Cheap Sheep, Expensive Sheep

These days my mind is filled with sheep considerations. I am going to visit this Wensleydale sheep flock in a week, so I have been doing a lot of reading about them, and about sheep breeds in general. There is a huge variation in price between the breeds, and between registered purebreds and crossbreeds. And there are many pro’s and con’s to weigh.


I can get a plain ol’ mixed breed wool sheep off of craigslist for easily $100, sometimes less. Wensleydales in general run from $800-$2000, by the looks of things; with maybe a poor-quality, low-percentage wether going for more like $350 (and that still seems too expensive to eat!!). Pro: This flock I’m considering is discounted if I buy the whole lot of them, because the owners are retiring, they are offering financial incentive to take them all at once. So, if Wensleydales are what I’m after, it’s a great opportunity price-wise as well as getting access to someone’s choice breeding stock. This is opposed to having to breed-up from second-choice animals that someone else culled out of their flock.


Pro: In theory, if they lambed a good crop next spring, the investment could not only pay for itself, but become profitable in the first year. Con: But, that’s making a lot of assumptions: that prices hold, that I can find buyers, that coyotes won’t get any, that I won’t have to buy a lot of supplemental feed, that I don’t have any horrendous vet bills, that the whole shearing thing works out, and that I won’t make some terrible management mistake and have a bunch of losses while I’m learning the ropes.


Pro: The owner reports that Wensleydale values have been staying strong, and indeed the few websites in the whole country where I can find prices, they are high! But, what I don’t know is how long you have to hold animals to find buyers, and where you find buyers. So, that is something I want to ask more about.  Con: And, then, there is the fact that she’s not selling hers very fast—they’ve been for sale for at least two months, and it doesn’t look like she’s sold a single one! I’m not sure what to make of that!


Pro: On the other hand– $100 sheep beget $100 sheep, and all qualities of sheep eat about the same amount of feed. So, if I can sustain expensive sheep on the same grass and find adequate market for them, the income potential for that piece of ground goes way up! Con: And yet, I’ll probably never feel I can afford to eat any of these expensive things, and part of the reason of getting sheep is to have lamb!


Pro: I do prefer registered purebreds for sure. There are a lot of advantages to purebreds-they are predictable in size, temperament, appearance, health history and quality of carcass, wool, or whatever else you are breeding them for. Mixed breeds are a roll of the dice every time.


And, more pro’s: the sheep are beautiful, the wool is incredible, they are a “heritage breed,” which I favor over modern breeds. I enjoy having unique things, so it would be a novelty to be involved with such an unusual breed recreation project in the U.S. So, I am leaning towards “yes”; but still have some thinking and research to do!

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