Producer Profile: Loch Lomond Livestock Ltd., Eyebrow, Saskatchewan

Story By Randy Eros. Photos by Sheep Canada & Brooke Aitken

Brooke Aitken and Chris Howard’s farm, Loch Lomond Livestock Ltd., is a 45-minute drive from the Trans-Canada highway. I turned north at Moose Jaw and drove through what can best be described as ‘the middle of the Canadian prairie.’ Section after section of flat, open fields, waiting patiently for warm weather and spring seeding.

I followed Brooke’s detailed instructions (turn left at the gravel piles), and as I approached the farm there was a subtle change in the land. After miles of grain and oil seed fields I started to see a few fences. A little rise and fall to the land and again more fences. The power to the farms in this area is all trenched in, there are no power poles to block the view of the prairie landscape. Saskatchewan’s licence plate motto, Land of Living Skies, came to mind.

Top: Chris Howard and Brooke Aitken take a minute with the dogs after feeding the flock. Above: Brooke hauling two bales for the ewe flock’s daily feeding.

Fences, pastures and hay land dominated the landscape as I followed another grid road and pulled up to the farm. A welcoming committee of curious livestock guardian dogs kept me entertained while I waited for Brooke and Chris to come across the yard with the tractor carrying two hay bales for the ewe flock.

The flock of 280 ewes and 70 ewe lambs is mostly Clun Forest and Clun Forest cross. The cross bred ewes have Dorset, Romney, Blue Faced Leicester and Dorper influences. Brooke and Chris also run a herd of 120 Angus cross cow/calf pairs.

The operation runs on 26 quarters of land or 4,160 acres. It is all grazing and hay land with six of the quarters leased from the Nature Conservancy. Brooke is the third generation in her family to farm this land. “My grandparents, Bruce and Lorna Aitkin bought the farm in 1942, my folks John and Sandra took over in 1969. We farmed with my folks till 2021 when they retired and moved off the farm, although they are still involved and help out, especially in the busy season ” For Brooke, sheep have always been part of the farm. “Mom and Dad started with them in the 70’s and I remember getting my first five ewes when I was five years old.”

Brooke went to the University of Saskatchewan and has a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science with a Master’s studying maternal behaviours in beef cows. When I asked Brooke why she chose to study cows and not sheep, her response “Not enough research money in sheep, but there is in cattle.” She came back to the farm in 2010. Chris is a fifth-generation farmer growing up on a local grain farm. After high school he worked with heavy equipment in the oil industry but has been on the farm full time since 2020.

Brooke expanded the sheep flock by sourcing stock from several breeders over the years. “Mary Dobson, from Herbert, SK sold us some very nice Cluns in 2013 and in 2021 we picked up all of Glynn Brooks purebred stock in Lethbridge, AB. The following year we brought some more Clun Forest in from BC out of Dennis Lapierre’s flock.”

The 35′ x 65′ hoop barn on shearing day.

Most of the rams are Clun Forest with Canadian Arcott. There are Blue Faced Leicester and coloured Romney to add some fleece variety. While they will keep some ram lambs, both for breeding and for sale, they wait till they’re yearlings to make their selections. Brooke explained; “The lambs that look best in the fall are usually the singles, but a few months on pasture can really show what they’re made of, the one I liked best in the fall is not always the one I like best the following spring.”

Individual fleeces, all labelled with the ewe’s name and ready to go.

Brooke and Chris have worked with Dr. Lynn Tait of OC Flock Management to help them introduce some new genetics. They have sourced UK semen through Heritage Sheep Reproduction in the US and had Dr. Tait come and do the laparoscopic insemination at their local veterinary clinic. “There are a limited number of registered Clun Forest animals in Canada, this helps to diversify the genetics,” said Brooke, adding “you can see the differences in our 2nd generation British Cluns, smaller ears and darker faces.”

The ewe flock winters on an open 160-acre pasture adjacent to the farmyard. Wooden wind breaks provide shelter and the sheep have hay bales unrolled daily. The winter water source for the sheep is piped underground and delivered using Stockboss energy free waterers. The ewe lambs are in a separate, adjacent field. The flock grazes year-round but they start feeding hay by November in most years. The ewe lambs will each get a pound of oats per day. This year they have added a small amount of flax screenings. As a pasture and hay-based operation the sheep and cattle numbers can vary depending on moisture levels. “The sheep numbers are down a bit right now because we’ve seen some drought the last few years”, Brooke shared. “We need to put up 1300 bales a year for winter feed and that really depends on the rain.” Lamb prices and available feed will influence the size of their flock.

The flock is sheared in early April and makes use of the only sheep building on the farm. The 35’ x 65’ hoop structure is the centre of the day’s activity. Lorrie Reed, a Saskatchewan shearer and his crew of three to six get the whole flock done in one very busy day. “Lots of help needed that day” says Brooke, “We have three skirting tables and even then, it’s a bit of a challenge to keep up with the shearers.” The fleeces are skirted and as many as 70 will be packed and labelled individually for direct sale to fibre artists across Canada. Brooke is quite happy with the scope of the fleece sales, “We’ve sold fleeces into every province, still working on the territories.”

Brooke’s pack with all the tools needed for pasture lambing.

Each of the 350 sheep in the Loch Lomond flock has a name and the select fleeces are labelled and sold under the ewe’s name. This marketing technique brings some real customer loyalty with return customers looking for the same fleeces year after year. In one case a fleece was spun and woven into a blanket by a fibre artist as a gift for her father, an elderly man living with dementia. He can’t remember the names of his nurses but he knows the name of the sheep his wool blanket comes from. Brooke sent him pictures of the ewe.

The ‘ewe-haul’ is a way for Brooke to easily bring a ewe and her lambs back to the yard if they need extra care.

They will send some wool to Custom Woolen Mills in Carstairs, AB to be spun into yarn and made into quilting batts and roving. These are marketed directly from the farm and through retail operations in Saskatoon, Regina and Outlook. The remaining wool has been stockpiled for the last three years waiting for commercial prices to improve.

The rams are turned in on December 17th, with the start of lambing targeted for May 10th. The ewe lambs and ewes are combined into one flock and lambed out on pasture. They follow a ‘drift lambing’ process. The group is moved forward in the pasture every one to three days. The newly lambed ewes will stay with their lambs while the un-lambed ewes drift to the next pasture. The next move will repeat the process. Every few days the groups of lambed ewes will be combined. There are usually 3 different groups: unlambed, newly lambed and ewes with older lambs.

Early 2024, lush summer pasture. A welcome change from last year’s drought.

Brooke uses the Shearwell Management System for her record keeping. The lambs are processed, usually between 12 and 36 hours of age. They are tagged, have rings put on their tails and the crossbred males are castrated with rings. Each lamb gets a CSIP tag but the process differs for purebred and crossbred lambs. All purebred lambs are tagged with the double CSIP tags and their birth weights are recorded. Crossbred ewe lambs will get a single CSIP tag and a management tag, the crossbred wethers just get the single CSIP tag. Each lamb has the last 2 digits of the CSIP tag sprayed on their side, this makes it easier to manage lambs in the field and know where they belong. Changing the paint colour every 100 lambs makes it easier to keep track of the lambs’ ages.

Ewe lambs that are retained for breeding will get an additional management tag later on. This is when Brooke has the fun of naming the ewes. She follows the Canadian Livestock Records Corporation’s (CLRC) letter protocols. Ewe lambs from this spring’s lamb crop, if they are kept for breeding, will all have names that begin with M. The management tag is large enough to write the ewe’s name and number as well as her dam’s name.

One of six LGDs that protect the flock.

They follow the same process for tagging the calves. Brooke and Chris certainly help each other out, but they have found it works best to split the spring responsibilities. Brooke does most of the work with lambing while Chris is the lead with calving.

The flock average is hovering around 1.6 lambs/ewe, a little lower for the ewe lambs. Brooke speculated on improving that number. “I would like to move up a little, 1.7 maybe 1.8, anything above that is going to mean too many triplets, we want to keep bottle lambs to a minimum.” The few extra lambs they have, are raised on free-choice milk replacer with pails and nipples.

Once lambing is finished the flock will spend the rest of the growing season rotating through the farm’s many pastures. With lambs at foot the flock will run near 800 head. Pasture sizes range from 20 to 80 acres and they move the flock every 5 to 10 days depending on the available feed. There is a mix of new and old fences throughout the farm. Older barbed wire fence will have hi-tensile hot wires added. Any new fencing for the sheep is 4 strand hitensile, all hot. Cross fencing of pastures is done with 2 strands of hot wire set up on rebar posts. They offer loose, chelated minerals to the grazing flock in covered tubs.

They use Speedrite energizers to charge the fences, a large plug-in unit at the farmyard and several 12 volt/ solar charged units throughout the pastures. “We often water near the electric fence to keep the sheep trained” said Brooke, “Ewes that don’t respect fences are kept separate and culled at the earliest opportunity, we don’t want bad habits to spread.”

