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Rachelew211
Contributor

Where can I find a Delaine Merino farm to learn animal husbandry?

I am interested in starting a small farm in about 3 years to produce fine wool and meat for sale and to use the milk for our family and provide a different lifestyle for my newborn. I have researched the breeds and I think the Delaine Merino is the right breed for my needs in central Texas. My husband and I would like to visit a farm that has this breed and learn some of the things we will need to do to care for them to make sure we can stomach it, before we get started. We aren't looking to live off of what we earn from the farm but we would llike the farm to pay for itself. The plan is that I will stay home and tend the farm and the little one and my husband will keep his day job and only have to help with the sheering, lambing, tilling and harvesting the hay. I have read that I will need one acre of hay for every two sheep I keep. I was planning to start with 5 sheep and work up to a first goal of 20. ANY advice would be appreciated.

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34 Replies
Pupdaddy
Advisor

Re: Where can I find a Delaine Merino farm to learn animal husbandry?

..Not having raised any lambs in over 30 years might make me sound like I'm not qualified to answer you...but I do know a few facts about sheep that I can pass on.

 

1. In the last few years...shearing your sheep was done mainly to make the sheep more comfortable. Wool prices have been so depressed that the cost of shearing them has been more than the wool value. I believe there was a short term bump in price recently...but there are lots of commercial growers that have started raising mostly hairless breed sheep so they don't have to mess with shearing. That said...there might be a market for hand carded..and spun high quality wool. You'll have to develop a market for it on top of raising the sheep.

 

2. If you're raising sheep in Texas...you most likely will be pasturing them full time. Hay isn't really needed if you have enough pasture...and in Texas..that means enough water for grass. Stocking rates for grass would probably be higher than 2 ewes per acre...but it all depends on your rainfall..or irrigation.

 

3. Merinos work well in pasture systems...in fact...most of New Zealand and Australia pasture all their sheep, and they use quite a few Merinos. I don't know how they keep cool...unless they shear before the hot weather of the year. We always sheared in the winter, before lambing. That way the lambs weren't having to search through the wool for their lunch.

 

4. If you only have 5 ewes...you're probably going to have to find someone who will rent you a ram. You can't afford to keep a ram unless you have excess pasture. You are also going to keep some of your lamb crop, which means you will need a different ram to breed back to every year. We never kept our ewe lambs...choosing to buy new ewes for replacements every year. That allowed us to keep some better rams for more than a year at a time.

 

5. You will have surprises. Sheep don't tend to be the most rugged animals. Seems like if they get sick...they generally just lay down and die. Good husbandry goes a long way...but a good relationship with a local vet and a suggested inoculation schedule can help. Talk to a vet and ask him to draw up a plan that will help keep your flock healthy. They also need to be wormed regularly....rotating between different types of worm medications to keep them from developing resistance.

 

6. When sheep lamb...you pretty much have to be there. They deliver quite a few twins and triplets...and if you are at all squeamish about sorting out the legs of lambs in the womb, you're going to need a vet or an experienced shepherd to help you out. Calling the vet every time you need to pull a lamb is not a quick way to prosperity in the sheep business.

 

7. You need some grain for the ewes when milking...and if you are feeding out the lambs...they used to just get some corn and alfalfa meal supplement here. I shoveled self feeders full of corn for a couple hundred lambs every week when I was 10-15 years old....For some reason my dad couldn't seem to part with the money to buy an auger...LOL.

 

8. Predator control. If you're pasturing sheep in Texas...there's always going to be a coyote with his eye on some tasty mutton. You can't leave them out at night without good fence, guard dogs or guard llamas. Even then you'll lose one if the coyotes have a large enough pack. An enclosed shed big enough to keep them in over night will help...but if it's not sealed up pretty tight...they'll still get in.

 

....I could go on and on as my memories come back to me. I hope I haven't scared you off. It is not my intention. I just want you to know the realities of the business....and the quote "if it was easy, everyone would be doing it" certainly applies here. Perseverance is a virtue..and most farmers have tons of it. Wish you luck at your venture.

 

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rswfarms
Senior Contributor

Re: Where can I find a Delaine Merino farm to learn animal husbandry?

I am only a corn and soybean guy, but your post scared me out of raising lambs!!!!!! LOL

Sounds like a quick way to lose alot of money. I will stick with hogs.

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Rachelew211
Contributor

Re: Where can I find a Delaine Merino farm to learn animal husbandry?

Thanks, all very good information! I am not scared but want to be FULLY prepared. I have NEVER lived on a farm. So it will all be a completely new experience. I think I can handle the lambing, my husband is a bit squeemish thoughSmiley Wink

 

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Kay/NC
Honored Advisor

Re: Where can I find a Delaine Merino farm to learn animal husbandry?

We have a couple hundred ewes of meat breeds, hair sheep totally. Do not think of this as meaning not to try, but you can read a lot, and a lot of it is misleading.

Example: two ewes per acre. The productivity an acre of pasture is highly variable. You need a good year to establish forages for most perennial pasture, before subjecting the stand to grazing pressure. You need to get with Extension in your area, to get good recommendations of what to plant, when, how to fertilize and otherwise manage. Have you got equipment to prepare a seed bed, plant, etc.?

