WHAT ARE SHEEP?
Sheep are mammals with a thick woolly coat, kept in flocks and
raised for meat, wool or milk. Some sheep have hairy coats and are
called hair sheep. Sheep are ruminants, which means that
they, like cattle and goats, chew their cud. Adult female sheep are
called ewes, adult males are called rams and young sheep are called
WHERE ARE SHEEP PRODUCED IN BC?
There are about 75,000 sheep in BC 43% of the sheep are raised on
Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, 19% in the Thompson-Okanagan
region, 13% in the Cariboo region, 15% in the Peace region and the
remainder throughout the province.
HOW MANY SHEEP DO WE PRODUCE?
BC produces about 85 tonnes of shorn wool. Coarse wool is sold to
the countries in the European Community; fine wool is sold to Japan.
There are about 28,000 sheep and lambs slaughtered each year for
meat. In BC, sheep's milk is a minor commodity.
HOW ARE SHEEP PRODUCED?
Sheep and lambs are able to graze more closely on short grasses
and various shrubs than cattle. They eat finer-textured plants than
cattle do. It is important to protect grazing sheep from predators
such as coyotes or roving dogs. Sheep can be raised on a small piece
of land. One-half hectare of pasture can support 6 to 8 ewes. For
this reason, many producers farm on a small, part-time scale. Sheep
need to be well fed before and during breeding to ensure a good
conception rate and a high incidence of twins. Besides grass or hay,
ewes need a supplement of barley, protein concentrate and minerals.
Breeding usually occurs in the fall. Ewes are first bred as
yearlings. Gestation is about 150 days which results in lambs being
born in early spring. While most ewes are bred once per year there
are some breeds, like Dorsets, which produce a 3-lamb crop over a
2-year period. Most of the lambs produced in BC are marketed from
the farm gate. Ideal market weight is
45 to 50kg. Some Easter lambs are marketed at 20 to 25kg. There is a
small amount of further processed lamb produced.
Sheep are shorn, usually in the late spring, for their wool. The
sheep grows another fleece of wool by the fall when it is needed to
keep the animal warm. The average weight of the wool from one mature
sheep in about 2.3kg.
WHAT DOES SHEEP LOOK LIKE WHEN I USE IT?
Lamb is eaten as fresh meat. Lamb chops, ribs, or rack of lamb
are all popular cuts. Mutton, which is the meat from mature sheep,
is not as tender as lamb. It is often used as filler in sausages.
Sheep wool is spun and is used in clothing such sweaters, mitts,
and pants. There is a specialty market for different colours of
natural wool. Sheep wool can be blond, red, beige, brown, silver or
gray. This wool is often used for weaving and by fibre industry
artists. Sheep milk is used for yogurt or for cheeses such as
Roquefort, Feta or Ricotta.
A relatively new development in BC is the use of sheep for weed
control in replanted forest clearcuts. Many of the sheep for the
large flocks needed for this are obtained from BC and Alberta.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE SHEEP LEAVE THE FARM?
Fresh lamb is slaughtered, butchered and packaged for sale.
Wool fleece are collected on farms and marketed through the BC
Wool Commission to the Canadian Wool Growers' Cooperative. The wool
is sent to Lethbridge, Alberta, where the co-op has a processing
facility. There is some custom carding of wool carried out at Gulf
Island Spinning Mill on Salt Spring Island.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO SHEEP PRODUCERS FACE?
BC imports about 375,000kg of sheep and lamb's meat each year.
There is an opportunity to replace this imported meat with locally
grown production. However, the expansion of the lamb industry is
constrained by a lack of infrastructure, transport, processing and
management interest among farmers. The BC Sheep Federation has been
working to improve the marketing of BC lamb through education and
WHO'S INVOLVED IN PRODUCING SHEEP?
- Lamb farmers
- Processors and meat cutters
- Meat inspectors
Interesting Fact About Sheep:
Sheep are ruminants, animals which have four stomachs and
chew their cud. This method of digestion was essential in the
early stages of these animals' evolution. By being able to eat
grass without chewing it well, they could graze quickly and get
out of sight of predators. Later the "cuds" of grass are
brought up from the first stomach and chewed. The chewed cud then
passes through the other three stomachs to be digested.
- Contacts and other resources:
- BCMAL -
- BC Purebred Sheep Breeders' Association
Canadian Sheep Breeders
- InfoBasket: Your Portal to Agri-Food Information on the Internet