Water is either piped or trucked to the pastures.

Water is supplied to many of the pastures through a shallow, buried pipeline. Where they don’t have access to the piped water they use a 1250-gallon tank in the back of an old grain truck. The tank is either filled from a dugout or at the Municipal well a few miles from their yard.

The cattle are rotated through pastures in the same way. Chris commented “We haven’t been moving them as often as the sheep but we’re headed that way. Quicker rotations seem to make better use of the grass.”

Livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) and herding dogs are part of the operation. There are six LGDs in total including a Kangal, Komondor/Pyrenees and Maremmas. Coyotes are part of the landscape and have been a challenge in the past. Chris talked about the current situation: “Not a real issue right now, one of our dogs, Odin has been very effective, no losses of late.” They have a GPS tracking collar they will use to occasionally monitor a dog’s activities. In a 24-hr period one of the dogs travelled a total of 18 km, all within a km of the farmyard. “This really keeps the coyotes at a distance.” The five herding dogs include four Border Collies and a ¾ Kelpie cross. Using a full bag of dog food each week is a real expense; they buy theirs by the pallet load. Chris and Brooke both gave a nod of appreciation to Jared Epp, a Saskatchewan dog trainer. He sold them two of their herding dogs and they came with lots of help and advice. This has made moving and handling the flock a lot smoother.

Internal parasites are managed through rotational grazing. The sheep are only dewormed if they need to be treated for something. Ewes will be culled for parasite susceptibility. “We participated in a parasite research study several years ago, back then we would deworm the flock regularly, we’ve gotten away from that,” said Brooke. Chris added, “one of the few good things about the recent drought years is the lack of worms. Less moisture has us moving the flock more often, just to chase the grass, and that also helps with parasite control.”

Lambs on pasture under Saskatchewan’s ‘Living Skies’

The ewes and rams are vaccinated with Glanvac 6 after shearing, three to four weeks before lambing. The lambs will get vaccinated with Glanvac 6 towards the end of July and then boosted at weaning. For the last two years they have added a pneumonia vaccine for the ewes at the same time as their initial pre-lambing Glanvac 6 injection. The lambs receive the same pneumonia vaccine when they are getting their first dose of Glanvac 6. Replacement ewe lambs get an initial chlamydia vaccine in mid-October with all the breeding females getting booster in mid-November.

While the flock is grazing there is hay to be made. Central Saskatchewan is dry and usually yields just one cut of hay each year. They put up 1300 bales each summer to feed the sheep and cattle. The 5’ x 6’ bales are dry hay and weigh between 1300 and 1400 lb. There is both native grass and seeded hay. The seeded fields are a mix of brome, alfalfa, cicer milkvetch and sainfoin. They are using a 16-foot MacDon mower conditioner on an 85 hp Massey Ferguson tractor to cut their hay. Their 135 hp Kubota pulls double duty; both baling the hay in the summer and unrolling it in the winter.

The lambs are weaned in September and marketed as feeder lambs, averaging 75 lb. They have sold the lambs through the Saskatchewan Sheep Development Board for the last five years. Brooke talked about some of the advantages in doing it this way, “The lambs get picked up as one load, which is nice. The buyers are bidding on the lambs and if we’re not happy with what’s offered we can pass and wait for better prices. We did that last fall, held on to the lambs until December when the prices came up.”

A farm sign from Nature Saskatchewan recognizing Loch Lomond Livestock Ltd. and their commitment to the environment.

Because of the low prices in 2023 they held back and exposed an extra 115 ewe lambs. They had their veterinarian, Dr. Rhonda Heinrichs of the Living Skies Veterinary Clinic come out and pregnancy check the ewe lambs. They were able to sell the open ones as lambs into the Easter market at a premium.

As grassland farmers, Brooke and Chris are very conscientious of their environment. They partner with Nature Saskatchewan, a non-profit organization working with land owners to conserve Saskatchewan’s natural environment.

The size of their operation is working well. Life is always easier on a pasture-based operation when you get the moisture you need and, like everyone else, when the lamb prices are up. Their willingness to work with the land and grow or shrink the flock is part of what makes the farm work. Value adding fleeces also adds extra income. I asked Brooke how the farm got its name, Loch Lomond Livestock. “The Aitken’s family originally comes from Scotland” she said “and we had an uncle who called our camping spot Loch Lomond, it just sort of stuck.”

Producer Profile: Dusty Ridge Ranch Grunthal, Manitoba

Producer Profile: Dusty Ridge Ranch Grunthal, Manitoba

Story by Randy Eros. Photos by Dusty Ridge Ranch

An hour’s drive south of Winnipeg, just past the small town of Grunthal, Manitoba will get you to the Dusty Ridge Ranch. Harold and Sherry Bosma and five of their nine children run a 230 head sheep flock out of a re-purposed dairy barn. They run three separate flocks: 45 registered Tunis, 132 registered Canadian Arcott and 53 F1 and crossbred ewes. The Bosma family has been raising sheep here for seven years now, but the real story behind the Dusty Ridge Ranch sheep operation actually starts with goats.

Producer Profile: Dusty Ridge Ranch Grunthal, Manitoba

The Bosma Family, left to right: Harold, Ciarra, Taquayla, Toby, Cruz, Sherry and Faith.

In July of 2017 the Bosmas had been working for several years to develop a goat operation. Both Sherry and Harold have rural backgrounds and they wanted to create a farm operation that would provide Sherry with a home-based job. The herd of 115 Boer/Kiko does was growing nicely when on July 4, 2017 they received a call from the CFIA asking about a scrapie suspect goat and wondering if it had originated on their farm. By the end of August, the goats were all gone. As devastating as it was to their farm and family there were a lot of excited scientists knocking on the backdoor. Sherry’s record keeping and attention to detail had provided the CFIA with an impressive database that has helped with genotyping for scrapie resistance in goats.

Producer Profile: Dusty Ridge Ranch Grunthal, Manitoba

The handling system set up in the repurposed dairy barn. Below: Genotyping information from the CFIA.

With fully disinfected and empty barns the family was at a bit of a crossroads and not sure what was next. It was the team from the CFIA that planted the seed with Sherry and Harold when they mentioned that it was possible to genotype sheep for resistance to scrapie. “They were impressed with how we managed both our animals and our records and encouraged us to keep going”, said Sherry. By December of 2017, with the research done and the decisions made, Dusty Ridge Ranch started their genotyped, scrapie resistant flock. Over the next five years the CFIA staff would come to collect samples from on-farm mortalities (12 months or older) as part of their surveillance program. “They were great, I got lots of encouragement and great vet advice during their visits. They even remembered what we took in our coffee and what kind of Timbits the kids liked.”

Click to enlarge. EweManage and Allflex used for data recording and management (left). Sherry scanning for open ewes (middle). Overflow claiming pens set up in the handling area (right). 

Breeding for scrapie resistance is paramount in their operation (see the sidebar for more information on genotyping for scrapie resistance). All of the ewes are either genotyped RR or QR and the breeding rams are all genotyped RR. To get started with the Tunis they sourced 40 ewes through Mark and Bev Comfort of Cardinal, Ontario. The registered Tunis came directly from the Comfort flock, the crossbreds from two flocks with Comfort Tunis genetics. All of the animals were genotyped for resistance.

The Canadian Arcott flock came from Gerrit and Ute Brinkman, Medicine Ridge Ovine in New Norway, Alberta. “We had to be patient with the Canadians,” said Sherry “because we were after genotyped, scrapie resistant ewe lambs, a group had to be specially bred for us.” The 50 ewe lambs were all eventually registered and along with three unrelated RR registered rams became the foundation of their Canadian Arcott flock.

My visit to Dusty Ridge Ranch started, as most visits do, with a chat at the kitchen table. Sherry, Harold and their daughter Faith filled me in on the details of the operation. Faith, 19 years old, took a rare afternoon off from her studies at the University of Manitoba where she is pursuing a degree in Ag. Business. The attention to detail that impressed the CFIA scientists was evident as Sherry flipped through GenOvis information, DNA test results, CSBA records and Tunis registration certificates. Harold proudly talked about their breeding programs, “We have seven distinct sire lines with the Tunis and six more with the Canadians, 16 registered rams of each breed.” One of the recent highlights for the Bosmas is the importation of two registered yearling Tunis rams from Wisconsin. There is no Canadian registration for the Tunis breed, so all of the records come through the National Tunis Sheep Registry in the United States.

Producer Profile: Dusty Ridge Ranch Grunthal, Manitoba

Harold making use of the turn-table to trim feet on a Tunis ram.

The current schedule has them lambing four times over the course of the year, between December and May. The goal is to eventually move to where each ewe will lamb three times every two years. It is all ‘natural’ breeding and they have had good success breeding ewes that are still lactating. They will breed one ram to groups of between 15 and 25 ewes, depending on the ram’s age. They lamb out a total of 60 ewes in each of the four lambings.

