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Sheep and Goat Production

Herd of light brown sheep standing in a pen.
Sheep in Pen. Photo Courtesy of USDA.

Sheep and goat production is popular with many beginning farmers and is a new enterprise for some experienced farmers. Sheep and goat production offers many advantages for farmers. Because they are small, prolific and productive ruminants, they are well-suited to grass-based and small-scale agriculture. Sheep and goats are relatively inexpensive animals to purchase and feed compared to larger animals, a critical advantage for limited-resource farmers. Sheep and goats can be raised with very little grain, which is advantageous at a time when grain prices are on the rise. Return on investment (ROI) is quick for sheep and goats because they reproduce at a young age and have a high incidence of twinning, are marketed within 6 to 10 months of birth, and can be raised economically on pasture. Due to their smaller size, they are not intimidating or dangerous animals and are good enterprises for women, youth, and aging farmers. As excellent weed and brush controllers, sheep and goats improve pastures and often work synergistically with cattle and other livestock and cropping operations. Recent increases in the ethnic populations in the United States.

Both goats and sheep require similar feeds, fencing, housing and facilities, and health care, including parasite management and predator control. Both produce meat that is desired by ethnic customers and by some health-conscious or environmentally aware consumers (and by some who just know that lamb and goat taste good). Market possibilities are similar. Both are generally inexpensive enterprises, and both are quick to mature and be ready for breeding or market, and usually will have twins. Both improve pastures by eating under-used forages and depositing manure.tes have improved demand for sheep and goat meat, and artisan cheese makers and fiber businesses have also seen increased enthusiasm for their products, so there are several options for using sheep and goats in profitable businesses.

Sheep and goats are not get-rich-quick enterprises. In addition to the questions about land, market, personal preference, economics—you really have to first identify farm goals.

Let's note some advantages of these enterprises:

  • Small size and low price for breeding stock = easy investment for a few starter animals
  • Animals quickly reach maturity and reproduce, and quickly reach slaughter size on forage alone = quick expansion of herd, quick payback of investment, low cost to produce a saleable animal for market or breeding
  • Multiple streams of income and easy combination with other enterprises, especially cattle. Low investment in facilities and equipment = less debt and easier exit should you need to leave the enterprise.  Enjoyable animals = personal satisfaction and family involvement

There are also significant disadvantages to sheep and goat enterprises. Here are a few:

  • Fencing must be better than a cattle fence; this takes money and work
  • Predators are a consideration and you must make provision to protect the stock; a good electric fence helps, but livestock guardian dogs are often needed as well. This means another animal to feed and provide health care, and manage; while most LGD's are good, some are not, and this can be a hassle
  • Health care for sheep and goats can be demanding, especially internal parasite management
  • Because of their small size, income for selling market animals is low. This spreads risk and makes them easy to market, but it also means you need to sell a lot of animals to make significant income.
  • In some situations, supplemental feed will be needed. You must strike a balance here, providing good nutrition but keeping costs as low as possible.
Light brown goat with large white splotches and horns is biting the top off of a green leafy plant.
Goat Grazing. Photo Courtesy of USDA.

A sound management program to keep animals healthy is basic to production of both sheep and goats. Producers must observe animals closely to keep individual animals and the whole herd or flock healthy and productive. If the heath status of a herd is compromised, that operation will not be as efficient as possible. There are some human health risks when dealing with diseased animals. While most diseases affecting sheep and goats do not pose any human health risks, some are zoonotic and it is important to protect not only caretakers, but anyone else that may come in contact with diseased animals. To recognize clinical signs of diseases common to sheep and goats, it is important to be familiar with what is normal. Producers should assess the herd or flock's general health on a regular basis, including vital signs, and body condition.


Normal Range for Goat and Sheep Physiological Parameters.

  Goat Sheep
Temperature, rectal 101.5-103.5, F 101.5-103.5, F
Heart Rate 70-80 Beats per minute 70-80 Beats per minute
Respiration 12-25 per minute 15-30 per minute
Rumen Movement 1-2 per minute 1-2 per minute
Estrous 18-21 Days 14-20 Days
Estrus 48-72 Hours 24-48 Hours
Gestation 145-155 Days 144-151 Days

So much depends on management and marketing; it is a good idea to work out on paper before starting an enterprise.   Having realistic expectations up front will save disappointment. Types of enterprises that do offer larger incomes also require more expertise and labor and investment; for example, dairy goats and show and breeding stock tend to have higher incomes but also higher expenses.



  • Publications
    • FSA3095 Caseous Lymphadenitis in Small Ruminants PDF
    • FSA3096 Herd Health Program for Meat Goats PDF
    • FSA3098 Meat Goat Production Calendar PDF
    • FSA3121 Managing and Showing Market Goats PDF
    • FSA3126 Use of Hair Sheep in Arkansas PDF
    • FSA4006 Herd Health Program for Dairy Goats PDF
    • FSA4015 Tattooing of Cattle and Goats PDF
    • FSA9604 Using Goats for Brush Control as a Business Strategy PDF
    • FSA9605 Managing the Kidding Season PDF
    • FSA9607 Introduction to Goat Reproduction PDF
    • FSA9608 Fecal Egg Counting for Sheep and Goat Producers PDF
    • FSA9609 Selection and Culling Decision Making for Hair Sheep Producers PDF
    • FSA9610 Body Condition Scoring of Sheep PDF
    • FSA9611 Feeding Ewes to Maximize Reproductive Success PDF
    • MP427 Nutrition of Meat Goats PDF
    • MP520 Livestock Care Guidelines PDF
    • 4HFSAA001 Management and Showing of Youth Market Lambs PDF

 For more information contact:

Chelsey Ahrens, Ph.D.
University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
2301 S. University Avenue
Little Rock, Arkansas 72204
Phone: (501) 671-2067
Fax: (501) 671-2185

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