Looking Under the Hood

This post is going to be about meat and finances.  If you are mostly here for the cute lambs, that’s totally cool, of course, but this post doesn’t have any of those.  We will be back to our regularly-scheduled programming next post.

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We are excited to announce that we will be having lamb sausage made in mid June.  We will have Garlic Parmesan sausage available for sale at our farm and hopefully at a few select locations in the state.  Delivery is possible, for those that want it.  That said, my thoughts about how to sell this sausage and my lamb crop generally are a bit mixed at the moment.

Here’s the skinny: The most I can make selling a 45lb lamb is selling one to you, whole or half, at my current price, $10/lb.  Even thought I pay the butcher and often do the transport, that is my longest dollar.  While sausage is a food that anyone can cook and enjoy, your sausage yield from that same 45lb lamb might only be 25 lbs of ground meat, yielding 30lbs of sausage once some pork fat is added.  The price per pound has to go up, and that’s hard to do with a meat format that most people view as cheap.

I have several years’ experience marketing Vermont specialty foods.   Both products I sold were high-priced, specialty offerings so I am pretty familiar with the Vermont market for pantry staples with long shelf-lives.   Meat is different- it is perishable, and unless you’ve really spent your time branding, a lot of customers view it as interchangeable.  Both products I sold in the past were for special occasions and were giftable.  Meat is a staple for most people and would be a rather non-standard gift.  What then, in their minds, is the difference between one farm and another when the product in the clear plastic wrap looks the same?

The Vermont food market offers an unending array of specialty foods but has probably achieved saturation in some areas.  Non-diet-specialized baked goods and sugary foods are saturated sectors.  I’ve been told that specialty hot sauces and mustards  the truth is that many people who buy lamb have a friend or neighbor who can sell it at hobby-scale prices.  It is fine with me that farms do that, but I know that it reduces my ability to sell meat in Vermont at prices that will sustain our farm without us also working full-time off-farm jobs.

Some of the common mistakes and a few brilliant moves are known to me.  I am not as familiar with perishable meat sales and distribution, though, and I worry about making similar mistakes to the ones I have seen.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of things I shouldn’t do when I try to sell my lamb:

  • Under-price my product such that I wind up in a position where I lose customers when I correct the price later.   I knew a company that delivered their product for free and didn’t factor their debt into the price.  When they went back and recalculated, many purchasers reduced or eliminated the product from the shelves.  They simply could not bear the price increase and replaced the product with another that generated more turnover and revenue.  Pricing correctly requires a lot of calculations, sometimes with numbers that I don’t yet know.  It’s intimidating!
  • Put my eggs all in one basket.  Another company I heard about was lining up a large contract with a national retailer.  They halted marketing efforts because the retailer was going to purchase 75% of their product output and invested in specialized boxes that the vendor required.  The retailer only took about 1/3rd of what they projected, and the company had to scramble to move the rest of their product in a very short timeframe.   With a relatively small output of lamb this year but hopes for much more next year, I need to focus on sending lamb to growth areas and establishing relationships, but not running out of product!  Yikes!
  • Neglect my marketing.  One of the best efforts one of my prior companies made was to put lots of effort into reaching out to magazines and media.  They created their own niche by having a stronger media presence than some of the first-to-market competitors with smaller budgets.  It was really impressive to see the effects of that effort in sales effectiveness.  I haven’t focused enough on this because I don’t plan to market in my immediate vicinity.  Frankly, my immediate area is generally very low-income and might possibly find my prices and my Animal Welfare Approved certifications offensive or off-putting.
  • Fail to utilize my social media presence.   This farm has almost 500 Facebook followers and has over 1000 Instagram followers.  Woohoo!  It makes me incredibly happy to know that so many people care about the goings-on on this little farm.  But I think that I have more folks who love pictures of sheep than I have people looking to buy our yarn or our meat.  And the meat issue is especially touchy – I don’t post about meat because I don’t want to offend folks who would buy the yarn but not the meat, but the reality is that meat income makes this farm viable.  I started raising animals for meat because I wanted to eat meat raised to the very highest standards after 10 years of being vegetarian.  So I am not ashamed of it, but I am also unable to mobilize my social media effectively because I have a product that enough people just don’t want to see or think about.
  • Allocate my time and product incorrectly.  I want to build a presence mainly in the Boston and/or New York City markets, because I see that the Vermont market is pretty well saturated for lamb, generally.   But I also need to make the “longest dollar” for my efforts, which means capturing a maximum amount of retail sales.  The irony is that if I sell at a local farmer’s market, I will capture more retail dollars, but I will cut into my future salespower by not growing my market where growth can be achieved.   Does that make sense?  Let’s say I produce 30% more than I can sell at Vermont food co-ops and a farmer’s market, that 30% of my output might only last 3 or 4 weeks at a market in Boston.  Whereas if I sold my whole crop to one or two markets in Boston, that might ultimately result in no leftover lamb.  But then we are back to No-No #2, putting all of our eggs in one basket!
  • Making your sales work for you as money and media: I have a distributor in Boston that is interested in my meat, but I can’t afford to sell at the price they are currently offering.  When the sheep have reached a full population, perhaps I will be able to use them as an outlet.  The meat would also have their label, not mine, which doesn’t contribute to promoting my products effectively.