Sherry scans the ewes 40 to 45 days after the rams have been pulled. “Our scanning chute is quick and easy to set up, I have a 95% accuracy rate determining if the ewes are bred. Now I want to work on being able to count the number of fetuses each ewe is carrying.” Sherry has worked closely with their veterinarian, Dr. Earl Van Assen, to hone her skills with the scanner. The Canadian ewe lambs are bred to lamb at 12 months of age. Scanning and pulling out any open ewe lambs after breeding means those animals can still be shipped as market lambs. The Tunis ewe lambs are bred to lamb at 15 months.

The drop area for the lambs and claiming pens are all portable, so there is flexibility in how things are set up. The ewes are shorn a month prior to lambing and will be run through the handling system again three weeks before lambing for their Glanvac 6 vaccination booster. The rams and any of the ewes that were missed through the year are sheared in the spring. “The first fleece off of the Tunis ewe lambs is a beautiful colour and is popular with artisans,” said Harold. “We market some of those directly, the rest is commercial wool”.

The ewes and lambs are placed in the jugs after lambing and will spend one or two days there before moving into a step-down group. The lambing rate for the two breeds is the same. “The ewe lambs will give us 1.85 – 1.9 and the mature ewes run between 2 and 2.15.” said Harold. The ewes, ewe lambs included, are expected to raise twins. The average birth weight on the lambs is 10.8 lb. Triplets and the occasional quad are raised in a small nursery using a LacTeck milk replacer machine. They have had good success with the Cargill/Purina brand milk replacer.

The lambs are weighed, tagged and docked (rings) in the claiming pen, all of the males are left intact. Every lamb gets two tags. The registered Canadian Arcott lambs are tagged with the dual CSIP tags. Crossbred lambs receive a regular CSIP tag and a management tag. Because there is no Canadian registry for the Tunis, they cannot use the dual CSIP tags. The registered Tunis lambs get a regular CSIP tag and a different management tag identifying them as registered.

The view from one of the five barn cameras.

The barns are monitored with both hard-wired and wi-fi cameras. “One of the best investments we’ve made,” said Sherry. “We have five in use now with three more ready to install, they save an awful lot of time.”

The barns at Dusty Ridge Ranch are all interconnected, making it easy to move the sheep to where they need to be. The old milkhouse (20’ x 40’) has counters, sinks, fridge, microwave, storage and office space. The adjacent handling area (30’ x 50’) houses the small nursery and provides a handy, heated area for all of the hands-on sheep work like vaccinations, hoof trimming, shearing and scanning. When not in use the Lakeland tub and chute can be set aside to make room for extra lambing jugs. Once the flock lambs out, they are moved from the lambing barn (35’ x 100’) into the bigger barn (90’ x 165’) that houses the majority of the flock. At the time of my visit, there was one group just finishing lambing, two groups already lambed out and a fourth group ready for shearing.

Harold has a strong farm background. He grew up on a dairy operation near Aylmer, Ontario, and has a diploma in Agriculture from Ridgetown College. He works as a ruminant nutritionist for IKC feeds which he says gives him a real advantage when it comes to feeding the sheep. “We buy all of our feed, so having a close eye on what feeds are available really helps.” Their cost to feed dry and early gestation ewes is currently 35 cents/head/day. That ration is a medium quality grass hay with corn screenings and a mineral mix, it tests at 13% protein. The late gestation and lactation ewes are getting a very nice third cut grass hay with corn screenings. These ewes are a little more expensive to feed, 50 cents/head/day and is 16% protein. He adds a small amount of malt sprouts to the late gestation and lactation rations, “It drives up the intake of the other feeds.” The hay is hand fed off of round bales, strategically placed throughout the barn. The hay and feed mix are fed in alleyway bunk feeders. The flock is fed twice a day and it takes 40 minutes for each round of chores.

Producer Profile: Dusty Ridge Ranch Grunthal, Manitoba

A mix of Canadian Arcott and Tunis ewes lined up at the alleyway bunk feeders.

Lambs have early access to a 20% protein commercial pellet, medicated with monensin to prevent coccidiosis. The lambs receive their Glanvac 6 vaccine between 50 and 60 days of age, the same time as they are doing the 50-day weights. Two weeks prior to weaning the lambs will have been switched to a 17% on-farm mixed ration. The males and females are separated at weaning. Four weeks post weaning the ration is lowered again, this time to 15%.

The birth weights along with 50- and 100-day weights are sent to GenOvis, which then provides the farm with the genetic improvement information to help them select breeding stock. Last year they collected data on 529 lambs and that has helped them create some targets. “The first goal is to produce a healthy lamb; from there we want to see lambs that weigh one pound for every day they’ve been alive when they reach weaning.” The current average weaning weight is 52 lb, their target is 62 lb. The next goal is to reach 1 lb of gain/day between weaning and 100 days. Right now, they are a little short of that at .85 lb/day. The lambs that don’t go for breeding stock are sold as heavy feeder lambs to a local feed lot. They leave Dusty Ridge Ranch between 90 and 100 lb and the feedlot will finish them to 125 lb.

The flock is mostly in the barn, so internal parasites are not a big challenge. They have a 12-acre fenced pasture that includes a three-sided shelter. This is where they will keep groups of dry ewes. “This is more about property maintenance and having space to work the Border Collies,” said Harold. They run 3 Border Collies; Sherry and Faith are members of the Manitoba Stock Dog Association and have started participating in stock dog clinics and trials. The lambs never leave the barns. A single Pyrenees cross guardian dog and a llama keep the predators at bay.

Producer Profile: Dusty Ridge Ranch Grunthal, Manitoba

Faith with Sam, one of the farm’s three Border Collies.

Harold and I talked about the two sheep breeds and how they compare. There are some similarities: prolificacy, seasonality in breeding, lambing rates, plenty of milk and both breeds are docile and easy to handle. He sees a good ‘meat to bone’ ratio in the Tunis and the long loin makes a very attractive market animal. Future plans include some loin scanning on market lambs. “We also like the narrow skull on the Tunis, it makes for easier lambing” he said. The Canadian Arcott has, in Harold’s opinion, a real will to live and a drive to feed. He is pleasantly surprised that the ewes are quite maternal for what is really a terminal breed.

Purebred and commercial breeding stock sales are a significant market for the farm. “Filling orders for custom breeding packages is working well”, said Harold. “One of our goals is to have satisfied, repeat customers, and we’re getting that.” The flock records are all tracked using Ewe Manage software and an Allflex reader. The Canadian Arcott, Tunis and commercial flocks are all enrolled on the GenOvis evaluation program. (www.genovis.ca)

Producer Profile: Dusty Ridge Ranch Grunthal, Manitoba

A pen of Canadian Arcott, Tunis and crossbreds.

Genetic testing for scrapie resistance has helped the breeding stock sales. All rams that are retained for breeding or sold to breeders are RR. All of the ewes are either RR or QR. They have been using Gene Check out of Greely, Colorado for this work.

Even with all that goes on at home, the Bosma family is involved in lots of off-farm activities. Harold, Sherry and all of the children are involved in the local 4-H programs and community agricultural fairs. They worked with Agriculture in the Classroom-Manitoba to create a great 10-minute YouTube video on sheep farming (aitc.mb.ca – search for Bosma). Harold sits on the board of directors of the Manitoba Sheep Association and the Manitoba Forage and Grasslands Association.

The current operation achieves two goals the Bosma family had when they started raising livestock: to use all the buildings on the farm, and to provide stimulating home based jobs for the whole family. The four younger children Ciarra (16), Taquayla (14), Cruz (13) and Toby (12) are also involved in running the farm. Harold and Sherry laughed when they talked about all of the work that gets done. “They all have slightly different skill sets, one has a memory like a steel trap, another a real insight into what the sheep are going to do, they all bring something different to the barn.”

Scrapie Genotyping in Sheep

The genetic makeup of sheep is a significant factor in their susceptibility to infection with classical scrapie. As a result, sheep genotyping is a disease control measure used in Canada’s National Scrapie Eradication Program (NSEP).

A genotype is an individual’s collection of genes. Like all mammals, sheep receive 1 allele for each gene from their dam (ewe) and 1 allele from their sire (ram). Alleles are the different versions of a gene. Scrapie genotyping refers to testing that reveals the specific alleles inherited for the animals’ prion gene that makes an animal more or less susceptible to scrapie.

The different alleles inherited for a sheep’s prion gene determine which particular amino acids will be included at particular locations of the sheep’s prion protein. Current scientific literature indicates that the presence of certain combinations of amino acids at 3 specific locations (known as codons) on the sheep’s prion gene influence a sheep’s relative susceptibility to scrapie.

In North America codons at positions 136 and 171 are of primary importance in association with classical scrapie.

  • Codon 136 codes for either the amino acid valine (V) or alanine (A).
  • Codon 171 codes for the amino acid glutamine (Q) or arginine (R).

