“It does take some experience to become efficient, as with any business. But over the years we have found ways to make it a pretty simple business to run.”
When Bill Gibson first started his lamb operation, it was simply a way to justify buying land in the country and enjoying the rural lifestyle. Thirty years later, his flock keeps expanding and his interest making his operation successful keeps growing.
“We started out with just 25 ewes we bought from our neighbour, and ran them on rented land,” says the Tees-area producer. “It does take some experience to become efficient, as with any business. But over the years we have found ways to make it a pretty simple business to run.”
Gibson now owns over 200 ewes and sells over 400 lambs a year. He says one of the ways they have gained efficiency is with their feeding and breeding decisions. Four years ago, they began to move away from the more traditional feeding methods.
“By corralling sheep, bringing the food to them and then carting away the manure, your production costs are relatively high,” he says. “But when we were in Australia we saw how they fed the sheep in the field, and it’s amazing how many more sheep you can feed in much shorter period of time.”
For breeding, he looks for heterosis – hybrid vigour – in his flock. He explains that in order to maximize returns he blends several different breeds to create a maternal animal that produces offspring designed to meet the packing-plant criteria.
Whether for his lamb or his breeding stock, Gibson says that demand has always exceeded his supply. Over the past 10 years he never had any surplus lamb to sell, and if he had more, then his customers would take them. Gibson says that Alberta has a long way to go until market demand is fulfilled.
Gibson says one of the key draws for new producers is that sheep production is not a costly business to get into and that producers can start small and grow their business as they gain experience. However, he says the biggest impediments to industry expansion are government bureaucracy and ongoing challenges with predator control. Gibson values the Alberta Lamb Producers organization advocacy role with government, and the critical updates and communication they provide to producers.
As a long-time producer, he’s been through different changes in policy, regulations and markets. “It’s been a while since we’ve had tough times,” says Gibson. “But we are proud that when times were tough we were able to maintain our success and our growth and bring our business through to a time when the sky’s the limit for the industry.”