Producing and selling sheep and goats to the ethnic markets
The per capita consumption of sheep and goat meat in the United States is less than one pound per person. Americans (or immigrants) of Northern European descent traditionally do not consume much lamb or goat; however, lamb and goat hold a significant meaning in the observances of many religions and are a dietary staple in many countries.
In the U.S., the largest consumers of lamb are Middle Easterners, Greeks, and Hispanics. Goat consumers include Middle Easterners, Hispanics, Asians, Africans, and Caribbean Islanders. Population demographics and immigration patterns generally favor an increase in demand for lamb and goat.
Most lamb and goat is consumed on the East and West Coasts and in major metropolitan areas; however, ethnic/religious markets can be developed anywhere where ethnic populations exist (e.g. college towns, rural areas where foreign labor is utilized). The demand for sheep and goats generally increases prior to various religious observances. The type of sheep or goat (age, weight, sex, condition, etc.) and manner in which it is to be slaughtered (Halal, Kosher) depends upon the ethnic/religious group and the holiday. The table below lists some of the religious observances (for the next 3 years) in which lamb and goat is commonly consumed:
Muslim holidays occur 10 to 11 days earlier each year and cannot be predicted with exact certainty since they are based on a lunar calendar and the sighting of the moon. Eastern (Greek) and Western (Roman) Easter use different calendars (Julian vs. Gregorian) and rarely occur on the same date. In addition to the holidays listed above, the demand for sheep and goats may increase prior to other ethnic observances. It is common for Muslims to consume sheep or goat meat to celebrate the birth of a new baby.
Tapping Ethnic/Religious Markets
There are many ways that sheep and goat producers can tap the ethnic/religious markets for their animals. Producers may direct market their sheep and goats to ethnic customers, take their animals to local or regional livestock auctions prior to holidays, sell to middlemen who supply the ethnic/religious trade(s), and/or work cooperatively with other producers to market live animals or carcasses to ethnic markets. Producers should choose a target market and produce and market lambs and goats in a manner that is consistent with the religion, beliefs, and customs of their customers, which may require changes in breeding, feeding, and management. The following tables contrast the different methods of marketing sheep and goats, with the ethnic consumer in mind.
The easiest way to market sheep and/or goats is to take them to a local or regional livestock auction. Producers can take advantage of the ethnic/religious demand for lamb and goat when they sell to livestock auction markets, if they produce the type of animal(s) that the ethnic buyers want and sell their livestock prior to the religious observances in which lamb and goat is commonly consumed. Many auction barns offer "special sales" of lambs and kids prior to Easter, Christmas, and the major Muslim holidays.
To maximize returns from public livestock auctions, a producer should develop a working relationship with the market manager. To start with, let him know when you are bringing a load of lambs or goats to market. Ask the market manager what kind of sheep or goats his buyers prefer and when the best time to sell is. You can also use public livestock auctions to make contact with livestock buyers and to negotiate direct sales to packers and other middlemen.
Producers should compare livestock auction markets and choose the markets that will return the most profit. Auction prices are listed in newspapers, farm periodicals, and on the Internet. When comparing the prices from livestock markets, it is important to compare "net" proceeds, rather than "gross" reported prices. The auction that brings the highest prices may not result in the most profit if the higher prices are negated by higher transportation costs, shrink, sales commissions, etc. The difference in prices between auction markets should reflect regional differences in transportation costs. Prices should be higher at the markets which are closest to the point of slaughter.
Marketing sheep and goats through a public livestock auction
Because you are eliminating all of the middlemen, the best prices are usually obtained when sheep and goats are sold directly from the farm to the consumer. Under this scenario, the buyer may take the live animal with him, have the lamb/goat slaughtered at a custom or USDA processing plant, or process the lamb/goat on the producer's farm.
It is illegal to slaughter a sheep or goat on the farm for the purpose of sale. Sheep and goat meat may only be sold if the animal has been processed in a USDA inspected slaughter plant. Some states have state meat inspection which allows the sale of state-inspected meat within the state. However, there is an exemption in federal laws which allows on-farm slaughter of livestock for personal consumption.