1 common way to write genotypes for sheep is by the codon number followed by the corresponding amino acid: at 136 V for valine or A for alanine, at 171 R for arginine and Q for glutamine. The possible amino acid combinations at these 2 locations on the sheep prion gene and their impact on susceptibility to scrapie are listed here.

 

Susceptibility to classical scrapie based on genotype

It is important to understand that scrapie genotyping is not disease testing. A 171QQ sheep does not automatically have scrapie, just as it is not an absolute guarantee that a 171RR sheep cannot get scrapie.

  • Scrapie genotyping is a tool used by the CFIA during disease control actions. All mature exposed sheep in a scrapie infected flock are subject to a blood test to determine their susceptibility to scrapie infection. Typically, only the intermediate and highly susceptible sheep are ordered destroyed and this minimizes the number of sheep ordered destroyed on the scrapie infected premises.
  • Scrapie genotyping is a tool that can be used by a producer in an overall plan to manage the risk of scrapie on their farm. Whether or not a particular producer should use scrapie genotyping is a decision based on individual factors.

 

Who might consider selective breeding for genetic resistance to scrapie

A producer who provides a large number of breeding ewes to other producers

  • A producer who purchases breeding ewes from multiple sources of unknown scrapie status
  • A producer who has a significant number of 171 RR breeding animals in their flock, thus breeding for resistance would be easy, achieved relatively quick and would not have a significant impact on breeding for other production traits

Consider

A very effective way to breed for genetic resistance for scrapie is to select only rams that are 171RR genotype. All lambs from 171RR rams will inherit at least one R and will be more resistant to scrapie.

 

Who might not consider selective breeding for genetic resistance to scrapie

  • A producer with a flock that has been closed for a long time and has no evidence of scrapie.
  • A producer that has a breed of sheep or a flock with few or no animals with a 171QR or 171RR genotypes.
  • A producer that does not want to deviate from their breeding plan for selection of other production traits.

Producer Profile: Lennox Lambs Ayton, Ontario

Story by Randy Eros

Sheep Canada photo

Laura knew she was marrying a serious shepherd when Jay asked if they could spend their honeymoon at a Sheep Convention. So that’s what Jay and Laura Lennox did this past October. Newly married, the young couple celebrated their marriage by attending the Ontario Sheep Farmers Convention and AGM. I met up with them there and took advantage of their hospitality, visiting the farm a few days later.

Lennox Lambs, as the farm is known, is a second generation operation. Jay grew up with sheep. His father, Kim Lennox spent time in New Zealand as a young man and when he came home in the early 1980’s he started a flock with 150 Corriedale ewes purchased from Ian Moilliet of the Aveley Sheep Ranch in Vavenby, British Columbia. Kim and his wife Grace bought the farm in 1987 and raised cattle and sheep, growing the original flock to 500 ewes while they were raising their six children. In the early 2000’s they started working with Canadian Arcott genetics, developing a well respected Purebred flock. By 2010 their cow/calf numbers increased and the sheep flock had dropped in numbers.

Jay left the farm to further his education, spending four years studying agriculture at Olds College in Alberta. He graduated in 2017 with both a diploma in Agriculture Management and a degree in Agribusiness. He didn’t just hit the library, he spent some of that time on the tractor; between 2014 and 2016 Jay won two Junior and one Senior Canadian Ploughing Championships. He placed 11th at the 2017 World Ploughing Championship, held in Kenya. Clearly, he’s a good man on a tractor. In 2018 he bought the flock of 200 ewes from his parents. And this year Jay and Laura will finalize their ownership of the farm. When he started out, Jay worked locally as an agrologist, initially full time and then part time before turning to full time farming in 2021.

Laura grew up with family farming roots in Paisley, Ontario. She graduated from The University of Guelph with an Agricultural Business degree\ and works full time for Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show and Ag in Motion.

The couple’s 100 acre farm, with its beautiful century-old farm house and large bank barn, is located near Ayton, Ontario, two and a half hours northwest of Toronto. The 700 head flock is made up of 500 purebred Canadian Arcott ewes, and 130 crossbred maternal ewes (Rideau/Canadian F1 and Romanov/Canadian F1). They have recently added another 70 Rideau ewes that were part of a select group that made its way east from the dispersal sale of the Canadian Lamb Company. The breeding program has ewes lambing out three times every two years. The replacement ewes are lambed out for the first time at 14 months and will move to the accelerated lambing program after their second lambing.

Canadian and Romanov rams are used on the ewe flock and Border Cheviot rams on all of the ewe lambs. Jay is very happy with his choice of rams for the young stock, “The Border Cheviot sired lambs will finish 5 to10 lbs lighter but it makes for a much easier lambing and the vigour in those lambs is impressive, they hit the ground running.” The plan is to move the majority of the breeding flock to Canadian/Romanov F1s. They will maintain their purebred Canadian flock, buying in Gen Ovis tested, registered Rams.

Teaser rams became part of the breeding program starting in 2022 and Jay is very happy with the results.
“For the in-season breeding we will get all of the lambing done in a 20 day span.” CIDR’s and PMSG injections are used with the out of season breeding groups. “For our Spring 2023 breeding we exposed 140 ewes to a large group of rams, 45 head. 90 of those ewes caught and they lambed out in five days. Very busy, but very productive.” They had Dr. Chris Buschbeck from Markdale Veterinary Services run semen tests on the rams.

There are groups lambing in February/ March, in June and then in September/ October. The barn is laid out in three sections, totaling 15,000 square feet. Two sections house the breeding flock with room to lamb out 250 to 300 ewes at a time. The third section of the barn houses the market lambs and rams.

The flock is averaging 1.5 lambs weaned per ewe per lambing. That works out to approximately two lambs per ewe each year. The lambs are weaned at 60 days and marketed in different directions depending on the season. The new-crop lambs are ready in 60 to 80 days and Jay wants to have the 100 lbs finished lambs out the door in under 120 days. In 2023 there were 1,000 lambs marketed and the target for 2024 is 1,400 head. The majority of the lambs, about 70%, are sold through The Ontario Stockyards in Cookstown, Ontario. Easter and Christmas new-crop lambs, make up another 15 to 20 % of the lamb sales. The rest are sold directly to packers. There are some breeding stock sales, all into Ontario flocks.

Laura and Jay Lennox. Photo by Kyrene Minty Photography.

Claiming jugs fold out from the ewe pens to be used during lambing and the ewe/lamb sets are then combined into larger groups as they leave the pens. Their tails are docked with rings and each lamb receives a selenium / vitamin E injection. Jay applies a non-RFID management tag to each lamb and does an ear-notch on all crossbreds, both male and female. He applies the CSIP tag when the lambs leave the farm. The lambs are weaned at around 60 days. There are not enough extra lambs to justify the expense of an automatic milk replacer set up. Milk for the extra lambs is mixed, acidified and fed cold each day. The pen for these lambs is inside an insulated shipping container, providing an easily controlled and secure environment.

They have a technician come in between 45 and 60 days after the rams are pulled to scan the ewes. “We’re set up pretty well for scanning, we will get 200 ewes done in 45 minutes.” They will move open ewes to the next breeding group or cull if needed. Jay is a shearer and each breeding group will be shorn a month prior to lambing. The job gets done quickly, he has help from a couple of local shearers and in return lends them a hand when needed. The wool is shipped to Canadian Cooperative Wool Growers in Carleton Place, Ontario.

Jay has created a unique management software system by customizing a data survey using Google Forms, that allows him to collect his lambing, breeding and market information and sort it using Google Sheets.

The farm has 90 acres of land adjacent to the farm yard and they rent another 120 acres of nearby land that is cropped. The ewes lamb out in the barn, but grazing is very much part of the operation with the dry and breeding ewes rotating through intensively managed pastures. The grazing rotation has the flock moved every five days, with a 30 day rest period before re-grazing. The battle with de-wormer resistant parasites is ongoing. They work closely with their vet to rotate dewormers and stay ahead of the challenge. The latest treatment was with Levamisole and Flukiver.

The Lennox farm yard with a winter’s supply of baylage. Photo by Jay Lennox.

Jay’s understanding of agronomy and his interest in regenerative agriculture was evident as we drove around the farm. A group of 300 breeding ewes was out grazing a neighbour’s 35 acre field. The winter wheat had been harvested and Jay arranged to follow that with a cover crop of triticale and peas. There had been plenty of moisture and the pasture was lush and still growing well in late October. The arrangement is good for both farms. The land owner has a cover crop that controls both weed growth and erosion while the soil will be enhanced by the green manure and the sheep manure when the land is tilled and seeded next spring. The sheep enjoy a couple of weeks of grazing on a parasite free pasture close to home and it’s rent free.

The cover crop was adjacent to the 45 acre permanent pasture, where the sheep do most of their grazing, so it was easy to tie into the existing electric fence. The permanent pasture is seeded to a mix of rye grass, orchard grass, timothy, alfalfa and brome grass. The permanent pasture will be plowed after 10 years and a corn or grain crop put in just for one year, then it will be seeded back to pasture.

