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We tried Goats. We tried commercial Katadins. We lost thousands of dollars.
It wasn't until we Purchased our first 3 A.D.S.B.S Registered White Dorper sheep that we began to make a profit.
Back when I first started out in livestock, I was a teenager living on my parents 80 acres. At the time only 6 acres of that was good grassy graze, the rest was native Missouri forest with steep hills, huge rocks, loads of wild blackberry bushes and trees that offered so much low forage that it was hard to walk through. Because the land was not suited for cattle due to the lack of graze, my dad and I ended up choosing goats, which according to everything I could read (including everything I can find today) was the perfect animal for the environment. My parents agreed on this. Then my dad and I went to an auction recommended by local farmers and purchased 15 goats.
We had no idea what we had gotten into.
The Brush Goats
We had 5 strands of barbed wire in 2 sides of the property, on another side we had 6"x6"x42" woven wire, and on the front we had only 3 strands of barbed wire, just to mark the property line. I guess we thought that with as much food as there was close to the house (which sits in the middle of the property) why would the goats leave the 4 acres of grass and the black berry bushes that surrounded the yard not to mention all of the shrubby weeds and woods that the middle of the land by the house had to offer??
Well they were there for about 4 hours. Then they left. They just up and walked down the driveway and on to the neighbor's land across the road. It did not take long for us to find them after they left. We just followed the goat poop and THERE THEY WERE! like magic. So we herded them back up the hill and went for another round (think no gates).
Once we had gates and a 6 ft tall dog fence installed round the house's 4 acres for the dogs (because you know that farmers got to have 2 border collies, the movies told us so. Really bad idea to house herding dogs with the goats!! Just say no.) Things went well until the goats had kids. Once they had kids, their numbers went from 12 (we lost a few to predators) to 20, about half of the goat kids died to pneumonia. Little did we know that goats will not give birth willingly in the 3 sided barns that we built for them, but they would go just outside of the barn, or around to the back of the barns, in the snow and ice and pop them out. Then go back in the barn because it was cold leaving the newborns to die. Great mothering skills right? WOW! Then we began to have problems with worms because the 20 goats were too much for the 4 acres. By the way when I say that we began to have problems with worms, I mean that the goats just up and started dying. We asked around and realized that we had worms. Then we began a worming schedule, while we fenced the rest of the property. We started by fencing the other 2 acres of grass. Then let them out into it, we used the 6"x6"x42" woven wire the same stuff that we covered up most of the rest of the properties barbed wire with. BIG MISTAKE!
The Goats had horns, and goats like to stick their heads through fences. With the fence being only 6x6 inch squares the goats could put their heads in but could not get their heads out, because getting the horns back out required them to raise their nose up to the sky as they pulled back. Goats just don't do that on their own. We learned this the hard way by finding one dead in the fence after only 8 hours of being let out of the house yard on a 100 degree summer day. We didn't even know she was stuck until we went looking for her because she did not return with the others. If we had used 6"x12"x42" woven wire this would not have been a problem.
Not long after that we lost 4 goats in one day's outing to a pack of dogs. So we kept the goats locked in the yard for a few months, but by now we had coyotes digging under the yard's 6 foot tall dog fence, and killing 1 to 2 goats per night. So we collected large 40 to 50 lbs rocks and put them all the way around the base of the fence, to stop the coyotes from digging in. This worked but took time. It's a 4 acre fenced field. We went down to about 5 goats. By this time we had been in goats for about 2 years. We purchased the goats for an average of $75 a head or $1,125 for the herd of 15. We put roughly $8,000 into fencing, that's around $9,125 just in fencing and the buy in of the herd, and we had not sold a single goat because the predators eat them first, among other things.
Thinking that our losses were due to a steep learning curve, we bought 10 more goats and fought with the predation. We let the goats out of the safety of the yard only during midday when the predators are less active but we still had losses. By now my parents were disenchanted with goats and handed them over to me. I began looking for a way to protect the goats night and day 24/7. I bought an Anatolian Shepherd dog. This helped greatly!! With relative success I used the Anatolian Shepherd to build the herd to 25 goats from 15 (I still had problems with bad mothering. One of my more memorable does would leave her twins in the weeds and not be able to find them later, eventually leading to their death, either by lack of milk or due to a lack of acceptance of the kids by the herd on cold nights).
Now that I had a larger herd of 25 I (or rather my dog did), we began to have a serious problem with the herd. As it turns out, goats do not flock together at all. They would leave the yard in a pattern much like the example shown below.
