Starting a Virginia Sheep and Goat Farm
Raising Sheep and Goats in Virginia
With a sheep population of over 89,000 and a goat population of over 111,000 that stretches to all regions of the state, Virginia is the ideal place for new and experienced farmers.
The area’s abundant forage resources, moderate climate, and close proximity to markets make Virginia the perfect place to move if you’re interested in becoming a part of the area’s well-established vibrant and diverse sheep and goat industry.
If you’re looking for livestock that can convert forage and crop residues into high-quality meat and fiber, sheep and goats will thrive in Virginia, maximizing your profit with a minimal financial commitment.
Because Virginia offers everything needed for sheep to thrive, multiple management and production systems are successfully employed in the state. The majority of lambs are born in the spring and raised on the abundant natural forages, resulting in healthy, strong animals.
The region’s strong seed stock industry supports the commercial spring-lambing flocks which comprise most of the industry. As more and more farmers flock to Virginia, farmers should be aware of several extension sheep programs which focus on assisting producers and the industry to become more profitable and sustainable.
Virginia is dedicated to providing comprehensive educational programs on a local and statewide basis to constantly transfer new knowledge and technology to the farmer to help add value to their sheep enterprise and to help the industry thrive.
Why Raise Sheep and Goats?
Because sheep and goats are so well suited to Virginia climatically, farmers are able to easily reap the benefits that come with raising them. The first and perhaps most important benefits are economic.
Raising sheep and goats allows for favorable tax treatment: the agricultural transfer tax is waived when the land is purchased, there are lower property taxes because of the agricultural use assessment which means the land’s value is assessed according to its current use and not according to its current market value, there are agricultural exemptions for sales and use tax, and you’re entitled to certain tax write-offs.
Since using goats and sheep to clear land or brush will improve the quality of the land and their small hooves minimize soil compaction and erosion, it may also enhance the value of your investment. These economic benefits don’t even begin to cover the profit from production, which can be quite high in an area like Virginia with the ideal environment and a consistent market. Raising sheep is also good for the environment as sheep manure makes a great alternative to harmful, chemically-based fertilizers.
Sheep and Goats with Other Livestock
As the farming landscape changes, more and more people without farm experience are drawn to the idea of owning farm animals because of the myriad of advantages they bring.
Since many are limited to the type and number of animals that can be owned and appropriately cared for due to their acreage, sheep, and goats have proven to by the animals of choice as they’re able to grow strong and healthy even without a vast estate.
With Virginia’s fertile soil and abundance forage, farmers can raise as many as six to ten goats per acre for stocking year-round. Although goats have a high nutritional requirement, the high quality of plants that naturally grow across
Virginia meet most of the requirements without the farmer needing to supplement the diet with grain during much of the year.
Since goats and sheep prefer to graze on plants that are undesirable to other livestock, they work well as companion grazers. For those who already have cattle or other animals, or are interested in raising other grazers, goats and sheep are the ideal livestock choice as they prefer to browse and weeds and leave the grass and clover for other animals.
Sheep and goats can also graze hills and steep slopes that not all livestock can manage so that all corners of your property are being used to your maximum advantage. The animals also improve the quality of their pastures by consuming weeds that would otherwise require costly mechanical or chemical removal.
As many as three goats can be run for each cow on a property, or if sheep or goats are the only livestock, six to ten animals can be raised per acre.
Choosing a Breed
In a single kidding, goats have between one and five kids, with twins being the most common birth rate. The many different breeds of goats require different resources and facilities and are appealing at different market, making it easy to find a type that’s right for your farm, depending on how much time you’re able to dedicate to the animals each day and the forage, acreage, and feed you already have or are willing to buy.
The ideal breed is also dependent on your own needs: some breeds are more profitable for milk production (Alpine, LaMancha, Toggenburg, Saanen, Oberhasli, and Nubian), some for meat production (Boer, Myotonic/Tennessee stiff-legged, Pygmy, and Spanish, or crosses of any of these with a dairy breed), and still others for fiber production (Angora and Cashmere).
Hair sheep breeds have recently increased in popularity in Virginia as they produce no wool and therefore don’t need to be sheared. Hair sheep breeds have also exhibited enhanced tolerance to internal parasites and are ideal for low-input, extensive management systems often favored by new farmers.
Since all types of sheep and goat are able to flourish in Virginia with its rich soil and abundant forages, new farmers are offered a variety of choices depending on their resources and personal preferences. With such a consistent and nutrient-rich food source, the state is especially popular for raising goats for meat production; in 2010, there were 52,000 goats raised for meat in Virginia!
Virginia Lamb and Goat Markets
With its ideal location and close proximity to late metropolitan areas on the East Coast, Virginia has strong demands for lambs and goats at various market weights. One of the largest markets is the ethnic lamb market which requires lambs for consumption related to religious and cultural practices.
As lambs for these purposes generally have live weights as low as 50 pounds, this provides a market for lambs raised under a variety of production and management systems.