Friday, July 20, 2012

Sheep and Goats are a Great Fit for New, Small Suburban Farms

Small farms are becoming more popular as residents migrate to the suburbs or close-by farms.  This movement is further accelerated by the aging population, many of whom had a rural up-bringing and desire to supplement their income with small farming operations involving sheep and goats or simply have hobby farms to occupy the time. 

However, many owners of small farms have limited agricultural backgrounds and desire to get back to the “good” life.  Others have no agriculture background and need training on basic agricultural practices for livestock production.

That is where small ruminant animals like sheep and goats have an advantage according to Dr. Jodie Pennington, small ruminant educator with Lincoln University Extension,


“Small ruminants such as sheep and goats work well on both large and small farms but are especially adapted to small farms as they require limited facilities and are safer to handle than larger animals—which is important for young children and older adults,” said Pennington.

Sheep and goats can also use forage and other vegetation on the farm that is otherwise a negative resource that has to be mowed and maintained, a time consuming and costly endeavor with high equipment and gas prices.

“I have had several calls recently from individuals considering getting primarily goats but also sheep.  In most cases, the individuals wanted to minimize the costs in the potential operation, make a profit, and use the animals and facilities as a tax deduction.  Some were looking for ways to decrease their tax liability. But some had also been reading about the record high prices for sheep and goats and about potential high profits with them compared to cattle,” said Pennington.

Pennington says a person can make a good return on their investment with small ruminants if they have good management and plan their production and marketing activities in a sound manner.  Facilities, equipment, and the animals can be depreciated or deducted with a Section 179 deduction if appropriate.

“You are not going to get rich with sheep and goats on a few acres unless an airport or Wal-Mart moves in next door.  But, sheep or goats can be used to supplement your income, whether in retirement or a full-time job,” said Pennington. “However, it is important to do a good job of managing the animals or they will be used to decrease taxes, especially if you do a poor job with them as they can lose a lot of money quickly if management is less than adequate.”


One word of warning: small ruminants require greater management than beef cattle but do have more potential for profits with good management.

Pennington says anyone thinking about raising sheep and goats should like animals. If they don’t, then they should look for another enterprise.

“You also need to have enough time to take care of the animals.  I see people who love sheep or goats, have good facilities and have knowledge of animals, but their job does not allow them time to care for the animals. As a result, the sheep or goats do not perform well.  Those producers probably would have been better served by investing in a less intensive type of livestock or another enterprise,” said Pennington.

Landowners that decide to invest in sheep or goats need to decide if they are doing it for a hobby, or a paying enterprise. The next step is to formulate a budget, even if the animals are going to be a hobby. It is also important to invest some time in deciding if sheep or goats are more appropriate and which breed is best.

Pennington says it is also important to give thought to a marketing plan. Are you going to sell to the local livestock sale barn, show animals, sell meat or milk or fiber?  Value-added products can take a lot of time and the local sale barn is the easiest and most popular method of marketing.

Consideration should also be given to the facilities. Is there adequate fencing, do you need a guard dog, is there enough feed, do you have a place to buy good animals, and do you understand practices like vaccinations and deworming?

“If you have satisfactorily answered the above questions, then you may be ready to buy your animals,” said Pennington.

For more information, contact Pennington at the Newton County Extension Center, (417) 455-9500, or by e-mail Jodie.
(by David Burton, MU Information Specialist)

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