 

All of these thoughts seem to lead me in endless circles.  How to I launch in a place that I no longer know, with a level of sophistication that I no longer cultivate in myself, but do it in a way that I can continue to grow this business and sell more lamb in years to come?    Fundamentally, this is an issue of scaling up in a deliberate and planned way, which I understand is much easier to do with factories and widgets versus living beings.  Is it possible to make my longest-dollar by doing more retail in the short-term, while simultaneously selling to a distant market on a wholesale basis?

I would be interested in anyone’s thoughts and comments!

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Lamb sausages are really delicious.

More Goodbyes

Many of you who follow this blog know that Caseous Lymphadenitis has been an issue in the flock in the past.  After an aggressive eradication campaign, the whole flock tested negative in March.  However, my last CormoX ewe, Meadowlark, developed a very large and very concerning abscess on her cheek last week.  Even though she tested negative for CL three times, I know that false negatives are not impossible and I didn’t feel I could risk having her cyst bursting, spreading illness around.

We separated Lark from the flock, but realized that we couldn’t just have her in the barn all alone.  We had been on the fence about keeping Dalek after she had a premature single, failed to come into milk, and showed no signs of regaining any weight.  We decided that it would be okay to let her go at this time also.  So we transported both sheep back to the barn for a day.  We had an on-farm slaughterer come and the deed was swift and stressless for both sheep.  We got our answer about Dalek- massive lung damage from a bout with pneumonia.  We had noticed her wheezing a bit, but our previous vet hadn’t heard anything in the lungs then.  I assume that she had pneumonia at some point earlier in her life and was treated, but had sustained serious damage.  If we hadn’t intervened, she would have died a slow and agonizing death.

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That lump under her ear is bad news bears.  There is no recommended treatment for CL

I feel sad to lose such good ewes.  Both were devoted mothers and herd leaders.   I am so frustrated that this disease issue continues to worry the flock.  I am committed to eliminating it, though, for the long-term wellbeing of the sheep in my care.  I have to assume that any disease that packs the lymph nodes with nasty puss has to be painful as well as economically damaging.  I will really miss them both.

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The rest of the flock seems very happy out on pasture.   The grass is rich and the ewes are gaining a bit of weight to counter the pounds they’ve milked off in the last few months.  We also have our first new lamb in a while!  Sheppenwolf had a single ram lamb this morning.

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What a cutie!

 

 

Fertility

We bought our farm as a foreclosure, for those who may not remember from last year.   Some of the fields had been grazed by a pair of horses, and other areas were hayed for a few years.  As best we can tell, no inputs were added because after we took a cut in late July, the grass wasn’t ready for a second cut in September!  That is really, really slow.