When selling livestock for slaughter, you need to sell a LIVE animal and let the buyer process the animal himself or facilitate the slaughter of the animal at a custom or USDA slaughterhouse. You must not help the buyer process the animal; however, you have an obligation to ensure that the animal is handled and killed in a humane manner (livestock should not be hung until they are insensible) and that offal is disposed of in an environmentally sound manner (e.g. composting).Cornell University has published a poster depicting humane on-farm slaughter. Producers should familiarize themselves with local, state, and federal laws before allowing on-farm slaughter of sheep and goats.
Before you sell livestock directly from your farm, you have to find customers and develop a client base. Some of the ways, you can develop an ethnic client base are:
Word of Mouth
Place a classified ad in a large metropolitan newspaper
Post flyers at religious and social centers prior to a major holidays
Send articles to magazines, newsletters, TV, and radio stations that represents specific ethnic groups.
Advertise on college campuses that have large foreign populations.
Leave your business card or brochure at a custom or USDA slaughterhouse.
Hand out free samples of lamb at a farmer's market
Direct on-farm marketing of sheep and goats
References and further reading
The welfare of docking and castrating
[PDF] Castrating calves and lambs - University of Arizona
Disbudding goat kids - Texas A&M
Disbudding, Descenting, and Dehorning Goats - InfoVets
This article was written in 2007 by Susan Schoenian.
For various reasons, many producers do not want to market livestock directly from their farm. Nor do they like the uncertainty of taking livestock to an auction. Selling to "middlemen" may be the best option, if a fair price can be obtained relative to other marketing options. There are various middlemen that purchase sheep and goats: Dealers (or traders) buy and sell livestock to make a profit on price and weight differences. Brokers or order buyers buy livestock (for a fee) for feeders, live markets, and slaughter houses. Packers buy live animals, process them, and sell meat wholesale or retail. Retail markets sell to the end consumer.
To find middlemen . . .
Ask buyers, dealers, and producers at local and regional auction markets.
Contact your local Packers and Stockyards office to obtain a list of processors.
Contact USDA or your state department of agriculture for a list of USDA-inspected and custom slaughter houses.
Visit restaurants that serve lamb and/or goat.
Visit stores that sell lambs and goats.
Look at meat marketing listings in the Yellow Pages.
Check directory listings on sheepgoatmarketing.org.
When selling livestock to middlemen, there are many things to consider. For example, will you sell a live animal or a carcass? Will the buyer pick up the animals from you farm or will you deliver them to a collection point? Who will pay for the cost of transportation, including shrink. Sometimes a "pencil" shrink will need to negotiated between buyer and seller. You will need to agree upon a method of payment. There is considerably more financial risk when selling to an individual buyer as compared to selling livestock through a bonded livestock auction or to a bonded livestock dealer. You need to protect yourself from payment forfeitures and bad checks. Bank transfers prior to the sale of any livestock is recommended. Good records should be kept on financial transactions.
Marketing sheep and goats direct to a middleman
Many producers wish to sell sheep and goats directly to the packer because it streamlines the marketing chain and should result in higher prices (when averaged over the long run). When selling livestock directly to a packer, you need to negotiate a deal (or contract) that is beneficial for both parties. The packer wants a guaranteed supply at a consistent price, whereas the producer is looking for price stability and the opportunity to forward price his product. While small producers may be able to sell a few animals to custom slaughter houses or small butcher shops, most processors will want a regular supply of lambs and/or goats and this may require several producers to work together or form a marketing pool or cooperative.
Marketing sheep and goats direct to a meat processor
Producers can have more clout in the market place if they organize marketing cooperatives or informal marketing groups. This is because unless a producer is very large, it usually takes many producers to supply a market on a regular basis. Marketing groups can be as simple as pooling animals together for sale to sharing transportation costs to legally organized cooperatives that market their own branded meat products. Numerous public grants are available to help producer groups organize cooperatives and market value-added products.
This article was written in 2005 by Susan Schoenian. It was updated in 2015.