What producers need to know before buying sheep or goats

Before diving deep into the small ruminant business, consider some of the following tips from experts in order to keep a first- time operation above water.

Start small

If it is a producer’s first time owning a flock or herd – start small. A critical factor in success is understanding stocking rates. A misconception held by some new producers is they can stock large numbers of sheep or goats on minimal property. 

“Start off with two per acre so you can figure out what you can handle,” Chelsey Kimbrough, Ph.D., livestock specialist with the University of Arkansas System’s Division of Agriculture, said

Even if producers start small, they are able to increase their flock or herd quickly over a short time period. “The beauty of sheep and goats is that that they average a 150 percent crop,” Kimbrough explained. “So, you are going to almost double what you started with in a year’s time.” 

New producers can increase their numbers by retaining replacement females. Producers can maintain a closed herd, bring in sires and eliminate the need to buy dams. In addition, it is easier to determine if those animals are good, hardy and resilient animals or if they need to be culled. 

Do Research First

Before buying any animals do extensive research, visit farms and get involved with local, state and national breed organizations and associations. Gathering as much information prior to bringing the animals home, will help exponentially in the long run. 

Buy from Reputable Breeders in a Similar Climate

When the time comes to buy animals, make sure they come from reputable operations. “If you are just getting started you need to buy from a reputable breeder and not from the sale barn,” Kimbrough stated. 

The adage, “if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” applies in this situation. “Be wary of animals that are really, really cheap. If they are a bargain, they are probably not a bargain,” Alan Culham, director of operations with Katahdin Hair Sheep International, said. “Generally, quality is worth the money. Don’t buy other people’s problems.”

Take a close look at the animal’s feet and how they walk. Experts warn to avoid animals that limp, have foot rot or other foot problems.

In addition, purchase animals from reputable breeders in areas that are similar in climate. Small ruminants are more likely to thrive, if they are already adapted to the climate and environmental factors of the new producer’s farm. Buying the same or very similar breed of animals, and grouping them according to like nutritional and management needs, will help the operation run more smoothly.

Build Relationships

Establish good working relationships with other breeders and find a local mentor. New producers benefit from the expertise of the people raising sheep and goats in their area. Find producers who can help answer questions about nutrition, marketing, deworming and management practices. 

Additional Preparations

Prior to bringing the animals to the farm, establish paddocks and grow forages. Set up perimeter and cross fencing. Invest in a guardian animal such as a dog, llama or donkey. Find a veterinarian who will work on sheep and goats. Since many products are off-label for sheep and goats, it is important to have a relationship established with a veterinarian. 

Scrapie tags are also required for sheep and goats. Call 1-866-USDA-TAGS to receive the tags.

Lastly, learn what the current value of the animal is and keep on top of it. 


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