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Author Topic: Can I be a sheep farmer NOT for meat?  (Read 1603 times)

rach9

  • Joined Jul 2021
Can I be a sheep farmer NOT for meat?
« on: July 29, 2021, 09:17:18 pm »
Hello, I am taking over a lot of of farm land and will be renting most of this to a farmer which I want nothing to do with as I know for meat, I would love my own sheep, this is possible to have a small flock of sheep that are NOT for meat? Is there such thing? Totally clueless in the farming world because my love and passion of nature and animals is to rescue you them and NOT eat them? My dream is to have land and my own little farm I would love to do something good like wool? Breed rare sheep? But not for for meat? Many thanks and please be kind with your replies

needlesboots and whistles

  • Joined Jul 2021
Re: Can I be a sheep farmer NOT for meat?
« Reply #1 on: July 30, 2021, 03:43:34 pm »
Yes, there are lots of people I have met on facebook keeping pet sheep, all over the country and all over the world.  :)

Womble

  • Joined Mar 2009
  • Stirlingshire, Central Scotland
Re: Can I be a sheep farmer NOT for meat?
« Reply #2 on: July 30, 2021, 03:47:21 pm »
Yes, it's perfectly possible to keep sheep and not eat them, if that's what you want to do. There will be running costs for that of course, which will in no way be offset by income from fleece sales etc, but it's your money, so spend it how you like! You could keep either ewes or wethers (castrated male sheep), or a mixture of both, and you could mix different breeds too, to make life interesting (though some people advise not keeping horned and non-horned sheep together, so do think about that).

Are you crafty at all? If so, you could run a "fleece flock" - i.e. sheep kept purely for their fleeces, which you would then do crafty things with. That could be a lot of fun!

The only problem I see is if you want to breed from your sheep. You won't be able to keep all the lambs, because sooner or later the numbers will get too great for either your budget or your fields. Female lambs can be sold for breeding (though then their offspring will be eaten, so I don't know how you feel about that?). However, your big problem is what to do with the male lambs, since only about 5% of male lambs are good enough to sell for breeding. Our experience is that in practice it's often even less, because although some of our male lambs ARE good enough, we don't have the reputation which would enable us to sell them. Usually, it's the other 95% of male lambs which get eaten, so if you're not going to do that, you'll need a plan for them, and that isn't going to be easy!

HTH!
« Last Edit: July 30, 2021, 03:50:27 pm by Womble »
"All fungi are edible. Some fungi are only edible once." -Terry Pratchett

twizzel

  • Joined Apr 2012
Re: Can I be a sheep farmer NOT for meat?
« Reply #3 on: July 30, 2021, 04:35:40 pm »
Wool is worthless unless you want to spin it yourself or sell small amounts of wool to niche crafter type people.


You would also need to think about the practicalities of a purely pet flock- the vet bills could get expensive for a start especially if you rescue sheep with health problems.

Sheep condition would need to be managed carefully as non breeding sheep can get very fat if they loaf about doing nothing.


It would be an expensive venture. I would suggest you went and got some experience first with a farmer handling sheep and learning about how to look after them, then buy some of your own. As Womble says the minute you start breeding is when you need to think about what to do with the lambs that would normally go into the food chain. You also need to understand that even though they are pets, when they die (and they will, sheep are famous for that activity) you canít just bury them- you pay for the knackerman to come take them away. 


As devils advocate- why rent your land to someone producing animals for meat, when you donít support it? The farmer is paying your rent bill by sending lambs for meat  :thinking:  I donít mean that in an offensive way. But if you genuinely want nothing to do with the meat industry, then renting your ground to a conventional sheep farmer is a bit hypocritical.
« Last Edit: July 30, 2021, 04:37:14 pm by twizzel »

Fleecewife

  • Joined May 2010
  • South Lanarkshire
    • ScotHebs
Re: Can I be a sheep farmer NOT for meat?
« Reply #4 on: July 30, 2021, 09:42:34 pm »
'Farming' when referring to animal husbandry usually means breeding animals and selling the offspring for some purpose, to make enough to support the enterprise.
Breeding pedigree sheep is one possibility, as you sell your lambs as breeding stock, as Womble mentioned, but inevitably some of those lambs will not be suitable for selling, so you could keep them, but numbers mount quickly. Usually, 'supernumerary' animals ie those which don't make the grade, go for meat.
A different possibility could be to set up a charity rescuing farm animals and caring for them for the rest of their lives.  There are places which do this and survive on donations, perhaps having 'friends of the farm' who pay a certain amount a year and in return can visit, interact with the animals and have a newsletter recounting what is happening to their animal. You could also hold open days with proceeds going to fund the farm, and any other fund raising events you can think of. I believe getting adequate funding is a perennial problem as you need a guaranteed and regular amount to be able to feed and care for the stock you take on.  Vets bills tend to be high, you need feed and regular treatments such as worming, protecting from fly strike and so on.
The main problem for you I think would be learning what is involved in caring for farm animals.  As a charity as well as for your own peace of mind, you need to have tiptop standards. You could go to college to learn but then you would nonetheless be dealing with animals intended for slaughter which may well not sit easily on you.
Another option is simply to keep a number of animals as pets, not breeding from them but simply sharing your life with them.
I think it all depends on how much land you have and if you have an income stream enough to support you and your land plus animals
Do something today that your future self will thank you for - plant a tree

