Evaluating Farm Resources and Sheep Production Systems

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Land
  3. Buildings
  4. Labour
  5. Machinery
  6. Markets
  7. Production System
  8. Easter May Not be a Very Profitable Market


When a new sheep producer enters the sheep industry or when existing producers contemplate a change in their farming enterprise, many different things must be considered. The resources that are available on the farm must be evaluated and the proper production system used to maximize the farm resources available.

The sheep producer must consider the land, buildings, labour, the machinery resources available on the farm and the market that the shepherd has access to before a sound business decision can be made. If all farm resources are not evaluated the sheep enterprise will underutilise the resources available.


Do you need to own the land to farm it and raise sheep on it? Of course, the answer is no. Many producers are under the impression that you must own land to be a farmer or raise sheep. In many cases it is likely most economical to rent your land and buildings. The extra debt load imposed on the farming business by insisting that the land be owned, may be enough to make the farm business unsuccessful. Renting of the land and buildings may make the farming enterprise more viable.

Unless you have an off-farm source of income to pay for the farm mortgage, renting may be the only viable alternative The productivity of the land must also be evaluated to determine the pastures carrying capacity and the estimated yields from crop production.


The farm buildings must be evaluated to determine the space available for the sheep, the space available for feed storage and the suitability of the building for winter lambing. The ewe requires 10 - 20 square feet depending on the stage of production. Dry ewes need a limited amount of space, 10 square feet or less. Lactating ewes need 15 to 20 square feet. Dry ewes are easier to house than lactating ewes; dry ewes can be kept in open sheds. When lactating ewes are housed, pen space and feeder space becomes extremely important.

In many cases it is the amount of feed space in the barn that determines the number of sheep to be kept. Pens should be long and narrow. If you allow 16 inches head space per ewe and the pen depth is 11.5 to 15 ft., then the space provided to the ewe will be 15 or 20 sq. ft. Walk through feeders are very useful when feeding lactating ewes.

Diagram showing barn measurements

There are 4 areas where the ewes can eat, therefore the barn will accommodate a ewe for every 4 inches of barn length.

Example: 64 ft. of barn length to accommodate sheep/4 inches = 192 ewe housing capacity.

It is also important that there is area available to house rams, so breeding rams can be removed from the flock when necessary so lamb groups can be organised.

Is the barn suitable for winter lambing? In most cases sheep don’t need to be kept warm but at lambing time a warm dropping or lamb area may need to be provided in order to reduce lamb mortality from hypothermia. It is important to keep this area warm and dry at lambing, not humid and damp. An insulated area may be necessary for winter lambing.

Space for feed storage must be adequate. A ewe will consume approximately 750 lbs of hay and l20 lbs of mixed grain during the winter, if lambing in the winter. Round bales of hay could be stored outdoors to reduce building storage costs.


Labour is essential and an important input in a sheep enterprise. The amount of labour required will depend on the individual farm set-up and the degree of mechanization on the farm. Caring for the sheep is the most important job and observation time is also important. You must continually evaluate your sheep and watch your flock to assess condition and to determine their needs. When evaluating labour requirements consider the distribution of the labour required throughout the year. Lambing time requires more labour. You may have to evaluate the labour requirements of a number of enterprises at the same time to establish labour requirements for the entire farm.


What equipment do you need to operate a sheep enterprise? If you pasture your sheep you will likely need equipment to clip pastures and perhaps spread fertilizer. You will need to remove manure from the sheep barn and yards. The equipment needed could consist of a 40 to 65 h.p. tractor with a loader, a rotary mower and perhaps a manure spreader. Additional equipment may be needed for the cropping enterprise depending on the amount of hay and grain needed for the flock. It may be cheaper to buy your hay and grain than produce it yourself when you consider the cost of haying and harvesting equipment and the labour required. If the forage and grain is purchased off the farm, the shepherd has the opportunity to expand the flock by using more land for pasture and having more time available to look after the flock. Utilizing custom operators may also be a viable alternative.


Sheep producers in Ontario are very fortunate to have a number of markets available. Sheep producers can sell lambs from 40 to l20 lbs at the market place depending on the time of year. There is great potential to expand the market for Ontario lamb if a constant supply of lambs was available from the production sector.

Production System

Once you have evaluated the land, buildings, labour, machinery and markets available the production system that most efficiently utilizes these farm resources can be determined. There are a number of production/management systems available to the sheep producers. Below are the advantages and disadvantages of these production systems.

Grass Lambing (April-May) once a year

  1. Lower Feed Costs
  2. Lower lamb mortality
  3. More ewes/person
  4. Lambs need very little, if any, extra feed to be finished on grass
  5. High nutritional demand by the ewe is satisfied by the pasture
  6. Reduced housing costs
  1. Deworming costs increase
  2. Decrease in selling price/lb

Winter Lambing once a year (Jan.-Feb.)

  1. Lower worm loads
  2. Improved market potential
  3. Lambs grow well
  1. High lamb mortality 15%+
  2. High feed costs
    • nursing ration
    • creep feed
  3. More health problems
  4. More management & labour
  5. Less ewes can be handled per person
  6. Increased housing costs

Accelerated Lambing/Star Lambing System

  1. Year round supply of lambs
  2. Market price stability because of increased number of marketing dates
  3. Lambs marketed at Christmas & Easter
  4. Lower lamb mortality
    • 2 warm season lambings
    • 1 cold season lambing
  5. More lamb marketed per ewe
  6. 1/3 to 1/2 of the flock lambing at once
    • less lambing barn space needed
  1. Management is more  intensive
  2. Insulated lambing areas  needed
  3. Higher feed cost/ewe/year
  4. Maybe more udder  problems?

The production system, based on these advantages and disadvantages best suited to the farm resources should be used to efficiently use farm resources.

Easter May Not be a Very Profitable Market

If you look at the price of new crop lambs in the month, in which Easter fell for the last 4 years, the average price per hundredweight (cwt.) for 50-64 lb lambs was $237.36 and the average weight was 57.3 lbs. generating a gross of $136.01 per lamb.

When you examine the price of the heavy lambs in Sept and October for 80 to 94 lb lambs, in the last three years, the average selling price per cwt. was $150.64, and the average weight of lamb was 86.8 lbs., generating a gross of $130.76 per lamb.

When you consider that the lamb mortality in January and February is in most cases twice as high as in April and May, the newcrop lamb market at Easter perhaps is not as good as you might have thought. The feed cost and labour involved in raising newcrop lambs for the Easter market are much higher per lamb than for heavy lambs born on grass and marketed in the fall. If you lamb your ewes once a year you may consider lambing more of your flock in the spring if your resources allow it.

Once the farm resources have been evaluated and the production system is chosen that best meets your farm’s resources, the next step is to evaluate the breeding stock available and match them to the production system chosen. The traits in the dam line that are more important are similar across all production systems; however, some traits may be more important depending on the production system. All our dam lines should exhibit good fertility, prolificacy, longevity, mother and milk well, be of a medium size, be easy to feed and give birth to lambs with good liveability. When lambing on grass a dam line that exhibits hardiness may be desired and when lambing every 7.2 to 8 months, a ewe that breeds out of season and exhibits early sexual maturity would be beneficial. Selecting the proper breeds to fit the production system is extremely important.

When making decisions about the production system that should be followed, all farm resources must be taken into account. In many cases, the production system is determined and the farm resources are adapted to fit the production system. Better management decisions can be made if the resources are identified first and the production system fits the farm and the resources, instead of the farm and the resources being adapted to fit the production system.

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca
Author: Delma Kennedy - OMAFRA
Creation Date: 01 March 1988
Last Reviewed: 24 June 2009