Denis Nagel, Crossfield, Alberta
Denis grew up on a small ranch in southern Saskatchewan. When he was young boy, a family moved into his area and brought a large flock of sheep and two Border Collie dogs. He was not old enough to put his boots on the right feet at the time but he remembers falling in love with those dogs.
After he graduated from Veterinary College he moved to southern Alberta to work in Crossfield. He spent the first few years in the area looking for the perfect place to live. He's been farming, ranching and raising his sheep and dogs at that place he eventually found - for 26 years and counting!
He had two Border Collies that he was training on various sheep around the area, when he got his own place he could finally raise his own sheep. Denis says that you need at least three sheep to train a dog, but very soon the sheep get to know the commands as well as the dog does so you need three more. The same thing happens with those three sheep so you get six more. Twelve sheep are not much better so he says you have to double your flock to get twenty-four. Once you have twenty-four he says he started making a profit on his farm so he increased his flock to 50. Denis continued to grow and said that at 50 sheep you start to need some equipment and you need to spread the costs over an even bigger flock. He eventually grew to 300 where he realized he needed more land. And that is how he got to where he is at now!
He does most of the work himself with the help of his two dogs. He hires someone to help at lambing and shearing but most of the time it is just himself, which is a lot of work for one person! Denis says his kids help out on weekends when things get really busy around the farm.
Denis raises Dorset cross ewes and breeds them to Suffolk rams to produce a flock of happy, healthy feeder lambs that start on pasture grass and go off to be finished in a feed yard. He currently lambs out around 350 ewes with plans to grow to 500 ewes.
Denis says that he does not have a typical morning as his routine changes with the time of year. He tends to spend more time with the sheep at lambing, but once the lambs are a month old, they and their mothers are out on grass and pretty much look after themselves. Denis also runs a veterinarian practice, so he has to have a low intensity management system for his sheep.
Denis sees the Canadian Lamb Industry growing as the demand for lamb keeps growing. As the ewe flocks continue to grow, he also sees the price of lambs on the rise. In order for the ewe flock to increase producers need to reduce their management inputs and reduce the work load for the operators. Canadian sheep producers also have a big predator (Coyotes, Wolves, Bears, Large Birds etc.) problem to overcome. If they want to keep young lambs on grass longer they will need to use more technology and expertise as it becomes available.