When going into sheep you’ll have to decide what kind of enterprise you want to run. This can be tricky as it depends on important issues such as how much time you’ll have to farm, what your facilities are like, and how much money you want to invest and the expected returns.
If you get someone to describe the various sheep farming systems, you could easily end up more confused than enlightened. But here’s an attempt!
1. Run a mixed-age (or age-balanced) flock of the one breed, breeding your own replacements and selling all surplus stock.
• This is the usual commercial system on large sheep farms.
• Here ewes last for say four seasons after which they are drafted from the flock, called draft or cast-for-age (CFA) ewes.
• By the time they are culled, the replacement ewe lambs that have grown to be two-tooths come in to replace them.
• So the flock is made up of 25% two-tooths, 25% four-tooths, 25% six-tooths and 25% of old five-year-olds.
• There is wastage over time so if you know this, you usually put more than 25% two-tooths into the flock knowing for example the greatest loss is barren two tooths.
• The enterprise makes money from selling store lambs (wethers and rams) at weaning together with any ewe lambs that are not needed for replacements.
2. The same system as 1 above but keep some of the surplus lambs to sell later as hoggets (“lambs”) for meat.
• This again is for larger operations and is done where the farm has the feed to grow the weaned lambs on to heavier weights as hoggets for the meat “lamb” market before they have two permanent teeth which normally erupt at 12-14 months.
• They are sold through autumn and winter when there is a big demand for these “lambs”.
3. Buy in weaner store lambs and grow them on for meat.
• This is a simple system of fattening weaners and quitting them as meat “lambs” before they have two permanent teeth.
• They could be of any sex with ram lambs growing the fastest and making most money, followed by wethers and then ewe lambs.
• Grow ram and ewe lambs separately. Ewes and wethers can be grown together.
4. Buy in weaner ewe lambs and grow them to sell as two-tooth ewes for breeding when 18 months old, ready for the ram.
• This is a large-farm operation where you buy good ewe lambs and grow them on for about a year to put in the special two-tooth sales in late summer before autumn mating.
• These are the very best of breeding stock and have at least 4-5 productive seasons ahead of them so you expect them to sell for premium prices.
• But then of course they need priority feed for a long time so the economics need to be carefully watched.
• On some large sheep farms, they keep more ewe lambs than they need and after they have selected their replacement two-tooths, they’ll put the surplus on the market.
5. Buy weaner ewe lambs, and grow them to be mated as hoggets. Then after weaning their lambs sell them as two-tooths.
• Here you increase the efficiency of the enterprise by getting a lamb out of most of the hoggets (e.g. 50%) but still hit the premium breeding sales for two-tooths.
• You would have to declare that they have lambed as hoggets, and in any case it would be hard to hide as the lambed ones would show udder development.
• The two-tooths that had lambed as hoggets would be a great buy as research always showed that hoggets that lambed were more productive sheep over their lifetime.
6. Buy old-cast-for age (CFA) ewes, mate them and sell them in spring with lambs at foot.
• CFA ewes are usually five years of age and are sold with guaranteed teeth and udders. Some farmer’s CFA ewes could be six-year-old ewes and would be worth buying too if they were sound.
• They should be capable of producing at least one more lamb crop, and if carefully managed on good lowland conditions you may be able to get a second crop out of most of them.
• They would normally be mated to a meat breed sire and sold in early spring – “all counted”.
• This means that if you are bidding on a ewe and her twins and the bid is $40, that’s $40 for each of them. They are all the same price.
• In this system you don’t have ewes and lambs through the summer with all the work involved.
• This would be an ideal system to start a sheep breeding enterprise on small farms if owners had experience.
7. The same system as 6 but sell the ewes at weaning for meat and grow the lambs to greater weights to slaughter as hoggets.
• Here you farm the ewes and lambs through the summer.
• There will be quite a bit of work to do such as docking lambs and shearing the ewes and maybe the lambs.
• Dipping too may be needed if blowfly problems show up and drenching for internal parasites.
• You sell all the ewes for meat at weaning, or you could put them in the store sale and other farmers may see an opportunity to buy them and get another lamb out of most of them if they were sound in teeth and udder.
• These ewes would need careful management as quite a few could “pack up” and die.
8. Keep a permanent wether flock.
• This is a very simple system were you keep sheep simply as grazing machines and was common in the days of hill country development. Income comes from wool and animals sold when mutton prices are good. You need to have a supply of young wethers to replace them.
9. Buy and sell sheep of any age.
• Here you are simply “dealing’ in sheep hoping that your bargains outnumber your losses.