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Nilo Casas – “Sheep Raising is a Profitable Venture”

A former banker resigned from the corporate world and found joy and profits from raising sheep.

If insomniacs mentally count sheep to be able to fall asleep, former banker Nilo Casas literally do that in his two farms in Cavite and Masbate to be able to calculate his profits. For 23 years, Casas, who is also an avid goat raiser, is very much convinced that there is money in sheep raising. While it is true that Filipinos generally do not eat lamb, the Arab and Muslim communities, Piney mestizos, as well as returning Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who come from the Middle East all contribute to the continuous growing demand for sheep meat.

“One time, the 54-year-old Casas recalls, “I was able to earn more than a million pesos for selling 275 heads of sheep alone. There was a politician who bought 20o heads and another rancher who bought the other 75 heads. I told myself, may pera pala talaga rito!”

How Casas stumbled into raising these wooly mammal species is an interesting story in itself. In 1984, right after he resigned as a liaison officer of a prestigious bank, Casas focused his energy on managing his five goat stores in Metro Manila. One day, a farmer from Dumaguete offered him to buy a live sheep. “I told him, I don’t have any market for that. But the farmer insisted and I bought the sheep for Php405.00. The next day, I was able to sell the sheep for Php600.00. The following day, he came again and sold more sheep. This time, I was able to sell those for Php1,000.00 each. That cycle repeated until I was able to sell 32 heads of sheep.

After five months, I bought 22 heads but did not sell the ewes (female sheep). I brought them in my mother’s farm in San Juan, Batangas. In three years time, the number of heads multiplied by eight times. By 1987, I was already raising around 400 heads of sheep.”

Since sheep belong to the genus Ovis and are part of the goat antelope subfamily, Casas discloses that there isn’t much difference in raising sheep and goats. In fact, he says, it is even easier to raise sheep because they don’t succumb to the dreaded sore eyes and foot and mouth diseases which usually infect a lot of goat breeds. Both ruminants, sheep and goats could also be raised together in the same farm and share the same food, which mostly consist of weeds and silage. “The sheep has a higher survival rate than goats,” Casas explains. “One of the reasons for this is that sheep rarely give birth to twins and as such, don’t really compete in drinking from the milk of their mothers.”

To date, Nilo Casas maintains two sheep and goat farms. One is an 18 hectare farm in Masbate and the other, a smaller 5-hectare farm in Kawit, Cavite where all his ruminants roam freely to pasture in verdant grasslands. Through the years, he has tried to shepherd different sheep breeds from the fine-textured Suffolk to the hairy St. Croix and the exceptionally vigorous Damara. The prices of these imported breeds range between Php25,000 and PhP35,000 per head. They are raised primarily for their meat, unlike in other countries, where some sheep are also raised for their good quality wool. In three to five months after birth, the sheep are sold live, the prices of which range from Php3,000 to Php4,000. However, the ewes sell more for Php5,000. Through time, the astute entrepreneur has also learned the art of value-adding by grilling the lamb and selling the whole lechon tupa at Php5,500. The price would include his version of the tupang kilawin and papaitan.

“Imagine this,” Casas proudly enthuses, “just say you have 50 heads of sheep. If you could sell that at Php4,000 each-that’s already Php200,000. How much does a Filipino domestic helper in other countries earn? Php35,000 a month. They could just come back here and raise sheep!”

But then, the proverbial question remains: is there really a growing market demand for sheep meat? Casas says he doesn’t have the accurate figure to answer that question, although based on his experience, the demand is something close to 250 heads a month. The demand peaks during Christmas and Muslim holidays and when the Arab communities in the Philippines have their own celebrations. “And as I’ve said, explains Casas, “the Spanish Filipinos or the mestizos also buy a lot of sheep from me, as well as the growing number of OFW engineers who have already imbibed the habit of cooking and eating sheep meat which they have acquired during the years they have stayed in various Arab countries.”

In selling his product to Arabs, Casas notes that they have their own requirements in buying sheep. “They really want it live,” he quips. “They want a sheep that’s complete with ears and tail. They don’t want parts of the sheep to be cut off.”

To further expand his market, Casas makes his sheep visible in agri-trade shows like Agrilink, which he has already been a loyal suki of for the past four years. Added to this, at the start of the year, he designs his own “Sheep Calendars” and distributes them to the different Middle East and Arab embassies in Makati. He says those calendars contain pictures of his sheep, his name and contact numbers and even maps of how to go to his farms. Moreover, he is also an active member of the Federation of Goat and Sheep Raisers of the Philippines, from which he regularly exchanges notes and pointers with other sheep raisers on how to improve their enterprises.

For those who are interested to raise sheep, Casas willingly shares this advice: “For a start, you can raise five to 10 heads of sheep. After eight months, the ewes can already be impregnated by the rams. In five months, they would already give birth. If the sheep reaches the optimum weight of 18 kilograms, they can already be sold. In my experience, you would spend around Php500 per head of sheep. That would already include their food, depreciation and labor costs. Sheep can eat any kind of grass although I would recommend napier, para grass, centrosema, malunggay and ipil-ipil. If you want good quality meat, you could also feed them with growing mash-the one that you feed the pigs. Sheep can also eat leftovers and food peelings. I would also advise them to contact other sheep raisers so that they could learn from their own experiences. We are growing in number. We have sheep farms in Bulacan, Antipolo, etc. If they are worried about their market, they can come to me because I also don’t merely sell sheep. I also happen to buy and outsource from other raisers in order to meet my volume requirement.”

In the future, Nilo Casas aims to increase his sheep production from mere hundreds to around 3,500 heads. In fact, he is on the lookout for possible business partners who might want to forge an alliance with him. With the growing number of sheep enthusiasts and the continuous increase of well-traveled Filipinos who have already acquired the taste for lamb meat, time will come when Mr. Casas will no longer be able to count the sheep in his farms. By that time, he would probably be paying it forward and teaching the new generation of Pinoy shepherds how to earn more money by raising these well loved wooly farm animals.