“The first thing they say is, ‘Well, if they raise the price, I’ll produce more lambs.’ But prices have been pretty good.”
– JENNIFER MACTAVI SH
The latest StatsCan numbers show that the Canadian ewe flock dipped one per cent over last year, down from 522,100 in 2009.
That number represents a continuing 18 per cent downward trend since 2004, when the ewe flock stood at 613,400 head.
Manitoba’s ewe flock has lost 3,800 head since 2009, when the herd was 31,500 strong.
Bucking the trend were Ontario and Saskatchewan, with increases of three and four per cent, respectively. But even their gains were still under the 2004 peak.
Jennifer MacTavish, executive director of the Canadian Sheep Federation, said that besides obvious reasons such as the lingering impact of BSE, which hit sheep producers as well as the cattle industry, a wide range of factors could be at play.
According to her contacts among the nation’s sheep producers, these could include weather in some parts of the country which led to producers selling off ewes due to hay shortages.
“Some producers have indicated that predation is a problem,” she added. “Some guys could be getting out because predation is just putting too much pressure on their operation.”
Another factor could be that current high prices are luring older sheep producers to cash in ahead of retirement, or for those wishing to continue, instead of holding back ewe lambs, they may be selling them.
“It might be all of the above,” she said.
The Canadian Sheep Federation has in recent years been urging producers to increase their herd numbers, arguing that undersupplying the market is as much of a problem as oversupplying, because it causes consumers and retailers to reach for more imported product.
“The first thing they say is, ‘Well, if they raise the price, I’ll produce more lambs.’ But prices have been pretty good,” she said. “We’re trying to have that discussion with producers to find out what they need to expand.”
Hog producers have been making inquiries, but fewer calls have been received from the cattle industry. A good number of retiring dairy producers have been making the switch in recent years, she added.
One obstacle to new entrants is the shortage of breeding stock.
To get around that, the federation is trying harder to help producers decrease their lamb mortality rates and aim for an annual production target of 1.8 lambs per ewe, she said.
The Manit oba Sheep Association’s annual meeting will be held March 6 at the Herman Prior Centre in Portage la Prairie. [email protected]