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Making money with sheep.

I'm happy the Mr. Oscanyan's story (80/1) had a happy ending and that his $8,000 fence was a successful investment for him. I also feel that his story is a good lesson in two areas: 1. that not all people are cut out to raise livestock; 2. that those who do raise livestock rarely can provide a small investment of time and capital with amazing returns. When Mr. Oscanyan was told that sheep can be a moneymaking enterprise I think a few things were overlooked. Ten ewes and their lambs, or even fewer, can provide wool for spinning and meat for the table with some left to sell and provide a little income. The profit or "moneymaking," as in any venture, comes after expenses are deducted. Expenses have to be determined accordingly. For Mr. Oscanyan's investment of $1,000 in sheep to offset an $8,000 fence expense, $200 turntable investment and provide a profit within a year or two, would be pretty miraculous in my opinion.

Raising livestock is somewhat of a gamble even under the best of conditions and requires time and hard work. Sheep in particular are at times very management intensive animals. In management, and barring any catastrophic events such as predator loss or disease, Mr. Oscanyan's 10 ewes could have provided a good base for a return on his investment.

When we first started raising sheep we bought two bred ewes which each lambed twins. They were good, sound, healthy ewes from an excellent flock of Columbia/Rambouillet crosses. We read and researched about sheep and knew that we wanted to start with something problem free, young, but that had lambed before to make up for our lack of experience. My husband and I are both from backgrounds with animal experience, but we had never had sheep before. Our first two ewes gave us the confidence we needed to continue. Shortly after the first two sets of twins were born, we bought five more ewes.

We had decided after all of our readings and research that Polypay sheep had the qualities that we were looking for. They are a four-way cross made up of Dorset, Rambouillet, Targee and Finn, with qualities of prolificacy, early maturing, strong mothering abilities, decent wool, good rate of gain on lambs and calm sheep, to name a few.

As in any breed there are good examples and bad examples. We were determined to find the best sheep we could for what we could afford to pay. Though we were living in Colorado at the time, we found the sheep we were looking for in South Dakota. We paid a total of $1,500 for the five ewes with 10 lambs at their side. That $1,500, plus the hauling fee, was a major investment to us, but we were determined that we had a plan worth pursuing.

In finding someone to haul the sheep from South Dakota to Colorado, we met some other Colorado sheep producers just over the mountain from us. We bought four more ewes from them, which they offered to let us buy on payments.

So with our $2,200 investment in sheep, not counting expenses, we began our sheep enterprise. We feel it was one of the best investments we've ever made. We now have about 200 sheep that do produce a profit. We plan to expand to 400 ewes in the future.

We still do not own a turntable. When it comes to foot trimming, we put the sheep on their butts, bend over and trim away. Sometimes it takes two people. We probably will invest in a turntable eventually, for A.I. work if nothing else, but that has not seemed to be a wise investment for us yet.

We do feel fencing is important both for controlling the sheep and to help with predator control. In fact, we've incorporated a farm based electric fencing business into our operation. Because the fencing business is mainly a catalog business, we have the opportunity to talk to people all over the country and share different ideas and approaches to livestock enterprises and pasture management. We believe that the best way for us to see a profit and best take care of the land we have, is through management intense (rotational) grazing. We feel fencing should be a wise investment, not an extravagant expense.

In addition to the sheep, we graze dairy goats, chickens (both laying hens and broilers), turkeys, ducks, horses, and cattle. We also have dogs (herding and guardian), cats, a few peacocks, and we raise a couple of feeder pigs each year. We have also raised rabbits.

Our newest enterprise is a grassbased dairy. We are starting small. We have 22 heifers and one secondcalf cow that will freshen soon. Our capital investment will be minimal, concentrating most of the money on the dairy animals. We bought secondhand equipment, (pipeline, bulk tank, milk room equipment, etc.) at a reasonable price. We're converting a preexisting metal barn into a six stanchion (flat) dairy barn with three milking units. We'll be seasonal, only milking from March to December. The goats will help provide the milk for the calves. We'll start by selling the milk to a commercial buyer, but we would eventually like to get into some form of direct marketing. A year from now we should be able to determine the future profitability of this endeavor. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."
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Author:Krider, Connie
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jul 1, 1996
Words:907
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