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Alberta lamb cohort is expected to remain stable

“The Alberta lamb cohort is expected to remain stable in 2024, although slightly smaller than 2023,” says Ann Boyda, provincial livestock market analyst with the Alberta government. “With the strong price performance, greener pastures in most locales, and easing of input costs, 2024 is adding up to a favourable year, if weather events permit.”

According to data published by Statistics Canada, Alberta supply of sheep and lamb exhibited an annual growth over the 2019 to 2022 period but fell in 2023. As of January 1, 2024, the provincial flock was 170,100 head, down 2% from the same period a year ago. “A closer look at the last half of the year identifies fewer imports of live sheep and lamb into Alberta,” states Boyda. “We had approximately 400 fewer head of sheep and lamb imported over the period of July to December 2023 when we compare it to the same period in 2022.”

The last half of 2023 also saw fewer total slaughter volumes, down 3.3% from same period in 2022, primarily attributed to the lack of international imports of sheep for slaughter (4,900 head). Federal and provincial slaughter volume was higher for the July to December period in 2023 than 2022 by an estimated 2,600 head. Interprovincial exports rose by 3,900 head and deaths and condemnations were estimated to be 400 head more for the same period.

The weekly Alberta live price equivalent for sheep demonstrates the strong price performance. More recent market volatility has been experienced with record prices peaking at $347.71/cwt for the week of April 19, 2024, having risen from the start of the year at $236.23/cwt.

“Prices at the auction markets continue to show greater volatility,” concludes Boyda, “with the ewe flock a driving indicator for the sheep sector.”

Statistics Canada’s January 1 ewe inventory numbers show that the peak number of ewes on Alberta farms was in 2022 at 129,300 head. The ewe numbers subsequently declined to a low of 84,300 head by 2008 and have since proceeded on a slow increase to the 2023 inventory of 100,500 ewes. January 1, 2024 inventory reported a slight decrease to 98,700 head but still relatively stable over the last 5 years. Strong prices were also reflected in the price of ewes. For the period of January through June 7, 2024, ewe prices ranged from average low of $1.15/pound to $1.84/pound, representing 6% to 12% higher than the respective 5-year averages.

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