Can I buy a breeding animal for the same price as a slaughter animal?

No, and here’s why. Butcher lamb sales are the lowest overhead and least risk. Interaction with the buyer is usually only 5-10 minutes, and the buyer accepts whatever lamb I give them at the specified weight. I spend another few minutes transacting with the slaughter truck crew on their monthly rounds, and hand a list of phone numbers to the butcher. And that’s it, the transaction is done, the butcher shop takes it from there.

Buyers of breeding stock require a lot more of my time, both before and after the sale. These buyers have a lot more questions to answer up-front as we determine what their breeding goals are, and which animals are a good fit for them. These buyers often want to come out and inspect the sheep or choose from a larger group. Which isn’t unreasonable when committing to spending money quality breeding stock; but this usually takes an hour or more for me and my border collies to sort and hold sheep for the “shopper”. Then, there is a secondary appointment to pick up the sheep, and my prep time to generate registration and transfer paperwork, health records, record the sale data and tax exempt forms, etc.

There is some risk involved in selling breeding stock also: if the animal perishes some weeks after the sale, the buyer may call wanting a refund or to split the cost of the loss. This is a rare occurrence, but could happen for any number of reasons. The animal may have had sub-clinical illness while here, or it may have gotten injured or sick during the stress of transport (aka “shipping fever”). Or, the new buyer may fail to quarantine and adequately monitor the animal’s health, or maintain a sufficient de-worming and vaccination schedule that’s appropriate for their environment. Or, he may poorly transition the animal’s feed, triggering acidosis and rapid death. Though I don’t offer a specific guarantee on purchased sheep, if a loss were to occur shortly after the sale, I would work with the buyer to determine cause and come to agreement on a settlement or replacement. This is different from a butcher animal transaction, where the animal is slaughtered upon purchase, so there is no concern about longevity and liability for loss.

Breeding animal buyers usually call, email and text me with a lot of questions about sheep husbandry over the following year, or several years. I don’t mind this, as I love talking about sheep, sharing knowledge, and also learning from customer experiences. But, it is time overhead that doesn’t exist with butcher lamb buyers. Over the life of that animal, I may have a dozen or more hours invested in that buyer transaction. Even paid at minimum wage, that time is worth over $130. And of course, industry knowledge and experience is worth much more than fast food restaurant wages!

Lastly, when a buyer purchases breeding stock, they are investing in something of value. These are animals that are a product of my careful breeding program and years of genetic selection; that I have selected as superior to those earmarked for slaughter. They bring to the buyer the potential for years of production and income.  That value is much higher than the value of a single slaughter animal, you are not just buying an animal, you are purchasing genetics.

You can probably find a seller on craigslist who is selling breeding stock for below market value, often even selling an animal at a loss (whether they realize it or not). But, you have to evaluate, why? Is that animal sick, a poor producer, or has that breeder earned a bad reputation where they cannot command market prices? Does the breeder have an insidious disease in his herd, such as OPP? Or, does that breeder just lack enough industry knowledge to even price his animals correctly? Purchasing cheap breeding stock may be tempting to save money in the short term. But it almost always costs more in the long run, if the animals bring in chronic disease, or turn out to be poor producers that wind up on the cull list a year or two later, leaving no quality replacement stock in their stead.

I do understand that small homesteaders just starting out may be on a budget, and may not want to risk purchasing top-end breeding stock when they are entering a steep learning curve, where some losses are expected.  Or, some people are coming from a different region where prices are depressed compared to Seattle, so the value of breeding stock is not the same for them. I can work with these buyers, often choosing some middle-aged, experienced ewes that are aging-out of my program, but still have useful years left to produce some replacement ewes. We can also find breeding rams that are just slightly better than the cut list for butcher animals. These  make suitable terminal sires, but are priced such that it’s reasonable to breed them then butcher them, avoiding the overhead cost of feeding a ram all year just to breed a half-dozen ewes. Just contact me and we can discuss and figure out a package that will work to meet your goals.

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