Soil testing revealed the rest – deficiencies in phosphorus and potassium in all fields, and nitrogen is needed, too.  Last year, Matt and I moved horse manure over the mountain from Lowell to spread on our smallest and most depleted field.  This spring, as we watched our neighbor’s field grow twice as fast as ours from the benefits of his manure-spreading, we decided to go on Craigslist and see what we could find.  We were in luck- folks in Cabot were selling pure rabbit manure!

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The sweet scent of…fertility.

So Matt and I made five 1-ton trips to spread our second-most-depleted field with bunny berries.  We hand-shoveled manure out of the truck to fill the spreader.

 

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Whew!  The good news is that rabbit manure breaks down rapidly for a quick and solid nutrient boost to pasture.  It’s greener already out there.

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The last picture of sheep indoors until next November!  Look how big Meadowlarks lamb has grown.

Wool Culture

I am a frequenter of Ravelry, a knitters’ and crocheters’ forum with 7 million users worldwide.  I have a favorite group with a mostly social focus that I like to participate in, but I also read other discussions to keep tabs on what people want from their wool products.  I want to make sure I am providing the wool people want.

Recently, a poster asked a question about the modern wool market.  She noted that when she was a child, knitting was a functional skill more like being able to cook and drive than a fancy craft for leisure time.  Certainly, it was a space for self-expression in color and pattern, but knitting was undertaken for the simple fact that hats and sweaters and socks were not easily obtained in other ways!

Like my previous post about the globalization of meat, fabric and textile changed massively in the age of petroleum and globalization.  Synthetic fabrics have replaced wool in many applications, even though wool often performs better and is more sustainable.  The effort of properly caring for wool has turned many people away while others have been scared away from wool by misinformation about sheep and agriculture in general in our culture of increased fearmongering.

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At the same time that people were using free time in different ways or having less free time to knit, cheap, imported, mass-produced wool and non-wool items began to appear in stores.  It soon became equally or more expensive to knit a wool sweater than to buy one.  How is this possible?  Economies of scale, lack of environmental regulations where the clothing is made, cheap labor, mechanization, and commodity bulk wool.   When the time wool subsidies ended in the 1980s, growers of mid-grade work-wear type wool from Down breeds and Medium breeds couldn’t find as many outlets to sell to.   Farmers that used to raise Down breeds have turned to hair breeds, as the cost of removing the wool from the sheep is greater than the value of the wool on the bulk market.  More than half of the US wool clip is finewool today, where once there was a greater diversity of breed types.   Sheepraising on the whole, for wool and for meat, has declined precipitously since WWII, effectively pushed out in the modern era of industrial farming.   Sheep simply don’t industrialize well.  They need to graze on extensive lands and are susceptible to disease in confinement.  Even though there are confinement lamb finishing operations in the US, these operations are declining and struggling to compete with cheaper grass-fed lamb from New Zealand and Australia.  Only the direct-to-consumer and direct-to-store markets in the South and Northeast are growing for lamb in the US.

With respect to yarn: as the generation that knit for need disappears, knitting is much more of a leisure craft activity that consumes extra money and is fed by some degree of nostalgia, plus the satisfactory feelings of accomplishment when a garment is created.  As a wool seller, I know that the stories I share on this blog become part of the wool I sell and the crafts and garments you create from it.

This is the finale of what I wrote responding to the question:

The hard truth is that even though we’ve chosen to join this community of makers here on Ravelry, the number of people who cook, sew, knit or quilt by necessity has shrunk significantly in the last 50 years. All of the people who didn’t enjoy those activities but needed to do them to save money have been bailed out by fast food, by cheap clothing, by synthetic fabrics, by cheap bedding. The people who are left often will spend more money for quality, hence the “boutique-ification” of the yarn, fabric and food markets.

The hard thing for me to acknowledge as a farmer is how much I depend on the small number of people who care more about how their food and clothing was produced than about the price at the register.  Small producers are waging an uphill battle against globalized pork, corn subsidies that secondarily subsidize factory-farmed chicken and pork, petroleum clothing and the petroleum that brought that clothing across the ocean to our stores, and the devaluation of the art of making.

