Sheep industry called ripe for expansion

Abundant opportunities | Producers take a second look because sheep can complement a variety of agricultural operations

BLUESKY, Alta. — When Phil Kolodychuk drives down the road, he looks with envy at the roadsides, farmland and old yard sites that would be ideal for grazing sheep.

“There is so much grass out there that could be utilized,” said Kolodychuk, chair of the Alberta Lamb Producers.

At the end of a quiet road, Kolodychuk’s sheep often graze the ditches and the neighbour’s yards. It’s a win-win scenario. The yards and ditches get tidied up and it’s a bit more grass for his almost 400 head flock on his northern Alberta farm.

The abundance of feed and ability to graze sheep in small areas and in combination with cattle have Kolodychuk believing there is a good future for sheep in Alberta.

“They can complement a lot of different operations. Sheep eat a lot of different things than cows. They’re easier to handle than cows,” said Kolodychuk, who lambs about 100 ewes to coincide with Easter holidays when his daughter is home from school and she can help with the lambing.

In recent years, producers looking for quiet livestock and viable operations have taken a second look at the sheep industry.

High lamb prices have further piqued their interest.

Kolodychuk also works at the Grande Prairie Regional College’s Fairview Campus. Part of his job is to look after the college’s sheep flock.

The recent drop in sheep and lamb prices may be the incentive Kolodychuk needs to hold back more replacement lambs to build his flock to 600.

With only one quarter of land, he uses a combination of cross fencing, pellet and barley rations and buying hay to feed the sheep throughout the year.

With the yard close to home, page wire around the perimeter and two guard dogs, death losses from predators have been minimal.

At 90 pounds, the lambs are shipped to a feedlot or whoever has the highest price. With Alberta’s main lamb slaughtering plant several hundred kilometres away in Innisfail, transportation costs are always an issue when selling the lambs.

While Alberta’s flock numbers are slowly increasing, Kolodychuk hopes the increased numbers will also strengthen the infrastructure around the sheep industry.

Rumours of a possible influx of 100,000 sheep from New Zealand to Alberta would give the industry a real boost and help ensure the existing packing plants and feedlots are maintained.

“The future looks bright. There is a lot of opportunity.”

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