Lambing season a busy time for Peace Region sheep farmers

Sheep a small but growing part of region's agriculture economy

Toward the back of the sheep pen, Andy Tschetter finds a newborn lamb struggling in its first few minutes in the world.

The animal shivers in the spring wind, still covered in afterbirth and straw. Its mother stands a short distance away, tentative.     

"He just needs a little extra help," says Tschetter, gently lifting the wobbly, hours-old creature and helping it to its feet. A few minutes later the animal is standing on its own.   

As shepherd at the Peace View Hutterite Colony, Tschetter helps hundreds of lambs a year into the world.

Lambs lounge in a pasture at the Peace View Colony. 95 lambs had been born to around 60 ewes by early May. - Jonny Wakefield

May is typically the busiest season for the Peace Region's handful of sheep operations, including the one at the colony north of Dawson Creek.

Tschetter, 27, has been involved in the sheep farm since 2002, when Peace View branched off from the nearby South Peace Hutterite Colony. This year, he became shepherd, and more or less runs the operation himself.

The self-professed "lamb fan" and "fibre buff" is in charge of breeding the sheep, protecting the lambs from predators and getting their valuable wool to market.

"It's rewarding," he said. "You pick out the top quality lambs and watch them grow and evolve. Then they lamb, which is is gratifying to see. The effort you put in, it works for you."

Sheep farming is a small but growing part of the Peace Region's agriculture sector.

While the Peace Region is best known for its cattle, sheep are becoming increasingly popular among producers.

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One 300-pound "New Zealand" bag of domestic wool typically fetches around $240, with merino blends going for $1.20 a pound. - Jonny Wakefield

According to statistics from the ministry of agriculture, lamb sales generated $7.3 million in 2014, a 34 per cent increase over 2013. For comparison, B.C.'s beef cattle industry generated more than $279 million in 2014.
But sheep are versatile, allowing farmers to make use of small or unproductive parcels of land. In 2014, the province's 44,000 lambs were spread more or less evenly across B.C., with roughly 6,600 in the Peace Region.

The Peace View Colony has 450 ewes, in addition to chickens, pigs, ducks, geese and turkeys, Tschetter said. Sixty ewes gave birth to around 95 lambs this May—a bumper year aided by a mild winter.

While things calm down in the summer, raising lambs is a year-round operation.

The sheep are typically sheared before lambing season, with the wool being sold at the Canadian Co-operative Wool Growers Limited branch in Lethbridge, Alta.

One 300-pound "New Zealand" bag of domestic wool typically fetches around $240, with finer merino blends going for $1.20 a pound.

To make sure as many sheep as possible survive, Tschetter aims to breed "shorter, chunkier" lambs.

Sheep wool and meat sales generated $7.3 million in B.C. in 2014. - Jonny Wakefield

"The closer they are to the ground, the better they do," he said. "Large, big-boned sheep are less desirable for us. They need too much to eat throughout the year." Tschetter keeps up on the latest in feed and technology through a number of journals, including Sheep Canada Magazine.

"That's our national publication," he said. "You pick up a lot of tips. There's nutritionists, other valuable people who offer their services, and you can always learn."  

He's also "a believer in nature" and knowing when to step back.  

"For example, during lambing, it's best to leave them alone," he said. "Sometimes you can interfere. I think it's like the deer and the moose out there. They'll do okay on their own."

A newborn lamb on the Peace View Hutterite Colony. - Jonny Wakefield

In the case of "orphaned" lambs, though, he has to take a more active role.

When a mother sheep doesn't have enough milk to feed an offspring—often the case with triplets—Tschetter has to feed the lamb itself. That was the case with the struggling lamb Tschetter rescued in early May.  

So far it, looks like the animal will pull through. On Monday Tschetter said the newborn was "hopping and skipping" with the rest of the lambs.

© Copyright Dawson Creek Mirror News


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