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Some handiwork – find more in our store!

What are your thoughts about current trends in knitting, spinning, crocheting, cooking and making?

 

 

Pork and Soybeans

Talk of trade wars in the news gave me some thoughts.  I’m not going to wade into politics, but I will wade into farming.

Given their intelligent, social nature, I feel comfortable saying that pigs are some of the most abused animals in factory farming.  According to a recent article in Civil Eats, 75% of breeding sows in the US live in tiny crates without room to move or socialize

 

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So my first thought about the trade war and possible damage to the conventional pork industry was “Good!  Maybe this will decrease the amount of factory farm pork and improve the prospects of pastured pork, where pigs can engage in natural behaviors.  As I read more, though, I realized there was a problem.  China isn’t buying whole pigs at low-cost.  Most of the US pork headed for China consists of offal and parts that most Americans don’t seek out like tails and ears.   I considered that even though many cultural groups within the US may seek these parts, would they go to waste without China buying them, downgraded into pet food.  That’s part of why pastured pork goes hand in hand with eating nose to tail.  Could we convince more Americans to eat ears, tails and offal?   I am still enamored of the liver pate that I made last year.

Soybeans offer a similar conundrum.  On the Chinese market, they are human food and feed for animals.  In the US, most soybeans are fed to animals in confinement.  If soybean prices crash, will we increase the amount of meat grown in confinement, fed soy?   The answer, according to the recent Planet Money podcast I listened to, is that Europe will buy it to feed their farm animals.  Thus, we move carbon and other nutrients around the world using more carbon.

It isn’t lost on anyone that China can read an electoral map and chose to target economic sanctions in areas that voted for the current administration.  How will people affected by price changes view this change and how will they respond?

 

 

 

 

Ode to a Truck

 

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The truck, in original condition

For five years, I have been driving a 2003 Tacoma 4×4 V6 with a series of terrible truckcaps.  We bought a truck in 2013 when we accepted the fact that we needed to stop putting livestock in our Nissan Versa.  Those of you who know me in person or who meet me should ask about what it’s like to drive a Nissan full of ducks from Randolph to Craftsbury in a compact hatchback.

From the start, I loved everything about the truck- I loved being able to drive in mud season, I found that I was able to improve my car propriaception with the vantage point that the cab offered me.   With a cap on the truck, we were able to move sheep safely, move manure, move supplies, move trash, move everything.  In 2014, I moved myself from Brookfield to Essex Junction and then to Williston.  Then we filled the truck every morning and moved to the home we bought.

We have gone through many repairs and updates.   The frame and many frame elements were replaced in 2014 when a rust hole was found.  We have a sweet custom rear differential case after the original developed a hole.  There are some zipties on the bumper.  It’s a Vermont vehicle.

But now we have a stock trailer so we can move more than a few sheep at a time.  That trailer and sheep together just about hit the maximum towing capacity of the truck.    Before I learned about motors from Matt, I assumed that towing too much weight damaged the engine.  Now I understand that it actually grinds down the breaks and strains the engine cooling capacity, while putting strain on the frame and suspension as well.   Since we will be transporting sheep to Maine, we need something newer, more powerful and more reliable.  The Tacoma has never let me down, but I don’t want it to kick the bucket somewhere on Route 2.

So I sold it for $2400 today to Craftsbury Garage, hoping that I can keep a few dollars local as we go to find an F150 with the right array of options- good for towing, but no fancy bits.

Animal Welfare Approved

Cloverworks Farm is pleased to announce that our farm is now Animal Welfare Approved!  We are excited to join the program and proud that we’ve been able to meet their requirements.  We were granted a derogation to continue long-docking tails for breeding ewes.  It feels good to have recognition of our humane efforts in not castrating or docking rams or non-breeding stock ewes.

