Marketing grassfed lamb

A place to discuss where and how to market our products. Users can share experiences with value-added enterprises, ask for information on costs, and find out who's paying what for what kind of lambs.
NOTE: If you have a service or product to advertise, please see the Marketplace section below.

Marketing grassfed lamb

Postby Muleflock » Wed Oct 01, 2008 12:11 pm

This has probably been covered in the past but times are changing. I will be having dinner tonight with the Michigan Sheep Breeders association board and have been asked to review the subject for our association. There are an ever growing number of small stockholders now in Michigan interested in becoming profitable and the association is looking for ways to augment their success.

For those of you who market their lambs primarily as "grass fed" lambs, what tools have you found to be the most successful? Who buys your lambs and why? Do you need to be close to, or have access to large markets, Cities?

Thanks for all your comments,

Mark
Muleflock
Old Hand
 
Posts: 1993
Joined: Wed Jan 31, 2007 10:24 am
Location: SW Michigan

Postby Island Shepherd » Wed Oct 01, 2008 4:35 pm

Tools: #1 word of mouth. Sell top shelf product, people beat a path to your door. Sell junk they will drag others away with them. Used to buy case lots of "Why Grassfed is Best" by Jo Robinson and give a free copy to each purchaser. She has a newer book out now, but we mostly refer people to her website. We have had people who have read Michael Poulan's book enquire. I don't know how much affect the books have.

Who + Why: People that buy are lamb lovers they know how to cook it, and they are crazy for lamb. Lamb is kind of like the bagpipes. If you like them you love them if you don't you can't stand them. Many more people are becoming health concious because it is hard to find a family who has not been touched by cancer. People are becoming educated about the health benefits of grassfed meat.

We live in a rural area with a low population. However we do have some affluent people (most have moved here from away) that we sell to, but many are ordinary working people. Here is a sample off the top of the head: doctors, lobsterfishermen, carpenters, retired college professors, plumbing contractors, mathematician, mill workers, financial investor, insurance salesperson, lobster pound owner, ferry terminal worker, gas station/heating oil co. owner, environmental activist, high school teachers.

We sell to people from foreign countries. One day last year we had people buying lambs standing in the kitchen all together from China, Norway, Philipines, and many states. We have sold to customers who are from Eygpt and Lebanon. We are in a village of 100? in a township of 1,000, 10 miles away from a town of 2300 with a hospital and university. We are 100 miles from a city of 31,000. We are 5 hours away from a city of 64,000. We are 7 hours away from Boston with 600,000. So it depends what you want to call large. None of our lambs go beyond about a two coastal county area so at any rate the answer is no you don't have to be near large markets or cities. If a good customer moves beyond our area we have had them come back to get their lamb(s) so customer loyalty is strong and important.

We have never advertised, the customers spread the word among themselves, and it becomes a status symbol to buy a lamb from us. People driving by and seeing a postcardlike scene with sheep grazing on lush green fields gets some sales although it is curious how it sometimes takes them a while to put two and two together. Our family has been in the area for a long time, and our tenacles reach all over so wherever someone mentions lamb we have friends or family that send them our way.

Good luck,

Dave
Island Shepherd
Old Hand
 
Posts: 2224
Joined: Mon Feb 19, 2007 9:59 pm
Location: Downeast Maine

Postby Travis Johnson » Thu Oct 02, 2008 4:43 am

Thanks Muleflock and Dave as I have struggled with this myself lately. I certainly agree with the principals of grass fed lamb, and I am still moving forward with grass based lamb, but I must say, it may be cheaper, but its certainly not easier. It's pretty darn easy to toss the sheep ½ a pound of grain a piece, and give them a salt block and know their nutritional requirements are met and just be done with it,especially in the winter when they pregnant and need all their nutritional requirements met.

At the same time a sheep farmer has to look at the markets. I can direct market every lamb I produce for the foreseeable future but I really don't see grass fed as being the sole reason for that. These are pasture raised sheep, with good husbandry practices and so people know these lambs will taste good. The question is, will they NOT buy the lamb because I toss them a ½ pound of grain during the winter when they need that extra fat and protein to keep from aborting? More then likely they will buy them.

