Raising sheep is not a particularly expensive endeavor nor is it a huge profit making enterprise. But for the person interested in raising wool, meat, show animals or breeding stock for her own use or to sell, it is a useful and enjoyable business or hobby.
All of the expenses and incomes are listed in US dollars and are necessarily general estimates. Prices vary from region to region based on availability and demographics. However, the sheep business is very stable compared to some other fiber operations, such as alpaca, which is volatile and currently over-inflated.
*Cost of the sheep
Sheep can be found for free or very cheap. In general this is not the recommended way to get them. A poor quality sheep will cost just as much to feed as a good quality sheep, but may cost you more down the road in medical expenses or decreased production. If you are looking for pets only, it doesn't matter so much. If you plan to implement a breeding program, get involved with showing, or hope to sell a product then buy the best quality you can afford. It is not necessary to buy registered sheep unless you wish to show them. Their offspring will be worth more if they are registered or registerable.
The costs will vary based on the rarity of the breed you choose and its all around usefulness. Expect to pay $200 for a purebred unpapered animal and $500 or more for a registered sheep with a history of official show or fleece wins. An excellent quality ram is a great investment since they will be contributing their DNA to the entire flock's offspring. He can easily raise the quality of the ewes.
*Cost of care
Sheep require immunizations yearly, deworming quarterly and annual shearing. Learn to vaccinate them yourself and save the vet cost altogether. A flock of 25 sheep can be immunized, including the price of the needles, for under $15. A year's supply of dewormer for the same number of sheep per year is $50. For this small of a flock the shearing costs about $3-$5 per head. So the approximate cost of maintenance, excluding food, annually for a flock of 25 sheep is about $165. That's equivalent to one trip to the vet with your dog for his annual check-up and boosters so you can see it is very reasonable. Any accidents or medical problems that crop up will be an additional cost.
*Cost of food
At the minimum the sheep will need hay through the winter if you have a great pasture to supply them through the warm seasons. At $4/bale of timothy hay, one bale per day for our flock of 25, for 100 days is $400. If you need to hay for longer to supplement an inferior pasture or longer winter, adjust accordingly.
Graining isn't essential for sheep except for expectant and lactating ewes. A 50lb bag of sheep sweet feed is $12. So 50lb per week for 5 months of gestation and 2 months of lactation is $12 times 28 weeks equals $336. Our hypothetical flock of 25 costs about $736 to feed annually, give or take based on your circumstances.
*Cost of supplies
This is nearly impossible to calculate here with any accuracy. It all depends on what you are going to be doing with your sheep. If you are breeding them then you need some birthing supplies on hand. This includes iodine to sterilize belly buttons, rings to dock tails and emergency birthing supplies and replacement milk for a bottle baby. The routine items are very cheap and the emergency items likely you won't be replacing very often.
If you plan to show your fleeces then they need to be covered. A cover costs about $20 and a sheep will go through 3 or 4 sizes a year as their wool grows; covers usually last for several years. If you plan to show the sheep itself you will also need proper clippers to groom the sheep for the ring plus halters, ropes and dress covers.
The only have to haves for a sheep operation are hoof trimmers (called foot rot shears) ($14-$45) and if you use liquid dewormer, a drenching gun ($11-$35).
I have not included any costs of infrastructure which is beyond the scope of this article. It is nice to purchase a property with a barn and good fencing on site. If not, these will add a huge cost to your investment but it also counts as a capital improvement on your property.
If you wish to transport animals to show, auction or the butcher this will require an appropriate vehicle and trailer. Because sheep are short they do not require anything as fancy as a horse or livestock trailer. If you are just moving a few at a time even a pick-up truck bed with a cap will work.
*Profits in fleece
Here is the part where you reap a reward for your investment! If you are breeding for fiber then you should enter your fleeces into fleece shows. This will give you bragging rights on your product if you win and also give you a huge customer base as most of these shows will then sell your fleece for you for a small commission. Prize money itself is usually small-just covering your entry fees- but a prize winning fleece can be sold for much more money. We sell our Corriedale fleeces that win for $18-$21 per pound. Our non-winning but very good covered fleeces we sell for $10-$15 per pound. Some of our lowest quality, though still good but not covered, we sell for $6-9 per pound. If you have a grade quality fleece it may sell for $2 or $3 per pound and worse yet are local wool pools that will give you 30 or 40 cents per pound.
Fleece size varies widely between breeds and between yearlings and older. The range could be 4 to 12lbs (some breeds like Columbias are just huge and can have a fleece that's 25lbs! But this is unusual.) So with a great quality large fleece you can make several hundred dollars each.
*Profits in carcass
Selling your sheep for meat is another way to make income. If you have local buyers you can make a profit after butchering expenses of $100-$180 per animal, again depending on weight. This would be for "lamb" which is an animal under a year old, but most often butchered at 3-6 months of age. If you do not have a local buyer then auctions will sell them for you for $80-$110 each. This is an excellent solution to make money on stock that is not good enough quality to keep for showing or fleece-only keep the best of your best to constantly improve your flock's genetics. You will also be able to keep as much lamb meat for your own family as you want at a fraction of the cost to purchase in a store.
*Profits in breeding stock
If you wish to sell sheep for breeding stock then you can sell them for more than carcass cost. If you have registered animals and want to sell them for top dollar then plan to show them. This will prove that the price you are asking is worth it. You can expect to get $250-$400 for proven stock, or the offspring of winners who can be registered. Unregistered, purebred and excellent quality can expect $200-$300 (these will be unshown because papers are required to compete.) The upper echelon of pricing $500-$600 you would expect to see only in the case of the offspring of artificially inseminated ewes. These can be wonderful animals because they are introducing new genetics from flocks far away, maybe even from other countries. This commands the higher price and is not a likely venture for the beginner enthusiast.
You can make money raising sheep if you have good quality sheep to start with. It is usually not enough to "make a living" on but it can be a very successful sideline or at least enough to justify a hobby!