Haying: Have you got any idea what that equipment costs? Most people are better off buying the bales they need. We are the only real hay producers in our county,and it is not easy, and costs a fortune to get equipped...not at ll recoverable costs out of a small hobby flock. Quite honestly, that is what you ate proposing. I do not see that few head ever covering their own costs, much less supporting a family in any way.

You have researched breeds. Do you know who the willing buyer of your fleeces will be? Unless you have a market, any animal you raise for any reason becomes an expensive pet. I have gone to fiber arts festivals,,done some spinning, weaving, etc. you need to identify your niche market and work to raise what they want to buy, not just what you want to sell. I have seen more people than I like to think about who spent way too much on alpaca, and the blankets sheared were not enough to pay vet bills, much les fencing, feed, breeding stock, guardian dogs, etc.

Do not look to this romanticized ideal of rural,life to provide for your young family. A lot of the folks who do this are raising the animals as a tax shelter...to offset income from a career to support their desired farm life. You need a LOT of training - some land grant universities run shepherd's schools. Start there, and maybe work on any sheep farm - breed is less important than learning to work with the species.

If you can afford a handful of these animals, and everything they need for their welfare, take them on in your mind as a hobby, not a business. That way, you understand that you will be supporting them, not the other way around.
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Kay/NC
Honored Advisor

PS

Please look at the dates on any production and especially marketing data. An article for pre-2008 could be VERY misleading as to what is selling and for how much. I have seen a good number of the artisan types, and thus their suppliers, lose ground as the economy faltered.

I am a stained glass craftsman, and have seen my two favorite/closest to home supply shops go out of business in recent years. The last one said specifically that the economy had driven too many customers away...because crafting is a luxury, not a necessity. The fiber arts major supplier and online seller near us packed up and moved. I still get emails, but thy aren't sending olor catslogs anymore. In other words, these seem to be tight times for the handcrafted crowd.

A couple of other caveats:your fleeces will have to be cleaned and processed, and transported. Have you found that service? Do you know what it costs? Have you got the cashflow for all associated costs for your flock, projected CURRENT prices for delivered fleeces, etc.?
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Rachelew211
Contributor

Re: PS

I am aware of the downturn in recent years. I am also aware that this won't support the family and my husband is planning to keep his day job, as it were. I will also do some freelance CAD work from home. According to current prices I would expect to come close to breaking even if I do the shearing myself, which I agree I will need to learn and practice before expecting to be able to sell what I shear. I am looking to give my son, and myself for that matter, a lifestyle where there is allways something to do and allways something to learn, away from the city and the entrapments therein. But my goal is for the farming expenditures to pay for themselves. I like the idea of grazing the animals instead of trying to plant, grow and bale hay. This is something we are planning to start in about three years so right now I am just gathering advice, information and "intel"  so that when it is time to get started we have a good chance at success or something close to success. I appreciate your insight and suggestions. Perhaps we will visit a local dorper farm and see if we can help out a few times a year to learn the basics. I really would like to find someone who has Delaine Merino's though...

 

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farmerguy89
Advisor

Re: Where can I find a Delaine Merino farm to learn animal husbandry?

Not too sure how you would pay for the farm with 5-20 sheep. Need about 500/a person to survive.. or thats what my brother says about his flock. Your taxes/insurance would probably eat up all the profit off of 5-20 sheep... or the interest on the tractor that your gonna need.

 

Its a lot of work in the winter time.. and you have to vaccinate/pay attention during lambing and cutting hay.

 

Your probably best to find some 10-20 acre farm w/ a house if one exists in Texas. That way, if you lose money you won't live on the streets or have to take refuge in a corn field at night. I don't know what the lamb prices are your way, but our way, they are high: $1.5-3/lb of lamb.

 

If you can only get $1/lb, then you have to raise cattle probably. Don't get caught up in the romance of living on a farm and the bull**bleep** of that DVD called Food Inc., cause if you make yourself insolvent then the romance will fall apart quickly. Mosto f the people on that DVD can't pay their bills/sell snake oil, just fyi.

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Kay/NC
Honored Advisor

Re: PS

Sounds much more realistic. I worry about people...had a girl call me once, because our mutual lender had told her about my grantwriting successrelated to our flock...long story there. He had just given her a home ewuity loan to get a pair of alpaca, which is great if you are a doctor or lawyer looking gor a tax shelter pretense to " farm." This girl had risked her house for two animals, and was in no wayprepared to turn them into a business. You have a much better grasp on the realities.

Given that, I would syggest that you contact the breed registry for those Merinos, and see who's raising them and where. You would be a potential buyer down the road, so thst might put you in touch with someone who could help you learn their specifics.
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rswfarms
Senior Contributor

Re: PS

I find it interesting that you would like to live on a farm. I married an Iowa farm girl and she refused to live back on the farms and wanted to raise our kids in the "BIG CITY" (Minneapolis). She thought this was much better to give the kids an overall better education. We currently own 12 Iowa corn and soybean farms which support our family income-wise, but boy, owning 12 farms ties up tens of millions of dollars of family money just to support ONE Family. It takes lots of money to own enough land and Iowa land is currently priced at $12,500/acre for 200+Bushel/acre corn dirt. Anyway, my wife having been raised on Iowa corn and soybeans farms feel the children are much better raised in the "BIG CITY" for an overall better education, along with all the extra things they can do in the city like sports, having lots of friends, etc. She was very forceful when we got married that our kids would be raised in the "BIG CITY" for these reasons.

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