The Sheep Business – An Opportunity For Women

Border Cheviot Lambs Playing King Of The Hill

Border Cheviot Lambs Playing King Of The Hill

Live lamb prices are high and have stayed high for a few years now.
The market demand for fresh lamb has remained strong and that’s great news for sheep farmers near east coast markets.

For the most part it’s all a matter of supply and demand.

There are not as many sheep in the U.S. as there used to be and the demand for quality lamb among certain ethnic groups is increasing. U.S. sheep flock numbers are way down and many farmers are getting out of the sheep business altogether.

Few young farmers are coming forward to take the place of the old farmers who have retired or who no longer raise sheep.

Small farm flock management is labor intensive and requires a specific set of skills.

Sheep Grazing Near Apple Trees

Sheep Grazing Near Apple Trees

I’ve always believe that women – and especially women who are mothers – tend to do better in the sheep business than men.
That’s because women are usually more intuitive and nurturing than men and are often attuned to the unseen welfare changes in neonatal lambs and newly delivered ewes that could signal a problem.

Bottle Lamb

Bottle Lamb

The physical differences between men and woman are an advantage too.
Generally women have smaller hands, and that makes for more room inside an ovine uterus when having to sort out little feet and heads and helping a ewe deliver her lamb or lambs. And women as a rule are shorter than men which makes for easier shearing. Sheep don’t require lots of strength to manage – just lots of patience.

It’s interesting to me that successful sheep management does not lend itself to industrial farming or confinement feeding.  I’ve never seen or heard of a factory farm with sheep. I don’t consider western range lamb feedlots a factory farm. The range flocks west of the Mississippi have a whole different market and different management issues and challenges.

New Wilmington Livestock Auction

New Wilmington Livestock Auction

An Auction Tip

Here in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, market lambs are sold at auction by the hundredweight from pens or groups. Each pen is bid on separately by a buyer.When selling live lambs at market it’s a wise practice to separate and group the lambs according to their size and weight.A group of evenly developed, similar and consistent weight lambs is much more attractive to meat packers and buyers. Such a pen of animals will usually bring a higher price.

Lambs of different weights or sizes grouped in the same pen or lot is not as attractive to meat packers because animals of differing weight and sizes will have different slaughter times and feeding needs. Different weights and sizes in the same pen make for more work for the middleman.


Katherine Grossman

Katherine Grossman was born and raised in the greater Washington, D.C area. But for the last 30 years Mrs. Grossman has lived a life of deliberate self-reliance in rural western Pennsylvania. She loves to garden, knit mittens; makes a killer meatloaf and has been known to deliver triplet lambs with her eyes closed. 


  5 comments for “The Sheep Business – An Opportunity For Women

  1. Mich
    April 23, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    Lucky US flock owners, the price of lamb isn’t that good over here.

  2. momma
    April 23, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    Do rams smell like billy goats during breeding season? Or are they easier to handle odor-wise?

    • KMG
      April 23, 2013 at 7:42 pm

      Momma –
      Rams don’t naturally smell near as bad as most Billy goats. The fact that Billy goats urinate on their beards and then shake the urine over their bodies like cologne doesn’t help them in the stink department either. I’m hard pressed to think of an animal that smells worse 24/7- 365- than a Billy goat. It’s a shame because Billy goats are usually really affectionate and personable animals.
      That said, rams of certain breeds (usually black face breeds) do have a distinct odor during breeding season,
      but not near as bad as a goat.
      On a scale from 1-10, if a Billy goat is a 8 – 9, a really stinky ram is about a 4-6.

  3. MT
    April 26, 2013 at 12:15 am

    Well, you’ve inspired, nay, convinced me. Although I am interested in a couple of dairy goats for my own use, I quite like the idea of raising sheep- much more manageable. Now to convince the husband. wrong attitude, now to DISCUSS with the husband 😉

    • KMG
      April 26, 2013 at 7:28 am

      The very best of luck to you! :-)

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