While the economics of sheep production may seem alluring for some cattle and hog producers, the reality is driving at least one producer out of the business.
Edie Mowat, who raised 300 ewes near Brandon with her son Greg after her husband Glenn died four years ago, decided this fall to exit the industry.
The main reasons?
The labour-intensive nature of the work was one factor in the decision, but the main one was the abundance of coyotes in their area near the Assiniboine River.
“A year ago, the coyotes took 40 lambs,” she said. “This last year, we haven’t let them down to pasture in the valley at all because they were just getting picked off.”
The Mowats had a couple of llamas mixed in with the flock, but she wonders if the critters were actually doing their jobs.
They also tried the big white dogs famed for bonding with and protecting sheep around the clock.
“We did have one (Great Pyrenees) on trial and we thought she was maybe going to be the answer – she was patrolling and staying out in the flock
– and then one day I went out and I caught her with a lamb in her mouth,” she said. “At that point, I decided that it wasn’t going to work.”
No matter what they tried, the
coyotes always seemed to get the better of them. Even sheep kept overnight in a corral in the yard under lights with a radio blaring were still falling victim to the relentless killers.
“Would you believe it? They came right into that corral and peeled off a big ram,” she said. “They brought him down in the corner and just demolished him.”
The Mowats are down to 12 animals now. Those ones that are left are still around only because of the difficulty booking hooks at nearby slaughter facilities. On the upside, however, she noted that the demand for freezer lamb is strong.
“It’s a real hassle getting processing done,” she said.
While many people suspect that the problem of coyote predation is getting worse with each passing year, statistics from Manitoba Ag Services Coporation (MASC) show fewer sheep reported lost to predators in 2009 than in the year before, according to Craig Thompson, vice-president of insurance operations.
That’s partly because in order to make a claim, producers need to have a carcass, which can’t always be located.
As of October this year, compensation was paid for 254 sheep lost, compared to 305 during the same period in 2008. Compensation is based on the market price, with more paid for ewes and rams than for lambs, he said. [email protected]