Plant expands to add more lamb

Sungold Specialty Meats | Operator sees potential for an expansion of the Canadian flock

INNISFAIL, Alta. — An ambitious plan to expand the Canadian lamb market is being hatched at Sungold Specialty Meats.

The federally inspected lamb processing facility at Innisfail is undergoing a $3 million expansion and has invested $5 million in a 50,000 head feedlot at Picture Butte, Alta.

“It is way bigger than what we need. This vision is for 10, 20, 50 years,” said chief executive officer Dwayne Beaton.

The feedlot and plant will offer full traceability for quality and inventory control and be able to provide carcass results to producers.

He said western Canadian sheep producers need to increase production to fill demand and displace some of the imported product from New Zealand and Australia.

“The idea is, we are going to build and develop a sustainable industry with lots of opportunity for everybody,” he said.

The company studied practices in Australia and realized that improving the plant’s infrastructure and increasing daily volume would boost profitability for shareholders and producers.

The Australian plant it studied runs two eight-hour shifts processing about two million head a year.

“In two weeks they basically do our entire kill at Sungold,” Beaton said.

Australian kill costs are $2.76 per head compared to $8.28 at Sungold, where 1,600 animals a week are processed. A more streamlined plant with new food safety initiatives and more automation should reduce some of the expenses.

“It has the potential to operate at 300 head an hour, so in an eight hour shift we could probably do 2,400 head,” he said.

The new killing operation should reduce costs to $2.38 per head.

However, the plant needs more lambs to meet this potential and hopes incentives such as a quality grid and contracts might encourage Alberta farms to expand.

“Volume is what is going to give us the ability to grow our business and pay producers who work with us to do the same,” he said.

Sungold processed 50,000 head in 2011 and hopes to handle 75,000 this year. Production should increase to 100,000 head per year by 2015.

Miles Kliner of Sungold said the plant has previously handled beef and bison, but it is exclusively lamb now.

More automation results in a cleaner product and separates body parts that formerly had no value and were costly to dispose.

French processing equipment was introduced to wash the head and remove the wool. The ears can be removed for pet food, and the heads with the skin left on can be sold to new markets.

The plant also has new techniques for removing feet. It has halal certification, and there is a market in the Muslim community for feet.

Offal that was previously rendered will be separated and can be used for pet food.

“The idea is to turn things that are costs into things that are revenue,” said Kliner.

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