What is Your Time Worth?
Most long-time sheep and goat ranching families have a deep rooted passion for livestock and the land that supports them. Rarely, does anyone stop and think, “How much money am I gonna make by driving around the ranch to check livestock, water, and fencelines?” But, we all know that if we don’t keep a close eye on our ranching operations it can be disasterous.
Lets be honest and acknowledge that sheep and goat ranching isn’t a highly profitable enterprise compared to other professions that require skilled labor, hard work, and large capital investment. Most people who ranch, aren’t in it for the money. They love what they do and it provides a quality of life that rivals any other profession. But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try and improve efficiencies in how we manage our sheep and goat operations.
One management changes to decrease effort and increase return on land, labor, and capital isn’t likely to revolutionize the ranch overnight. But a few small changes that occur overtime could change the outlook of the operation in the long-term. By that I mean, it may allow some to ranch when they no longer have the time or physical ability to keep doing it the way we have always done it. Or we may also see a desire by the next generation to carry on the tradition, if they see new technology and strategies being implemented that excites them or provides options that allow for ranching to coexist with another profession or extracurricular activities off the ranch.
I’m not claiming to have the answers for each and every operation. Ranchers know their own operations better than anyone else. Rather, this article is trying inspire the ranching community to brainstorm options that are right for them. Some of the technolgy may be available or it may need to be developed.
Remote monitoring: I’d be willing to bet that pature-based sheep and goat ranchers and hired staff spend the majority of their time checking pastures. Rightfully so, livestock need to be assessed for health, pasture conditions need to be evaluated, and water systems need to be constantly monitored. But, can we reduce the number of times that we do this activity or shorten time spent checking pastures?
GPS trackers on a small percentage of livestock and/or most all guardian dogs is a good way to always know where they are, where they have been, and if they leave their pasture. Cellular game cameras are a good way to constantly check water troughs and tanks, learn about when livestock are watering, and monitor what wildlife are present in these pastures. And I’m very curious to learn if virtual fencing will ever become an economical option for sheep and goat ranchers. If so, this would be a real game changer for sheep and goat producers. Nonetheless, segments of this technology are already commercially available and I’d encourage you to look into it.
Precision Nutrition: Feeding and supplementing livestock is most often the largest direct expense to sheep and goat ranching operations, which also takes a lot time and effort. Ranchers know better than anyone that you can’t starve a profit from livestock. But feed costs continue to rise faster than the livestock market and we must learn to be more efficient to sustain a profitable margin.
Many ranchers have chosen to go with self-feeders or cooked tubs to cut down on labor. This can be a good option for some but it is an expensive option and doesn’t always direct the right feed to the right animals. Nutritional demands are greatest in late gestation and lactation, especially for females giving birth to multiple offspring. Mid gestation pregnancy ultrasound and body condition scoring is a good way to sort ewes and nannies into groups based on nutritional needs and allows for better use of feed resources. Ranchers can then prioritize time and resources to under conditioned or twin-baring animals that are most likely benefit from additional feed and spend less time and resources on well conditioned or single-baring animals that don’t need it.
Remote animal weighing systems that capture daily or weekly body weight gains/losses are being developed. Electronic tags, automated scales, and remote data reporting systems have existed for some time but pairing all these together within ranching systems hasn’t been developed and commercialized. This is new system that I think could have tremendous value to sheep and goat ranchers. Not only would this provide data on animal productivity to adjust nutritional strategy but it could also help with monitoring death/predation loss and pairing up dam to offspring.
Much of the aforementioned technology could be operated from our cell phones. Yes, sometimes we wish that we could go back to the good old days and disconnect. But the reality is other sources of protein and fiber both domestically and internationally are going to adopt technology and we must be able to compete with this. I can speak from personal experience that I thoroughly enjoy monitoring my animals on my cell phone. It saves me time and money, plus provide a peace of mind that the water trough is full and livestock are looking good. When I am able to check on things in-person, it is a more enjoyable experience.
In summary, hard work has been and will continue to be a cornerstone of livestock production, especially for sheep and goat ranchers. But I hope this article inspires people to stop and think about working smarter and not just harder. Our time is a valued commodity and we must all try to use it wisely. We are fortunate to live in a time when technology can make our lives easier, if we choose to allow it.
To provide feedback on this article or request topics for future articles, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 325-657-7324. For general questions about sheep and goats, contact your local Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county office. If they can’t answer your question, they have access to someone who can.