As you can see it would be impossible for one dog to follow all of these goats all over the 80 acres, and there was nothing the dog could do about the goats with their heads stuck in the fence other then sit there and bark, so I walked the fence 2 to 3 times a day. The Anatolian ended up patrolling the entire 80 acres all of the time, and could not always hear if there was a problem on the other side of the property because of the hills and gullies. This resulted in loss of goats by no fault of the dog. She was working her big hairy butt off. It was clear to me that with goats the 1 LGD per 100 head was a load of crap! I needed around 5 or 6 Anatolians in order for them to follow all of the 25 goats around just 80 acres at all times.
But hey, now I am getting to the point where I could sell Billy kids for $50 to $75 a head! The only problem is that at 25 goats, if you are doing great, you will end up with about 10 Billies to sell per year and that's only an average of $600 a year. That doesn't even pay for the winter's hay.
I worked my way up to 45 head of goats selling only Billy kids. Most of the times I grossed less then $600 a year, and spent $2000 to $3000 a year, not including the eventual cross fencing that was added quartering the property, not only for a rotational graze to keep the worms under control, but also so that 3 LGDs would do the trick.
The other problem that my LGDs had was that the goats did not appreciate them. The goats would attack the dogs with their horns causing the dogs pain and even puncture wounds. This over time decreased the dog's desire to stay with the goats, and I had to reprimand the dogs for fighting back and ripping ears. The dogs' response to this was, patrolling perimeters then heading back to the house for a few hours then going on patrol again, while steering clear of the herd of goats by at least 50 ft. The Anatolian Shepherds still did a great job of protecting the goats from a distance. The odd thing about this was that when the goats were being attacked they would heed the defensive barks of the Anatolians and run and hide behind the LGDs for protection.
After a while the goats got brave and began to attack the Anatolians head on and would take their food. I couldn't bring myself to reprimand the dogs for protecting their food. So in order to prevent this problem, I built each dog a pen under a tree and put their dog house food and water in the pen and locked the dogs up for feeding times....The goats swarmed around the pens.
By then I was 21 and moving off of the farm. I sold all of the goats at auction and took my Anatolians with me.
Then after 3 years of working hard for the man, I bought a small farm just outside of town and got a couple of milk goats then promptly sold them due to neighbor's complaints about the goats sticking their heads through the fence and eating the just planted rose plants, as well as complaints about the Billy goat's smell. After that I put up wood privacy fence and bought 19 commercial Katadin sheep.
Here we go again.
The Commercial Katadins
I chose sheep because I was told that they are the exact opposite of goats. They won't attack my dogs or me, they are easy to contain, they often come polled (no horns) and that there are breeds that do not need to be shorn. I zeroed in on commercial katadin sheep because from what I read, they fit the bill. I also read that they were good mothers which I took with a grain of salt considering what the goats were like.
I looked into meat lamb prices at the local Sheep and Goat USDA buying station, and found that on average, lamb prices were better then goat, and the Katadins seemed like the right choice because they are a meat breed after all.
With all of this in mind, I went out and bought Commercial Katadins from a well known sheep breeder. The sheep were very healthy and the lady told me exactly how to raise them. I found that her info was spot on, but I did make some slight alterations to her regimen to fit my small farm a little better, and I also bought some more ewes and a ram from down in Louisiana.
I bought 15 ewe lambs just weaned at $75 each and 1 ram lamb just weaned at $110. and 1 ewe lamb at $110 and another ewe lamb at $100 and another ewe lamb at $50 (she was very small) for a total of $1,495. That's 19 sheep.
This time around I had learned my lessons from the goats and I had also learned that I had a lot less "disposable" income with a house payment, food bill, water bill, electric bill and car bills than I did when I lived with my parents. I had to be cost aware. I couldn't just throw money away with sheep, like I had done with the goats for all those years.
I kept close track of the Katadins and I was GREATLY disappointed.
The sheep where purchased on July 4th for $1,495. I weighed the sheep in at an average of 60 lbs on the same day of purchase (please keep in mind that the sheep buying station wants lambs to be 80 lbs for the best price) over the next 6 months or 182 days to be exact. The average weight of the sheep was 75 lbs with the largest sheep being 81 lbs (yes, it was the ram) and get this, 8 of the ewes were within 1 month of birthing lambs, so its safe to say that 8 of the ewes were weighing in baby fat, so to speak.
This is what they looked like at that time (10 months old) The one on the far left is the ram:
To get that 15 lbs of gain per sheep I spent $167 per head in feed and wormer in just 182 days. That's $11.13 per pound. With an average daily gain of only 0.082 lbs no way could I make money with this.
1 ewe died (the small one) I sold 1 ewe for $75 and the other 16 ewes as bred yearlings for $100 a piece. The ram was given free with the flock. This was the most I could get for them.
