By Frank Craddock and Richard Machen
Professor and Extension Sheep and Goat Specialist
and Professor and Extension Livestock Specialist
Texas A&M University System
Published March 2011
Rural areas in many parts of the United States are being rapidly developed and urbanized. Many urban dwellers want to escape to the country to live a quiet, peaceful life or enjoy recreational opportunities on their own land. As a result, large tracts in rural areas are being divided into properties of 5 to 100 acres.
New rural landowners almost always want to maintain or obtain an ad valorem tax exemption, which is most often granted for agricultural use of the land. They often decide to start livestock enterprises to meet tax exemption requirements. However, most taxing authorities require one to demonstrate that such an enterprise is economically viable. In other words, owning one animal as a family pet will not qualify property for a tax exemption. Two enterprises best suited to small acreage and most likely to be profitable are meat goats and hair sheep.
These two enterprises require minimal facilities (both in construction, expense and space required), minimal labor (both time and physical effort), and minimal animal husbandry expertise. They should also have readily accessible markets for excess production and unwanted animals.
Because livestock enterprises depend upon forage, the most critical decision is the appropriate stocking rate for the land. Stocking rate is the number of animals per unit of area of land. It is typically expressed in acres per animal unit. An animal unit consumes 26 pounds of forage per day. One 100-pound ewe of a hair sheep breed or one 100-pound doe of a meat type breed equals approximately 0.15 animal unit equivalent. So, seven ewes or seven does equal one animal unit, meaning they consume about 26 pounds of forage daily. Smaller ewes and does would have a lower animal unit equivalent and larger ewes and does would have a higher animal unit equivalent. For sheep and goats every 10 pounds of body weight is equal to approximately 0.015 animal unit equivalent. Also, not all of a producer’s acres are grazable so the number of grazable acres and the pounds of forage the land produces would have to be determined to know how many ewes or goats could be grazed there. Small acreage landowners usually overestimate the carrying capacity (sustainable stocking rate) of their property.
Landowners who graze too many animals for a long period of time will destroy the productivity of their land. Desirable, nutritious plants disappear and undesirable plants multiply, so animals do not perform well without costly supplemental feed. With the loss of native range plants, rainfall cannot percolate into the ground easily and tends to run off. Run-off causes soil erosion and pollutes surface water. The regeneration of just 1 inch of topsoil will require several lifetimes.
Each property is unique, with different soil types, topography and plants. Therefore, the appropriate stocking rate needs to be determined. Your county extension agent or a representative of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) can help determine your stocking rate accurately by determining the amount of forage your land is likely to produce. They will advise you about the number of acres of your land that will be required to support an animal unit with minimal supplemental feed.
Because of their small size, meat goats and hair sheep are very suitable for small acreages. Goats eat more browse plants than other domestic livestock; therefore, they are best for managing or sculpting woody plant habitats. Sheep prefer forbs (weeds) and grass. Some plants are not palatable to sheep and goats and will not be controlled by grazing or browsing. There are also some plants that are toxic and can kill sheep and goats if eaten in large quantities. These unpalatable and toxic plants vary across the U.S.
One of the main attributes of meat goats and hair sheep for small acreage landowners is that they do not have to be shorn. Hiring an experienced shearing crew and marketing small quantities of wool or mohair can be a difficult chore for the small producer. Another attribute for hair sheep is that they are more tolerant of internal parasites than our traditional sheep.
The major breeds of meat goats are the Boer, Spanish, Kiko, Myotonic, or fainting goats, and the Pygmy.
There are two pure breeds of hair sheep found in the U.S., the Barbados Blackbelly and the St. Croix. The other three breeds—the Dorper/White Dorper, the Katahdin, and the Royal White—are really composites as they all have some degree of traditional breeds in their ancestry. They do not shed their wool as well as the two pure breeds.
Novice buyers often pay too much for livestock, purchase poor quality stock, or both. Do some research ahead of time. Subscribe to and read industry publications, find people you can trust, talk to trained professionals and visit with breeders. They can all be valuable sources of information.
Young animals (weaning age to 1 year old) are usually less expensive than mature, producing animals. The trade-off is the delay before you have a marketable product. If mature, bred females are purchased, kids or lambs could be of marketable size in as few as four months. If weaned females 4 to 6 months old are purchased, it could be at least 10 to 12 months before offspring are marketable.