 Love your soil - it's the lifeblood of your land.

rach9

  • Joined Jul 2021
Re: Can I be a sheep farmer NOT for meat?
« Reply #5 on: July 30, 2021, 11:42:04 pm »
Thank you all for your replies, I live next to a sheep farmer in the countryside and hand reared my beautiful Larry, I will have 157 aches of farm land which can be for horses or rent to a farmer it just really upsets me knowing the farm animals will be meat I know this is what they are bred for but I would love to farm my land if at all possible for animals that are for any other reason for meat, with vegan & vegetarians being more popular I wasnít sure if this is something I could seriously look into and do so proudly purely for my love and passion of animals, after saving Larrys life I know I would love to have a flock of sheep I guess would be pets if there is nothing else I could to help the future of farming not to be just meat, my hubby said I can follow my dreams and have a little farm if there is another purpose of farming other than meat , I wanted to explore this and see if this is achievable before renting the farm to a farmer 👨‍🌾ÖÖ.

Womble

  • Joined Mar 2009
  • Stirlingshire, Central Scotland
Re: Can I be a sheep farmer NOT for meat?
« Reply #6 on: July 31, 2021, 12:53:06 am »
Hmmmm, 157 acres is a lot! That much land is going to have high running costs to keep everything tip top.

What sort of land is it though? Could you grow crops instead of animals? trees even?  Just thinking aloud.

>if there is another purpose of farming other than meat

Your original question was "can I have a flock of sheep, not for meat?", and the answer is yes, of course. But let's be honest, that's not farming. It might have been 250 years ago, because wool was a valuable product, but sadly that's no longer the case.
« Last Edit: July 31, 2021, 01:14:18 am by Womble »
"All fungi are edible. Some fungi are only edible once." -Terry Pratchett

twizzel

  • Joined Apr 2012
Re: Can I be a sheep farmer NOT for meat?
« Reply #7 on: July 31, 2021, 07:43:07 am »
The main purpose of farming is to produce food. That is a lot of land to keep in order, you would need several hundred sheep and have considerable costs associated with them and keeping the land tidy. I think youíre winding us up to be honest  :thinking: 

Rosemary

  • Joined Oct 2007
  • Barry, Angus, Scotland
    • The Accidental Smallholder
Re: Can I be a sheep farmer NOT for meat?
« Reply #8 on: July 31, 2021, 09:05:04 am »
What a waste of land. When so many young folk want to get a start in farming and produce food for folk to eat. Scandalous, IMO :rant:

Backinwellies

  • Global Moderator
  • Joined Sep 2012
  • Llandeilo Carmarthenshire
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Re: Can I be a sheep farmer NOT for meat?
« Reply #9 on: July 31, 2021, 09:51:02 am »
I think a lot of the 157 acres will be rented to a sheep farmer (or thats how I read it). 

No you cant be a sheep farmer and not produce meat ......    Yes you can have sheep and not produce meat but you cant breed any ...... once you start breeding some have to be culled and eaten.  Buy a few wool wethers (castrated males) and learn about wool processing ......

Your husband has said you can follow your dreams .... but has he any idea what this is going to cost? .....  IMO sheep are very expensive to keep in small numbers ....  just the min treatments cost a fortune ......  vaccination, working, fly strike  prevention ..... this is a VERY expensive hobby.

Try costing your dream .... and also remember any livestock needs 365 day care (no holidays unless you can find a carer )
Linda

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Fleecewife

  • Joined May 2010
  • South Lanarkshire
    • ScotHebs
Re: Can I be a sheep farmer NOT for meat?
« Reply #10 on: July 31, 2021, 10:06:09 am »
@rach9 you didn't comment on my suggestion of having a rescue farm.  That seems to me to fulfil both your desires - to have sheep and to be 'nice' to them.
Do something today that your future self will thank you for - plant a tree

 Love your soil - it's the lifeblood of your land.