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Some local farmers are a little nervous about “Claim Proliferation” on labels.  Claims like “Gluten Free” on fresh celery and “Farm Grown” on Lay’s Potato Chips (as opposed to wild caught?) are rankling some consumers.  But the more I talk to people outside of our farming community, the more I realize how much we do need to communicate these facts that feel obvious to us.  When I am not talking to the consumer directly, labels like Animal Welfare Approved convey the information I need to share.  I want buyers in New York or Boston to know that my lambs were raised to the highest standards of welfare.

Learn more about AWA’s standards for sheep welfare.

 

Conferences

I don’t know why I don’t like conferences.  Maybe I’ve been to too many with poorly-trained presenters, or too many that are barely 60% relevant to what I am doing or want to be doing, or maybe it’s just the tables and the notepads and the boring small-talk.

The Vermont Grass Farmers Association Conference is different, somehow.  They really understand how to balance the presenters at a conference, and how to respond to community needs.  I was lucky enough to go to both days of the conference last week.  It’s a fine opportunity to connect with other farmers facing the same opportunities and challenges as me.

The Friday panel of speakers addressed marketing, with a panel that included four farmers doing direct-marketing of their products in urban environments and one registered dietitian who studies the nutritional benefits of meat.  While the four farmers gave great tips for managing sales and customer relations in a fast-changing environment, the dietitian had lots of useful information about how to sell and how not to sell grass-fed meat.  I did not know that while the Omega-6/Omega-3 proportions are much better in grassfed animals, both fats still make up a tiny amount of the total fat in red meat and are not really nutritionally relevant relative to, say, Salmon.

While some Vermont farms are really adept at modern marketing strategies, many more have neglected websites, no social media presence, and an expectation that people will come to them for product.  Some of us are farmers because we enjoy being out in the woods, not crafting messages for a suburban marketplace.  Many of us are farmers because we eschew the harried urban culture that our customers belong to.  But we ignore current culture at our peril – we need to make our products as available and ubiquitous as conventionally-farmed meat and processed pseudo-foods are now.   Several presenters at the conference had unlocked that market.

The panelists also addressed how to handle displeased customers and how to talk to people who question the value of animal agriculture.  While most of my own customers have seemed satisfied with my lamb and wool products, I sometimes encounter a self-appointed animal rights crusader who is appalled that we slaughter and eat sheep.  While I don’t mind explaining why I do what I do to anyone who will listen, the presenters pointed out that for some, animal rights has transcended the idea that animals should have good lives and moved on to the idea that animal agriculture shouldn’t exist in any form and furthermore that we need to use synthetic substitutes for all of the animal products in our lives.  She then suggested that we should respond to such opinions as we respond to any kind of closed-minded zealot – just block and move on.  That was a relief to me.

The afternoon session on the first day of the conference addressed how to write your recipes for how consumers cook now.  I have to admit- I cook entirely on cast-iron and enjoy making all-day recipes and eating old-fashioned stuff.  Since cooking was all I could easily do for entertainment while my foot was broken, I experimented with all kinds of cooking that people don’t do at home, like puff pastry.  I had never actually touched an Instant Pot and didn’t know what they did.  Now, I almost want one.  Not quite, but almost.  And I know that recipes I write need to address the popularity of this implement.  I need this occasional reminder to address my marketing to the prevalent cooking practices in society.

Day two of the conference was on Saturday and attracted a broader crowd.  I spent my morning at a chat about Beef Cattle Genetics Management.  Those of you who know me personally are aware that genetics are my nerdy happy-place.   Even though I don’t really have plans for cattle, it was good to understand the genetic challenges faced by our cattle herd and how breed stock producers are encouraging farmers to strive for genes that will finish in a grass-based management system.  Many cattle owners are making the same mistakes I did with my original flock- diluting hybrid vigor into unmanageable genetic stew.  The result is tall cows and small cows and efficient and inefficient eaters.  The presenters gave strategies to avoid this.  They also had tips on evaluating feed efficiency.  This is the project that I need to complete with the Bluefaced Leicesters- I need to take all of their amazing traits and add grass-feeding thrift without losing the rest.