The remaining 45 acre plot was put into corn this year. A few acres of the corn had been harvested, revealing another one of Jay’s regenerative ag practices. Several weeks after the corn emerged, when it was at the V4 stage, he went through and seeded a forage turnip and rye grass mix between the corn rows. The removal of a few, select seed tubes and discs left the corn undisturbed when the forage was seeded. The turnips and rye grass, along with the corn stover, will be grazed once all of the corn has been harvested. Two varieties of corn had been seeded in that field: one with a wide, upright leaf and the other with a more lateral leaf arrangement. The upright leaved corn variety had allowed more sunlight to penetrate to the soil and the forage crop under these plants was noticeably stronger. Once the corn is harvested the flock will be moved into the corn stubble, extending the grazing season.

The ewe flock grazing on corn stover and turnips. Photo by Jay Lennox.

There was a young Maremma guard dog with the grazing flock and Jay explained this was a new addition to the farm. This is the first year they had lost stock to predation, one to a coyote and the second, he thought, possibly to a black bear.

The rations for the sheep are mixed on-farm and fed with a feed cart along feed alleys. They grow their own hay, corn and oats and barley. The late gestation and lactation rations use corn silage, grain corn and haylage. The maintenance ration is a little lower in protein but as Jay pointed out “with most accelerated lambing operations there is not much of a window to feed a maintenance ration to your ewes.”

The young lambs are fed a 20% pelletized creep ration until week four. After that they move to a farm mixed 16% ration that is 75% corn, 15% barley and oats and a 36% protein pellet. The market lambs also have access to free choice hay. By the time the lambs are market weight they are consuming 4 to 5 lbs of feed per day.

Jay figures that apart from lambing and harvest, the chores of feeding and maintaining the flock take about two hours per day. “Lambing is of course full-time work, and that’s when Laura steps in to help.”

The barn is currently being used to its maximum capacity with the 700 ewes and three lambings per year. The five-year plan, right now, is to hold the flock at this size and find efficiencies in how the flock is grazed. Having a larger flock would require barn renovations and an increase in the number of lambings per year. Not out of the question, but not just yet. Jay also finds time to sit on the Ontario Sheep Farmers’ board of directors.

Even with all the work the couple does, they sometimes hire a neighbour to do chores so they can get off the farm. They did, after all, have that honeymoon at the Sheep Convention.

 

Producer profile: Aveley Sheep Ranch: Vavenby, British Columbia

Story by Randy Eros

Above: Valerie Garber leads the flock of 1300 Corriedale ewes and lambs to new pasture. Below: Joseph Moilliet working the back of the flock. Photos by Randy Eros 

The last few kilometers of the drive to the Aveley Ranch, two hours north of Kamloops, would be easier if it weren’t so beautiful. Tucked in between the North Thompson River and Vavenby Mountain you are faced with the hard choice of keeping your eyes on the winding road or staring at the scenery; I cheated and did a bit of both.

When I knew my travel plans were going to put me in British Columbia, I called Valerie Garber (Moilliet) of the Aveley Ranch to set up a visit. She and her brother Ian have been the driving force of this family farm for a very long time and it came as a surprise when the first thing she said was “You’ll want to talk to Joseph, Ian’s son, he’s really in charge now.” Though Joseph has taken on the role of manager it is clear that this is still very much a family operation.

The visit was a wonderful combination of coffee and history, moving some sheep, dinner and the following morning more sheep moving. The ranch has been in the family since it was homesteaded by Joseph’s great grandfather Tam Moilliet in 1905. Joseph’s grandfather, Jack was only 16 when his father’s early death in 1935 left him in charge of what had become BC’s largest sheep farm. Jack and his wife Alice had four children: Jacqueline, June, Ian and Valerie. Ian and his wife Karen partnered with his parents and would eventually take over. With his sister Valerie, they were the next generation to manage the farm. And now we’re onto the fourth generation, Joseph and his wife Cadence McRae.

Joseph is by no means alone in running the ranch. His parents, Ian and Karen still live on the farm as does his aunt Valerie and her husband John. Valerie and John’s house was the center of activity while I visited. Isaac, Joseph’s younger brother, is also full time on the farm.

Photo by Sheep Canada

The flock lambs out in April and by May is out on the mountain side grazing. The total flock, split evenly between ewes and lambs, is sitting at 1300 head. They have a small paddock that is set up next to rows of 6’x4’ claiming pens, 150 pens in total. The ewes and lambs will spend a day or two in the pen before being run through a step-down pen with a few ewes and then into larger groups. The ewes with twins are put in a separate group so they are easier to keep an eye on. Eventually the whole flock is sent out to pasture.

The lambs are docked in the claiming pen and all but select rams are castrated with rings. Lambs won’t get their CSIP tags till they leave the farm, but there is a customized tagging system for both ewes and lambs that is applied in the claiming pens. One colour for a ewe if she lambs at one year of age, a different colour for having twins. Lambs born as twins are also tagged (these are also paint branded), and finally another colour for all ram lambs that are left intact.

Photo by Sheep Canada

The ewe lambs are all exposed to lamb at a year of age and usually 20 to 30 % will catch. “This is very weather dependent” said Valerie as we toured the lambing area, “if we’ve had a really mild winter and good grazing we can see as high as an 80% catch.” There is no grain fed to the flock and hardiness is one of their selection criteria, along with twining, early maturity and longevity. “There are plenty of 10 year old ewes in the flock.”

The rams are turned in with the ewes for 60 days but 90% of the flock lambs within the first three weeks. They will do a bag check after three weeks and cull the open ewes. These ewes will end up being processed and sold for pet food into the Kamloops market.

The flock returns to the yard for shearing later in May. The ewes and lambs are separated to make the whole process easier. Joseph does some of the shearing himself but they get help in to get the job done quickly. Dave Carson and his crew of shearers help to make a pretty quick job of it. The Corriedale wool is fine and the skirted fleeces weigh between 7-9 lb each. Joseph is not shy about hanging on to the wool if prices are low, “We have the room to keep the wool dry and secure, we have held wool for three or four years before shipping.” The Moilliet family started shipping wool to the Canadian Cooperative Wool Growers the year it was established, 1918.

The flock will be brought back in again in early summer so the lambs can be dewormed. They have used both Ivomec and Valbazen. The flock continues to graze throughout the summer and early fall. In 2019, through the BC Environmental Farm Plan the ranch was able to secure funding for 4 km of new fencing. In the last few years that has extended to 10km of new fencing, including part of a gas pipeline right-of-way. When he started planning for the new fences Joseph wanted an alternative to the standard treated post. “The posts weren’t holding up so I started to look for options.” This led him to the Timeless Fence System, an American company based out of Tennessee. His own operation required enough fencing supplies that he qualified as a reseller for the company. Now he works with local producers to plan their fencing projects and provide the equipment.

By the end of September, the lambs are ready for market. On average 100 lambs will be direct marketed each year with the rest sold to a lamb buyer, usually going to Roger Albers out of Alberta. The ewes will continue to graze standing, stockpiled hay as long as the weather allows, usually well into December.

Joseph sees himself as a grass farmer. “There was a point when the grain prices went up and the lamb prices went down, so we stopped feeding grain. It’s all grass now.” Of their 2000 acres of land Joseph deems 800 of it as grazeable: open grazing land of 400 acres and another 400 of forest grazing. In the bottom of the valley there is another 110 acres of hayland where they make both small square and large round bales. “We like to graze it first and then bale up the 2nd cut.” There is a strong market for small square bales in their area. Some years it can be more economical to sell square bales and bring in large round bales for the sheep from the Peace River area. Back-to-back droughts in 2003 and 2004 taught the Moilliets that, if you can manage it, a two-year supply of hay is a good idea.

Above-Left: Joseph moving ewes through the claiming pens, photo by Valerie Gerber. Above: Maureen Kelly working the flock as it moves to the night pen, photo by Randy Eros

In 2020 Joseph diversified by adding beef cattle to the operation. Just 10 cows with a bull for now. They graze in the lower part of the property. They will have their first grass fed beef available for sale this year. “I see the cattle as another tool we can use to harvest the grass,” he noted, adding “they make a great rotation for parasite management.” The flock of 25 Corriedale rams spends the summer grazing the rough bush areas along the hay fields.

We moved the flock twice while I was visiting. The first evening Valerie took a few minutes to organize the work party before we headed out. Maureen Kelly, a local woman who helps out on the ranch saddled up her horse and headed out ahead of us. Valerie and I had made the five-minute drive up to the grazing flock where I got to meet the other shepherd, Aliette Pabit. Aliette is a 2nd year student from Toulouse University in France. She is on the ranch from July through September as a practicum experience for her agriculture degree. The flock needed to be pushed from the grazing area into their night pen, a few acres of electric netting that will help keep them safe from predators. This is an evening ritual that needs a little organizing but once the flock gets moving doesn’t seem to take much time at all.