The three greatest obstacles in raising sheep and goats are predators, fences, and internal parasites. As rural areas are developed, predation from bobcats and foxes probably will decrease, but coyotes, unconfined dogs and feral hogs will be an increasing threat. Adequate fencing, guard animals such as dogs, llamas and donkeys and other predator management techniques are a must if your operation is to be economically viable.
Fencing is very expensive. A four- or five-strand barbed wire fence for cattle is not suitable for sheep and goats. If barbed wire is used for sheep and goats you must have 10 to 12 strands and they must be stretched very tight. Perimeter fencing should be 39- to 48-inch net wire with vertical stays of the net wire spaced 6 or 12 inches apart. Six inch spacings are generally used for sheep, while 12 inch spacings are used for goats (horned animals) so they can get their heads in and out. Smooth or barbed wire can be stretched above the net. Placing a barbed wire near the ground on the outside of the fence will deter some predators from digging under the fence.
To manage sheep and goats a small pen or corral is needed. Fences in handling or working pens should be al least 48 inches high. Barbed wire should not be used in the working facilities. One pen large enough to hold the entire herd or flock is required. A smaller crowd pen and alley adjacent to the large holding pen will allow individual handling of animals. By adding a gate opening to the outside on the small end of the alley, the alley can be used as a loading chute when transporting animals. A cage that slides into the back of a pickup or a small bumper pull stock trailer can be used to transport animals.
Sheep and goats also require shelter from bad weather. Dense stands of brush can provide adequate protection in many parts of the country. If a shelter must be built, all that is needed is a simple structure with a 4 to 7 foot high roof and solid walls on the north, west, and east sides. Allow 10 to 12 square feet of sheltered area per mature animal. Consider building portable shelter. Shelters built on skids can be moved where needed.
Internal parasites are a big threat to a sheep or goat enterprise. The primary gastrointestinal parasite is Haemonchus contortus, commonly called the stomach worm. There are only a few oral medications that are used to control this pest, however, H. contortus has become resistant to most of them. It is recommended that one select sheep and goats that are resistant or resilient to internal parasites. Hair sheep have a definite advantage in this respect.
Other health concerns with sheep and goats are coccidiosis and Clostridium perfringens type C&D. Consult your veterinarian for help in setting up a program to manage parasites and other health problems.
The gestation period for sheep and goats is 150 days, so it is possible to have two lanb or kid crops each year. With a continuous mating system, it is likely that there will be three crops in a 24 month period. The period of greatest breeding activity is from September through December. The estrous cycle for does and ewes is 21 and 17 days, respectively. Therefore, the breeding season should be at least 45 days. The ratio of males to females should not be more than 1:50 for mature males and 1:8-12 for young males under 12 months old. Kidding/lambing time requires intensive labor to ensure maximum survival of the offspring. Bred females should be observed morning and evening, with assistance provided if needed.
As previously mentioned, the stocking rate and the availability of forage largely determine the nutritional status of grazing animals. If the amount of forage is balanced with the number of animals being grazed, there may be little need for supplemental feeding. Sometimes supplemental feeding may be required during the winter or during a drought if forage quality is poor. A mature animal is usually given 1/2 to 2 pounds of supplemental feed per day, depending on the nutrient deficiency and the type of feed used.
Mature commercial meat goats and hair sheep cost from $50 to $500 per head. Profitability largely depends on the animals’ reproductive performance. The higher the production cost, the more kids/lambs must be produced for the enterprise to be profitable. Kids and lambs are usually weaned at 4 to 6 months of age (45 to 70 pounds). Prices are cyclical within the year, influenced by religious and ethnic holidays and the price and availability of imported lamb and goat meat. Prices usually are lowest from July 1 through mid-November, improve from mid-November through the first of the year, and reach their annual high just before Easter. Kids and lambs may be sold through commission companies, at flea markets or road-side stands, or directly from the farm or ranch.
The Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Angelo State University
will be hosting the National Meat Goat and Hair Sheep Symposium in San Angelo, Texas on May 27-29, 2011. The purpose is to educate sheep and/or goat producers on small acreages and initiate new producers into the sheep and goat industry. The topics above plus many more will be covered in great detail. For more information contact Dr. Frank Craddock at 325/653-4576 or
or Dr. Mike Salisbury at 325/942-2029 Ext. 282 or
. More detailed information is available at http://www.angelo.edu/ag_symposium/
NOTE: The symposium has been canceled due to lack of interest.
Machen, Richard V. and Robert K. Lyons. 2000. Livestock for Small Acreage Landowners. Tex. AgriLife Ext. Ser. B-6091.