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Lamb vs Beef

 
Taylor Cleveland
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my husband and are are starting a market farm. We have veggies and laying hens this year. We are doing a mobile coop with electric fencing. We where planning on starting with lamb (to go in front of the chickens while rotating them on pasture). We were going to do American blackbelly sheep. We have been talking and are starting to second guess ourselves. We are worried that we won't have a large enough market for lamb and wondering if we should do beef instead. We live near Jefferson City, MO. We would sell their as well as Columbia, MO. Population for Jefferson City is about 42,000 and a pretty large but conservative middle class. Columbia is a much larger city with a bigger alternative scene and MIZZU(college). So do you all have any insight into the market for lamb or your own experience for selling it? We would really like to sell most of our products as a whole and not have to do separate marketing for the lamb that we would for the veggies and the eggs. Thank you!!
 
Wes Hunter
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Location: Seymour, MO
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In my experience the only way to determine if there is sufficient market for a product is to produce it and see what happens.  Beef is of course a volume seller, but you may have trouble making inroads selling beef in beef country.  Seems lamb is in short supply, with high demand, but that's no guarantee of an easy sell.  There's so much more to direct marketing than just producing something that people want.  And heck, sale barn prices for lambs are high (and have been), so that might be a better option anyway.

My best advice would be to raise what you want to raise, then figure out how to sell it.  Worst-case scenario, you've got plenty of meat in the freezer.  If you raise something just because you think you'll have a better market for it, and not because it's what you really want to do, you're probably not going to stick with it anyway.  That sort of production is basically a highly particular kind of prostitution.  But I digress.
 
Libbie Hawker
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Location: Friday Harbor, WA
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chicken food preservation hugelkultur
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This may not be useful advice, as I haven't yet had any experience with raising meat animals, let alone trying to sell them. But we are hoping to get a 16-acre farm that's on the market, so I've begun thinking about what I'd do with all that extra space, and I also hit on the idea of raising hair sheep and producing grass-fed lamb.

My area might be slightly more inclined to eat lamb than your area, but not by much. This is still a place where people are familiar with the Big Three types of meat (beef, pork, poultry...and even then, it's chicken or turkey only, no waterfowl and no other galliformes species like quail or guineas.)

In researching what I might be able to do with surplus lamb--that is, whatever my husband and I, or our friends and family, wouldn't eat--I hit on the idea of approaching some of the nicer restaurants in my area. I've already made some good contacts and am maintaining relationships with those folks, even though we are still on our initial acre and are not raising meat yet. They know it's part of my five-year plan and they're excited about the possibility of having a local source for grass-fed lamb, heritage turkeys, and goose meat/fat. I live on a small island, and the biggest driver of our economy is tourism. Most of the nicer restaurants here really play up the locavore angle, as it adds to visitors' experience of taking in the local vibe when they come here. So the restaurant owners I've spoken to so far seem to feel that local lamb would be a popular item on their menus; the "locally raised" angle apparently would be enough to interest patrons in trying a dish they might not otherwise try, and should make it competitive/profitable for the restaurants even when offered alongside more familiar proteins like chicken or beef.

So could you start talking to restaurant owners in your area, or just outside your immediate locale? If you find some that really take pride in using locally produced ingredients, they might be thrilled to get to offer something as intriguing as lamb on their menus.

And once people taste pasture-raised lamb, they love it. It's so tender and beef-like. Not at all like the lot-finished, gamey lamb you can typically get (for a high price per pound) at the supermarket.
 
wayne fajkus
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Your land can support either? Is fencing in place for either? Equipment (trailer to haul them) in place for both?

In my small scale operation, I have both. With lamb, You find a buyer and take it to the slaughter house. With cows you have to find 2 or more buyers for the one and take it to the slaughter house.

Loading a cow can be easy or hard. Loading a lamb is never hard.

Sheep seems easier in that you take a 6 month lamb and it's ready.

With cows, there's been so much manipulation on the end product (feed lots, gases in the packaging to keep them red, etc) that it might put you at a disadvantage. You can promote "grass fed" beef and people will buy it, but will they buy it again? Having taken a cow straight off pasture , there is a difference in the color and taste.
 
Travis Johnson
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Lamb.
 
Wes Hunter
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Location: Seymour, MO
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Travis Johnson wrote:Lamb.


He said, unbiasedly.

 
Travis Johnson
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I hear ya...

Actually I am more like Taylor then you might think. My original plan when I took over this farm was to raise beef. We had several dairy farms in the family at the time (5) and so I thought I would take their Bull Calves that were selling for $10 per head, raise them up and sell them as full-grown beef. 15% of the beef on the market is actually Holstein or Jersey...dairy cows, and it has incredibly great taste. In fact 7 years in a row Jersey won as best tasting breed. The issue is not if it tastes good, its that the dairy breeds are bony and do not get the feed conversion more typical beef breeds get. So it was a sound idea for sure.

But my ex-wife at the time insisted that if I took over the farm, that she have a sheep since she had a pet sheep as a kid. After I calculated the cost of fencing in all of my farm for one stupid sheep it drove me down the path of: what-if-I-just-raised-sheep. We always had, but I still was not convinced.

So I drew up a matrix, a fancy name for an excel spreadsheet with columns and rows. In the columns I wrote down everything we had to work with: housing, fields, equipment, feed, even interest levels. Then I listed every possible commodity I could think of; potatoes, broccoli, beef, lamb, mixed veggies, rabbits, etc. Then I rated each box in a score of 1-5. Raising sheep won out, BUT this is a HUGE part of the equasion. This is for my farm only, but we had little housing because our barn burnt down, but we had pastures, the interest, history with sheep, etc. My farm was not perfect for sheep, but compared to the rest of my ideas, it made the most logical sense.