So I am at a crossroads. Do I:

Migrate to grass fed sheep and risk not getting a return on my labor/ nutritionist on retainer ?

Go it alone (no nutritonist) with grass fed sheep but ultimately lose more lambs from aborting ewes?

Just use grain, grass and corn and make life easier on myself?

There is no clear cut answers here. If the market for grass fed lamb goes up, I will be all set to take advantage of it, yet so far for lamb its not been a real market to be reckoned with, at least not where I live. So its like do I do grass fed now while I am just starting up, or do I wait until the market is bigger?
Travis Johnson
 

Postby Darroll Grant » Thu Oct 02, 2008 8:11 am

Travis;
You now have a few sheep. Use them as a small inexpensive study to determine what will work in your parameters. No book(s) or opinion(s) can provide the total answers for your situation. Run on quality roughage and if the sheep can't maintain condition add the grain or change genetics.
Darroll Grant
western Oregon
Darroll Grant
Old Hand
 
Posts: 2891
Joined: Thu Nov 01, 2007 12:58 pm
Location: western Oregon

Postby Janet McNally » Thu Oct 02, 2008 8:36 am

Hi Mark,

I have never strived to sell many lambs as direct market, I have a sign on the interstate, but do not go to any lengths to accomodate people. i.e. do not have a store, do not provide lamb all year round etc.

Until recently I always offered a choice, grass fed or grain fed. The grass fed was available up until Nov 30th and then grain fed in Dec and Jan. Years ago most people chose grain fed because they were always told grain fed was best. Recently (in the past 3-5 yrs) that has been changing dramatically as a few popular diet books have bestowed the virtues of pasture raised lamb, the requests for grass fed grew to the point I no longer bother offering grain fed lamb.

So other than doing a good job raising the lamb so it is a good quality product, I don't think there is anything special that needs to be done to promote grass fed, beyond just letting people know you have it.

Janet
Janet McNally
Tamarack Prolific and Ile de France crosses
Minnesota
Janet McNally
Old Hand
 
Posts: 5756
Joined: Fri Mar 24, 2006 2:26 pm
Location: East Central Minnesota

Postby Double Barrel » Thu Oct 02, 2008 9:15 am

Janet McNally wrote: I have a sign on the interstate,


And an eyecatching sign it is! I dont remember your old one, but when you put on the new one, my other half was able to tell me about it when he got home 3 hrs later.

I must say, too, that I have enjoyed reading trhu your website, and really like the other links that you have provided (recipies, nutrition info, etc) I may actually get thru the whole web page soon!
Got to be a little crazy to keep from going insane!
Double Barrel
Old Hand
 
Posts: 581
Joined: Mon Sep 08, 2008 11:54 am
Location: Greaney, MN

Postby Island Shepherd » Thu Oct 02, 2008 9:36 am

Travis,

I think you might be a little confused on one point. It is OK to feed your ewes grain if you had to, and only feed your wedder lambs grass, (assuming you are retaining ewe hoggs to build your flock) which is the product you are selling to the consumer. You could still market them as grassfed because the ewe feed has no effect on that. How me and others like Janet get the whole operation on grass and away from grain for profit reasons is with genetics, and timing lambing in sinc with spring grass growth.

Good luck,

Dave
Island Shepherd
Old Hand
 
Posts: 2224
Joined: Mon Feb 19, 2007 9:59 pm
Location: Downeast Maine

Postby Janet McNally » Thu Oct 02, 2008 4:51 pm

Double Barrel,

thanks for the comments on the website. For those wondering about the sign, it is simply this:

WWW.
EATLAMB
.COM

after debating at great length whether that was too blunt and did not do a good job selling the finer points of lamb, we kept coming back to it for its simplicity. We wanted something people could remember while passing by at 80 mph.

sounds like it worked!

Janet
Janet McNally
Tamarack Prolific and Ile de France crosses
Minnesota
Janet McNally
Old Hand
 
Posts: 5756
Joined: Fri Mar 24, 2006 2:26 pm
Location: East Central Minnesota

Postby Janet McNally » Thu Oct 02, 2008 4:57 pm

Travis,

If you want to do a good job of producing a grass fed product, then you need to have a good grasp of what kind of nutrition that forage contains, and you still need to have your TM mix suit the mineral content of the forages.

