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Prices High, But Sheep Numbers Still Slump

The latest Stat ist ics Canada numbers show Manitoba’s ewe herd is bucking the national trend – but in the wrong direction.

Even though Canada’s flock of 813,600 grew by one per cent in 2010 (and replacement lamb numbers for the whole country grew by 7.6 per cent as of Jan. 1), Manitoba sheep numbers were pegged at 53,000 head, down 10 per cent from the year before.

In contrast, Saskatchewan and Alberta were up three per cent and 4.5 per cent respectively.

The Manitoba Sheep Association is seeking provincial support for a ewe lamb retention program to boost sheep numbers. But while meetings have been “positive,” no commitments have been made, said association chair Mark Humphries.

EWE RETENTION

“The ewe retention program was a request for monetary help for the producers to assist with cash flow,” said Humphries, who started up a sheep and cattle operation near Elkhorn three years ago after moving to Canada from the U.K.

“A lot of the new producers find it very difficult to increase their flock straight away because they need to sell their cash crop of lambs as soon as they hit the floor almost.”

Boosting sheep numbers would be good all around, he added, because it would give the industry more leverage with government, lure more slaughter capacity to set up shop, and lessen the need for imports from Australia and New Zealand.

The association also favours creating a value chain to get Manitoba lamb on Winnipeg store shelves, but with live-weight prices as high as $2.25 per pound in Ontario, many truckloads of Manitoba lambs are heading east.

“We’re still trying to get producers on board,” said Humphries. “The local abattoirs and the Winnipeg market are crying out for lambs to be brought in.”

ONEROUS REGULATIONS

One of the biggest obstacles to getting more lamb on local shelves is due to overly onerous regulations regarding slaughter, which have forced many small, though willing and capable, abattoirs to kill both cattle and sheep in order to be viable.

He added that this has created an absurd situation in which lambs are shipped to Ontario for slaughter, then the meat shipped back for sale in Manitoba.

“Or even worse, we’re buying it from New Zealand, when there’s lamb to be bought, sold and eaten right here in the province,” said Humphries.

Discussions around the 2012 deadline for mandatory RFID tagging also came up at the association’s recent AGM, with some producers expressing skepticism about the need for such a program. Many producers aren’t happy with the CFIA’s fines for non-compliance, which were increased in October last year to $1,300 per infraction. The fines are applicable to transporters, producers and auction marts.

TRACEABILITY

After a lot of discussion, Humphries said that the majority of the MSA board is now in favour of traceability for sheep, and that position is filtering down to the membership.

After witnessing first hand the effect on trade of foot-and-mouth, BSE, bluetongue and scrapie outbreaks in Yorkshire, U.K., prior to coming to Canada, Humphries believes that traceability is worth the extra cost and effort.

The association’s request that the CFIA send an official to the AGM to address the concerns of some members about “draconian” penalties for lost tags went unheeded.

“We are thinking at the minute that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime,” said Humphries, noting the average price of a breeding ewe is around $220.

“If we’re talking about a $1,300 fine, that doesn’t make a lot of sense when the average ewe flock in Manitoba is about 52 head per farm.”

Humphr ies added that although the association recognizes the need for deterrence, it will push the CFIA to clarify its stance on the missing tag issue, and possibly lower the fine.

Also in the pipeline for Manitoba shepherds is funding for biosecurity under Growing Forward. It would provide up to $5,000 for each operation to cover the costs of fencing, guardian dogs and other improvements.

Sources say that details are still being hashed out, but an announcement may be forthcoming within weeks or months.

daniel. [email protected]

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Alotofthenew producersfinditvery difficulttoincrease theirflockstraight awaybecausethey needtoselltheir cashcropoflambs assoonastheyhit theflooralmost.”

– mark humphries

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