can hone in on profit margins and streamline my costs I will have a solid foundation for moving forward.
I have a trademarked slogan for my farm business: Think big, start small, don’t quit. It really breaks down into a business formula: Set your large-scale goals, test it out it on the smallest scale possible, then put in the work necessary to grow that small success.
My 4-Step Process for Determining Profitability:
Here is how I analyzed my farm’s profitability in 4 steps:
Step 1: I took all of my expenses to date and split them into 7 major categories.
|Category:||Description:||% of total:|
|Farm Infrastructure||Compensation for sheep-specific the perimeter fencing (woven wire), Electric Fencing system, Sheep Chute, Sheep Trailer, Portable Troughs, etc||50.40%|
|Cost of Livestock||Initial purchase of 25 ewes, sourcing and travel for a registered ram, a small set of registered ewes, and Dorper Sheep Breeder Society Membership and Registration.||40.40%|
|Animal Health||Lambing Kit, Hoof trimmings supplies, dewormers, a setup for taking fecal egg counts at home, mineral boosters.||4.70%|
|Overwintering:||Hay, Protein Supplement, Minerals||1.80%|
|Feed Supplement:||Year Round Minerals||1.10%|
|Books/education:||Grazing Management Books||0.80%|
|Marketing:||Website Hosting for ShepherdessDorpers.com||0.70%|
Step 2: I adjusted my cost sheet to reflect depreciating assets only, removing the cost of appreciating assets (livestock).
Depreciable assets are things that will decay over time. Whether it is in 1 year or 25 years, all of the things in my Farm Infrastructure category will have to be replaced at some point.
Appreciating assets are those that increase in value as you own them. My ewes are appreciating assets because they produce lambs every year. Unless I have a devastating predator attack or disease hit the flock (both of which are actual risks I pray against regularly [you can pray with me if you want… haha! But I’m serious.]), my flock should only grow.
If a ewe dies (or is culled) and the flock does not generate a replacement for her during lambing, I will list the initial cost of that ewe under expenses for that year.
Step 3: I divided the cost of the Farm Infrastructure (depreciable assets) by 7, assuming that all of the farm infrastructure will decay within 7 years. This amount, plus the cost from all of my other categories amounts to the total expenses for 2021.
Step 4: Acknowledge the value of “reinvested capital gains” (for me: ewe lambs that increase flock size) and add this to the cash-revenues. I had a net increase of 7 ewes this season (I had 9 ewe lambs total, however 2 of my mature ewes died). I am working to grow my flock to 80-ewes. Instead of collecting cash on these lambs, I reinvested my “gains” back into the flock.
With the inclusion of my “reinvested capital gains” revenue from my sheep farm exceeded cost by 36% in 2021!
While this year technically involved shelling out 10x more cash than I received from my operation, there is significant profitability in my pasture based sheep farming model… if I can stick it out to the end of 7 years! 90.8% of the money I have spent will not have to be spent again and the remaining 9.2% are recurring costs that can be trimmed with experience.
This does not include the cost of my labor. This is an average of 12 hours per week and is a further investment in the farm.
Thanks for reading my 2021 Sheep Farm Business Profit Analysis. I look forward to seeing you in 2022!
“I am the LORD your God, Who teaches you to profit, Who leads you by the way you should go.” Isaiah 48:17
Shopping List of the supplies needed to rotational graze sheep:
For Perimeter Fencing (you can bypass the perimeter fence if you buy the portable IntelliShock charger I mention below) :
- 12 gauge Aluminum High Tensile Wire (Gallagher)
- T-Post Insulator (Dare Products)
- 1/2″Gallagher Polytape.
- Simple plastic cord reel.
- Plastic Step-in posts.
- 2 Joule Solar Charger.
- Power Links (to carry the charge from one line to another).
I found most of these items at my local farm store, and you should be able to do the same! The only exception is the Solar Charger and the Power Links. In my first video I referenced a .25 joule Gallagher charger, but have since stopped using it. It did not have a big enough shock to keep my sheep contained long term.
I have had several people ask me about my Electric fencing system for rotational grazing sheep. What kind of charger do you use to power your electric fencing for sheep? What is the best portable electric fence for rotational grazing sheep? Should I use electric poly netting, poly-tape, or poly-braid for my sheep?
This post is dedicated to showing you both the electric fencing and portable charger system that I use to facilitate my rotational grazing program for for flock of Dorper Sheep. I move my sheep to fresh pasture quite frequently. My paddocks last 1 day or 1 week depending on the season. An easy to use fencing and charger system is key to this rotational grazing system.
3 primary considerations factor into the materials I chose for my sheep rotational grazing system: cost, ease of use, and containment rate. It is my goal to run this rotational grazing system for my sheep at as low a cost as possible. My fencing, charger, and grounding system for rotational grazing on 30 acres cost about $1500. This $1500 system could easily facilitate a grazing rotation for 80-100 sheep.
