i was wondering how much do sheep cost when young and same with goats. how much do you make per head of sheep or goats? are your sheep/goats grass fed? are animals an issue? How many head do you have? how much space do you have for them? if predators are a issue how do you solve it? do you raise them for milk of meat? and lastly how much do you put into your sheep yearly?
My goats are purebred and registered with both ADGA and AGS. I have been selling them for $300-350 while living in Washington (feed is much more expensive here). This year, I am raising my price to $400. (Though, I give a 30% discount to 4-H and FFA, as I prefer to sell to youth.) When we lived in Oregon (and had better pasture = lower feed costs), I sold for $250-300. I see mutt goats for sale on Craigslist for about $100-200. I believe sheep are comparable, though possibly a bit less expensive. My friend is selling her mixed Katahdin sheep for $150 each.
Now, here is the dumb part about pricing goats: People want baby goats, so the market price for kids is higher than that of mature does and bucks. Dumb, dumb, dumb. If you can, buy mature stock. I can see the value of buying kids or lambs if you are raising them for pets. But, as a producer, you need to know what kinds of traits you are purchasing, and you won't be able to see those in their entirety until the animal matures. Don't be swayed by a fancy website with lots of ribbons displayed. Get a good look at and your hands on the sheep or goat. Find mentors who have raised sheep or goats for decades and ask them to go with you to pick out your stock.
I rarely buy goats. I've been breeding my particular line (linebreeding) in the Nigerians for 9 years. It's time to add some new genetics. Recently, I bought two mature does from Tahoma herd because I really like her goats. The breeder has been working on her line for 20 years. Believe me, they are lovely. I also bought two kids from Blythmoor last month. "Ah," you say, "Melinda has broken her own rule!" Actually, I've been keeping track of Blythmoor's goats for 9 years (as I bought one of my first Nigerians from that breeder). I've seen the consistency in the kids being born each year, and I've gotten to know the individual goats in the herd. So, choosing two kids from Blythmoor was not a gamble for me. And, I wanted to buy from Blythmoor at a time when I could meet the breeder halfway when I attended our annual dairy goat conference in Oregon. That limited which goats were available at the time to buy. So, that's how things worked out.
I raise dairy goats. So, that answers your question about milk or meat. In that past, I have raised rabbits for meat. That was a pretty profitable operation when I lived in Oregon because I had steady buyers (who would take them live, thus saving me the labor and costs of being regulated for butchering). The state of Washington (or possibly it's just my county) is not friendly to farmers, so I don't even attempt to sell for meat here. I do sell wool from my Angora rabbits to a local shop that specializes in handspinning fibers and yarn. But, my herd of Angoras (once at 20 head) is now down to just 2 bunnies as they age out over the years. My herd buck was killed when he became scared during a Fourth of July celebration when neighbors shot bottle rockets at the back of our barn. The woman who sells the quality of German Angoras that I require is all the way down in Central Oregon, so I haven't replaced my buck and may not for some time.
When I first started in goats, I raised fiber goats...fiber meaning the lovely, warm coat on a goat; whereas, a sheep has wool. Being at a higher elevation than most fiber goat producers in Oregon, I had the advantage of my goats naturally growing finer fiber, which is more desirable. Some of my goats produced in the cashmere range (19 microns). I sold the fiber wholesale to a fiber arts teacher and a handspinning shop and made enough to buy the hay for my Pygoras. The advantage with fiber goats, if you do things correctly, is that you don't need to grain them except during kidding and while they are raising kids (for a couple months). Grain makes fiber goats fat. Fat goats equals fat fiber. Coarse fiber does not sell well (there are only so many rugs you can make). But, the market for fiber is pretty small and specialized. So, I would not recommend going into fiber goats unless you are convinced you can be the very best in your area (as I was) and, therefore, pick up the wholesale clients. With sheep, you have the advantage of being able to sell both wool and meat. You can even milk them for artisan cheeses. Don't expect to get much milk from a ewe though.
In the state of Washington (remember, not farm-friendly), it is illegal to sell raw milk unless you are a certified dairy. That is more expensive and requires more paperwork than is feasible for our herd. Back in Oregon, I had a small side-business called Sable's Soap (named after my first Nigerian Dwarf goat). I sold my double-milled bars for $4 each and made a nice profit during the fall when there were many harvest fairs. I also sold wholesale to a local organic produce store and a local gift shop. I made enough money selling soap that I had to pay federal and state income taxes on my profits!
I plan to start making soap again this year. I will begin playing around with my new recipe this week (even though I don't have does in milk yet, I will use water) to get it just right. I have created a new recipe to bring my cost of ingredients down. And, I doubt I will perform the extra labor for double-milling it as I am so very busy these days. So, it will be a more basic soap, though still very nice with the goat's milk. I will also be experimenting with colors to enhance to saleability of my soap. In the past, I stayed as close to all-organic ingredients as possible. I plan to create larger bars and sell for $5 each. Making soap is one way I can use my goat's milk for profit legally in the state of Washington.