In the afternoon, I participating in a panel of three presenters talking about opportunities for beginning farmers to access land.  One of my co-presenters talked about her experience on a cooperative, group-owned property, and the other spoke about a dairy farming internship.  I spoke about my journey raising sheep on rented land before we were able to settle in our current location.  While our panel was well-organized and effective, I am not sure that our audience had that many people looking to enter farming.  Have we passed through the golden moment of young people entering farming?  I hope not.

The final session I went to concerned weighting and RFID animal management techniques.  It was a little glimpse into the future of what we will be doing, where we can see if an animal is sick just by being alerted to interruptions in weight gain!  Sheep hide illness, so this is a fantastic tool to improve humane practices on the farm.

Going to the conference also allowed me to connect with other farmers.  On Friday, I carpooled with Maria Schumann of Cate Hill Orchard.  We talked sheep and marketing all the way down, and all the way back up.   It feels so good to make a sheep connection.

 

 

 

Scarves

I am offering 20% off our scarves at Our Etsy Shop   Offer code: FLEECENAVIDAD

The photos don’t quite do these justice.  Five of the scarves are made from the last of my Cormo yarn and two from our natural-color Bluefaced Leicester.  The softness, comfort and drape is unmatched.  Even wool skeptics will find these scarves next-to-the-skin pleasant.  Dad and I are really proud of these gorgeous scarves.  We think they are a sustainable gift worth giving (or a gift to yourself- after all, you’ve worked hard this year!)

Please feel free to get in touch with any questions.

 

Thoughts about Breeds

I am part of a couple of sheep discussion groups on Facebook and on other social networks.  One of the most common general questions is “What Breed Should I Raise?”  Answers to this question can be trite or complex.  “Whatever you think seems neat” “The Breed I Raise” and “Here’s a newly-available breed that people are talking about” are common responses, but these are not always the best way to find the sheep that are right for you.

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This post is inspired by the Valais Blacknose Sheep.  People on the sheep forum said “Cute! I want these” but don’t realize that they only really thrive in their native alpine climate, and their wool is generally described as coarse.  Coarse is fine, of course, unless you were expecting soft wool.

Here is a rubric that might be helpful:

Are you a first time shepherd?

If yes, I wholeheartedly recommend just getting some mixed-breed ewes to start out with.  They will teach you what you do and don’t want in a purebred, and you’ll be much happier if and when you do start raising a pure breed.

*Of note- a good friend corrected me that I shouldn’t appear to be recommending that new shepherds find random sheep from Craigslist.  Your crossbred sheep should nevertheless come from a healthy flock, have good records and some ongoing assistance and mentorship from the seller.

What do you want to do with your sheep?

Just wool:If you just want a pet flock for wool, collecting wethers (neutered males) from a variety of breeds is the least expensive, lowest-maintenance way to have a fun spinner’s flock.  Why wethers and not ewes?  If you plan to breed your animals and have a variety of breeds on hand, you may find it challenging to keep large breeds fed without making small breeds obese, or to make sure that more dominant animals don’t “own” the feeder.

Just meat: If you plan to raise sheep for meat and don’t care about wool, hairsheep are a good choice.  I am not knowledgeable about the different breeds of hairsheep and their characteristics, but I know that hairsheep and their crosses are growing in popularity among large- and small-scale sheep growers alike.  I am sure that some breeds and strains are more or less suited to different climates and levels of grass quality.

What I am best prepared to address: Sheep for Meat and Wool for people who want their sheep as an enterprise more than a hobby.

If you plan to breed sheep and raise meat, but you want to enjoy wool too, things will get a little complex.  It’s time to consider some economic and logistical matters.