Scarlet.Dragon

  • Joined May 2015
  • Aberdeenshire
Re: Can I be a sheep farmer NOT for meat?
« Reply #11 on: July 31, 2021, 11:42:48 am »
Some good advice above although I'm not a fan of the multiple 'charities' that spring up because people want someone else to pay for their hobby of keeping animals whilst virtue signalling how much better they are than everyone else because they don't eat animals.

I have no problem with anyone's religion or life choices - that's their business not mine, but I will say that many vegans have no clue as to how their lifestyle choices are adversely impacting the ecology and future of our planet.  I would therefore encourage you to read up on 'ethical omnivorism' to understand the interaction between livestock farming and crop growth and the impact monocultures have on land management.  Vegans incorrectly believe that nothing dies for them to eat; quite the reverse is true as anyone who has watched the carrion birds following a plough, seen the buzzards picking over a combined field, or opened a bale of straw and discovered the remains of a rabbit, hare, badger or deer in the bale will testify.  That's without even considering pesticides and herbicides and the impact they have on soil dwelling organisms and pollinators and their associated food chains.

If you want to keep animals as a hobby that's fine, but you need to look at them as a money pit and work out how you're going to fund that.  If you want to keep them as a business, you need to come up with a viable business plan that takes account of their lifecycle and how it's funded.  With that sort of acreage, you "could" potentially have an income from an equestrian centre with cross country course/hacking/indoor and outdoor arenas with people paying to keep their animals there.  It would cause massive disruption to your 'quiet country home' and it wouldn't be cheap.

You could run some form of 'petting zoo' if you don't consider this to be a form of animal abuse.  You could have a small number of animals of various species in safe enclosures where families go to "feed the ducks", "pet the ponies", "bottle feed some lambs", etc.  Again, it would involve streams of people, some of whom may have no real understanding that you can't feed peaches, plums and ham sandwiches to the sheep/ponies and you should take your litter home with you.  Again, it would be massively expensive.

You could keep sheep for wool, but the latest price of wool was in the pence per fleece.  I saw a post from one farmer recently whose payment totalled just over £15 for close on 100kgs of fleece.  It had cost him over £200 for shearing and that didn't include the transport cost of getting the fleece from his farm to the wool board.  Anyone keeping 4 or more sheep is obliged to sell to the wool board if they're not using the fleece themselves (despite being able to get a better price marketing it directly).

Depending on the type of land you have, you could do things like alpaca trekking or sheep walking (both seem to be a fad at the moment) - but again, if you work out the setup costs (and insurance), may not be viable in terms of maintaining the property.

You may be able to set up a market garden, grow crops or run some kind of animal entertainment business (pets attending nursing homes, kids parties, etc) but it takes a lot of work and money to do it properly and what happens when it's no longer popular and you still have a lot of animals to fund?

Your starting point if you're going to keep animals is getting an education about their welfare needs such that you understand what you're taking on and are capable of meeting them long term.  Then you need to look at how you fund things and set up a business plan for doing that... then double the costs you've estimated and halve the income you expect... if you still think it's worthwhile, we'll all wish you luck and success!
Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical and expecting more than others think is possible.

SallyintNorth

  • Joined Feb 2011
  • Cornwall
  • Rarely short of an opinion but I mean well
    • Trelay Cohousing Community
Re: Can I be a sheep farmer NOT for meat?
« Reply #12 on: July 31, 2021, 12:22:32 pm »
I know of one "no kill" breeding flock which just about scrapes by most years.  It's the Doulton Flock of rare breed Border Leicesters, Ellie Stokeld claims that she sells all lambs for breeding or fleece homes, and she and her helpers put an enormous amount of effort into marketing their own wool for crafters.  There is a waiting list for the truly awesome fleeces, they also produce fibre ready for spinning (which is very popular with spinners, it's as gorgeous as the fleeces and easier/quicker to get spinning!), and yarns for knitters and other crafters.

in order to sell all your spare lambs for breeding, you need (a) a demand and (b) a name.  Ellie shows her sheep, wins prizes, therefore has a "name" and is able, she claims, to sell all her non-retained lambs for breeders.  I think a lot of Ellie, her sheep and her products, but in truth I remain sceptical about all male lambs truly finding breeding homes.  However good you and your sheep are, not all ewe lambs are suitable for breeding and only a relatively small proportion of tup lambs should be bred from.  If you breed from everything, the stock will deteriorate - to me, the basis of a healthy flock is in who you don't breed from.  And if you sell substandard animals for breeding, all your hard work establishing a "name" will soon evaporate.  So I have never understood how this aspect really works as Ellie says it does, and suspect that, at best, most of her male lambs go to small flocks, to be used once or twice and then eaten before they are coming onto their daughters.  But I do believe that she herself does not slaughter anything, and personally I think you can't really do more than that if you want any numbers and want to breed.