But I wrote Lamb, and only the word lamb...which is the shortest reply I have ever typed on Permies mind you, because of one reason. What I call out-of-the-closet-lamb-eaters. This is not lamb eating central and yet after the sheep arrived I had a ton of neighbors begging for lamb. It is not a common meat, but there are plenty of people...people you would never think of loving lamb, who want it. And while I admit that I sell most of my lamb on the National Food Chain and not locally, there is a reason on Thursday I went to the bank to size up my sheep farm. I admit it is sad to cut down the forests my family has been nurturing since the mid-1600's, but for this farm, lamb has a much better return then even forest products.
 
Angelika Maier
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lamb is more expensive.
 
Travis Johnson
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Yes and no...per pound lamb is more expensive, but when a person is selling live animals as Taylor mentions, it is much, much cheaper. Buying a beef critter, or even half side of beef is very expensive compared to one lamb purchase. And while this does not always come into play, freezer space can be an issue as well. A beef critter takes up a lot of room compared to the size of a lamb which is about (2) brown shopping bags.

But this is why people who raise sheep want to always sell whole animals. Not only does it get around the inspection side of things, selling by the cut means people only want the chops and hind legs. This leaves the sheep farmer with a lot of less-preferred cuts that build up over time, and that is expensive. Not just because they are failing to turn over inventory quickly, operating freezers costs a lot of money; often times costing more then the lamb is the freezer is worth if it lingers too long.

In 9 years I have only lost one sale because the guy was incredulous at the disparity between the price of lamb per pound and the price of beef.
 
Jayden Thompson
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Location: Danville, KY (Zone 6b)
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Lamb!

I'm in my second year of raising sheep and lamb, and it's just a pleasure.  I can't speak to what will fetch you a higher ROI for your farm because I don't know your market, your infrastructure, or anything else - but I can tell you that lamb tastes great, they're easy and fun to work with, easy to haul, and for me they've been easy to sell.  I'm raising Katahdin, and I give them no shots, no shelter, and no other type of babying.  I had a lamb born last week overnight at 25 degrees and on her second night it was 18 degrees outside.  I built a quick tarp-house to get uot of the 20 mph winds, but they didn't use it.  They just slept in the open grass and freezing cold wind, as happy as could be.  They make me smile every morning when I walk back there to check on them and feed my great pyrenees. 

I live in cattle country too, and it would be really hard to market beef when everyone and their mother either owns acreage filled with cattle, or they have a neighbor or family friend that they already buy from. 
 
Libbie Hawker
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Location: Friday Harbor, WA
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chicken food preservation hugelkultur
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Jayden Thompson wrote:Lamb!

I'm in my second year of raising sheep and lamb, and it's just a pleasure.  I can't speak to what will fetch you a higher ROI for your farm because I don't know your market, your infrastructure, or anything else - but I can tell you that lamb tastes great, they're easy and fun to work with, easy to haul, and for me they've been easy to sell.  I'm raising Katahdin, and I give them no shots, no shelter, and no other type of babying.  I had a lamb born last week overnight at 25 degrees and on her second night it was 18 degrees outside.  I built a quick tarp-house to get uot of the 20 mph winds, but they didn't use it.  They just slept in the open grass and freezing cold wind, as happy as could be.  They make me smile every morning when I walk back there to check on them and feed my great pyrenees. 

I live in cattle country too, and it would be really hard to market beef when everyone and their mother either owns acreage filled with cattle, or they have a neighbor or family friend that they already buy from. 


I love Katahdins! The really meaty ones look like beef cattle that have been hit with a shrink-ray.

Blackbellies, like the OP is thinking about raising, are absolutely gorgeous, too. I wonder if there could be some money in selling their horns in addition to the meat.
 
Taylor Cleveland
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Thank you all so much for you input. I think we're going to stick with sheep, at least for the first 3-5 years. Our infrastructure is pretty minimal and we're going to stay as temproary and portable as possibable until we figure out how we really want to use the land (145 acres).
I do have one question for you all- guard donkey or dog?
I know it's probably personal preference but still. We have 2 pet dogs and we're slightly worried about the guess dog hurting them. Also, liked the idea that the donkey eats the same thing the deep eat to we don't have to feed them? Keep in mind we will have chickens right behind our sheep as we move them. Sugestions or knowledge?
 
Travis Johnson
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I have have a pretty big commercial sheep farm and I do not have any Livestock Guard Animals at all. I rely on my fences which have given me all the protection I have ever needed. Only once was a lamb killed by a Predator and that was by a crow killing a newborn lamb just out of the ewe and no fence or guard animal would have stopped that.

I don't see myself ever getting a livestock guard animal...dog or donkey...because their upkeep would cost more then the $150 sheep they are saving. As I said, in 9 years I have lost $150 to predation, it would have cost me 20 times that to buy, house, feed and maintain a guard animal.

Should I somehow change my mind, it would definitely be a donkey. It is not so much in what they eat; that is, feed similar to sheep, but due to their longevity. A donkey can live up to 50 years, most donkey owners having it in their will where it will go after their deaths because it most likely will outlive them. With a guard dog; who must be physically fit to chase off predators, their useful lifespan (as opposed to actual lifespan) is only 7 years or so. Considering how much they cost, and how often they would need to be replaced, what they eat, their registration every year, their annual vet bills...over the long term they are a very expensive alternative to the donkey with no greater success.

When I got first got my sheep, I was overly worried about predators too. This is Maine where there is a lot of coyotes and the biggest ones in the nation, yet after awhile I just realized that coyotes are opportunists, and the harder it is to get at my sheep, and the more deer and rabbit they can eat elsewhere, their was no need to worry. I am convinced a lot of sheep farmers are overly concerned about protecting their sheep when the threat is not that big of a concern.
 
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