Because I am creating 150-200 temporary paddocks for my sheep every year ease of use is a big part of what fencing and charger system I chose. It is my goal to perform all of the tasks associated with rotational grazing my sheep within 45 minutes-1hour.
Finally, because sheep are notorious escape artists, containment rate is a huge consideration for my rotational grazing system. To avoid wasted time (which is really an economic liability in any farming operation) I try to keep my containment rate at 90% or better for my flock. I give some allowance due to the nature of sheep, but I try to amend any gaps in my system that might make way for more escapes than necessary.
I do not cull escape artists. While some farmers may disagree, my philosophy is that if a sheep is highly productive and genetically fit, it is not a wise decision to cull it for escaping the paddock. Sheep are sheep, and escaping is part of their nature. I believe our fencing systems can do up to 90% of the job for us, but the end of the day we are shepherds.
Here are the rotational grazing supplies that work best for me on my sheep farm.
When we bought this farm the 30 acres was already cross-fenced into 3 different pastures. Once we bought our sheep we added a welded wire to the existing 5 strand barbed wire fence. This perimeter fencing is a great asset and really simplifies my rotational grazing for sheep. If I did not have this perimeter fencing I would likely use a lot more poly netting to keep my sheep contained.
On each of the cross fenced pastures I have put one hot line of Gallagher 12 gauge Aluminum High Tensile Wire. I plug my charger straight into this main wire, then link the charge to my polytape paddocks using Power Links from Premier 1 Supplies.
Portable Electric Fencing for Creating Grazing Paddocks:
My portable electric fencing of choice is 5/8″ poly tape. The electric poly tape I use for my paddocks is about 5/8″ wide and provides 5x more visibility than poly braid. What’s more is that poly tape is much easier to use than poly netting. I will use 2 strands of this poly tape to create my paddocks. One row is strung about 6″ off the ground (too low to sneak under) and the second row is 24-28″ off the ground (too high to easily jump over).
All that said, I do occasionally use the electric poly netting to create paddocks for my sheep rotational grazing system. I will use this netting during lambing season when the lambs are small enough to sneak under the tape. The poly netting also serves as an extra layer of predator protection when the tiny lambs are on pasture. A final reason I use electric netting is to keep our field dogs with the flock when paddocking them in remote pastures (our guardian dogs are not bonded to the flock and will stray from them if not contained).
Electric Fence Charger:
I currently use a 2 Joule Charger with leads for a 12V Battery. This charger powers my 30 acre system quite well. It provides a consistent 8KV+ charge on my fencing. I initially started my rotational grazing system with a .22 joule solar charger, but this charger is really not powerful enough to contain sheep for the long term.
I power my fencing with a 12V Marine Deep Cycle battery. This allows me to carry my power with me not matter how remote the pasture. This will also allow me to quickly and easily setup my rotational grazing system on lease land, should my farm ever grow to that point. I have two 12V batteries. This allows me to switch out when my battery needs to be recharged. I recharge my batteries with an autom
I created a grounding system using 6 ft copper ground rods. I have around 15 ground rods on my 30 acres. To provide optimal shock, I make sure to sink three of these ground rods 10ft apart.
There are a few simple accessories in my rotational grazing system that I have yet to mention. I use insulated handles to latch the electric fencing onto my perimeter fencing. I use simple plastic reels to hold my poly tape (a geared reel may work better, but geared reels cost $70-100 each vs. $10 for a plastic reel). I also use the inexpensive white step in posts from my local hardware store ($1.50 each). I have tried the expensive ($5 each) O’Brien posts and did not like them as well as the $1.50 posts.
I think that is about it! I hope this detailed post on my electric fencing system for sheep has helped you! 95% of what I use can be sourced at your local hardware store. While you want to fix your system for a containment rate of 90% or more, don’t be discouraged if a sheep occasionally makes an escape. It is called shepherding for a reason!
“All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6
Save the date for August 11th and 8AM CST!! I will be selling 10 head of Dorper Sheep from my Flock. Details are explained in the video above and more can be found HERE AT ShepherdessDorpers.com! If you have any questions, please email me at shepherdess(at)harmonyfarms.blog .
**Please note, the buy button will be viewable on August 11th at 8 AM CST. First come first served, no reserves. Thank you all very much!
“Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. ” Psalm 100:3
I recently came off of a flock expansion project here at Harmony Farms. I brought back a registered full-blood Dorper Ram as well as a selection of registered full-blood ewes. Since announcing this expansion project I have been asked if I would explain the process of sourcing livestock from a beginner perspective. This post is going to outline my process in 3 sections: what to avoid, what to ask before buying, and how to handle the new animals once they are back to your farm.
First and foremost: know your seller and their operation. When you are buying in livestock, you are not only bringing a new animal to your farm, you are bringing in the system it was raised on. I know this from both good and bad experience.
