Fold or Perserve

For my occupation I am a sheep farmer. I raise sheep for meat and breeding stock. I enjoy being a sheep farmer. Watching lambs being born, growing and playing is my “television”. I do not care to watch television or a movie much. Watching the lambs is enjoyment.

Most of my ewes I have owned since birth. I know their personality and the sound of their baa. I have selected my sheep from the best that I had, selling off other lambs. Seven years I have worked to have the sheep I currently own.

It is time for me to purchase hay for the winter. We have been purchasing hay from an individual the past two years. Because my flock has been growing larger the last two years, we inform him how much hay for winter we will need in the spring. We let him know this spring how many bales of hay we would need, and he said he would have them for us at the end of summer when we pick up the hay. When we contacted him, he said he sold all his hay to a the local feed store for $105.00 USD per bale. The feed store is charging $260.00 USD for the same hay. I can not continue to raise sheep with hay cost at $260.00 USD per bale. The only place to purchase hay in my area is from the feed store or hay brokers in nearby towns who charge the same amount. I am forced to go to another state and haul my hay to Texas.

Since I am going to have travel to purchase hay, and purchase the hay at one time, I do not have the ready cash for such a purchase. For the first time, I am going to have to borrow money to keep my sheep business going. I have worked for thirteen years to get our personal finances out of debt. I am very reluctant to go into debt to keep the sheep.

I have worked hard to raise the quality of my sheep. I have four sheep consigned to a special Dorper sheep sale in October. My business plan for 2022 was to keep two lambs, a ram and a ewe, to grow up and show and sale in April 2023, and this is on schedule. I have four ewes that are going to have lambs in September, 15 ewes that will start having lambs in October. Five lambs will be ready to sell as market lambs in November/December. The plans were made last January on when I would be having lambs, when they would be ready to sale.

A lot of sheep farmers and cattle ranchers have sold off all their animals. They have folded with hopes of being able to rebuild next spring. There are some who are borrowing money, to keep going and hoping for a better year next year. With fewer sheep having lambs next year, and the demand for lamb meat staying the same, hopefully the price will go up on the market lambs that are produced, and the sheep farmer might be able to recoup the loss of paying so much for hay this winter.

The sad news is, if the price goes up for the market lambs raised by the sheep farmer, the price will go up for the consumer buying lamb meat for dinner. Once ewes or cows are removed from herds producing offspring to be sold for market, it takes a year or two to build those numbers back up to what they were this year.

Should I fold, call it quits or go into debt and preserve to keep all my hard work going forward?

After much prayer and contemplation, I am going to persevere, push ahead to keep going. I will not have the profit margin I calculated last January, I am going forward hoping to do well. I am hoping the market lambs I sell in December/January will bring a high price. The two I am raising to show and sale in April as breeding stock will bring good money. The plans of breeding ewes, producing lambs, and selling market lambs will provide more money than I did this year. Hopefully the drought ends, the hay grows abundant for all farmers.


A Little Bit of Rain

Photo by Sourav Mishra on

Last night and today, we have been receiving some much needed and prayed for rain. The area I am in has been in a drought all summer, no rain. Rain is what we depend on to water our pastures as there is no irrigation type systems in this area. No one irrigates or uses farm sprinklers to water their fields and pastures. Rainfall is very important.

I am many things, but my main occupation is being a sheep farmer. I raise Dorper sheep for market lamb. I enjoy this occupation of caring for the sheep. Being a sheep farmer is more than just taking care of sheep. I have to manage the pasture and other resources in order to care the sheep and make a profit.

One of those resources is my pasture. When we first purchased our small homestead, the pasture had been overgrazed. There was way more weeds than grass, and large bare areas of dirt. Not much feed for the horses we were raising at the time. Building up a pasture that has been overgrazed takes time, there is no quick fix.

Our lives took a change, we sold the horses and I became a sheep farmer. In the beginning as a sheep farmer, I did not have very many sheep, five to seven. Sheep love to eat weeds, 70 % of their preferred diet is weeds and brush. I had plenty of both when I started raising sheep. As the sheep grazed the weeds, not allowing the weeds to produce seeds and replant, my pasture starting changing. The weeds being controlled by the sheep allowing more moisture and sunlight for grass, the grass started growing and spreading. Today, my pasture is mostly grass, the few weeds I do have are weeds sheep and other livestock do not eat.

This spring we did not get the usual amount o rainfall. The summer was dry, no rainfall and heat. The grass in the pasture became tan, short, dry and had stopped growing. In July, I stopped grazing the sheep on the pasture, and kept them in pens with limited grazing around the sheds and house. I did not want to overgraze the pasture and stress or kill the grass I had managed to build up. I was able to water the grass around the sheds and house using the water from our well. This week, I stopped grazing the sheep totally. The grass around the sheds and house were not able to keep up with the sheep. I did not want to overgraze this area either.

Being a sheep farmer is more than just taking care of the sheep, it is managing the resources needed to care for the sheep. My sheep pens are placed on a hillside above the pasture. When we do receive rain, the water naturally sheds to the pasture. As the water moves through the pens, it becomes a manure tea, fertilizing the grass in the pasture. The past few years, there has developed a darker green and more lush grass nearer the sheep pens than in the back of the pasture. The darker green grass area has been growing large each year.

When I clean out my sheep pens, I compost the manure for more than 30 days, usually a few months, before applying it to the pasture. Letting the manure compost helps with internal parasite in the sheep, not allowing the larva to infect the sheep. After thirty days, if the larva have not been introduced into a sheep’s system, the larva dies.

Having the sheep pens on a hillside allows for faster draining and drying of the sheep pens, than the rest of the property. Keeping the sheep pens drained helps to prevent footrot, a bacterial infection of the sheep hoof that destroys the hoof. The placement of pens and shelters is also a management decision for a sheep farmer.

Yes, we have received a little bit of rain, but this will not break the drought. This little bit of rain will give the grass a breath of life. The pasture will take more rain, and time to rebuild from the stress of the drought before I can have the sheep graze it once more. I will continue to feed the sheep hay in their pens until spring arrives. I am managing my pasture to feed the ewes and lambs this spring and next year. If I overgraze or let the sheep graze too soon, I will hinder and possible destroy the work of the past few years to build up and improve my pasture.