Along with the sheep, the shepherds and the horse, there are a few dogs involved. The ever-present border collies push from behind with Maureen and Aliette; the team of 5 livestock guardian dogs (Maremma and Great Pyrenees) moving just ahead of the flock looking for trouble. Valerie leads the whole affair with a soft voice and a keen eye. The move was only about 20 minutes of walking but there are still dogs to feed, salt and mineral to be put out for the sheep, waterers to be checked and the fencer must be turned on for the night. The Moillets use Hi-Pro, salt free, 1-1 sheep mineral. They mix that with equal parts salt and feed it in wooden troughs made from cedar planks. “We use water softener salt; it doesn’t seem to absorb the humidity as quickly and is no more expensive” remarked Joseph.

Over the years the flock had grazed high alpine forest pastures that were a long way from home. They still graze forest pastures but they are much closer to home now. “We started to lose too many lambs to wolves,” lamented Joseph. As the forest infringed on the alpine meadows the forests got thicker and predation got worse. “The sheep were no longer just an occasional meal; they had become the wolves’ main food source.” The livestock guardian dogs were unable to adequately protect the flock in these heavily treed, remote forest grazing areas.

Photo by Sheep Canada

I learned a few new things while we walked the flock to their night pen. Sheep respond really well to a half a dozen tin cans strung out on a coat hanger or a piece of wire bent into a small circle. It makes a great rattle and is very effective when you want to push a flock along. I saw this unique tool everywhere: the horse’s saddle, the side mirror on Valerie’s truck and on a number of gate posts. The whole crew were using them. I also learnt a new term from Valerie, “When we are grazing the flock, we have to make sure they get a chance to ‘flop’ four or five times a day.” She was talking about needing to let the sheep stop and ruminate, or ‘flop’ down and rest. “If you just keep driving them to new grass all day long, they don’t get a chance to digest.”

These mountain pastures, along with the hayland at the bottom of the valley, is all irrigated with a complex network of pipes and sprinkler heads. They used to do flood irrigation on the hayland but by 2015 this was all converted to sprinklers. The irrigation is gravity fed from three creeks that flow into the valley. By reducing the size of the pipe as the water flows downhill you build enough pressure to operate the sprinkler heads. There are 200 sprinkler heads in the system. Draining the lines and blowing out the sprinklers takes two days, a task that needs to be done every fall before the cold weather sets in.

We moved the sheep again the following morning, from their night pen into a large pasture/hay field adjacent to the farmyard. This was part of bringing the flock in to deworm the lambs in the upcoming week. This was a bit longer of a drive and walked the flock past the shearing shed, sorting yards and loading corrals. All of these facilities are built with lumber harvested from the Aveley Ranch forests over the years. I asked Joseph about how the wood harvest fit into their operation. “You want to have a good forester to help you manage your annual allotment.” Along with that, Joseph added “We have as much timber land as we do agricultural land and I see the potential in improving both the forest and the pasture.” The value of the forest can be seen everywhere on the property; our drive out to see the Ranch’s saw mill took us through a tree-planters summer camp.

Moving the sheep with Joseph and Valerie gave me a real insight into the day-to-day operations of the Aveley Ranch. Equally important for me was the time spent with Ian Moilliet. Ian’s love for his family, the land and the sheep was so evident in all that he shared. Ian’s book, The Shepherd’s Heart, gives a wonderful insight into the Moilliet family history and how they farm. And more than a little insight into Ian.

Valerie does a great job of keeping folks up to date with the ranch activities through her Facebook page (Valerie Gerber). She is an excellent photographer with an eye for the beauty of the land and the flock.

As Joseph and I finished up our visit he pointed over towards his new house, smiling proudly. It is almost finished and he and Cadence should be all moved in by Christmas. The view is spectacular. From where we were standing, we could see the flock grazing. I asked Joseph about the A-frame shed in the pasture and he said “That’s one of the oldest buildings on the property; 1905 maybe 1906, we still use it to store hay.” So, a new house for this new generation and a sturdy old hayshed as a reminder of where they’ve come from.

Producer Profile: Foothill Farm Canning, Nova Scotia

Story & Photos by Cathy Gallivan, PhD

The raised feed alley in one of the barns.

In the 23 years I’ve been interviewing sheep farmers for Sheep Canada magazine, I’ve visited a few operations raising sheep in total confinement in converted pig barns. But I got a surprise when I visited Foothill Farm in Canning, Nova Scotia, the home of Coleman Ueffing and his wife, Drew Slaunwhite. If you didn’t know better, you’d never guess that the buildings where the sheep are housed hadn’t been purpose-built for them. They are as bright and airy as any sheep barns I’ve ever been in.

 

Coleman is the third generation of his family on the farm, which has at one time or another been home to pigs, chickens (broilers and layers), and even mink. The pig enterprise peaked in 2012 at 2200 sows, when they shipped 1,500 40-lb. weaners every other week. The pigs are gone now, as are the mink, but Coleman’s father still has chickens in three of the 10 barns on the premises.

Coleman Ueffing with a few market lambs

The 130 acres of land and the remaining buildings are available for Coleman and Drew to acquire gradually over a period of years as they build their own farm enterprise. They have been renting 40 acres of grassland and three of the barns, and are making arrangements to purchase those barns plus an additional 65 acres.

Coleman started acquiring sheep three years ago, with the purchase of 30 ewe lambs. He added another 50 six months later and 75 more the following year, to bring the flock up to the current 155. He plans to expand to 400 eventually.

Coleman demonstrating the padded piglet squeeze on this repurposed lambing cart.

Coleman and Drew both work off the farm, so for now they have to fit their farming in around their full-time jobs. Drew is a nurse and works at the Valley Regional Hospital in nearby Kentville. Coleman works for a friend who farms 1,000 acres and raises beef cattle only five minutes away. The proximity of the farm gives Coleman the flexibility to run home during the day if he needs to check on his sheep.

Coleman spent a year at the agricultural college in Truro before returning to the farm and worked in his father’s pig and chicken enterprises. He says he is gradually getting his head around the differences between ruminants and non-ruminants. He makes use of the services offered by Perennia, a provincial development agency based in Truro, and gets his rations balanced by Katie Trottier, a ruminant livestock specialist on the Perennia team.

An aerial shot of the farm, three of the barns have been renovated for the sheep operation.

The rations are based on corn and soybean meal, which are readily available in the area, and Coleman grows his own haylage and hay on the 40 acres of rented land. He plans to grow more of his own feed on the 65 acres they are purchasing. Rather than purchasing all the necessary equipment, he will pay the friend he works for to custom farm it for him, and will probably end up doing the work himself as part of his day job.

There are seven barns available to him as his operation grows, and Coleman has renovated three of them for use with his sheep.

As we walk through the first one, which measures 180×50’, I can see the work that has gone into its conversion. The sides have been opened up to let in light and air, and the cement partitions that made it a pig barn have been jackhammered out. The interior is divided in half lengthways by a raised feed alley, which is wide enough to allow round bales to be unrolled behind a tractor.

Mink cages serve as hay feeders and are used across pig penning that has a new life as claiming pens.

On the day I visited, the only animals in the barn were the rams, plus a couple of cows that belong to Coleman’s mother. The rams are Dorsets and Rideau Arcotts, breeds chosen for their ability to lamb out of season. The Dorsets were sourced from Ryan and Romy Schill in Ontario, and the Rideaus were acquired closer to home from Harry Elsinga on Prince Edward Island. There were also several bags of wool stored in this barn. Coleman hasn’t sold any wool yet, but he uses it for insulation in his barns.

The second and third barns that Coleman has renovated are 220x 50’ and 250×50’, and are connected to each other to form one long, continuous structure that is 470 feet long. The sides of each of these have also been opened up, and the interior concrete dividers removed.

The outside alleyway in one of the barns, complete with a modified pig feeder serving as a waterer.

The shorter barn houses the 155 ewes and the remainder of a recent lamb crop on either side of a raised, central feed alley. Narrow alleyways run the length of the outside walls, and are used to move or sort groups of sheep. Coleman uses a tractor to unroll round bales in this barn as well, and grain and other concentrates are fed by hand. But the alley is wide enough, and the roof high enough, for a TMR mixer that will be added when the flock is large enough to justify it.

The longer barn isn’t used for housing sheep yet but the walls have been opened up and the hard work of removing the concrete pen dividers has been done, leaving a huge, open space used to store round bales, as well as panels and equipment not currently in use. A permanent handling system is planned for this barn, at the end that opens to the barn where the sheep are.

Everywhere you look, you see equipment from previous enterprises that has been adapted for sheep. Pig feeders have been modified with floats, turning them into automatic waterers. Other pig feeders serve as mineral feeders. The storage area holds stacks of smooth white panels, once used for penning pigs, which turn into claiming pens at lambing time. The cages formerly used for mink work as hay feeders, spanning two claiming pens

A wheeled cart once used for processing piglets serves the same purpose for lambs.

