Sheep - Marketing Your Products
Even a small number of ewes will probably produce more lamb, hogget and mutton than you need for your own family’s consumption, and most smallholders quickly develop an enthusiastic local market for their surplus amongst family and friends.
But if your sheep enterprise is to become a profit-centre in its own right, you need to start with the business basics. Make sure that you can comply with all the legal aspects - as well as making a profit from your sales!
Selling Food Products
- Contact your local Environmental Health Service and Trading Standards Service. They’ll advise you of all the current regulations that you need to know about in order to sell your produce to the public.
- Register as a ‘Food Business’ with your local authority.
- If you plan to sell your produce through a Farmer’s Market, or similar outlet, you must also be covered by Public Liability Insurance.
- Purchase the right equipment to make sure you’ll be trading legally. Fresh meat must be maintained at a safe temperature from the time it leaves the abattoir; to the time it reaches your customers. Accurate weigh-scales are essential, as is a hygienic method of packaging your produce: vacuum packing is becoming increasingly popular and can extend the shelf life of fresh meat. All produce should also be accurately labelled with details of contents and weight, and your business name and address must be clearly displayed.
Other Products from Sheep
There are many other products that you can produce from your sheep (depending on the breed), including:
- Sheepskins - see our article 'Producing Your own Sheepskin'
- Wool - photos of fleece being processed into yarn are available on our Facebook page
- Fleece for spinning, felting and other crafts
- Dairy - milk, cheese, yoghurt and ice cream - see our YouTube clip from an interview with Stephen Fletcher talking about the process of making his award winning Berkswell cheese
- Insulation from fleece - both packaging and building
Think about whether you need to undertake any specialised training before you start. For example, Food Hygiene, Bookkeeping, Computer Skills, Business Planning and Marketing – these are all essential skills that the successful smallholder business will need to master.
See the DVD 'Sheep for Business, Enterprise & Profit' for details on how to prepare a business plan and managing your costs.
Know Your Market
Start locally, find out who your competitors are and see if you can spot a gap, or offer a new, value-added product, such as lamb burgers, kebabs or barbeque packs - and, of course, don’t forget your sheepskins, dairy products and fleeces too! By increasing your range you’ll appeal to a wider audience.
See if there are any local producers’ marketing groups, or an established vegetable box delivery scheme that you can collaborate with to your mutual benefit. This can also help keep your business going throughout the year, especially if your primary product is seasonal.
A brand identity sums up the key features of your product. Describe the unique aspects of your farm or smallholding in your advertising – and your livestock, are they a rare or speciality breed? Your customers will remember an eye-catching logo which will encourage repeat-business.
Describe your products fully and accurately – especially if they contain additional ingredients, and be careful not to make any claims that can’t be substantiated.
Make it clear that all meat is home-reared, and slaughtered at peak condition – not to order. So, ask for meat to be pre-ordered, and don’t be afraid to ask for a deposit – especially from new customers.
Expanding Your Market
You may find that supplying locally is sufficient to sell as much as you are able to produce, but if not, you will need to gain direct access to a wider market?
- The Internet - a quick search will locate a number of farm websites selling their produce online, usually as a ‘box scheme’ sending chilled meat in insulated boxes all over the country by courier. Don’t just expect people to stumble across your website – you’ll need to do some promotion to drive ‘traffic’ to your site: put your web address on all your stationary, and use Social Media to spread the word. Consider partnering with another producer, so that, combined, you’ll be able to offer customers a wider range of produce online.
- Post Your Products - think about how you will deliver fresh produce to customers so that they’ll receive it in perfect condition. Environmentally friendly packaging makes a good impression – both on the customer and the planet, and wool has been proven to outperform other forms of insulated packaging for keeping chilled goods consistently cooler for longer. This part of the process is vitally important, as any slip could result in chilled meat or dairy produce spoiling in transit.
- Farmers Markets - these have soared in popularity in recent years: for the customer, they have the assurance of the quality, freshness and provenance of the produce on sale, and for the farmer they provide a ‘shop-front’ for their business and contact with the public. The markets also mean reduced food miles, less packaging – and a sociable morning’s shopping! Visit all the markets in your area so you can see how they operate, and talk to the traders: learn from their experience about the positive aspects of selling at a Farmer’s Market, and what are the pitfalls to avoid.
- Trade and Craft Fairs - a way to access a wider audience, especially for non-food items. These are well worth investigating – especially if you’re looking for new ideas and opportunities for marketing your products.
Help and guidance on the practicalities of selling your produce directly to the consumer is available from FARMA, a membership organisation that represents farmers, growers, producers and farmers’ markets throughout the UK.
For further information, and to see interviews with real smallholders and farmers who have established a profitable market for their products, see the DVD 'Sheep for Business, Enterprise & Profit' - programme 4 in the series 'Sheep on Your Smallholding'.