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Letters – for Dec. 3, 2009

Troubled times for cattle farmers

Several years ago, at the height of the BSE crisis, two separate newspaper reporters labelled me “a troubled cattle producer.”

They were right. I was troubled then and I am still troubled today.

I am troubled about the Canadian cattle industry and its future. I am troubled by government policies and programs that either miss the mark entirely, or promise much, while hiding bad news in the small print. I am troubled by disparities between programs offered to different segments of the agriculture industry. I am troubled by misinformed public attitudes and increasing government regulations.

I learned from my father and his father before him that farming was the most important job in the world, because farmers provide the food we need for survival. I cling to that belief, but I am disillusioned.

BSE was still in the news when my nephew approached me about joining the family farm. He wanted to raise his children in the country, he said. But I could see no viable future for him in the cattle industry. Stay in the army, I said.

He did. He went to Afghanistan and did not return.

In the years since, I have revisited that conversation many times. If I could change history, I would. But the advice I gave him was the best I could give him at the time.

After the Second World War, veterans were given farmland in repayment for their service. I am ready to retire, and if there were a soldier out there who wanted to buy a farm, I would do my best to help him purchase mine.

But I am no longer sure that a farm is a good reward for military service. We send our young men and women off to fight for democracy and freedom in the name of our country. And that country seems to have less and less room in it for the family cattle farm.

Kerry Arksey Langruth, Man.

Sheep give producers reason to smile

Thank you for the very informative Nov. 19 issue on the sheep industry and where it is going. I wanted to just make a few comments that would help clear up some of the questions raised by your articles.

First, loss to coyotes: as with any operation, having a comprehensive solution works best. To enable livestock guardian dogs (LGD) to do their job, they have to be properly bonded to the specific animals that they are to guard and they have to be in sufficient numbers to protect the area of their animals.

A properly bonded LGD will not touch a lamb to harm it even if it is dead, and mauling is often a sign of female in heat. To effectively protect small livestock from predators, you need to understand the differences in breeds of LGD’s, how donkeys deter coyotes, how llama behaviour changes according to numbers/sex of animals and each of their limitations.

“The labour-intensive nature of the work” is also very dependent on the type and breed and bloodlines of sheep you choose to raise. Before purchasing large groups of sheep, I would suggest doing some reading about different breeds and their traits. There are meat breeds that require minimal care, no shearing, and can utilize existing cattle structures.

“To handle a sheep, think like one” was a very nice article. By spending 10 minutes a day walking amongst your sheep they learn to trust you. This practice will make lambing time easier as they will be accustomed to you moving through them. Also smile; sheep prefer people who smile.

Mamoon Ranshid, of MAFRI, stated in “More money in Sheep” that processing is $35/head or $0.90 per lb. on a 45-lb.-carcass – that came to $40.50 with my calculator. But regardless, we (all current lamb producers) would like to know where we can have an inspected lamb butchered, cut and wrapped for $35. Also it is not illegal for anyone to purchase a live lamb and deliver it to an uninspected butcher and have it butchered for their own family.

Mamoon also states that there is a shortage of quality breeding stock in Manitoba. I beg to differ. First, the best ewes for a commercial operation are not necessarily purebred registered animals. What is important is records of production from ewes of the lines you purchase. Most commercial flocks are a strong cross that provides the higher vigour of lambs for our temperamental weather in Manitoba. As for good rams, producers need to see the ram as an investment.

The main factor in raising sheep is the risk factor. With a cow you can possibly produce one calf per year. Eight wool sheep would raise a possible 16 lambs. Lose half and you still have more than half a calf. With the dedicated meat breeds, your base is raised to 10 ewes and 20 lambs (three lambings in two years could net a possible 60 lambs). Now compare the risk of losing one of two calves to the ability to lose up to 30 lambs and still be ahead.

Lorna S. Wall Wall 2 Wall Sheep Ranch Poplarfield, Man.

Please forward letters to Manitoba Co-operator, 1666 Dublin Ave., Winnipeg, R3H 0H1 or Fax: 204-954-1422 or email: [email protected]

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