To produce and sell the woolly products for more than the Wool Board's price is also a huge amount of work (and expense up front for the processed products.)  As well as showing her live animals in order to maintain her name as a breeder, Ellie also does all the woolly shows, operates a very active Ravelry group and has a presence on Facebook. 

In good years, Ellie gets by.  But when the jeep needs replaced, or the tractor needs expensive parts, or the wool shows are all cancelled because of a pandemic, etc, etc, then she has to get the begging bowl out and try to crowdfund the necessary expenses.  Because of all the hard work she does marketing to crafters, she does usually manage to raise monies this way, but to me, operating a large flock of sheep with the risk that you will not be able to afford necessary expenditures to keep the sheep fed and happy is a potential welfare issue, and personally I could not operate that way.


Another option is the charity route.  One of the best examples I know is the Woolly Patchwork Sheep Sanctuary.  Charlotte rescues sheep and gives them forever homes, does not breed, and again, works very hard marketing to crafters through her website, Ravelry and Facebook.  The fleeces from some of the sheep at least are pre-booked, and all the ones which are suitable for spinning seem to sell for a reasonable price each year.  I think you can "adopt a sheep" for a year or its life, and get updates about it, that sort of thing.

If you limited your incoming sheep to those with fleeces that would interest crafters, then that would potentially be a way to cover the costs of keeping sheep that aren't for meat.

Don't listen to the money men - they know the price of everything and the value of nothing

Live in a cohousing community with small farm for our own use.  Dairy cows (rearing their own calves for beef), pigs, sheep for meat and fleece, ducks and hens for eggs, veg and fruit growing

Womble

  • Joined Mar 2009
  • Stirlingshire, Central Scotland
Re: Can I be a sheep farmer NOT for meat?
« Reply #13 on: July 31, 2021, 01:11:13 pm »
I think a lot of the 157 acres will be rented to a sheep farmer (or thats how I read it).


Yes, I think that's the current plan, right @rach9 ? But with an aspiration that the whole acreage could be used for non-meat production, as stated:


I will have 157 aches of farm land which can be for horses or rent to a farmer it just really upsets me knowing the farm animals will be meat I know this is what they are bred for but I would love to farm my land if at all possible for animals that are for any other reason for meat


I just spotted the typo too. 157 aches of farm land sounds about right. We have enough pain from just five!  ;D


If you want to keep animals as a hobby that's fine, but you need to look at them as a money pit and work out how you're going to fund that.


That's excellent advice, @Scarlet.Dragon . We decided to try and fund it using the proceeds from meat sales. In a good year we break even vs running costs, and in a bad year we make a small loss. We'll never ever pay our capital back doing that though (and what's worse is that the expensive fences we put in when we started, 12 years ago now all need new posts, and all at exactly the same time!). There's also no way farming will ever give us an income (though it sounds as though you the OP doesn't need that).

Broadly, I think you have six choices:

1) Hold your nose and accept that the land will be used for meat production, albeit by others
2) Rear animals as a hobby, and accept there will be next to no income to offset the costs
3) Set up some sort of animal sanctuary or petting zoo, funded by either donations or visitors
4) Do something else non-food, e.g. an equestrian centre
5) Grow something else on the land, i.e. crops or trees.
6) Do nothing, sit back and watch it all rewild and return to nature!  ;D

As with so much in life, I expect the right strategy to be be a mix of those options. What do you reckon?
"All fungi are edible. Some fungi are only edible once." -Terry Pratchett

twizzel

  • Joined Apr 2012
Re: Can I be a sheep farmer NOT for meat?
« Reply #14 on: July 31, 2021, 01:50:31 pm »
7) rent out land if suitable to a large scale vegetable farmer (potatoes, brassicas etc).


I would add that unless youíve got experience with horses setting up a equestrian centre is not advisable and would probably incur change of use to equestrian on the land and associated planning regs.


And Iíd also add, to set up a rescue or sanctuary for farm animals, you would either have to rely on farmers gifting their animals to you (very unlikely, seeing even cull animals have a monetary value) or you would need to bid for them against meat buyers at markets. And if the buyers realise what youíre doing, they will probably annihilate you and make you pay the earth  :roflanim:  If you are genuine, id just rent the whole lot out unless youíve got very deep pockets and endless amounts of time. Let someone farm the land properly with good quality stock.

 

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