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Horned Sheep Aren’t Only In The Rockies

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“Our motto is that we are raising heritage genetics for the future.”

When most people want to see horned sheep, they go to the Rocky Mountains. Patric Lyster just goes out into his yard. Lyster, who farms with his wife Lee and son Rocky near Fawcett, Alberta, has the largest flock of registered Horned Dorset sheep in Canada.

He has kept sheep for more than 36 years, and became interested in unusual breeds when he was searching for quality animals without high input costs. Lyster’s farming philosophy is focused on creating high-quality stock. “We want balanced trait animals that will produce with minimal input costs,” says Lyster. “Our motto is that we are raising heritage genetics for the future.”

Lyster, who calls his operation Coyote Acres, originally started keeping crossbred sheep, which led to registered Suffolk sheep and eventually to Dorsets.

Lyster likes the traits found in the horned variety of the breed, which originated in Dorset county, England.

“They’re an efficient, modern-frame sheep. Their biggest claim to fame is their out-of-season breeding,” he says. Out-of-season breeding means ewes can lamb every eight months.

Horned Dorsets are primarily a meat sheep. Lyster says they are easy-keeping, and also good mothers and good milkers.

In an average year, Lyster generally runs about 100 Horned Dorsets, but has reduced his numbers due to the drought. Horned Dorsets are not terribly common in Canada, possibly because many people are reluctant to work with horned sheep, says Lyster. People worry that horned sheep will be more aggressive or that the horns will get caught in fencing. However, Lyster and his son have not had any problems.

Lyster conducted his own experiments with rates of gain, and found that he could feed three Dorset sheep for what it cost to feed two Suffolks.

OTHER RARE BREEDS

Beside the Dorsets, Lyster also has about 20 Shropshire ewes, which are similar except they lack the trait of out-of-season breeding and lack horns.

In addition to the sheep, the Lysters raise Angus and polled Herefords and keep four Canadian dairy cows and some Irish Kerry milk cows. The Canadian dairy cows were developed in Quebec and are similar to Black Jersey cows, but with increased winter hardiness. The Irish Kerry cows were seen as the poor man’s milk cow in Ireland and are also winter hardy. The cows generally graze until January or February and calve later in the year.

Lyster also raises large black pigs out on pasture. He says these animals are very docile and are a great pasture pig that lives outside all year. “If the grass is good, they’d almost rather eat grass then grain.”

Poultry isn’t left out of the mix. Lyster has several Chantecler chickens that have a cushioned comb that doesn’t freeze in winter. He has found that both the Chanteclers and the Blue Orpington chickens are good dual-purpose birds. He is also raising Ridley Bronze turkeys, which have a dark meat.

Having a diverse operation gives Lyster several options when it comes to marketing livestock and maximizing his operation. The cattle and sheep are complimentary grazers and the pigs eat the scrap, he said.

Lyster also uses a team of Suffolk Punch horses to pull his loader to reduce his costs. Lyster experiments to find animals that suit his needs. “We do the homework of selecting genetics that are as close as we can find to fit our environment and management, but we know that there will be a percentage of genetics that won’t work,” he said.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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