Nearly every summer we find a need to move sheep into or out of our flock across several states — in other words, we need sheep transport. We have a truck with a large crate that fits in the box, and we have a trailer, so moving sheep for our own business is well within our capabilities. The trick is trying to get those sheep moved without breaking the bank. Since moving a full load in the truck or trailer spreads the cost over more animals — making it less expensive per sheep — we sometimes provide transport for other flocks. But although it saves money, the logistics can get rather tricky.
Our sheep are free of the diseases that sheep are prone to, and we are very careful to purchase only from farms that value disease resistance. Sheep that cross a state line are required to have a health inspection within 30 days of transport, but this inspection can be minimal, depending on the vet. Since we are also transporting our own sheep, the last thing we want is to introduce some foreign illness during movement, so we purposely limit our transportation to those sheep who come from farms that are as careful about health as we are.
Most people who want to buy sheep and transport them across the states, want to know how much the transport will cost before they sign on or make a full commitment. Yet at the early stages of the process, we don’t have any idea how many sheep we’ll be moving. Will we have enough to fill the crate in the truck in both directions, or will be have only a couple going one way? Will we need to use the trailer, which reduces our gas mileage by about 40%? What will the gas prices be for the days or weeks of our trip? Will we be able to take a direct route to only one or two stops, or will we be meandering all over multiple states? When we first book transport, we know none of these answers. All we know is that we will be moving sheep and we’ll minimize the cost as much as possible for all involved.
Once we are within a couple of months of our transport, we must begin giving people a firm price quote to move their sheep. At that point I often still don’t know how many sheep, but I make the decision about the trailer — either we will take it because I think we can move enough sheep to cover our costs, or we won’t. I begin to map a route based on the people who have already contacted me, and I estimate a total gas cost based on expected gas prices. If most of the sheep are heading into the same region, I divide the gas expense across the total number of sheep, but if some are only going for half the distance, I count them at only half the rate. In this way, a per-sheep price begins to take shape.
Although food and lodging will factor into the equation, that doesn’t happen in this preliminary stage when I’m trying to cover our biggest expense— gas. If the transport cost is too high, people will drop out, which makes the per-sheep cost go up for the rest of us. As that price increases, more people drop out, until eventually we are paying for the entire trip ourselves to bring in one or two sheep — and that is counterproductive. My entire goal is to move the sheep for the lowest possible price by keeping as many people in on the deal as possible. I figure the price per sheep, and I round up a bit to make sure we are covered for gas, in case gas prices go up in the interim period.
Once the price has been established, I let everyone know that we are transporting sheep to and from this list of states for this specific price. The quoted price doesn’t cover our food or lodging, but it does cover our gas and hay for the sheep (which isn’t much but is included in my rounding up) and perhaps just a little more. Once the price is set — and it’s usually an attractive price — I often begin to hear from more people who want sheep moved. These late additions help to cover our cost for wear and tear on the truck, lodging, and meals. If I don’t get any late additions, then those costs are ours to cover — but since I would be making this trip for our own sheep anyway, those costs would have been ours. In the end, I hope for a full vehicle in both directions. If that happens, then all of our expenses are covered and we end up paying the same transport rate ourselves that I quoted everyone else.
This year we are bringing in two sheep from out of state for our own flock: Sterling, a two-year-old moorit Romeldale ram who caught my eye as a lamb when we visited Marushka Farms in central Pennsylvania two years ago, and Balsamic, a ewe lamb at Fry Sheep Farm in southern Pennsylvania who I noticed while collecting spotted-lamb photos for my study of spotting-pattern genes. Both will need to catch a ride into Iowa. We also have four sheep from our flock who need to be moved east into Pennsylvania and southwestern Virgina. Another transport trip is in the works!