Sheep and Goat Producer Dewayne Smith Shares his Wisdom

Sheep and Goat Producer Dewayne Smith Shares his Wisdom

At a Small Ruminants workshop NCAT held in 2016, Mississippi goat producer Mr. Dewayne Smith spoke to the attendees about the learning curve for farming.  He said, “No matter what we’re talking about, you cannot skip a step, you cannot find a shortcut.  A shortcut will cost you in the end.  You have got to go through all the hardships and the learning processes, and find people who know what they’re talking about.” He emphasizes finding people—Mr. Smith’s opinion of the internet as an information source is, well, let’s just say pessimistic.  He is a strong proponent of just going out and talking to other successful farmers.

And I’m here to say on this internet blog (fully aware of the irony): he’s right.  You can find every single opinion you want to on the internet, on pretty much every subject.  At NCAT, and through our Sustainable Agriculture Information Service known as ATTRA, we strive to be an island of accurate information in the sea of, to be kind, not always substantiated information that abounds on the web.  We help farmers and ranchers find the best information based on the most up-to-date scientific evidence, as well as practical hands-on experience that our staff have as well.  It is the second of these two, the hands-on experience, that we are going to be focusing on for a new blog series.  We want to tell you stories and wisdom straight from other farmers in the Gulf States Region with the hope of sharing their hard-earned knowledge in order to strengthen our whole agricultural community.

In the first installment of this series, we are going to revisit some of the valuable lessons Mr. Smith taught us during his talk at the small ruminant workshop.  Mr. Smith used a simplified, theoretical model of sheep production to demonstrate some valuable lessons on how to get started in farming, even if you don’t have a lot of start-up capital.  Let’s look at his numbers, starting with a table outlining the start-up costs for a small sheep operation.

Start-Up Expenses*

Expense Item

Cost Per Item Total

10 ewes

$150

$1500

1 ram

$200

$200

Feed, medicine, expenses $300

$300

 TOTAL 1st Year Costs:

$2000

 

*Just to add a disclaimer here, this is just a basic example.  All costs will vary based on a wide range of variables such as time of year, location, breed, etc.  Additionally, this does not include things like land, fencing, waterers, feeders etc.  If you don’t already have those, they will be additional expenses that you’ll need to account for.  This is a very simplified example of how a sheep enterprise could work.

So with the disclaimers out of the way: the table above outlines the start-up costs.  Now let’s look at profitability over a four-year period in the following table:

Income Projections

Year

Lambs Sold Price Each Expense Income Profit

1

15 $125 $2000 $1875

-$125

2

15 $125 $300 $1875

$1575

3

15 $125 $300 $1875

$1575

4 15 $125 $300 $1875

$1575

 

In addition to the $1,575 in profit you can anticipate per year according to this model, you still retain the value of your herd, at $1,700, making a total value of $3,150 per year.  NCAT livestock specialist Felicia Bell, who is a sheep producer herself and coordinated the workshop with Mr. Smith, wanted to make sure participants really understood the value of the herd.  She offered this wisdom during the workshop:

 

“The value is the animals on the ground breeding.  So if you lose those animals, you’re losing that $3,150.  Those animals have to be taken care of, the utmost.  So at four-thirty in the morning, five-thirty in the morning, it’s raining, the ram knocked the fence down—you’ve got to be up, in your sleeping clothes, going out there to fix stuff.  That’s part of life.  You’ve got to work at it.”

She also emphasized the importance of saving any profits you see initially to cover unexpected costs.  She explained, “You’ve got to have the money to fix that fence.  The fence has got to be fixed immediately.  You’ve got to have the assets sitting to the side to be able to do what you need to do when something arises.  So that means $3,150 cannot be spent outside the farm.  You keep rolling that in to make sure you can cover vet bills, anything… maintenance on your animals.  Like sheering the animals if you have wool sheep.  Are you going to be doing that, or are you going to be hiring that out?  Because that’s money.” 

Other advice Mr. Smith offered was this list of bullet points:

  • Learn and know markets
  • Do not be fooled by internet, high prices, and scams
  • You don’t have to buy new equipment, but don’t buy trash
  • Dedicate yourself
  • Do not ever take advantage of someone
  • Be smart with money, keep doubling up and only take out expenses
  • Provide excellent product and services
  • Be fair to others and yourself

Mr. Smith discussed how you could grow your operation by saving several ewe lambs every year until you reach a number that your land base can sustain and that you can manage effectively.  So the 10 ewes you start with could grow to 15 in year 2, and 20 in year 3, and so on.  That way you work your way into a larger herd, all while learning about what it takes to produce sheep.  Of course, you’d have to adjust your profit numbers accordingly, but it is an excellent illustration of how to achieve long-term profitability.

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