What breed of sheep you raise should follow what climate and grass you have.  I will describe the situation with an example: Shetlands were developed on Shetland island, eating sparse, rough foliage and seaweed.  Suffolks and Hampshires were named for the rich, grassy, bountiful bottomlands where they originate.  If you put a Suffolk on Shetland Island, it would probably starve fairly rapidly because it simply cannot gather enough nutrition to survive.  A Shetland in Hampshire, allowed to graze as much as it pleases, will grow chubby and its famously soft wool will coarsen if it is able to eat lots of excess protein.  Yet, in the US, many small-scale sheepraisers don’t take the suitability of the breed to their land very seriously.   We have breeds adapted to the Western Range, to the Humid Southeast, to intensive grazing in the rich lands of Ohio and Indiana, and to the mediocre pastures of Northern New England.    While exotic breeds may seem nice, you could wind up fighting an uphill battle against climate, diet or parasites.

So how can you tell how good your grass is?  Your extension service can help, because every climate has different species with different levels of nutrition available to them.   Talking about grass is beyond the scope of this quick post about breed selection, but I have some information about grass management and about rotational grazing.

It is my inexpert, personal opinion that many beginner Vermont shepherds underestimate their ability to raise sheep off the bat and choose something advertised as “hardy.”  Hardy is great, unless it also means that they produce mediocre wool or single lambs instead of twins.   I had this experience on a farm that had good land, but raised a breed associated with the barren highlands of Scotland.  The sheep were fat and happy, but the lamb only covered the cost of keeping the sheep and nothing more.  In most Northeastern flocks, the value of one lamb covers the mother’s room and board, while the second lamb represents the profits.  This isn’t as firm a rule in other parts of the country where land is less expensive.

Another area of my again inexpert personal opinion: when slaughter cost is high on a per-animal basis, farmers aiming to raise sheep profitably need to raise the largest-finishing animals they can.  Some breeds of sheep are small, especially ones developed in regions where food is scarce.  Breeds like this will grow to full size and maturity rapidly and often fatten easily, but they may not have a heavy enough carcass to make lamb profitably.  If your breed of sheep makes lambs that weigh 120 lbs at 7 months of age, you should get 50 lb carcasses worth $400-500 dollars.  Cost of slaughter will be about $100 in my area, leaving $300-400 to cover costs and provide income.  Now imagine your lambs weigh 80 lbs at age 7 months.  You may get a 35 lbs carcass from such a sheep.   You are still paying $100 for inspected slaughter, but will only get $250-350 from the carcass, leaving only $150 to 250 to cover costs and provide income.

I was incorrect about a couple of the considerations I now mention when I initially wanted to raise Cormos.  Here are some things I didn’t consider or know:

  • It is not possible to “upbreed” mutt sheep into registerable Cormos by using Cormo rams for multiple generations.  So you either have registered stock, or you don’t.
  • Pure Cormo wool doesn’t tolerate the moisture in our climate if the sheep don’t have complete shelter from rain available at all times.  Mine all had algae in their wool.
  • Finding Cormo rams was going to involve driving across the country now and then.

 

This final point is worth addressing, as I’ve repeated my error with the Bluefaced Leicesters: Finding the right genetics to complement your efforts when you are raising an unusual breed and you may find yourself traveling long distances at great expense to manage your gene pool.  Do not underestimate this expense, and also make sure that within the breed you are considering there are like-minded shepherds with the same goals as you.  All of the literature I had read about Cormos suggested that they should regularly twin, but it didn’t seem that other shepherds raising the breed were actively working towards maintaining their lambing rate.  I was finding that the more Cormo breeding my sheep had, the fewer lambs tended to have.  With the Bluefaced Leicester, there is a group of breeders within the breed working to maintain the high lambing rate while improving the vigor and thrift of the breed.  I am happy to drive to Ohio for sheep that I know align with my flock goals.

And if you would rather not drive so much, why not raise a breed that is common and successful in your area?  My Border Leicester flock fits that description.  Border Leicesters do well in our climate and are popular.  They grow large enough on grass alone to carry a grass-based farm plan, and while their wool isn’t the softest, it is still useful and valuable.

Certainly, this post isn’t comprehensive, but I hope that it prompts some thoughts as you consider raising sheep.