The profitability of sheep is a difficult thing to measure accurately; there are many factors involved, however here we will provide our experience with raising a small herd of 30-40 animals.
To say there is a learning curve raising animals is an enormous understatement, what seems common sense today was beyond our comprehension a decade or more ago. Simple necessities like sheering seemed like a task you could put off on a professional once a year, however, to do so adds hundreds of dollars of expenses to your bottom line. Further, the personal handling of the animals is lost if you shed that task to another, a man who is little more than a machine to the process. We do not engage in reckless shearing of animals, we do not strive to finish the task in 3 minutes, or even 10 minutes, we often take 20 to 30 minutes to shear one animal, preferring to cause less harm (nicks and small cuts which are common with hasty careless work) to the animal.
Perhaps the greatest factor in profitability is feeding the animal properly. With adequate grassland acreage you can easily achieve profitability; however in arid central Arizona this is not achievable, so consequently, we must buy much of our animal feed. It is by far our largest expense and often a challenge during the colder seasons where we can not rely on grazing at all. We have developed many workarounds to feed in the summer, we own significant acreage that can offer limited grazing and protection from predators (feral dogs and coyotes are the greatest threat), we also garden extensively and much of it ends up helping ends meet. One of our greatest tools is surplus vegetables, bulk carrots, cheap produce that is on quick clearance and other buying opportunities.
If you exclude your time, which is often not technically “work” if you enjoy what you are doing, raising sheep can be profitable from the expense angle. That leaves revenue streams, which is far more straightforward, though often not very appealing.
Profit comes primarily from three avenues, selling wool, selling manure and selling animals. We focus on the first two because that is where the most profit is made that has no stigma attached. About half of our profits comes from manure sales, there is a ready market for manure in this age of environmental awareness and self-sufficient living. It is by far the most time consuming and tedious of the three avenues, but a technique is developed as you progress with its collection, processing and shipping. The wool sales are well known, many have their own methods and later we will discuss ours, but we generally sell unprocessed, straight off the animal wool, not so much the processed varieties.
Lastly, there is the selling of lambs and occasionally rams and ewes, – we generally avoid this last method to the degree we can avoid it. For one it is counterproductive to the business, the profit from the sale never compensates for its loss over the long term. The only reason it is justified or necessary is due to the cost of feeding the animal outweighs it potential value producing manure and wool. Besides, selling lambs or ewes is an ugly business, however it is a necessity to sell off most of the male lambs because their nature is to fight one another if you have too many.