I bought from various sources in this expansion project. One of these sources was very bad. It was a “$ Great Deal $” on a registered ewe. Once I was onsite I became aware that this sheep was raised in confinement and had eaten nothing but corn and molasses it’s whole life. Bringing this animal home was a decision I am not proud of. Long story short, the animal came back and showed almost immediate signs of infection in her udders. Once I paid for vet bills, antibiotics, and extended quarantine procedures I ended up with a sheep that cost me 3 times it’s initial purchase price. This “$Great deal$” is now on the cull list because her udders are so badly damaged by mastitis that I doubt she is capable of feeding offspring. Long story short: beware of a “great deal”.
On the flip side, I paid premium for sheep from a beautiful grass-based system. I brought the sheep home and they integrated seamlessly into my grass-based operation with no hassle. Worth every penny of the premium price.
What to avoid when buying sheep:
Avoid sale barns as a first time buyer. Farmers and ranchers often use sale barns to liquidate cull-animals. Unless you have a highly experienced eye, you may end up buying diseased livestock. Furthermore, when buying at a sale barn you have little to no connection with how the animal was raised. When you bring an animal back to your farm, you bring it’s previous system with it. BEWARE!!
Avoid confinement sheep. There are specific respiratory and arterial diseases (namely, Ovine Progressive Pneumonia) that thrive in the sheep’s system when raised without access to fresh air and good pasture. Sheep (and pretty much every other livestock) were designed to eat grass, not corn and molasses. If you buy a sheep from a shed, you will probably encounter problems (see my story above).
What to ask before buying:
Congrats! You found what a appears to be a good operation to buy sheep from! Here are some of the questions that I found important when I was buying sheep. Be sure to ask a million questions. Half of them will be things you need to know, the other half will be used to gauge the sellers honesty and transparency. If a breeder is reluctant to answer your questions, give the operation a red flag.
What do you feed this sheep (both during the growing season and over-winter)? This is a pretty base level question, but it will immediately tell you A LOT. Most breeders supplement overwinter, but if you are a grass-based farm you want to bring back an animal that is accustomed to a grass based diet.
What kind of vaccinations did these sheep receive? There are a lot of differing opinions on vaccines in animals. Regardless of your opinion, you need to know whether the animal you are buying has had vaccinations. Some vaccines require annual boosters so you will need to decide whether you are ready to undertake that regimen.
At this point in time, I do not run regular vaccinations on my flock. However, I am in favor of vaccinations for breeding animals. This discussion is for another time, but it is important to know the vaccination record of the animal you are buying.
How do you manage parasites in these sheep? It is very important to maintain the parasite management strategy of the previous owner. Only change the previous parasite management strategy once you have developed a strategy that has proven effective in the animal. Neglecting the maintenance of the breeder’s parasite management will put your sheep at serious risk.
Do you run hoof care? There are a lot of differing opinions in the sheep hoof care arena; but I want to buy a sheep that has it’s hooves maintained. In my opinion, if you do not run regular, preventative maintenance a sheep’s hoof you are asking for trouble. I’ll leave it there with my opinion and let you do your own research on hoof care.
What to do when you bring the sheep back to your farm?
It is advisable to quarantine new animals for 10 days to 8 weeks. The less you know about the source the longer you ought to quarantine the sheep. This portion of my advice doubles back to knowing the operation. Chances are if you have purchased from a clean, reputable source you will not have problems; but if you have not a good quarantine could save your entire operation.
I designated a quarantine pasture for the new sheep. This quarantine pasture is actually my front yard. It is a portion of my acreage that is not in my regular grazing program. If there is any trouble or disease in the new livestock my main flock will have no opportunity to graze the ground they touched.
Watch the new animal like a hawk. Never ignore anything unusual when new livestock is involved. Keep your veterinarian clinic on speed dial.
Depending on the size of your existing operation, buying in livestock can be one of the riskiest things a farmer or rancher can do. Avoid sale barns as a beginner, do not buy a sheep that have been in confinement, and ask a lot of questions.
While my first major livestock buy-in was not without faults (re: the “$good deal$”), the Lord lead me to some excellent sources and spared me from a lot of trouble. The flock at Harmony Farms is now closed and I will not have a need to bring in new livestock for the foreseeable future. I have 4 sets of Dorper Sheep genetics on the farm. With this genetic diversity, and some deliberate herd (or rather, flock) planning, I should have the capacity to build out some serious quality for generations to come.
-the Shepherdess at Harmony Farms
My name is Grace and I am the Shepherdess at Harmony Farms. I jumped into farming in 2020 with no previous experience in agriculture. My background and primary occupation is in business management and retail marketing. My goal in farming is to build a profitable farm business on 30 acres by the year 2027! I am doing this with a flock of full blood Dorper sheep.
This month marks my one year anniversary as the Shepherdess at Harmony Farms. As I close out year one I am beginning the process of building out a second flock of Dorper sheep. This video gives some insights on why I am doing this. Thank you all for following my Dorper sheep farming journey!
“A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9
Is there a best place to start a small farm?? Joel Salatin helps answer this question.