In the state of Oregon, it is legal to sell raw goat's milk from your farm without being a licensed dairy as long as you only have 9 does or fewer in milk. That is a good reason to move back to Oregon!
I have 13 goats eating hay right now (the two kids are still on milk). I go through two bales of orchard grass a week at a cost of $18.75 per bale. Hay is very expensive on the west coast! And, we can't buy local hay because it has very little nutrition; the protein content is especially low. I made the mistake of buying local hay one year because it was less expensive. I lost my herdsire GMV Xlnt Storm because of that. He essentially starved to death, even with a full belly, because he was not getting the nutrition he needed. That was a very hard lesson to learn; please learn from my mistake.
Also, keep in mind that my goats are dwarf goats (only 20 inches tall), so they don't eat nearly as much as a full-sized dairy goat or sheep.
When my does kid, I will switch to alfalfa, which is comparable in price, but we go through more of it as much of the bale is stems.
I also feed grain, which is $14.99/50# for the Goat Tender and $16.69/50# for the alfalfa pellets. I go through a bag of each a month during the dry months. When my does are milking, those amounts double.
We do have two acres of pasture, but it is really awful grass with little nutrition (another 2 acres is cedar/maple/alder forest; the last acre my goats are not allowed to graze because it's considered a "critical buffer" for wildlife). So, the bulk of their diet is from their hay/grain. When we lived near Mt. Hood in Oregon, we had nice orchard grass pasture. So, my feed costs there were much less. Here in the Puget Sound (near Seattle), the ground was scraped (very long ago) by glaciers. The soil is very rocky and devoid of minerals, especially copper and selenium (so we have to supplement those heavily). Once my husband retires (19 months and counting!), we hope to return to the sunny hillsides near the Cascade Mountains in Oregon.
As you know, feed and livestock purchase costs are just part of your annual expenses. Here are some other things that come up:
- If one of your animals dies, you will need to know why so you can protect the rest of your herd/flock. When Xlnt Storm died, the necropsy and associated lab tests came to a total of $144.
- If you sell livestock, you will do well to test your herd on an annual basis for certain diseases. Many buyers will not buy goats that haven't been tested as they don't want to bring disease into their herds/flocks. In goats, most breeders test for CAE. Many others, like myself, also test for CL and Johnes. The lab cost per head per test is around $4. You only test goats over the age of 1 year. So, my cost for testing this past January was $120. This cost assumes you draw the blood samples and do the shipping yourself.
- I have my vet out on an annual basis to do a herd health exam. There is a fee for coming to my farm as well as a per-minute exam fee. I paid $180 this year. This is good insurance to help catch problems early or often to prevent issues altogether. It also is insurance against the "animal welfare" agencies in the Seattle area that are famous for raiding anyone with more than the allotted 1 dog and 2 cats for being "animal hoarders." My vet will testify that my animals have had regular veterinary care and proper housing and nutrition.
- If you have a goat/sheep who is not scoring well on a condition test (feeling for amount of fat over bones), you will want to do a fecal exam to ensure parasites are not a problem: around $6 per animal.
- We have to supplement selenium here in the Pacific Northwest. A 100 ml bottle of Bo-Se costs $36. It lasts a year with my small herd.
- We also have to supplement with copper. Between the boluses and Kop-Sel that I use to top-dress my goat's grain, that comes to around $80 annually.
- Both goats and sheep need free-choice loose mineral salt. I go through a bag every two months for an annual cost of $150.
- If any of your animals get sicker than you can treat yourself, you will need to call the vet. Costs vary. I try to keep $300 on reserve in case of emergency...and I usually spend about half of that each year...knock on wood.
- For medical issues that you can treat yourself, you will need supplies. I spend around $200 a year on things like syringes, vitamins, probiotics, coccidiostats, CDT vaccine, disinfectants, and de-wormers.
- There will always be tack that you need to buy on an annual basis (after you've already bought all your startup tack): ID collars or tags, buckets, feeders, tattoo ink, bucket straps, fencing for repairs, etc. This varies as well. I spend around $100 annually.
- One way to improve your ability to get a good price for your stock, as well as being able to better enjoy your hobby/career, is to participate in national registries. I participate, as mentioned earlier, in the American Dairy Goat Association and the American Goat Society, Inc. You will need to pay an annual membership fee (around $20-25 per registry) as well as individual fees for registering each goat (only need to do this once in their lifetime) at a cost of about $7-15 per head.
