People sometimes cringe at the price of registered herd sires. Why are they so much more expensive than ewes? Here’s why.

Built-In Value

Well, for one, because of their value to the buyer. A good herd sire will give someone dozens or hundreds of quality lambs. That single sheep will likely be the source of thousands of dollars in income over his lifetime. He will have profound impact on the herd’s future quality if he is being used to produce replacement ewes. His output and impact are much higher than that of a single ewe. So, it’s standard to pay a fee commensurate with the profitability one will gain from the purchase. A herd sire is an investment.

The second reason rams are more expensive than ewes is they are more hassle for me to raise. If I weren’t going to sell any intact rams, I could castrate all the boys and let ‘em run with the ewes all summer, keeping one manageable mob in rotational graze. I’d only have to house my own sires separately over the summer. My mature rams are easy to handle; they have their hierarchies worked out, they are bonded to each other, familiar with me, and calm and gentle. Intact teenager rams, on the other hand, are more hot-blooded. They are doing a lot of tussling amongst each other, risking injury; they don’t yet know or like me, they aren’t trained to move easily for the border collies, and they mount everything in sight. Also, they eat more. Keeping a group of growing herd sires is extra work, and I need to charge more for them than breeding ewes and butcher lambs to make it worth my while.

The third reason they are so expensive is I’m selling the very best out of my flock- the top tier. With ewes, you usually can’t get the top tier from a breeder, breeders keep those as replacement animals and are always selling their second tier. So to build a new flock, a person has to buy some second-tier ewes, breed them to a top-tier ram, and start keeping their own first-tier ewes. But with rams, I may not be keeping any from a particular drop. So a buyer can purchase my best ram of the lot, and that animal is worth more than any ewe I’m willing to part with.

The Cost of the Name, Numbers and Paper Trail

People sometimes ask, I don’t need no papers or nuthin’, so what will you sell them for if they aren’t registered? Well, for me, it’s the same. The fact is, the buyer is getting a purebred, register-able breeding animal. I’ve done all the work to select breeding pairings, manage the separate pairs for three weeks during breeding season, maintain records, and provide data analysis to the buyer on which animals are the best for their needs. So whether or not I hand over the registration certificate is a moot point: this animal has more value than one from unknown ancestors and lines, one without NSIP metrics, nor any information about its genetic potential, strengths and weaknesses. With an undocumented animal, all you can do is eyeball it and hope for the best. With a documented animal, you are getting so much more data to work with to improve your output.

I easily sell butcher animals for $200. Butcher lambs are low-labor to sell, often I sell them in batches, and even the singletons require very little interaction with buyers. I don’t advertise much, most buyers find me and send in their money. I call them to arrange a pickup date, then load up the lambs and drop them off, five minutes down the road at the butcher. Some buyers drive here and butcher their own animal, so my only work is to put it in a pen for them. (Of course there is a ton of work into the sheep in general: here I’m only looking at the overhead to sell them once they’re grown.)

Time spent marketing and selling herd sires is greater. I create photos and descriptions of the animals to post on my website. I prepare a packet of information that goes with the animal: his registration form, copies of pedigrees and DNA tests, health records, and my contact information. I pay the registration and transfer fees, which is $10 for me (and would cost a buyer more). By law, I have to permanently record the name, address and phone number of where the ram goes for disease traceability requirements. Buyers often ask me to send photos, pedigrees and data analysis of multiple animals before they choose one. They ask questions. I might spend an hour with a buyer on the phone or via email to sell a single animal. And even after the sale, often I support buyers later by answering more questions. To make this added effort worthwhile, I charge at least $100 more than a butcher animal, that’s my “floor”. I raise the price further for in-demand traits: flashy colors, RR genetics, high NSIP metrics, and Midwest or East Coast lines in the pedigree.

$300 is still very modest for a breeding animal. In the Midwest, NSIP Katahdin rams never sell for less than a thousand dollars, and often sell for several thousand. Even ewes easily move at $800. Prices are a little more depressed here because we are on a coast, and because sheep breeding isn’t as prevalent a business in our region. And probably just because some people haven’t gotten the memo and are still selling sheep for $150 on craigslist, thus pulling average value down.

KMC0004_RainierInMontanaLessons Learned

This point of not compromising on ram price was driven home for me a few years ago. I was a week or so away from selling all my butcher animals and wrapping things up for the year. I had one very nice intact ram left that did not sell as a herd sire, and I was going to send him off to butcher. At the last minute, an acquaintance inquired if I had any rams left- she needed one asap, and couldn’t find one. Note, the laws of supply and demand should apply here: high demand, low supply = higher price point. And yet, she grimaced at my prices, citing that she was still only selling butcher lams for $100 (I guess she hadn’t been monitoring the going rate). She told me she just needed to breed a couple of crossbred ewes, then she’d be putting the ram in the freezer. Ok, I thought, I was going to sell him as a butcher lamb anyway… I let her have him, sans registration, for $200, the butcher lamb price.

A year later, I ran into her and asked how the ram worked out. Oh, I still have him, he’s great, she said. Not only did she use him for breeding, so did some of her friends. It sounded like he’d been all over the county. Later, I saw him advertised for $250, citing something like, from a well-known farm in the area with excellent genetics.

Meh. It’s not a huge deal, but it does illustrate the point. I shouldn’t have done it. She used him to produce who-knows-how-many $200 value butcher lambs. She may have sold him for a profit over what she paid for him. She got to leverage my name, my reputation, my advertising content, my good genetics, and all my effort in producing high quality, pedigreed animals with measured genetic potential. And now someone else is probably doing the same thing with that ram: making money off of him, and telling people he came from my line. So even though he’s not registered, it’s almost as good as if he were.

I thought about buying him back and re-marketing him, reunited with his registration. Or, using him here for a while. But knowing that he’d literally slept around at multiple different farms, I didn’t want to risk bringing disease here. Or passing it off to someone else in my name. So, I let it go.

I’m not doing that anymore. It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend or acquaintance, or what their story is for why they don’t wanna pay market price for a good herd sire. I have to hold the line and be compensated for my effort and the value of the things I produce. We already know it doesn’t pay very well, and we’re both in the same boat in that regard, the ram buyer and me. So why should I squeeze my thin profit margin in order to generously fatten someone else’s? In fact, now that I’ve talked myself through it, I think maybe I should charge more than I currently do! Smile