Where do I even start?

Where do I even start?

Every professional has a first day on the job.

If you’re like us, you may be fairly new with market lambs projects. Or, if you’re not like us, you’re probably closer to that professional status. Either way, we can always learn more.

As many of us start dreaming of sunshine and warmer weather, it’s easy for thoughts to drift to the upcoming show season. I thought an appropriate first blog post for us would be to address factors that influence where you purchase your animals from.

Selecting your animals is, without a doubt, the most important decision you can make in the course of your project. There are several factors that will come into play in selecting your animals. Here are a few:

  • Goals and aspirations
  • Budget
  • Breeders

What do you hope to accomplish with your project? Let’s start here. Do you want to be highly competitive in the show ring, or do you just hope to complete your project? Greg and I probably fall somewhere in the middle of this one. We truly believe that the purpose of junior fair programs is to teach kids how to care for livestock, how to budget and track expenses, and to develop life skills like responsibility and work ethic. That being said, nobody wants to be at the bottom of their class. There is room in junior fair programs to also learn to take pride in your work and to do the best with what you’ve been given. There are places to purchase solid animals that won’t embarrass you in the show ring without breaking your budget. If your number one goal is to win a show, then your budget will need to reflect that. If your goal is to stand your own, then you can adjust what you’re spending on your animal. What is your budget? Let’s look at that next.

Let’s assume for the sake of setting a budget that you have all of the start-up equipment needed. You have a place to house your animals, and you have the gates, feeders, waterers, etc. you’ll need to care for your animal. So, now it’s time to consider what you can afford to spend on your animal. Some times, it’s better to work backward when setting a budget and think of the returns before you consider the expenses. To determine how much you might make from the sale of your animal, look at last year’s sale at the show you’ll be exhibiting it. What was the sale average? Greg and I always tend to be pretty conservative when we set budgets. A grand champion paycheck would be pretty awesome, but just in case that doesn’t happen, what’s a safe number you can plan on? Is there any other income you might receive? Will you have a second lamb you’ll sell? Will you earn premiums? If so, jot that down, too.

Now, we’re ready to calculate our expenses. There might be some grooming costs associated with your project, especially if you need someone to shear your lambs. Be sure to put in a few dollars for that. You might have medications or vet costs, so don’t overlook that. Feed will be a pretty monumental expense. There is lots of different research on this topic, but this source suggests that lambs gain 1 pound of weight for every 7 pounds of feed fed.

So, if you start with a 70 pound lamb and want to get it to 120 pounds, that’s 50 pounds it needs to gain. Multiply that times 7 pounds of feed for each pound of gain, and you’re looking at purchasing roughly 7, 50 pound bags of feed. Feeding programs vary so much. However, if you said $18 for a bag of feed, you’re looking at about $125 for feed. If you are 100% responsible for your expenses, then what’s left is the amount you can spend on a lamb, if you’re operating on an all-in/all-out budget. Here’s what a simplistic budget might look like:

Jr. Fair Sale$350
Sale Barn Proceeds$150
Misc. Equipment$25
Grooming and Fitting$25
Vet Costs$75
Purchase of Lamb$300

Now, luckily, many junior fair exhibitors have the support of adults in their lives to help offset some of the expenses. If you are fortunate like that, then you can always afford to spend a little more on an animal, or keep a little of the profit in your pocket at the end of the year.

You’ve determined what your goals are for your project and what you can afford to spend on an animal. Now, where will you purchase it? With the explosion of social media and the internet, it is increasingly easy to find livestock in any corner of the world. Post on Facebook that you’re looking for a market lamb, for example, and within minutes, you’ll have 18 different options. You’ll quickly realize, however, that 17 of those options are probably several hours away. You’ll need to decide is how far are you willing to travel to purchase your animal.

There are good livestock people in every part of the state and every part of the country. There are breeders who will work with you to help meet your project goals and to stay within your budget. There are breeders who have been raising livestock for years and have the trophies and banners to validate their success. There are also breeders like us, people who have good livestock but are just getting started. You’ll need to sort through those options and narrow down the list that you’re going to consider. Once you do, you can start evaluating the lambs available on those farms to select this year’s project.

Like I said earlier, and I’ll say it again, there are lots of factors that play a role in selecting your livestock project before you even set foot on a farm. You’ll need to consider your goals, your budget, and possible breeders to buy from before you even start sorting through the animals. Next week, I’ll talk about what qualities to look for in a lamb. If you found this post helpful, consider sharing it with a friend. I really believe we can all learn from each other. At the end of the day, showing livestock isn’t about the ribbons and the accolades, but it’s about the people we share the journey with.


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