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Sheep and Goat Production in Arkansas


Herd of light brown sheep standing in a pen.

Sheep and goats can be raised with very little grain, which is advantageous at a time when grain prices are on the rise. Photo Courtesy of USDA.

Sheep and goat production offers many advantages

  • Because they are small, prolific and productive ruminants, they are well-suited to grass-based and small-scale agriculture.
  • Sheep and goats are relatively inexpensive animals to purchase and feed compared to larger animals, a critical advantage for limited-resource farmers.
  • Sheep and goats can be raised with very little grain, which is advantageous at a time when grain prices are on the rise.
  • Return on investment (ROI) is quick for sheep and goats because they reproduce at a young age and have a high incidence of twinning, are marketed within 6 to 10 months of birth, and can be raised economically on pasture.
  • Due to their smaller size, they are not as intimidating or dangerous animals and are good enterprises for women, youth, and aging farmers.
  • As excellent weed and brush controllers, sheep and goats improve pastures and often work synergistically with cattle and other livestock and cropping operations. 

Similarities between goat and sheep production

  • Both goats and sheep require similar feeds, fencing, housing and facilities, and health care, including parasite management and predator control.
  • Both produce meat that is desired by ethnic customers and by some health-conscious or environmentally aware consumers (and by some who just know that lamb and goat taste good).
  • Market possibilities are similar.
  • Both are generally inexpensive enterprises, and both are quick to mature and be ready for breeding or market, and usually will have twins.
  • Both improve pastures by eating under-used forages and depositing manure.
  • There has been an increase in demand for sheep and goat meat, and artisan cheese makers, and fiber businesses have also seen increased enthusiasm for their products, so there are several options for using sheep and goats in profitable businesses.

Sheep and goats are not get-rich-quick enterprises

In addition to the questions about land, market, personal preference, economics—you really have to first identify farm goals.

Advantages of these enterprises:

  • Small size and low price for breeding stock = easy investment for a few starter animals
  • Animals quickly reach maturity and reproduce, and quickly reach slaughter size on forage alone = quick expansion of herd, quick payback of investment, low cost to produce a saleable animal for market or breeding
  • Multiple streams of income and easy combination with other enterprises, especially cattle. Low investment in facilities and equipment = less debt and easier exit should you need to leave the enterprise.  Enjoyable animals = personal satisfaction and family involvement

Disadvantages to sheep and goat enterprises:

  • Fencing must be better than a cattle fence; this takes money and work
  • Predators are a consideration and you must make provisions to protect the stock; a good electric fence helps, but livestock guardian dogs (LGD) are often needed as well. This means another animal to feed and provide health care, and manage; while most LGD's are good, some are not, and this can be a hassle
  • Health care for sheep and goats can be demanding, especially internal parasite management
  • Because of their small size, income for selling market animals is low. This spreads risk and makes them easy to market, but it also means you need to sell a lot of animals to make significant income.
  • In some situations, supplemental feed will be needed. You must strike a balance here, providing good nutrition but keeping costs as low as possible.

Management programs for sheep and goats

Light brown goat with large white splotches and horns is biting the top off of a green leafy plant.

In some situations, supplemental feed will be needed. You must strike a balance here, providing good nutrition but keeping costs as low as possible. Photo Courtesy of USDA.

To be successful as a sheep and goat producer, you must have a sound management program as the basis of your production plan. Observe your animals closely to keep individual animals and the whole herd/flock healthy and productive. If the heath status of a herd is compromised, your operation will not be efficient.

There are some human health risks when dealing with diseased animals.

While most diseases affecting sheep and goats do not pose any human health risks, some are zoonotic and it is important to protect not only caretakers, but anyone else that may come in contact with diseased animals. To recognize clinical signs of diseases common to sheep and goats, it is important to be familiar with what is normal. As a producer, you should assess the herd or flock's general health on a regular basis, including vital signs, and body condition.


Normal Range for Goat and Sheep Physiological Parameters.

Physiological Parameter  Goat Sheep
Temperature, rectal 101.5-103.5, F 101.5-103.5, F
Heart Rate 70-80 Beats per minute 70-80 Beats per minute
Respiration 12-25 per minute 15-30 per minute
Rumen Movement 1-2 per minute 1-2 per minute
Estrous 18-21 Days 14-20 Days
Estrus 48-72 Hours 24-48 Hours
Gestation 145-155 Days 144-151 Days

So much depends on management and marketing; it is a good idea to work out on paper before starting an enterprise.  

Having realistic expectations up front will save disappointment. Types of enterprises that do offer larger incomes also require more expertise and labor and investment; for example, dairy goats and show and breeding stock tend to have higher incomes but also higher expenses.