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A two-year-long study taking place in Manitoba is examining whether artificial changes in daylight can result in out-of-season lamb production through off-season breeding. Out-of-season breeding by manipulating daylight is not new to the sheep industry, but it has never been tested in Manitoba s unique environment.

Sheep only breed when the days are short, then they are pregnant for about five months, said Manitoba Food and Rural Initiatives sheep and goat specialist, Mamoon Rashid. That means we re looking at the lambing season as being mainly in the spring. The result is that we only have a supply of lamb for a certain period.

He added the demand for sheep is growing in Canada, but that the bulk of the lamb meat being consumed is still imported from the countries like New Zealand. Rashid said having lamb available throughout the year would help lessen reliance on foreign supplies.

To that end, Rashid worked with Manitoba Sheep Association chairman Lucien Lesage to apply to the Agri-Food Research and Development Initiative (ARDI) to obtain $60,000 in funding for a two-year-long research project. Nearly one year of the project has been completed.

Rashid said experiments aimed at expanding breeding capacity have been done in the past, but have primarily focused on the use of synthetic hormones. Although synthetic hormones are not considered a concern for food safety, the success rate hovers between 40 to 60 per cent.

Research has been done in Quebec on the effect of daylight hours on sheep breeding using a technique similar to what is used in poultry operations. However, conditions in Manitoba, including weather, differ from those in Quebec, meaning information isn t necessarily transferable.

The concern is the efficacy. When we tweak something from Mother Nature, how will it work? said Rashid. Once we have these results we will be able to show how viable the use of photoperiodism is in producing off-season lambs in Manitoba.

Lesage is conducting the research at his farm near Carman, using a flock of 240 divided into groups of 30 ewes.

On paper it looks really good, but we will have to wait and see what the results say, he said.

Unlike the method used in Quebec, which manipulates both daylight and nighttime, Lesage is only manipulating daylight using a series of bright lights in his barn, which currently switch on around 2 a.m. giving animals 16 hours of daylight.

When the light is later reduced by four hours, it generates ovulation in ewes.

This way also allows them to spend a fair amount of time outside, said the producer. The other way sees them confined indoors all of the time, and I don t envision that as a healthy way to raise animals.

Lesage added the method he is exploring costs about $1 per ewe in Hydro costs, whereas the use of synthetic hormones costs about $11 per ewe.

However, he noted it is still too early to say what the results of the trial will be.

Rashid added preliminary data will be in at the end of this year.

So far so good, Rashid said.

[email protected]

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Lucien LesageManitoba Sheep Association Chairman

This way also allows them to spend a fair amount of time outside. The other way sees them confined indoors all of the time, and I don t envision that as a healthy way to raise animals.

About the author

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Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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