Friday, July 20, 2007

Why are you going to breed your sheep?

Here's an interesting thought. Why breed your sheep at all? Do you think you can make money breeding new lambs every year? Doubt it. Most of my friends who are candid enough to mention it...admit...they go in the hole keeping their sheep.
So my question is....how many years can you afford to go in the hole? Did you start with sheep so that you had a nice little home business? Did you need a tax write-off? For a few years my sheep paid for themselves by causing a loss. I had out buldings....but I didn't have sheep fencing....that stuff now costs twice what it did when I started. T posts are up too. I used to live in an area where I could buy posts and fencing and lumber at auctions. Stand around long enough and get it cheap...if not at one auction...maybe at the next. I'm not in an area like that now....my time is worth something too. If I have to stand around all day at an auction and then maybe not get a good deal....I feel I am better off buying new. At least it doesn't take all day.

So why bother with sheep? Well, my husband says I have a problem being a care-giver. I NEED sheep. Yes, they did come at a time that they were a replacement for care-giving. So maybe my mind relates the two. I'll admit it...I am addicted to shetland sheep....and I don't care.
At my stage in life, I deserve to do something I like to do. I am not willing to give it up. Yet.
So how many sheep can you afford to keep at your farm? I don't have a farm anymore...here in Missouri it's called a ranch if you can't raise crops. Believe me....this is not crop land.
I am responsible for a lot of sheep right now....maybe double what I want to have....but as I mentioned somewhere before today....I don't like to kill. So if I have had a ewe for a number of years...she gets to live her life out as long as I keep sheep.
We moved so I could afford to keep sheep. This is the reason we are here. I made a committment for a life-style and my husband supported my ideas. Thanks hubby....I love you.
I am not breeding my sheep for general amusement. I have learned to share...not well....but a little. If you really really wanted to have one of my pretty spotted lambs. I may have a few more than I need. So I may put a price out there and see if someone wants to have a spotted shetland in their fields. You can see I am not really in business....I am sharing. I have been known to cut that price....give a group price...I have even given sheep away. I don't do this for money.
How many lambs can you bring into the world on your farm next spring? How many lambs can you afford to feed next winter? Can you ship lambs and older sheep to market if you don't want to feed them?
From the first time I sold a lamb to someone, I have said there are too many ram lambs born...and you need to be able to kill them...or you shouldn't breed for lambs. I have gotten used to shipping ram lambs. Oh, I raise shetlands...and I like them small...so I don't have lots of pounds at the market....but surprisingly...I can bring those little boys in and be proud of selling them. I look at those little boys as they are born...and I think off to market they will go....
OK....so I have a market I can take my sheep to if I need to....and if I want to....and I know (maybe) how many ewes I WANT to breed for myself and my enjoyment....how many do you WANT to breed for your self? Or are you breeding for a market outside your own family? Do you know what that market is? Do you have enough contacts to sell those lambs off....to support your habit.
Do you need to raise sheep for self fulfillment? Is it part of a life-style that you choose to live? Or are you doing it because they are already there? Maybe you raise sheep because they provide a self image....it's something YOU want to do and you DO it....it's the "being your thing" that gives it value. That's as valid a reason as I can give.
Some of us have a plan...we are going to build a better shetland. That's fine. Some people like to imagine a goal and work toward it. Good for you....go for it!
I'm beginning to wonder why I am working so hard. If it isn't for money. What is my motivation? Do I need to share so people will like me? Doubt it....I never did like to share. Do I need to pretend that the sheep I breed are nice sheep and have value in the world? I do like dragging my sheep around in the ring....I don't think it is the placing as much as the excitement.
Kind of like holding your number up at an auction.
I like the breed of Shetlands that I was introduced to the first time I saw shetlands. I am not fond of the fussy combed puff-balls I have seen at the shows. I know in a year or two they will be fitting shetlands, trimming their fleeces to show them.....But I feel I add value to the breed by showing something different too. I like intermediate to longer fleece....and love small shetlands. I am mildly amused at the "new" shetlands....the ones that have little ringlets instead of fleece I can spin. Even if these new shetland types get more popular, there will still be a few of us that like our sheep with some longer fleece on them. Give me something with a length that I can hold in my older fingers....if I wanted ringlets...I know people with that kind of sheep....I'll buy theirs.
Do shetland sheep REALLY come with ringlets? Mind-boggling. Not the ones I saw in 1999....and I went from the midwest to the west coast. Well, just like spots...after a few years those sheep will be bred to other shetland looks and they will all look similar again. Breed spots into the general flock for a few years and they will disappear again too. Sheep breeders are always cycling in and out of breeds and cross-breeds. Hand spinning and processing fleece will cycle too.
I always like to ask questions of you as I am thinking about anwers for myself. I may even sit down and make a list. Develop a plan. Write a book.
Then again, maybe I'll just go to bed.
I know I answer my questions in my sleep...I just can't remember the answer when I wake up.
Do you count sheep in your dreams? I move them around into orderly groups....really! At least I think I remember doing that.

2 Comments:

At 7:07 AM, Blogger Sabrina Wille Erickson said...

Thoughtful questions as always, Mary Ellen.
Last night I was making my Plan A/Plan B breeding projections. Plan A is the full-steam-ahead version in which I breed everyone and figure out what to do with the lambs later (or prepare to work very hard marketing.) Plan B is the version where the ewes that lambed this year get a break and I only breed the rested ewes. Fewer lambs. Almost certain I can manage lambing and containment without adding new buildings and fences. And can probably eat/sell for butcher/retain all the lambs born without too much stress.
Guess which plan will probably get used? :)
Thanks for your writing Peeps!

 
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