While you can't make a living raising sheep on a small acreage, you can make a profit and possibly receive property tax deductions. Sheep are generally easy keepers and don't require nearly as much acreage as bovines. Before purchasing your flock, factor in any costs for fencing, shelter and predator control. Research the best breeds for your property, region and farmstead.
Before purchasing sheep, figure out how many head you can sustain on your property. What counts is grazing land, not just acreage. While you can feed your sheep hay instead of allowing them to graze, it's almost certain you won't make a profit after factoring in hay costs. Sheep consume both grass and weeds, which means you need to ensure your pasture doesn't contain toxic plants. Your local agricultural extension agent can advise you on toxic plant control as well as analyze the quality of your pasture and recommend planting and management techniques for your region. She can also advise you on the stocking rate -- or the number of sheep per acre -- that your parcel can handle. You need sufficient forage for your sheep to avoid overgrazing the land.
If you enjoy spinning and creating wool items, you can raise sheep for wool. However, it's unlikely you will make a profit, as the relatively few sheep you raise on a small acreage won't produce sufficient wool, and you must take shearing costs into consideration. However, raising sheep for wool and meat means you can make a profit. The University of Minnesota Extension recommends the Hampshire, which produce a medium fleece. However, the breed is prone to lambing issues. The Suffolk, among the most common breeds, grows quickly. Devotees of fine wool might appreciate the Jacob, which produces wool with a high luster.
Smaller hair sheep, which don't have wool, are raised for meat. Ranch and Rural Living Magazine states they do well on small farms and don't require shearing. Consider a breed such as the Dorper for ease of lambing and general hardiness. Other hair sheep breeds include the St. Croix, the Barbados Blackbelly, and the American Katahdin, which produces lean meat lambs.
Timing the Market
Purchasing young breeding stock is cheaper, but you have to wait longer until the animals mature and reproduce. If you purchase bred ewes, you can market the lambs approximately four months later. Your profit depends on a breeding ewe's fecundity. You must plan on a breeding system suitable for your locality. For instance, if planning to sell your lambs for the Easter market -- lamb is a traditional meal for Easter -- the ewes must give birth in early to mid-winter. Lambs are also in great demand during Muslim holidays. As appropriate, time the breedings and lambings to coincide with demand in your target market. Your local agricultural extension office can provide you with information and venues for marketing your sheep. If you don't slaughter your own lambs, your local abattoir can provide that service and might purchase the carcasses for customers.
Even if you don't make much profit from your small-scale sheep operation, you may be able to benefit from agricultural tax assessments that lower your property taxes. However, you must prove to the tax assessor that you are truly engaged in small-scale farming, not just keeping a couple of pet sheep in the backyard. Expect to produce livestock purchase and sales records and a business plan to qualify for an agricultural tax break.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.