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Market Lambs: Profitable Farming At Its Best

by Darla Noble

market lambGone are the days when sheep are labeled as born looking for a place to die and sheep farmers are ostracized for their choice of production. Today’s sheep producers are smiling all the way to the bank due to the fact that the demand for quality lamb is strong and steady and not going anywhere (except for up). The reasons:

  1. Over the last fifteen to twenty years, the number of Mid Eastern individuals living in the United States has grown to over eight million.
  2. The primary meat in the diet of these individuals is lamb or sheep (older animals).
  3. The number of Hispanics living in America (according to the 2010 census) is over fifty million. While there are a number of different Hispanic groups, many of them use lamb or sheep regularly in their diet.
  4. As the Mid Eastern and Hispanic ethnic groups introduce the general American public to the tastiness and health benefits of lean lamb, demand climbs even higher. This comes through working, socializing and living together.

Raising sheep/market lambs is both cost effective and profitable. The reasons:

  1. Sheep have proven to be the most efficient form of livestock with their feed. In other words, they use most of what they consume.
  2. The stocking rate for sheep is usually six to eight head per acre for every cow that same piece of ground will support.
  3. The first two points translate into lower feed costs (due to less feed needed) and less ground needed to raise more animals for both production and slaughter.
  4.  Market lambs are ready for sale at a much lower weight than hogs or cattle, meaning you will have less time (labor) invested in them, less money and a quicker return on your investment.

Finishing lambs for market isn’t a difficult process, but does take a bit of planning and calculation. The planning aspect is in lambing at a time when your lambs will be at desired weights for getting from slaughter house to market shelves for peak buying seasons. Remember, agriculture is a business, and the most profitable businesses provide their goods and services where and when the demand is greatest.

While the earlier comments in regards to lamb being eaten regularly by millions of people in the United States are valid, there are times of the year when lamb is in greater demand. This is much like the fact that ham is eaten all year round, but Thanksgiving and Christmas see huge spikes in the ham sales. Peak buying seasons for lamb are Easter and the Muslim holidays of Ramadan and Festival of the Slaughter (or Sacrifice).

Feed requirements are pretty basic-roughage in the form of hay, and 16-18% protein feed stuffs that will also provide a good source of energy. Palatable and easily digestible sources of protein for lambs includes pelletized lamb feeds, alfalfa (chopped or pelleted), DDG (dried distillers grain) that are the byproducts of the ethanol plants springing up all over the country and soy hulls. The best source of energy is simple shell corn. Using shell corn over cracked is best to cut down on the dust and coughing that results. The pelletized lamb/sheep feeds are usually best, as they contain the supplemental vitamins, minerals and over-eating preventatives. If you use something other than commercial feed, you will need to make sure the supplements are included in their diet in some form.

In order to feed out market lambs for slaughter, you need to keep in mind that it takes 2-3 pounds of feed for every pound of weight gained. So, for instance if you are wanting to get a group of Easter lambs to the desired 55-60 pound range, you will need to feed a winter born lamb weighing 7-9 pounds at birth approximately 155 pounds of feed (in addition to unlimited amounts of hay/forage). To do this, you will need to start very gradually; feeding pound a day within the first 3 weeks of birth and consistently raise the amount of feed to an average of 3% of their body weight until the final 4-6 weeks before going to market. During the final 4-6 weeks, you will need to be feeding a minimum of 3-4 pounds per day. By the time you go to market, you will have an average of $30 in feed (based on current feed prices) plus hay, minerals and any meds given.

The two feeding methods you can choose from are creep feeding or hand feeding. Creep feeding means the lambs have access to the feed 24/7. You fill the creep feeder and they eat at will. Hand feeding requires you to put out the proper amount of feed once or twice a day for the lambs to eat at feeding time.

To make the most from your market lambs, find the best and closest sale/market to you. To do so, visit This website will give you listings of the sales in your state, and links to reports of past sales for tracking prices.

About The Author

Darla Noble

Darla Noble is a freelance writer and agricultural specialist. She and her family have played a prominent role in Missouri and Mid West agriculture; predominantly in the production and marketing of sheep, value-added agricultural programs and the agri-tourism industry. Theyve been named MO Farm Family and their farm has been featured in several publications.