Planning for your 4-H sheep project animal: Estimating costs

Second article in series featuring tips and tricks as you prepare for and select your 4-H market lamb.

Planning for your 4-H sheep project animal: Estimating costs

As spring weather approaches, many youth across Michigan begin looking for their 4-H market lamb. Caring for a lamb requires forward thinking and creating a plan designed to see your project through to the end. In addition to the requirement of selecting the animal, there is also a financial burden of caring for an animal throughout the duration of your project. This three-part series from Michigan State University Extension will review important sheep project content and address three main topics: preparations for your market lamb, estimating costs of care and lamb selection. These tips and tricks will help you be more prepared for your 4-H sheep project experience.

Let’s take a closer look at the actual costs of raising market lambs. Lambs require two sizeable investments: purchasing the animal and feeding the animal. In addition to these, there are also veterinary expenses, show fees, equipment and miscellaneous expenses you may not be able to anticipate. This article will help you learn some ways you can prepare for the financial cost of raising an animal.

Purchasing your animal

A successful and profitable 4-H lamb project requires a set budget. Know the maximum amount you can afford prior to purchasing. This is important when attending sales or auctions where lambs vary in quality and are available at different base prices. In an event such as a live action, youth can sometimes get carried away. In these circumstances, it is especially important to know what you can afford and to stay within your budget.

The price of a lamb will vary depending on the quality of the animal and the reputation of the farm. It is common to see lambs range from $150 to even a few thousand dollars per lamb. However, do not pay a high price for a lamb with the idea that this alone will assure you of winning. Management techniques can greatly affect the outward appearance of the lamb when it comes fair time. Additionally, showmanship is a key factor in presenting your lamb to the judge.

With quality in mind, use a minimum base price of $150 to set your budget for purchasing a lamb. Determine which sales you plan to attend and the maximum you can afford taking into consideration the previous year cost of lambs from the sale or breeder you select. Farms have their own websites, and the Michigan Sheep Producers Association and Michigan Club Lamb Association have lists of private treaty seller and auctions that will be helpful in planning.

Anticipating feed costs

If you are budgeting or need to borrow money to buy the feed for a project animal, you need to know how much feed your lamb will eat. If your 50-pound lamb will be sold at 135 pounds, it will need to gain 85 pounds. To help predict the amount of feed needed, you can estimate that growing lambs will eat approximately 4 percent of their bodyweight. With 4 percent of their body weight in feed, you can expect them to gain about three-fourth of a pound a day. You can estimate 5.3 pounds of feed will be needed for each pound of weight the lamb gains. Therefore, your 50-pound lamb will probably need to eat about 450 pounds of feed to reach 135 ponds. However, keep in mind that each lamb may be a little different and could require more or less feed.

If your feed costs $0.24 cents per pound (based on paying $12 for a 50-pound bag of feed), you will need to budget $108 (450 x $0.24) for feed per lamb. Remember to budget more than what you need because accidents can happen with grain wasted as well as you may be left with part of a bag of feed at the end of fair week. Experienced feeders who use additional supplements or grow their own grain may have a different cost, but these are good estimates for most 4-H members. More information about feed management can be found online from sources like Arizona Cooperative Extension’s “Feeding Management for Show Lambs.”

As a reminder, sheep are ruminant animals and will require hay to maintain proper rumen health. For planning purchases, you can plan on one lamb not needing more than three square bales of hay over the course of the project. Hay can be purchased from a variety of sources at a large variety of prices.

If your sheep project remains healthy, you are on your way to a successful project year. As you care for your animal, take time to make careful observations. Being aware of changes in your animal’s behavior could help you prevent diseases and save additional costs. As you select your animal and feed, be proactive and ask questions of where you purchase your animal and feed to make the most of your money and set yourself on the path for a great livestock experience.

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