The gentleman who bought them was very happy with them and he called me up, to tell me that 8 of the ewes did indeed have lambs 1 month after he bought them. I ran into him again about 3 months later, and he told me that the rest of the ewes lambed a couple of months later and he asked me if I knew of anyone that had Dorper sheep for sale.
So the math on all of that is: $1,495 buy in + $3,006 feed and wormer (does not include the dead one) = $4,501 spent.
Gross cash gained, $1,675 sale of sheep - $4,501 Spent = Negative $2,826 in just 6 months.
The buy in price of the sheep does not include the $200 in gas that I spent to drive to Louisiana and back. If you wanted to add that, it would be Negative $3,026
The White Dopers
About 1 month after the Katadins, I found myself missing the sheep. I liked them as animals very much. They were also missed by my Anatolians Shepherds who seemed bored with just chickens. Perhaps that was just me reflecting my feelings on the dogs, but I ended up buying 3 A.D.S.B.S Registered White Dorper sheep, 1 yearling Purbred Ram and 2 50% bred yearling ewes. I paid $300 for the ram and traded 80 50lb bales of quality 2nd cutting sheep hay, that I had left over from the Katadin adventure, for the 2 ewes (The price of the hay that I had was at $10 a bale by that time due to the drought. We traded at the $8 a bale value that I had paid earlier in the year). All 3 were purchased from a farmer only 4 hours away that had posted an ad on craigslist wanting to trade sheep for hay. He said that the heavy drought that year caught him with his pants down, so to speak.
These 3 sheep were the biggest sheep that I had ever seen (up to that point). They were so big in fact that I thought I was being scammed! I thought that these sheep were full grown at 2 or 3 years old because they were nearly double the size of the yearling Katadins that I had just sold a little over a month ago.
About 1 month later, The 2 ewes lambed one of them had twins, 1 ewe and 1 ram (the ram died shortly after birth. I due to my misuse of the wormer moxidectin) and the other had a single ram. I remember thinking to myself "well that's typical. 3 born 1 dies". What I really didn't expect to find was that the 75% ram lamb was worth (sold for) $150 at only 4 weeks old! I posted him on craigslist at 3 and 1/2 weeks old, thinking that he would need to sit up there for a while (until he was at least 6 weeks old was my thought) because I was asking $50 more then any other ram lamb posted at that time. (little did I know that I could have got $200 for him)
I was contacted by 3 separate people about the lamb within 8 hours of posting. Of these people, the 2nd one to contact wanted to pick the lamb up that weekend. I asked if he really wanted to pick it up then because it would only be 4 weeks old, his response was "I really don't want to let this one slip away from me. Please take the listing down I am coming for the ram". So I took the listing down and the gentleman came that weekend cash in hand. After examining the lamb and looking at his registration papers twice for his date of birth he said "This ram is nearly double the size of my commercial lambs at this age, he is just so big! I'm glad I didn't wait". The ram was 30 lbs at 4 weeks old. We weighed him the morning that he was picked up.
We kept the 75% ewe lamb, but we have no doubt that we could have sold her for at least $200 probably $250 at the same age as the ram.
The average daily gains of the White Dorper are incredible when compared to the Katadins and the goats that I have had.
I have found that due to the extraordinary ease of care and high average daily gains of the White Dorper lambs it is most advantages to post the lambs for sale within 4 days of their birth. We sell our sheep as Registered Seed Stock for others looking to break into the industry or looking to improve their flock.
I am very pleased with the White Dorper, and I am very happy to see my Anatolians being able to protect the flock from within the flock. Unlike with the goats, the White Dorpers like the dogs and are not violent with them. This creates a very peaceful environment.
The White Dorper has a very strong flocking instinct (they don't spread out like the goats do) allowing the Anatolians to be more efficient in protecting them (this also reduces cost because not as many LGDs are necessary). The White Dorper is polled (born with no horns) so I do not have to worry about them getting their heads stuck in the fence or dehorning them. Surprisingly enough, they are also good mothers. If available they will move to a shelter that the rest of the flock is not occupying and have their lambs there. However if only one shelter is available they will opt to lamb under a tree, rather than lamb with the rest of the flock within the shelter. I find it advantageous to provide more shelters than normally needed during lambing.
As another added benefit White Dorpers rarely ever have difficulty lambing!
Our focus is to produce fast growing, highly fertile, full shedding A.D.S.B.S Registered White Dorpers that have superior birthing and mothering skills.
We currently use quality Pureblood White Dorper Rams as our flock sires to vastly improve upon our bloodlines and produce lambs yielding high daily gains.
Our future plan is to have an entirely Fullblood Registered ADSBS Flock of White Dorpers.
We believe Fullblood Ewes and Rams will fulfill the needs of our customers best and increase the Average Daily Gains seen on the farm.