In the modern era, sheep farmers are solely reliant on the sales of meat from their lambs or by selling breeding stock, ewes and rams. For most sheep farmers these come on a seasonal basis leaving cash flow poor for the rest of the year, which in general isn’t good for any business. This is why many sheep farmers are looking to diversify, as it enables for a steadier cash flow throughout the year. Ultimately developing a much more stable farm business. So what farm diversification options are there for a sheep farmer looking to diversify? There are so many out there, but here are some options which could take your fancy.
Firstly, we look at meat boxes. What better way to start a farm diversification than sell your own produce?
When it comes to any farm diversification it’s not straight forwards, but when it comes to meat boxes it’s pretty much as simple as you’d like it to be. You can get lambs killed and butchered off-farm to your specification. All you have to do is market, sell and deliver your product. In some cases, word of mouth will do it all for you.
A great way to start your own farm diversification, it gives you room to expand into a farm shop or visitor centre. You get to dip your toe in the water to test if there is a customer base there before taking a risk. At the end of the day, there can be very little outlay with selling meat boxes and is low risk.
Key things to consider for this diversification are the core marketing messages, packaging issues and the logistics of delivery.
A visitor centre or farm park will take a lot more planning and preparation but can give you a great deal more stability in your business. Depending on your current buildings and farm layout it could take very little work. Especially if you start small and build up. A farm park for example may just need a small wooden shed to pay entrance fees and serve refreshments, the rest can be built around your current farm with little addition.
The main task when developing these is ensuring that your visitors’ safety is paramount when planning any sort of visitor centre or farm park. A farm can be a very dangerous place for the general public so all of the current health and safety standards must be in place.
At the end of the day with this style of diversification, it can be as little or big as you desire. We would say there are 3 key points to being able to be successful.
1, Location – You will need to be easily accessible, have plenty of parking and not in the middle of nowhere, or else you have no customers on your doorstep.
2, Marketing – sell, sell, sell. When opening a farm shop or visitor centre you will need to tell as many people as possible, you are opening and what you have to see. You cannot rely on people just turning up.
3, Planning – As previously spoken about you must ensure that all planning is in place and no corners are cut.
With wool prices being low as ever for sheep farmers, anything to add value to a product that is currently nearly worth nothing can be a very lucrative business. Especially as it is a welfare matter to shear sheep, they must be done. Therefore, anything to add value is a bonus.
There is a host of smaller manufacturing companies buying fleeces direct, among them a growing number of wool duvet makers. For example, Baavet Duvets in Wales buys Texel and Lleyn fleeces from eight to 10 farmers a year. These are one of many small companies popping up so it’s definitely worth looking at!
You may even be able to create a side business processing wool for sale as yarn or for the craft market.
Sheep wool has an abundance of lanolin, a natural grease/oil which is amazing to use in soaps and moisturizers. Especially as it’s a natural product, which there are so many people looking for these days instead of artificial replacers. There are so many recipes online to get you started. On top of that, it’s seen as a premium product with it being completely natural, so you are able to charge more than regular soap. If you are able to market it well as a farm diversification it’s a great additional income!
Depending on the current breed a sheep farmer uses this could be pretty straight forwards. For example, many sheep dairy farms are using the Lleyn breed which is extremely popular as a commercial ewe. This would take a larger monetary input to a business but producing any type of milk be it sheep, goat, or cow it produces a consistent income for a larger period of time than selling lambs for meat.
There are more options with sheep’s milk with there being a demand for sheep’s cheeses, creams and yogurts. They are a very lucrative investment if done correctly. Plenty of planning is required and it would be advised to visit and talk to other farms that have gone down this route to see the hurdles and requirements within this sector.
Another farm diversification which is high input high output. Basically, the more you put into it the more you can get out if done correctly. Unless you have the buildings available already it is highly likely that you will require planning if executing or adapting current buildings. But as a sheep farmer a great opportunity to renovate old sheds if they are abandoned or don’t serve a good purpose.
Especially with these 2 diversifications, you don’t have to start big you can begin small and build up as your customer base builds. But like other diversifications, it stabilises the current business and takes the pressure off of the sheep sector at periods when cash flow is poor.
Unlike Cafés and visitor centres this shouldn’t require new buildings if your budget is low. It’s also ideal for farms with spare rooms not been used. Although B&B’s do take a lot of time and more than other enterprises. You will have to be happy to let people into your home. This diversification will suit some farms but won’t work for others. You really need to be a people person.
This we have held back until the end because it is so important with diversifications as a lot require new staff. With a new enterprise, it is key to install your business’s ethos from the start making it attractive to customers. This means hiring the correct type of people that can work in a farming environment and understand how a farm works on the side of the diversification enterprise they work in.
With uncertain time ahead in the sheep sector especially with the outcomes of Brexit, it may be vital for farming businesses solely reliant on sheep and lamb production to diversify. This is predominantly down to cash flow within these types of farm businesses. But here we have left you with some ideas. It’s now down to you to find out what will work on your farm.
Here at Flame Marketing with offer help and guidance when setting up farm diversification. Including a FREE initial marketing consultation to set up a plan of attack for the direction you want to target for your business.