Here on the Phelan Ranch, my dad raises hair sheep and for the past 6 years has sold the lamb on the commodity market. Most of the lamb has gone to the east coast... much of it in or near New York City. My goal with Phelan Ranch Company LLC is to sell as many if not all Dad's lamb locally in a direct market fashion. He has been producing a salad bar product, but hasn't seen some of the benefits of his great stewardship. Lamb is actually not to difficult to fatten on grass (at least not as difficult as beef), but their are some things to consider. Below I listed some thoughts about raising sheep. They by no means cover everything, but I think they might help get your motor running on my philosophy of raising such an awesome animal.
Here are some thoughts to raising Salad Bar Lamb.
(Just hitting some of the highlights.)
Thoughts # 1:
Get over the cuteness of Lamb. This step more than any other may hold you back from developing a wonderful herd of ewes and a customer serving product for the market.
But you might say, "But Grady how can you not think that little lambs are cute? Don't they call Jesus 'The Lamb of God' ?" I didn't say that lambs weren't cute. On the contrary, they are beautiful. So beautiful in fact that they were one of the top choices when ancient Jews made a sacrifice to the Lord. Let us also not forget that the reason we call Jesus the Lamb of God is because he was the only sacrifice that would save us from our sins. We need to look at lamb as God intended, nourishment for our bodies. I'll leave it at that... If you want to discuss more just let me know.
Once you develop a proper relationship with lambs, true stewardship can begin. Start to pick and choose the best and worse ewe's and their sons and daughters. Keep the best ewe lambs for breeding and market the rest. Keep only the VERY best young rams and use them or bring in the VERY best rams you can find. Market the rest. If you have any dry ewe's at weaning time or any other ewes with undesirable characteristics, cull them. It may be your favorite ewe, but if she's not pulling her weight then she's holding you back from serving your customer the best possible lamb. Its our responsibility to strive for the very best. God would not like it if we were lazy and offered a poor product to his people. Offer the best you have and always be developing a better herd.
Make sure that the herd has the capability to graze the best possible grass year-a-round. Good hay is hard to beat but in my mind its extremely important for all herbivores to be able to graze the way God intended. You may need to feed hay and graze during the winter, but strive to develop a way to only graze. I have no scientific studies to back that up (even though there are probably a few out there), it just seems right to try to mimic nature. This means that we should steward the land as well as the animal. In fact, if you only have time to properly steward one or the other... pick the land. Imagine the land as a gigantic solar panel absorbing the best source of free energy available. If you keep it tuned up, it will keep you and your business full of its reusable energy.
Find protection for your sheep. Sheep are not like cattle or horses or even pigs for that matter. They are timid, shy, and flighty when it comes to danger. Most ewes will run at the first sight of possible danger, leaving their lamb behind to be the dinner of some hungry predator. It is up to us to protect them from such dangers. Guard dogs are one of the top choices for the modern American sheep herder. In the past, shepherds fulfilled this role, but since we decided that a shepherd's life is not one we want to live, we need to fill that spot. Dogs, Donkeys, Llamas, and even cattle can serve as their shepherd. If you do find a ewe that protects her lamb, keep her and all her ewe lambs. You might just breed courage back into the herd.
If you are interested in sheep and have a little land I encourage you to get some and feel it out. Their are many ways to market sheep including but not limited to he following: commodity; meat sales to customers, restaurants, and retail stores; sheep milk in the form of milk, cheese, soap, etc; and wool in the form of wool, yarn, sweaters, etc. The opportunities are endless with most enterprises especially sheep. Here are a few details about Dad's flock that might be helpful. We aren't even close to the full potential of the sheep enterprise, but we are refining all the time.
Size: 300 ewe's
Target Lamb Crop: 150% (450 lambs)
Lambing Season: May - June (6 week window)
Growing Season Feed Supplement: Nothing
Dormant Season Feed Supplement: Alfalfa cubes
(They are always grazing something year-a-round)
Mineral Supplement: Salt
Feel free to ask any questions... I only hit the highlights and only the things I think about. Something I didn't mention may appeal to your curiosity and I would love to hear what it is.