I have sent BK plenty of pasture samples to help train my eye and learn when is grass good enough and when is it not. Just being green is not enough to finish a lamb.

Like Dave said, a good grass fed product is going to take the right genetics, combined with good forage management. It won't happen without top quality forages at least in the finishing stages of the system. as for the ewes, again, it takes the right genetics, and then high quality forages, both top quality hay in the last 6 weeks of pregnancy, and new spring grass for lactation.

Janet
Janet McNally
Tamarack Prolific and Ile de France crosses
Minnesota
Janet McNally
Old Hand
 
Posts: 5756
Joined: Fri Mar 24, 2006 2:26 pm
Location: East Central Minnesota

Postby jpa » Thu Oct 02, 2008 8:16 pm

Mark,

How did the meeting go? For some reason I have a hard time seeing some of the MSBA people really excited about this topic.

Jason
jpa
Old Hand
 
Posts: 683
Joined: Fri Sep 28, 2007 8:16 pm
Location: Southwestern Michigan

Postby Bill Fosher » Thu Oct 02, 2008 8:37 pm

Too late now, but you it was a few years ago that someone from Cornell -- and I forget who it was -- stood up at a gathering of sheep producers in New Hampshire and said, "Grass fed lamb isn't a production system. It's a religion."

I wonder where that person is now.
Bill Fosher
Westmoreland, NH
Bill Fosher
Chief Shepherd
 
Posts: 5591
Joined: Thu Mar 23, 2006 11:27 pm
Location: Westmoreland, NH

Postby Travis Johnson » Fri Oct 03, 2008 4:08 am

Island Shepherd wrote:Travis,

I think you might be a little confused on one point. It is OK to feed your ewes grain if you had to, and only feed your wedder lambs grass, (assuming you are retaining ewe hoggs to build your flock) which is the product you are selling to the consumer. You could still market them as grassfed because the ewe feed has no effect on that. How me and others like Janet get the whole operation on grass and away from grain for profit reasons is with genetics, and timing lambing in sinc with spring grass growth.

Good luck,

Dave


Good point Dave,and what you and Janet are doing is what I was planning. Being a machinist I have plenty of time to think about things and yesterday I really thought about this issue. (10 full hours to be exact).

I think my thinking was backwards. I have been getting a lot of people asking about lamb sales, but none have mentioned grass fed lamb. I was kind of think dumb. I was thinking since they were not asking for it, it was not really needed.

I am thinking maybe the issue is not needing grass fed lamb, but rather the general public not knowing about grass fed lamb. Maybe what I should be doing is aggressively marketing the VIRTUES of grass fed lamb. I know that grass fed lamb is superior, but maybe the general public does not know. If I can somehow promote that in my area, and the great tasting lamb is there, then a niche market in my area is created. As you mentioned, that is getting easier to do in todays Mansanto reign.

Just to clarify here, I am not getting into grass fed sheep because of markets and its the "in" thing. I told my dad long before I got sheep, and long before I joined this forum that growing trees and growing grass was the only thing this farm ever did well. Why not use it to my advantage?

The only thing that is tempting, is to feed corn silage, but I say that as we gear up to chop corn. With tonnage at 19 tons to the acre instead of 6 for haylage, and the equipment being the same for both...corn silage has its advantages.
Travis Johnson
 

Postby Travis Johnson » Fri Oct 03, 2008 4:25 am

Janet McNally wrote:Travis,

If you want to do a good job of producing a grass fed product, then you need to have a good grasp of what kind of nutrition that forage contains, and you still need to have your TM mix suit the mineral content of the forages.

I have sent BK plenty of pasture samples to help train my eye and learn when is grass good enough and when is it not. Just being green is not enough to finish a lamb.

Like Dave said, a good grass fed product is going to take the right genetics, combined with good forage management. It won't happen without top quality forages at least in the finishing stages of the system. as for the ewes, again, it takes the right genetics, and then high quality forages, both top quality hay in the last 6 weeks of pregnancy, and new spring grass for lactation.

