We ask the question for this post to bring about some thoughts and thinking. Any time a person wants to start something new, it’s best to do research, look into the knowledge base, and come out somewhat informed about what they may be getting into. In February, we noted that we were bringing Tanngrisnir, one of our rams, to the slaughterhouse. COVID-19 had delayed the time and appointment quite significantly. But it was done and by the next weekend we were back home with the products, about 25 pounds worth of meat. The cost was $90 for the slaughter fee and cuts.
To some, this may seem like a low amount of meat, and it is if you’re used to eating meat every day or even multiple times a day. You’re raising an animal for months only to get so little? Is it worth it then? Well, of course will all depend on your situation and the goals you have.
Lamb prices at the store are not as cheap, usually, when compared to the Big 3: chicken, pork, and beef. Lamb is not commonly consumed in America compared to those other meats, and as such perhaps because of that, it is priced higher as people expect it to be higher priced. In Australia by comparison, we found lamb to be very comparable in price to beef and even kangaroo meat.
Expected Costs of Raising a Few Sheep
The costs of raising a sheep include the measurable known/expected costs such as water, hay, supplements, medicines and the like. The price of which will vary from region to region and property to property. Moving onto a property with a barn and fencing in place for instance saves on the upfront costs of starting up. Having no shelter means a likelihood of paying for a a small shelter plus corral area costing a few hundred dollars easy! Lack of perimeter fencing is its own costs that vary widely; choosing to use electric fencing is cheaper, and good for rotational grazing.
Manual feeding with hay and grains cut into money. Hauling in hay during a drought raises your expenses, while a well-grassed field lowers them the more the sheep can eat off that. There’s also a potential at having to seed your field. We spent $200 on buying perennial native grass seed mixes when we first moved in because this field used to be a tilled crop field. On top of all that is the cost of at least two sheep itself.
Sheep are herd animals so raising just one on its own will make it lonely and potentially alter its behavior, especially a single intact ram who may lose fear of humans when by himself. For our first three Barbados Blackbelly, Thor, Sahara, Komuji, they cost us $1,000 total. Part of that was bringing Thor from Oregon, while Sahara and Komuji came from east of Dallas, Texas. For some that’s really expensive, for other’s that may be expected in costs, especially when some breeders charge upwards of $500 for a ram. It’s all about what you look for in qualities in a sheep.
In all, the upfront costs are the highest. Securing land, a shelter, fencing of some sort are the biggest expenses outside of the sheep themselves. If starting from scratch (after buying/securing land), it would be better to start small and scale up as your herd gets bigger. Of course you still need to define your end goal and know why you want to raise your sheep for meat.
Why raise your own sheep for meat then?
For us the single-biggest reason we want to raise and slaughter our own animals is due to the predominant system of intensive animal farms. These are commonly called factory farms, where animals are raised in feedlots or indoors by the hundreds or thousands for some or all of their lives. This type of system has wide-ranging effects on the ecosystems in the areas they are based on, pushed by a consumer demand for cheap meat. And given the often crowded conditions it’s a high source of potential pandemic pathogens.
For us this means we reduce our meat intake to about 1 lb each for us both, commonly eaten in one or two meals. We’re not vegetarians, but most of our meals would be classed as that. We still eat some cheese and some butter, though for most baking olive and vegetable oils are more commonly used. It’s better for the environment overall to eat less meat and animal-derived products and likely healthier for your body too.
So even though we got about 25 lbs worth of meat from one sheep, for us the $90 cost for slaughtering was worth it on a few fronts. We know how our sheep were raised, what we fed them, how they lived their life. For us that is important. For that amount of meat, we can have a diverse array of meals, as seen in the picture of some of the cuts. We get ribs, ground, offal, loins (lots of loins!), and two huge leg roasts. One leg will be turned into various lamb-pork sausages, while the other will be cut into smaller various pieces. Our ultimate goal is to supply almost all meat from the farm, sheep and geese; and four years in, we’re close to achieving that.
There are other reasons to raise your own meat as well; once the start-up costs are accounted for, the ongoing costs are small per sheep, making it easier to raise sheep as time goes on. Many sheep breeds will have two lambs; Barbardos Blackbellies are frequent twin-bearers. There’s also the nutrient and flavor aspect. Similar to how garden-raised vegetables can be higher in nutrients than store-bought, the flavor and nutrient profile of your own raised animals can differ from large farm operations. Our sheep are mostly grass-fed with grain as a supplement for pregnant ewes, and grain supplements for everyone in the winter. We notice that our Blackbellies here on the farm have less fat overall in the meat, making it quite lean compared to the store lamb.
Another reason you may want to raise your own livestock is you simply enjoy it. We enjoy having our sheep herd and taking care of them, it brings us happiness. Even if we did not want to raise a large herd, having a few sheep can be quite fun. They’re full of personality and despite their reputation, Barbados Blackbelly ewes can be quite tame. Ours love to have a speck of grain, but they’ll even call out to us from the field if they see us coming out of the house.
So in the end, is it worth raising your own meat? Whether it’s sheep or another livestock, only you can answer that. Given that we have raised sheep for four years here now we believe it is the right decision for us still. We like to have more control over our meat source, eating less meat overall, while still enjoying the aspects of livestock raising. If that ever changed, then we would shift gears, but until then, the answer for us is yes, it is worth it.