Looking for some information about dairy sheep.

Discussion in 'Breeding, Raising, Feeding and Caring for Animals' started by Windham Farm, May 24, 2013.

  1. Windham Farm

    Windham Farm Junior Member

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    I am looking to start a dairy sheep operation in Arkansas.

    I grew up a part of a family in the meat cattle business. I’ve always had a desire to run a dairy farm, but I’ve chosen sheep over cows or goats because of the high demand/low supply market, and a personal affinity for sheep.

    I'm working with the FSA to get funding, and I'm crunching numbers to figure out an exact amount to apply for. There are some questions that I am looking for answers to from an experienced individual:

    What minimum number of ewes should I initially purchase to be able to turn a profit, make a decent living, and pay off my loans in a timely manner?

    Is it more efficient to have fewer rams run with your ewes year round, or to have more rams kept separate and then introduced when you want to trigger estrus?

    What process does the milk go through from the sheep’s teat to the buyer?

    Where is a good place to look for equipment? Milkers, vats, freezers, bagging equipment, etc.?

    Research has told me that the most likely buyer of my milk will be a cheese maker. Is this true? What would be the best way to find that buyer? What sort of prices can I expect in the current market?

    Anyone that could answer these questions and more would be greatly appreciated!
     
  2. ecodharmamark

    ecodharmamark Junior Member

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    G'day WF

    I'm no expert, I'm not even an 'experienced individual' when it comes to sheep (or 'edible lawnmowers', as my friends call them), but I'll have a crack at responding to your questions, while you wait for someone more experienced to come along.

    Is Arkansas (or more specifically, the bioregion in which you live/wish to raise sheep within Arkansas) suited to raising dairy sheep? The reason I ask is because it appears the majority of the 100-or-so existing dairy sheep farms in the US are situated in the New England and Upper Mid-west states. Of course, this is not to say that the bioregion/site in which you are proposing to raise dairy sheep will be able to provide for all of your needs. It's just that I wonder more broadly if you are going to be able to do it according to the ethics and principles of permaculture?

    It's great that you have a genuine desire to go down this path, after all if one does not love one's work, then one can hardly be expected to give it one's best.

    And what do they have to say about your proposition, the FSA, I mean? Surely they must be asking you for a business plan, which at the very least will include a cost/benefit (site) analysis? Or perhaps you have not ventured this far into the process as of yet?

    The carrying capacity (among many other aspect) of your site will determine this number.

    Dunno. Are their any parallels between dairy cows and dairy sheep?

    Surely you have researched this far? If not, perhaps the following may be a good place to start: Dairy Sheep Association of North America.

    See above.

    Perhaps you need extend your research parameters?

    I don't know if I have been of much help. It seems that I have asked more questions rather than give answers. However, I hope that there is something of value in the above. If not, hang tight, and someone with far superior knowledge than my own of your proposal will most likely happen along.

    Good luck with it, and please keep us posted as to any developments.

    Cheerio, Markos.
     
  3. Curramore1

    Curramore1 Junior Member

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    Primary Producer
    Location:
    Curramore, Blackall Range, S E Queensland, Aust.
    Climate:
    Sub-tropical to temperate 2000mm rain, elevated 350-475m
    Dairy sheep desiderata

    MMMM. Where to start? Buy 10 east fresian or finnish ewes heavy in lamb in winter and set up a small milking parlour where you can lock the lambs from their mums(when they are born )overnight but keep close without them suckling. Start feeding all the heavily pregnant ones at the same time each morning in the parlour first and as they lamb they will join the line up. Buy a single bucket milker first, alfa laval of similar, steer clear of those made in the country beginning with C. and see how you go with the routine and the lifestyle. You will only milk seasonally if you want your relationships to survive and remain relatively sane.
    From the start only purchase measured and milking-line bred ewes from a disease tested free and performance tested flock of top yielding, both volume and milk quality ewes. After you have sorted out whether you can hack this and love the smell of wet sheep find a processor to take your whole milk with a guaranteed price locked in with a contract. Now that you have a yield per sheep from the land and an end price, do the numbers. In dairy cattle they might produce on average 25L per cow per day over a 300 day lactation with 1 Hectare per cow required on high rainfall or irrigated country. Milking 200 cows a day that's 5000Litres/day. Currently here we get about 55cents/litre wholesale or $2750/day. This is close to the bone right on the bread line and no more after bank interest, grain, hay, electricity, water and irrigation, labour, fuel, fertiliser, maintenance, vet fees, rates etc. That is about $14.00 per cow per day gross income.
    In the dairy sheep situation on the same 200 ha ( An extra 200 Ha required for calves, yearlings, pregnant heifers and dry cows as well) you may only milk 7-10 months of the year, not all year around. If you ran 5 sheep per Ha and milked 1000 ewes twice a day with a daily average over 7 months of 4 litres per ewe that would be 4000 litres/day for 8 months or over 12 months would average to about 80000 litres/month or 2667 litres a day. to achieve the same equivalent income as the cows you would need to receive at least $1.03 per litre average. The variables here are the productivity per ewe, the number of litres of milk produced per Ha, the added costs for sheep of shearing, extra worm monitoring and control, added foot problems, shorter lactation than cows, the daylight effect on sheep on production, more sheep needing to be milked in the same time-frame ( instead of 20 cows per side in a herringbone, 100 sheep at a time on a rotary possibly) with more labour required. What will you do with the lambs? Euthenase soon after birth all males and those females from ewes with under average figures? How will you raise replacements? You will need to keep more than cows because of the shorter milking life of ewes than cows, probably 200-400 ewe lambs per 1000 milking ewes per year. What will you feed them and what are the costs until they are milking at 18 months to 2 years of age? What will you do with cull ewes? You will have probably 250-400 per year of these.
    Allow about $300 000 or more for the set up of a parlour, with cooling, refrigeration, storage and all milking machine requirements etc. to meet your local health department requirements.

    400 Ha of land to milk 200 cows per day or 1000-1500 ewes and their replacements. At 2667 litres of ewes milk per day at $1.03/litre is $2727/day gross over 365 days or about $1m/annum gross. Not much left after 550 tonnes of grain ( $220 000), 200 tonnes of fertiliser ( $150 000) , $25000 of electricity, $50 000 of fuel, $100 000 labour, bank interest , water fees etc.
    Ask at least $2.00 per litre as a ball park figure and you might just keep your shirt.
    So many variables- land price, water price, grain price, energy costs, labour, product price......... Hope it was of some help.... Buying a job was what my Mum calls it.
     
  4. Windham Farm

    Windham Farm Junior Member

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    I thank you both for your replies. I have been doing much research since I first posted. Let me post a little more information about my situation.

    I have 240 acres to work with. I am hoping to purchase between 50-200 ewes. If my endeavors are successful I would love to buy more land and sheep, but we shall see how that goes. I need to construct a facility to house my sheep and milking equipment.

    I have discovered that the Wisconsin Dairy Cooperative has been buying sheep's milk for about 54 cents per pound. With the average sheep producing 700 pounds per lactation this comes to about $378 per sheep. I still need to factor in profit for lambs, by figuring out where I could buy/sell dairy sheep and for how much. Culls I could sell for meat locally with virtually no cost to me.

    The ideal breed of sheep I would like to have on my farm is the Awassi Fat Tail. However, since they are quite rare in the USA, I may have to settle for East Fresians. The only way I might could develop an awassi flock would be to start small and slowly build up every year by keeping all the ewe lambs. However, since I would like to be able to make a living off of this farm once I invest, I am torn.

    I still have a lot of research to do, but it is a work in progress! I was told October would be the best time to apply for my loan and I believe I will be ready by then. If anybody does run an actual sheep dairy, I would love to be able to correspond with you. All of the farms around here are cattle based, and very little is done with sheep. Thank you all for your time and knowledge.

    ~Chelsea Windham
     
  5. Silverismoney

    Silverismoney New Member

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    selling raw dairy and Greg Judy

    Just some tips - I am not an expert.

    If you want to sell it raw get on the Real Milk database. https://www.realmilk.com/real-milk-finder/
    This site is linked through the Weston A Price foundation where raw dairy products are in high demand. People will find you through this site and come to your farm to pick up, and they'll be willing to pay a nice price. You'd have to check the laws on raw dairy for selling out of grocery stores or farmers markets. Have you thought about doing raw butter? The high fat content would be great for butter and you could use the skim milk as a spray fertilizer on your pastures: 2gal per acre. Or use as a hog feed, which graze well with sheep.

    If you haven't yet looked into the work of Greg Judy I would look him up on youtube. search for Mob Grazing with Greg Judy. Part 8 and part 9 are where he talks about sheep. Some really good tips in there on when to breed them, how to manage them etc.

    good luck and keep us posted on your progress
     
  6. Silverismoney

    Silverismoney New Member

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    selling raw dairy and Greg Judy

    Just some tips - I am not an expert.

    If you want to sell it raw get on the Real Milk database. https://www.realmilk.com/real-milk-finder/
    This site is linked through the Weston A Price foundation where raw dairy products are in high demand. People will find you through this site and come to your farm to pick up, and they'll be willing to pay a nice price. You'd have to check the laws on raw dairy for selling out of grocery stores or farmers markets. Have you thought about doing raw butter? The high fat content would be great for butter and you could use the skim milk as a spray fertilizer on your pastures: 2gal per acre. Or use as a hog feed, which graze well with sheep.

    If you haven't yet looked into the work of Greg Judy I would look him up on youtube. search for Mob Grazing with Greg Judy. Part 8 and part 9 are where he talks about sheep. Some really good tips in there on when to breed them, how to manage them etc.

    good luck and keep us posted on your progress
     
  7. Windham Farm

    Windham Farm Junior Member

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    Thank you for recommending that website. I am sure I will use it once I get my operation up and running. I have been working hard these last few months. I have the loan paperwork in my hands and I have but to finish filling it out, and convince my local FSA loan agent to approve it for consideration.

    As of now I plan to purchase 30 ewes and 2 rams to start with this spring. I only plan to sell raw milk to start with, but as I get some experience I may look into other avenues. I have found a retired sheep dairy owner about 100 miles north of me who has agreed to let me tour his old facilities and give me some advice. Arkansas laws do not allow me to sell my raw milk off of my farm, so my consumers will have to come to me.

    My main concern as of now, is the fact that my loan agent says she will be unlikely to approve my loan for consideration unless I have backers. Individuals/businesses who express in writing that they would be interested in buying my milk. Sheep farms are scarce in the south, much less sheep dairies. I believe I will be the first in my state. I am going to have to have an impressive proposal to win her over. Right now, this is the only obstacle between me and my loan.
     
  8. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    So is there a local 'cheesery' or something that you can approach to garner support? Or a foodies collective of individuals you could ask to sign expressions on interest?
     
  9. Unmutual

    Unmutual Junior Member

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    Why not do both? As the Awassi flock grows in number, start culling the East Fresians. You'd have to keep them apart for breeding purposes though, and I'm not sure how that would affect your bottom line. Can you still harvest some milk from the Awassi if they're going to raise their young? I'd also assume that you would want to cull Awassi rams over time too since I'd assume that the birthrate would be close enough to 50% per sex. I also have no idea if ram meat tastes different to ewe meat. As per everyone else, I am no expert.
     
  10. Windham Farm

    Windham Farm Junior Member

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    I appreciate everyone's interest and support. I'm going to try to find local cheese makers and see if they would be interested in purchasing large amounts of my milk. I figure this will be the easiest type of backer to obtain. There is also a local homemade ice cream business that I plan to talk to. I'm not sure if sheep's milk is typically made into ice cream, but I know it makes wonderful cheese and yogurt and whatnot. It would be a nice option for lactose intolerant customers.

    There is only one farm in the USA I believe that has Awassi sheep right now. He is charging exorbitant prices for his lambs, and I just don't think that is doable. Perhaps in the future I can import some frozen embryos and start an awassi flock that way. It's probably best to start with a stable and more common breed since I am new to sheep.

    The only other issue I can see is the Arkansas raw milk law. The law specifically gives permission to sell raw goat milk and raw cow milk. None of the laws speak of sheep milk. I assume this is because there are no sheep dairies in Arkansas as of yet. I'm not sure how the laws will affect me. I have gone from the Farm Service Agency over to my county's extension office and now to multiple people in the state health department. People keep passing me off because they do not know the answer. I'm not going to submit my application until I know for certain.
     

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