- Another way to improve your ability to sell your stock, as well as giving you great feedback for improving your herd (which will further improve your ability to sell stock), is to participate in production programs. I participate in two ADGA programs: Linear Appraisal and Dairy Herd Improvement Registry. The annual cost for these varies by how many animals you have participating in the program...but figure about $300-400 per year.
- As you already know, Travis, showing your animals is also a good idea. I don't show because I need to be home with my children. Once they are older, I may choose to show my goats. You know the costs, but for those who don't, consider the following expenses: gas money, wear and tear on your vehicle and trailer, entrance fees, possible health certificate costs in case of crossing state lines, tack and attire for the show ring (if needed), hotel or camping cost, and vaccines or medications to keep your animals healthy and stress-free.
How do you get those costs down? Most of it is your feed cost, so try to get bulk pricing on your hay, ask to see the nutrient breakdown on the data sheet that comes with the hay shipment (so you don't end up buying low-quality feed that will rake up the vet bills and possibly cause you to lose livestock and, therefore, your investment), and pasture your livestock on quality grass to lower the amount of hay you need to buy. You can also experiment with growing your own forages to supplement your feed if you have the land available for that.
What is the forecasted return on my investment this year? Well, most of my income to pay the feed bill comes from selling kids. If I have 6 does kid this year--assuming 50/50 ratio between bucks (castrated and sold as pets for $100) and does ($400) and also assuming that each goat has twins (which is average), then I can expect to make around $3,000 in kid sales. This total also assumes that I'm not selling any kids to youth (who get a 30% discount). So, how do I break even? I don't in Washington state. This is why I am now Editor Melinda.
This year, I actually don't plan on selling all my kids as I have in years past. I hope to keep a doeling out of each doe. I will let them grow for a year before I choose who to sell before we move back to Oregon. Some years, you will retain stock. That eats into your profits, but it's the only way to keep going strong. As we are currently experiencing a time of plenty, I am allowing my herd numbers to swell. Before we move, I will do the "big cull" like we did before moving to Washington. It's a great way to get really serious about overcoming barn blindness.
During the "lean years" of 2009 through 2014 (after we moved to western Washington), I pulled money out of my retirement fund to keep the farm going. Also, I did nothing extra. So, I did not participate in any performance programs...just feed and the most basic veterinary care. And, I reduced my herd size down to 5 or 6 goats and only milked one doe a year for milk for my family. That helped me to greatly reduce my feed costs. But still, the retirement fund was emptied, so I had to come up with something new: Editor Melinda. The profits from the first year of my freelance business went to pay off my startup costs. Into my second year, I can now afford to operate as I like because I have that income stream from copyediting. I'm sure your situation will be better in Minnesota, Travis. Your family has more land to grow pasture and forage crops. And, I bet the hay is a heck of a lot more affordable. Your vet bills may be lower as well. I was shocked when we moved here and I discovered, for example, that it costs almost $300 to spay a cat (my son's kitten named Tiger). That procedure cost $60-100 where I came from in rural Oregon. Of course, everything is going to be more expensive here in Kitsap County because it is a peninsula (higher freight costs). I've heard that prices are much better in the eastern part of Washington state. Certainly, the hay would be more affordable because that is where the good hay is grown. They actually get sun out in the eastern part of the state!
Regarding predators, we do have them. Currently, we live on the outskirts of a small town. Our main predators are coyotes, bald eagles, owls, hawks, and (for the chicks) blue heron. There are bear in my neighborhood, but they leave us alone. We have fencing that is pretty average right now--old field fencing. I will be enhancing it with electric wire after next month's paycheck. We also have a livestock guardian dog (half Great Pyrenees/half Maremma). You can see pictures of Kenai on the main goat page of my website and on my photography page on livestock guardians.
In Oregon, we lived on a rural property up near Mount Hood, and we had coyotes, hawks, and bobcat. We had invested in much better fencing and cross-fencing. And, we also had our guard llama, Cassie, who is also featured on that livestock guardian page mentioned in the previous paragraph.
In addition, we bring our herd into the barns at night or when we are not at home. It is pretty rare that no one is home on our farm because there are always things that come up with livestock. You've probably realized that! Anything from a kid getting stuck somewhere to a bald eagle flying overhead can have me racing outside. I have an intercom system set up so I can hear what is going on in each barn. We also have a video surveillance system set up to record in case of any people doing mischief around our livestock.
I will create another blog post on housing in a day or two. I'll go out right now to get some pictures of the barns for reference. The good news is that housing for sheep and goats does not need to be fancy. They basically just need a place to get out of the rain, snow, and wind. We have been very frugal in our housing. Much of what we build is with recycled/re-purposed materials.
Keeping asking those great questions, Travis. You are going to be a awesome farmer!