Unlike other milk replacer machines, the Heatwave milk warmer doesn’t mix the milk replacer powder and water. The machine is designed to be filled with milk replacer, or whole milk, which it then keeps warm and delivers through tubes and nipples to lambs in one or more pens, so that lambs have 24/7 access to milk replacer without the need for frequent mixing and bottle feeding. Coleman uses a non-acidified milk replacer in the Heatwave.

Like the rams, the ewes are mostly Dorset and Rideau Arcott. Coleman alternates between Dorset and Rideau rams with each breeding season, so he always knows which breed sired each group of lambs.

Coleman is interested in accelerated lambing, and has lambed groups of ewes in the fall and winter, but has since decided that winter lambing is not for him. He has more than enough space to lamb all his ewes at once, and this spring decided to simplify things by exposing the whole flock, including some recently-weaned ones, for an August/September lambing. He relies on the ewes’ natural ability to breed out of season, but plans to add light control in the future. A second breeding in late summer will pick up any that fail to conceive for that lambing.

On the day I visited in mid-April, there were four Dorset rams in with the 155 ewes. The ewes, which are between one and three years of age, gave birth to about 1.8 lambs each in the last lambing, and weaned about 1.6. These numbers will increase as the ewes mature and reach their peak production years.

The lambs are grown out to 80–100 pounds, and most are sold to Oulton’s Meats in Windsor. Others go to the Maritime Cattle Market auction in Truro and from there to markets in Ontario. Coleman sells Easter lambs if he has them ready at the right time, but this market isn’t a priority for him.

The feed alleys in the barns are raised so the sheep don’t have to kneel to eat as the bedding pack builds in their pens.

Things are only going to get busier for Coleman and Drew, as they are expecting their first child at the end of July. But they have a unique opportunity to grow their flock at a pace that makes sense for them, with additional land and infrastructure in place and available for purchase as they need it.

Producer profile: Gentes Ridge Ranch, Battleford, Saskatchwan


Story & Photos by Randy Eros

Owen and Jennifer Gentes’ operation, Gentes Ridge Ranch, is an hour and a half northwest of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan along the #16 highway and from there a short 15 minute drive south, past the town of Battleford.

The farmyard sits in the middle of 480 acres of rolling mixed prairie land. Seventy acres in hay and 175 acres split evenly for oats, green feed and barley with the rest forest and native grass. Owen and Jennifer purchased the land in 2012, it is now home to a flock of 300 Rideau Arcott, most of them registered purebreds. They have three children, Simon ,21 is at the University of Saskatchewan, Andrew, 19 is working in Saskatoon and their daughter Grace, 17 is in her last year of high school.

Owen was raised on a 300 acre beef farm near the small community of Corning, an hour and a half southeast of Regina. Owen jokes about it being the typical small prairie community; there was him and one other student in his high school graduating class. Jennifer was raised in Saskatoon but like many prairie kids there are some strong farm roots; her uncle still works the family farm near Duck Lake, Saskatchewan.

West side of the 38′ x 80′ hoop barn.

Owen and Jennifer’s first farm was a 160 acre parcel located east of Saskatoon. There they ran a few horses and their first sheep. They purchased a flock of 57 commercial Canadian Arcott from Richard Zubot that they ran with the kids for 4H programs. Their main farm activity at the time was the annual production and delivery of 16,000 small square hay bales for the acreage farms in the surrounding area.

Groups of ewes feeding in the central alley-way on the east side.

When they moved to the new farm, near Battelford, 10 years ago there was no infrastructure for the sheep. The house had been used as a lodge for a neighbouring hunt farm. At the time Owen and Jennifer both worked full time in Battleford, Jennifer teaching and Owen working in the hydraulic industry.

The transition to a bigger sheep operation on the new farm had a bit of a rough start. They expanded to 100 ewes and in that same year ran into a problem with a pelleted ration that had been made from grain with high levels of ergot infection. “That tainted feed reduced milk production and poor blood circulation caused frozen ears and feet, those were some of the problems” Owen recalled. They choose to sell off the flock and start again. Since that experience they have grown most of their own grains.

The livestock guardian dog, an essential part of prairie sheep management.

The following year, 2013, they started to repopulate the sheep flock, picking up 50 Rideau x Charollais ewes. That same year, the Saskatchewan branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) was called in to disperse the sheep flock from a large farm operation in southern Saskatchewan. Groups of purebred Registered Rideau ewes were tendered for sale and the Gentes were successful in purchasing a group of 250 young ewes. They sold off part of the group and ended up with just over 100 ewe lambs and one year old ewes. Owen remembers bringing them home “they were advertised as open ewes, but of course, more than a few of them lambed.”

A group of 2022 born ewe lambs.

They were initially lambing the mature flock in February and then the ewe lambs in April but as their flock expanded and Owen reduced his offfarm work, they changed their lambing program. They now run what Owen describes as a modified accelerated operation “Groups of 30 to 40 ewes are exposed to lamb almost year-round.” They don’t expose ewes for a May lambing in order to free up time for spring seeding, nor August or September to accommodate harvest. Besides their own crops Owen also helps his neighbours during seeding and harvest.

The operation that they built allows Owen to handle different groups of ewes and lambs with real efficiency. The only fully enclosed part of the operation is a 38’ x 80’ hoop barn that sits at the west end of a long central feeding alley. All of the pens, 11 in all, can access the alley for sorting and grain feeding. Grain is pail fed into wooden troughs in the alleyway and the selected group is allowed in to feed. When the group is finished with the grain Owen’s border collie, Kate, will run the sheep back into their pen, the gate is closed and the next group is fed. The dry ewes and replacement ewe lambs are fed whole oats while barley is fed to lactating ewes, bred ewes and young rams. The feeding system was made even more efficient a few years ago when Owen installed a grain shed on the south side of the alleyway. Now the grain is just a few feet from where he needs it. Hay is fed in collapsible round-bale feeders inside the pens. Several of the pens have access to larger areas and when I was at the farm in January two groups of ewes were being fed their hay and green feed on nearby stubble fields. Depending on the weather Owen will unroll this feed daily or every second day.

They put up their own 5’x 6’ round bales of alfalfa and oat green feed and usually grow all of their grain. Drought affected their region in 2021 and feed supplies were limited. Owen was happy to have some carry over from 2021 but still had to buy in some oats, barley and flax screenings.

Shearwell auto drafter with RFIDreader panels and a Bluetooth enabled scale.

The hoop barn plays a number of different roles. The sorting system is set on one end of the barn and includes a Shearwell automatic drafter with a Bluetooth scale and a Ritchie Combi Clamp. Owen is a big fan of the Bluetooth scale and the CSIP tags (Canadian Sheep Identification Program) “it would take me two hours to weigh 200 lambs now I can do it in 20 minutes, with no errors.” The automatic drafter comes with build in RFID reader panels making life a lot easier, “though both the panels and the gates will slow down a bit in our extreme cold weather.” He has used other holding crates but finds the Ritchie combi clamp works better for CIDRs, “fewer broken applicators and sore hands” he says. Owen feels that the better your handling system the more likely you are to use it.

The whole flock is sheared at the end of April. Laurie Reed, an Alberta based shearer, and his crew will have the work done in a day. The wool is bagged up and sold through Canadian Cooperative Wool Growers.

Small breeding pens.

The claiming pens are portable and get set up as needed for each group. As the lambing continues the space can be converted to a post lambing area for the ewes and young lambs.

The ewes are managed differently; depending on if they are to be bred in-season or “out-of season”. Owen considers in-season breeding for his Rideaus to be anytime between September and early February. No CIDRs (Controlled Intervaginal Drug Release) are used but the ewes will get a shot of Estrumate seven days prior to breeeding and then again when the rams are turned in. For out-of-season breeding with the mature ewes, CIDRs will be inserted 12 days prior to breeding and removed on the day of breeding. For in-season breeding of ewe lambs Owen will insert the CIDRs for six days prior to breeding. There is sufficient drugs remaining in the CIDRs to use them a second time when breeding the next group of ewe lambs.

Customized management tags.

Owen describes himself as “a big fan” of the GenOvis program. “We are not scanning for carcass traits yet but that may change.” Over the last few years they’ve brought in rams from Christian Beaudry at Agronovie in Granby, Québec. The Top Ram reports are what Owen looks to when choosing new rams. “I like the work they’ve done in Québec, they’re light years ahead with these genetic selection programs.”

As a breeder of purebred registered stock Owen is very careful with his breeding. After the CIDRs are removed the ewes are sorted into groups of five or six head and placed in small pens with a single purebred ram. The rams are in with the ewes for only three days. This tight breeding timeframe means that when the ewes are induced with Dexamethsone at 143 days the lambs are born within a three-day window. All ewes are vaccinated with Case-Bac, four weeks prior to lambing.

