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Pre-marketing preparation pays off

Recent Sheep and Goat Market Reports come off as somewhat negative and scary for many producers. I would like to address these reports and the many phone calls I have received from other producers worried about their impending fate. The first article (Page 11, Nov. 27) titled “Beginning of the end for some goat producers?” discusses the sale at meat prices of a herd of breeding does in good condition.

With a little bit of preparation and a little work in marketing, this would not have happened. If you have a product – breeding ewes or does – and you advertise properly through the newspaper, Internet, other producers, flyers or posters, and have clean animals, you can sell these at a reasonable breeding-market price.

Even if you are taking them to the auction, if you notify them enough in advance they will put that in their advertisement to entice more buyers to that sale. It is not the dire end of the sheep and goat industry that is foretold. Saskatchewan Sheep Development Board has another alternative marketing strategy for their members in that they have an arranged shipment with a guaranteed price for a specific size or weight. You bring your animal and they say right there if it meets the criteria. You know ahead of time if your lamb looks good you will have that price.

Know your market

That brings us to the second part of selling. Know your market. Decide what market to which you want to sell and choose a breed that you can finish to that set of specifications in a manner that you know your costs and needed profit from that animal. Just breeding willy-nilly will give you no consistency of finished product and no firm place in the market. Your animal has to finish in an economical manner that leaves a profit margin. The market has changed in that there are very few lamb feedlots operating due to higher feed costs, so this market class has poor prices due to too much supply for the actual demand.

In the second article (Page 18, Jan. 22) titled “Will 2009 bring surprises?” Mark asked a few questions. Producers are not bringing the animals to the auction …” Is this due to location of various slaughter facilities, within appropriate distances from a producer?”

No, in most cases there are no available slaughter facilities for sheep or goats. Most that are within range are not inspected slaughter facilities, so you still have the dilemma of uninspected slaughter.

Unlike the hog or cattle sectors in Manitoba, neither the sheep nor goat associations have lobbied for any significant assistance. We do however, get the tag ends from the cattle programs. So the thought that we would see incentives to receive comparable prices to Ontario producers is not realistic.

Future

“What is the future for the Manitoba sheep and goat producer?” From the calls I get requesting breeding stock and butcher lambs, I cannot see a bad future, even with our lack of marketing tools within the Manitoba associations and the lack of inspected slaughtering facilities.

There is a huge market locally for our lamb if we could get it processed in a provincially inspected facility and make it available to restaurants, stores and for private purchase. If you know your market, know how to finish your lambs to slaughter weight, can organize your operation to utilize non-peak sales periods, and maximize your operation while minimizing expenses, you can make a decent living as a shepherd.

This means taking better care of your animals to ensure optimal health and productivity. Ensure good food and mineral as well as proper worming is taken care of. Cleanliness also helps determine a good bottom line: clean housing, clean pens and pasture will all increase the value of the “finished product,” which is your lamb on the table.

Value driven

If we treated ourselves and our livestock as valuable then we would garner more respect. I have had and heard of many producers having people come and offer to “take it off your hands” as if purchasing our animal for their table was done as a favour to us.

We need to promote our product as valuable. What is the product offered in the store and how does it compare to what we are offering? What is the true value of our product? People have sometimes balked at our prices quoted, yet broken down by the pound it is much cheaper than the imported inferior product.

Too many shepherds do not rely on their sheep and goats for their total income so do not crunch the numbers closely enough to see the real cost and the real needed price. If all private sales of prime product accept yard sale prices then the bottom is torn out of the market for the rest of us.

There are many tools for marketing your lamb on the Canadian Sheep Federation Site: http://www.freshcanadianlamb.ca/whichincludes recipes and even labels for packaging.

There are many positive directions for 2009 available to the sheep and goat industry. Shepherds need to become proactive and start seeing the value in themselves and their animals.

Lorna and Pete Wall raise Dorper sheep and border collies in Poplarfield, Man.

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