Raising Lambs on the Homestead

With the ending of summer and the start of fall it was time to once again part with my lambs before they became sheep. Like previously years, I have purchased 10 lambs in late spring and raised them over the summer. This is a small and rewarding business that while not able to make me millions can be repeated on a wide variety of homesteads with very little in the way of risk.

Many homesteaders tend to have fairly small acreages and as a result tend towards raising animals that self-forage (i.e. grazers) or smaller processed feed fed creatures such as chickens. These homesteaders are more likely to raise animals for personal (either wool or meat) or to sell or trade with neighbors, or even to "keep the grass down".

In my case I choose to raise lambs for several reasons. I grew up with sheep and have always felt a soft spot for the animals. They are also smaller and easier to physically deal with than some of the other grazing livestock like cattle. Sheep do not require the same kind of industrial strength fences and facilities needed to deal with cattle at times. There is also a difference in economics both in purchasing animals and selling of the meat. For the price of one beef animal I can usually buy 4 to 6 lambs. The lambs grow fairly fast and can be sold after about 4 months. Cattle will require a longer period of time to fatten up and then will not command as high a price as meat.

There are many strategies that one could use to raise lamb. They all have their merits but I have always found the following works best. I buy weaned lambs from a couple of local flocks in early to late May. Every year I try to buy from the same flocks to reduce chances of disease (particularly foot rot) and get a variety of breeds. This allows me to produce not only healthy lambs, but also permits them to dress out at a range of weights to suit my customers. I have raised Southdown, Hampshire, Suffolk, and Romneys. In all cases the lambs have been uncastrated males. I choice the rams because they grow the fastest, and have them all the same sex reduces problems. Contrary to what many people think, if the animal is still young enough the taste is not affected by having intact males and they are butchered before they become too ornery.

For the summer the lambs are pastured in 3 different areas. They are given the chance to eat down one field before moving to the next. This allows me to provide a nutritious meal to the animals without over stressing any single pasture. This rotational system works well for most of the time, although we can get a fair amount of hot dry weather in late summer in my location. The lambs are given free access to water, salt and minerals. They are fed a pelleted sheep mix morning and at night to help them put on a few more pounds. I also utilize some of my garden byproducts as treats for the lambs when they are available.

In the fall I check the lamb crop every week to feel how well they are finishing. When they are plump enough but not too fat I ship them to the local butcher. Then after a couple of weeks I am able to sell sides of lamb (cut and wrapped) to my customers.

On a small homestead, raising lambs is less profitable than some crops, but I get to enjoy watching my lambs all summer. If anyone would like to try raising lamb next year I would suggest you take the plunge and buy a couple of lambs. They are not overly difficult to raise and there is no comparison to the lamb you buy in the local supermarket. It will simply be the best tasting lamb you have ever had.