Janet


Yeah I need help in this area and I need my hiney kicked for not doing some stuff. I let some people use my tractor all summer to hay and thus am expecting hay in payment for that, but have yet to get it. That means I am not sure what I am going to feed yet so no forage sample off to BK Sheep.

Overall I am not happy where I am at right now. As a Shepard I would give myself a failing grade for sure. Until my big round bales get here I am stuck with 2nd crop square bales. I can toss them a flake or two easily enough, but since the Ram is in with the Ewes, he hogs the hay. So I toss a flake over him to get at the two timid sheep in the back. That gets chaff all over their fleeces which is NOT what I want to do. I could get coats for them,but then by the time they get here the big round bales will be here too. D- on that.

Then there is the fence. I was hoping to keep them in without electricity (due to being close to the house and foster kids) but that's not keeping the Ram in very well. I got ideal fields, but for this winter I would rather have them close to the house since I have no LGD yet and this field is a tree plantation. That means sparse forage in their pasture and great tasting lawn on the other side...guess where the Ram heads? So I keep the sheep penned up Monday-Thursday and let them graze while I am home during the weekends until my charger arrives. Another D-.

As for the breed, I am not sure. Montadales are hardy sheep by all accounts, but I am not sure how they will be at converting only grass to meat? With only 2 Montadale breeders in Maine, with me being one of those two...I am limited on keeping this breed pure. So I can cross with anything next year at this time, but what do I cross with? I'll have to do some good reading up on that. So for the Montadale Breed, I probably give myself a B- maybe even a C.

Again, its not where I want to be, but I guess knowing that, and knowing where I want to be is a good start. I'll just be doing better once I get my winter feed here, tested and get a plan going with BK Sheep.

As far as nutrition itself goes, I do plan to attend a Maine Grass Farmers Meeting this month regarding grass fed sheep and nutrition, and then a sheep nutrition conference later in the month. I'll gain insight from those two areas I am sure.
Travis Johnson
 

Postby Muleflock » Fri Oct 03, 2008 10:35 am

jpa wrote:How did the meeting go? For some reason I have a hard time seeing some of the MSBA people really excited about this topic.


Hi Jason.

The meeting was long but went well I thought. The e-mail I was sent prior to the meeting was not correct as to what they wanted. They want a break-out session on grass fed lamb production and wondered if I or Brenda would talk about our approach to it. Yes, it’s a hard sell yet to these boys over here. They don’t get the grasp of it yet. They don’t understand the points Janet and Dave have just laid out to Travis. At the same time they have flocks whose genetics were long ago established for their market and management systems. Recent attempts at it have failed and so they are skeptical. For example, Dale T. decided to give this pasture lambing thing a try one year so he took a huge mob of ewes and bred them to lamb a little later than he usually did and just let them lamb out on a pasture. We had a rainy spring, the field was lined by trees only on one border, and the ground was low and didn’t drain well. Of course it ended up a disaster with pick-up truck loads of dead lambs headed to the pit. He’s now back at in the sheds.

I’ve agreed to give a talk on basic vaccinations for sheep so it will be up to Brenda to talk about the stratified system we use. Not sure what her and Pat have agreed on it yet.

Patrick H. had some very good ideas about promoting sheep in Michigan. It’s a plus to have someone with his background on the board.

So now I’ve got a couple months to get up to speed on this power point thing-a-ma-jig thing.

Mark
Muleflock
Old Hand
 
Posts: 1993
Joined: Wed Jan 31, 2007 10:24 am
Location: SW Michigan

Postby Muleflock » Fri Oct 03, 2008 10:40 am

Bill Fosher wrote:Too late now, but you it was a few years ago that someone from Cornell -- and I forget who it was -- stood up at a gathering of sheep producers in New Hampshire and said, "Grass fed lamb isn't a production system. It's a religion."

I wonder where that person is now.


Maybe Richard Ehrhardt?
Muleflock
Old Hand
 
Posts: 1993
Joined: Wed Jan 31, 2007 10:24 am
Location: SW Michigan

Next

Return to Markets and marketing

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests