Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


Albertans are lovin' Alberta lamb! Now one of the hottest selling protein in the province, over 100 producers in Alberta recently gathered to advance their skills and knowledge to deliver even greater quality meat while integrating technology for real-time productivity and efficiency.

Posted: January 14, 2013

Over 100 producers attended a special educational presentation on Precision Flock Management in Leduc on Saturday, January 5, 2013. The event was coordinated by Alberta Lamb Producers, Alberta Agriculture & Rural Development and funded by the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency.

They were eager to hear the experiences and insights of Manitoba producer Patrick Smith, a former university professor in Mathematics and Computer Science, and owner of Sarto Sheep Farm since 1974. His technological and business approach to practical farming processes has resulted in a more efficient operation while producing more high quality product for a hungry market.

Smith is owner-manager of over 2,300 Rideau Arcott ewes and rams, with breeding and lambing every 2-3 weeks year-round. With over 266% total drop per year from ewes of 18 months or older combined with a low mortality rate, that's over 5,000 lambs per year. He says the bigger his flock grew, the more he required the strict protocols to deliver results that would pay for his investment:

  • Maintain Detailed Records and Track Data and Performance in Real Time with Radio Frequency Identification, Bluetooth-linked equipment, and flock data management software to generate production, health, sales and financial reports to ensure all decisions are fact-based.
  • Lower Labour Costs by establishing systems to handle standard operations that are based on managing animal groups. Effective group management enables precise management of breeding, lambing, weaning and marketing of multiple lambs, with low mortality rates and self-sufficient ewes that rear their lambs little human intervention.
  • Flock Management Systems and Replacement Selection help promote ewes who breed every eight months in mostly a confined but spacious setting, with monitored heat, light, feed, detailed nursery care, and rigorous selection and culling to ensure vital ewes and lambs.
  • Marketing and Sales Systems support regular communications with buyers that has built relationships and a reputation for lamb quality and reliable shipments year round. Smith adds there is no perfect system and that PFM is challenging the way producers look at managing all their systems. There are always new challenges for any business.

Attendees were also able to tour Smith's farm virtually, with a 9-minute video that took a look at all of the aspects of business. Links to the video will be available later this year on the Alberta Lamb Producers and Alberta Agriculture's websites for producers to access 24/7.

Tim Devries, who took in the presentation, has only been managing sheep for three years in Lacombe. He believes attending presentations like Smith's builds his skills and makes it easier to be successful in the lamb business.

"I can take this information back to my operation with confidence." he says. "The sheep industry has been so welcoming and it comes from meetings like this. If I'm struggling, the other guys will share willingly. That's quite refreshing."

Ronald den Broeder, the newly-elected chair of Alberta Lamb Producers, says that only 41% of the lamb consumed in Canada is produced in our country. The remainder is imported from countries such as New Zealand. He would love to see the day when Alberta producers help to fill more of the national demand for quality lamb produced right in our own backyard.

"The lamb industry is very competitive now," he says. "Producers are making better business choices and are looking more closely at their investments in capital and labour. They are enhancing their traditional farming concepts with modern technology. The collaboration we have had with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development has been invaluable in this."

Sue Hosford, Sheep Specialist, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development states that, the growing demand for lamb and the associated opportunity for lamb production have been on industry radar for more than a decade. By working together industry and government have developed plans to help capture market and business opportunities. A strong industry capable of withstanding commodity market fluctuations while turning out a consistently high quality product for consumers needs the commitment of every stakeholder.

"Since 2004, there has been joint investment of close to $5 million in research, support programs, pilot projects, communications, information materials and skills training in the lamb industry," she says. "Our joint Precision Flock Management Project focused on getting new technology like RFID data management systems into use in more operations. It developed improved business management tools like the SheepBytes and the Flock Snapshot to assist producers in improving their lamb businesses. The competition for resources, advancing technology and a changing global lamb market are demanding high level flock and business performance."

Alberta Lamb Producers is a producer directed and funded organization that is a dynamic partner in building a sustainable, thriving industry for sheep producers. For over 40 years ALP has been providing every producer with a voice and ongoing representation to government and other industry members. Over the years ALP has conducted research, community building, technology development, communication and education programs all aimed at supporting producers and ensuring the continued growth and profitability of the industry.