DS Half Diamond Farms
Dan Sinclair & Ileana Wenger, Bowden, Alberta
Dan and Ileana are located SE of Bowden, on a ½ section of land. Their home quarter has been in Dan's family for 3 generations. Their kids are the 4th generation of Sinclair's to be there! There is a lot of family history there, as well as it being a beautiful rural area, yet close to big city amenities like Red Deer and Calgary.
Dan has always farmed in the area, but was only farming grain and hay when they had first met. They got their first sheep to mow the several acres of lawn, and never looked back. They made a small profit and were very pleasant animals to have around. Their daughter Robyn was only a year old when they got their first breeding sheep. They kept sheep instead of cattle so that the kids could be involved on the farm more. It was safer to have little kids around sheep than cows. In addition, they did not need to have a large expense in setting up for cattle with a handling system and equipment, as sheep can be managed and handled with a lot more flexibility.
They chose to raise sheep for meat rather than wool as that is the main market here, and would be the best returns for their inputs. And they say it is delicious! I think a lot of people can agree!
Sheep are very personable and pleasant animals to be around. They are gentle animals and adapt very well to handling and close contact with people. Yes, even Dan and Ileana have some named ewes that are pets. Dan and Ileana agree that they can be profitable, especially with the purebred breeding stock.
They raise 2 types of sheep for purebred seed stock. The Charollais breed is used as a terminal sire for prime lamb production, and the Romanov is used as a maternal breed to produce lots of lambs. About 40% of their lambs are retained/sold as breeding stock, although this varies a lot from year to year. They usually finish their own lambs out, but they will sell feeders if that fits with the price/feed supply balance.
Dan and Ileana have now been raising sheep for almost 21 years. They generally have about 160 ewes, although they have cut back to 100 ewes this year due to the feed shortage last summer.
They both agree that lambing is the best part of the year. It is the culmination of the year's work and planning, and they say there is nothing better than watching "lamb races" over manure piles on a nice spring day! Watching healthy lambs grow and thrive over the summer is very satisfying!
"Taking care of the animals supersedes virtually everything else (except coffee)" - says Ileana. "Chores are done first, and then proceed to what else needs doing for the day, on or off the farm". During lambing chores are an all-day event.
What is involved in a typical day for Dan and Ileana? -Barley pails are loaded into the quad wagon and food for the dogs. Each pen is fed a specified amount of grain depending on the type of sheep and stage of production. They have large round hay feeders most of the year so hay is forked as needed. Waterers checked and cleaned if needed. Mineral put out daily. Every pen is checked and all animals observed daily.
Dan and Ileana see a great future for Canadian lamb producers. They both think the demand for lamb meat will only increase. They say sheep are easy to raise and look after, even for hobby producers or acreage owners, yet are still profitable for serious commercial producers. The biggest challenges they see are health and biosecurity issues that affect the productivity and profitability of a flock.
They believe in producing the highest quality meat that they can.. and they like to eat it too. Their animals are not given any more medications or drugs than needed to treat a specific condition. They spend the majority of their lives outside and are only housed in barns for lambing. Ileana believes in good management, not medications.
Dan and Ileana are in the process of developing a Holistic Management Plan for their farm in order to improve their pasture productivity and the soil health of their land. If either of their kids decide they would like to take over the farm, they want it to be in a healthy, profitable condition.