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Updated: 8th January 2019 19:29

Alberta increases sheep flocks

In the heart of cattle country the Alberta government is encouraging shepherds to increase their flocks.

Alberta has more than 130,000 sheep, a number that is growing. (CBC)In the heart of cattle country, the Alberta government is encouraging shepherds to increase their flocks.

Prices for sheep in Alberta are at an all time high thanks to increased demand and fewer producers in Australia and New Zealand.

Alberta can expand its sheep industry without bringing down prices, said Sue Hosford, a Camrose-based business development specialist with Alberta Agriculture.

"When you're only producing 47 per cent of what the [Canadian] demand is and that demand is growing, you've got a long way to go before you're going to run into that problem," she said.

Canada imports lamb from New Zealand and Australia, but now producers in that region have been hit by droughts or floods, as well as high production costs.

Younger shepherds

In the rural community of Three Hills, Kathy Parker said after 30 years in the sheep business, she has noticed younger people getting involved.

"It used to be that when you went to a producers' meeting you saw the same old guys and old girls all the time and they were just getting older. Now there are lots of young faces," she said.

Parker says lamb production across Alberta has been going up steadily in the last three years.

"It's impossible to keep up with the demand. It's not like you can put on an extra shift in an automobile factory," Parker said. "These are very record highs for people who are looking for expansion you can't hardly find ewe lambs to buy, to expand. So you pretty much have to retain your ewe lambs."

Sheep producers need to pay a lot of attention to detail, while worrying about weather and predators, said Hosford.

"It requires an incredible amount of management. It's not like running small beef cows. It's like running a good dairy herd."

Alberta Agriculture is helping lamb producers increase their flocks with pilot projects that focus on productivity and efficiency, she said.

Alberta has more than 130,000 sheep. Across Canada, there are more than 810,000 sheep.

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