Moving from annual lambing to this accelerated system has dropped the average lambing percentage but not the overall number of lambs born each year. With annual lambing the ewes were averaging 2.87 lambs, now it varies, depending on the season, from 2.2 to 2.6 per lambing. Given that the ewes are now lambing more often it works out about the same and Owen finds he has fewer bottle lambs.

Ewes are usually left with 2 or 3 lambs and the extras are raised using a Grober machine. He has used a Lac-Tek in the past and find they both worked well for their operation. Owen called the milk replacer machines game changers “as the flock grew, we just didn’t have time for bottles.”

They have been on the GenOvis program for the last 6 years using Farmworks to capture their lambing data. The ewes and lambs will spend a day in the claiming pens where the lambs are weighed and a customized Shearwell management tag (non RFID) is applied. All of the lambs are docked and any commercial male lambs are castrated. They purchase an 18% creep ration for the preweaned lambs and also make sure that they are exposed to the mixed ration that will become their complete diet after weaning.

Lambs are weaned, weighed and given a Case-Bac vaccination at 50 days. One of the advantages of the tight lambing groups is the accuracy of the 50 day weight data; the lambs really are 50 days old. The ewe lambs and ram lambs will be given a Case-Bac booster four weeks later. The CSIP tags are also applied at weaning. The commercial lambs get a regular CSIP tag while the purebred lambs get the matched-set CSIP tags which work as an alternative to tattooing. The weaned lambs are fed an on farm mixed ration of barley and soya bean meal. Owen does his ration balancing with the SheepBytes program. A few years ago he tried replacing the soya bean meal with canola meal as a less expensive option but wasn’t happy with the results. “Palatability was the problem; the lambs wouldn’t eat it.” Feed for the weaned lambs is delivered through a long Flex Flow auger that fills a series of repurposed hog feeders. The feeders are hung on chains inside a south facing open sided shelter. The feeder heights can be adjusted to accommodate additional bedding. Minerals and vitamins are fed free choice to all the sheep using salvaged auger scoops, screwed to the shelter walls.

Market lambs are sold through the Saskatchewan Sheep Development Board (SSDB). The Saskatoon assembly yard is an hour and a half away. Registered Rideau ewe and ram lambs are usually in high demand with sales of 150 head per year. Things changed in 2022 with the collapse of the North American Lamb Company (NALCO). The dispersal of NALCO’s large flock had a negative effect on western Canadian breeding stock sales and the Gentes were not immune to this. Owen ended up wintering more ewe lambs this year. “This year we had quite a few folks back out of sales, they were taking advantage of NALCO’s dispersal, but the demand for good breeding stock will bounce back.”

The pen of registered Rideau rams. Opposite page left: ewes and lambs in the hoop barn. Right: Weaned lambs with the flex-auger fed feeders.

This visit with Owen and Jennifer showed me a new way of looking at year-round lambing. The fact that they can run this many sheep, in this many groups in a set up that is primarily out of doors was inspiring. Owen has spent time on the SSDB as well as on the board of the Canadian Sheep Federation. Through all that time he has seen more than a few sheep operations and he’s paid close attention. “I am a dreamer, when I see something that works, I wonder how I can take it home and use it”. Clearly a philosophy that has paid off.

Producer Profile: Maple Meadow Farms A century of farming in Osgoode, Ontario

There’s a lot of history at Maple Meadow Farms in Osgoode, Ontario. Colleen Acres, her husband Dwayne Bazinet and their sons Mitchell, Taylor and Kieran have been running the operation since 2007, but the farm’s story starts several decades earlier. Sitting around the kitchen table with Colleen and Dwayne, along with Colleen’s parents, Dwayne and Laura Acres, we went over the long history of the farm. Later, a tour of the farm demonstrated what it looks like today.

Maple Meadow FarmsA century of farming in Osgoode, Ontario

Left to right: Dwayne and Laura Acres, Collen Acres, Dwayne Bazinet. Photo by Randy Eros

The farm, 45 minutes south of Ottawa, was purchased in 1923 by George William Acres (Colleen’s great-grandfather) as one of four 100 acre lots to help his four sons start their own farms. Colleen’s grandfather, Cecil, was one of those four young men. Cecil Acres ran hogs and a dairy operation as well as registered Hampshire, Southdown and Cheviot sheep. Through the 1950’s and 60’s Dwayne Acres recalls spending a lot of time at fall fairs throughout the region. Those fairs were a big part of farming and critical in getting your name out there if you wanted to sell breeding stock. Dwayne remembers getting $17/head for 100 lb slaughter lambs when he shipped them to Canada Packers in Hull Québec back in 1956. He is confident that the Maple Meadow Farms Hampshire are the longest continuous registered Hampshire flock in Canada.

The farm was still operating as a mixed farm when Dwayne and Laura got married in 1962. They took over the operation in 1964 and continued to run the dairy operation, registered Yorkshire, Tamworth and Hampshire swine and the registered sheep flocks. The dairy herd was switched over to beef in 2001. Though the farm is now run by the younger generations Laura and Dwayne Acres are still part of the operation. Their home is just down the road from the farmyard and they keep an eye on groups of ewes grazing the adjacent pastures.

Left: Collen Acres and Dwayne Bazinet with Dwayne’s father Larry Bazinet. Below:a group of young lambs in the renovated dairy barn. Opposite page top: Two sample of the rations used at Maple Meadow Fams. Below: Portable sun shade.

Dwayne Bazinet wasn’t a newcomer to farming when he married into the Acres family. He and Colleen met at a Junior Farmers event. Though he was raised in Montreal, his maternal
grandfather ran a dairy farm south of the Acres farm and his paternal grandfather farmed on the east side of Ottawa. Last year, Dwayne’s father, Larry, moved to the nearby town of Winchester, only a few miles away. To say that Larry is retired would be a bit of a stretch; while the rest of us sat around the kitchen table chatting about the farm, he was out in the yard with his tractor gathering and splitting wood for the boiler that heats the house and the lambing sections of the barns.

Colleen and Dwayne started farming in 1995 on a 55 acre farm that was part of her grandfather’s original farm property. They raised purebred Dorset and gradually added 100 commercial ewes which they housed on a nearby rental property. They purchased the home farm, Maple Meadows, from her mom and dad in 2007. Colleen left a position with the Canadian Seed Trade Association in 2005 to farm full time and Dwayne made the decision to leave his off-farm work with a local fuel supply company in 2015. Their eldest son, Mitchell, studied Agriculture at MacDonald College in Montreal and has now been home farming full time with his parents since 2019. Taylor, the middle son still lives at home and is working off-farm as a heavy equipment operator while the youngest, Kieran, is in his last year of high-school.

Though sheep and cropping are the main operations, there are 20 head of beef cattle and seasonal poultry. The current sheep flock is made up of both commercial and registered ewes. The 370 commercial ewes are mostly a Suffolk/Rideau cross with a few Polled Dorset cross as well. The remainder of the ewe flock are registered animals: 90 Rideau Arcott, 20 Hampshire,25 Suffolk and 15 Polled Dorset. The farm also grows and sells grain corn, soybeans and usually has some surplus barley and hay to sell as well.

The flock is bred for four different lambing groups during the year. The registered animals lamb in January/ February. The commercial ewes lamb in March and the ewe lambs have their turn in May at 14 months of age. They re-expose the March lambing group after weaning for an October/November lambing. They use CIDRs on this group. At the same time, they re-expose the purebred Dorset sheep and some of the Rideaus to a natural breeding, relying on their out-of-season breeding advantage.

The ewes lamb out in either the 42’ x 120’ hoop barn or a retrofitted dairy barn with the lambing pens set up on one end. Of the 1000 or so lambs that are born on the farm each year about half end up as market lambs. The rest are either sold as breeding stock, both cross-bred and registered, or retained as replacements for their own flock. Normal replacement for their flock runs between 16 and 18%.

The Rideau and Rideau cross ewes are the most prolific, averaging 270%. The Suffolk flock runs at 200% and the Dorset and Hampshire ewes at 165%.

Breeding stock sales are a very important part of their operation and Colleen and Dwayne have continued the family tradition of producing high quality animals. The they were introduced to the industry in the early 1960s.

 

Left: Dwayne doing the late afternoon chore of pushing in the TMR along the fence-line feeder. Below: The open face of the bunk sileage, and October born lambs. Opposite page top: The feed mix wagon lined up next to the grain bins and liquid molasses tank ready for loading. Bottom: The end of the hoop barn with the large doors open for ventilation. Photos by Randy Eros

The current program, GenOvis, allows them to track a wide variety of traits in both the terminal and maternal breeds. Lambs are tagged at birth using Canadian Sheep Identification Program (CSIP) tags. The lambing information is entered into the FarmWorks data management program. They have been using the FarmWorks program since their involvement in RFID tag trials for the CSIP. As lambs grow their 50 and 100 day weights are added to the program. All purebred registered animals will have ultrasound measurements taken at 100 days for both loin depth and fat cover. There is significant work involved in the collection and management of the GenOvis data but Colleen and Dwayne feel the payoff is worth it for both their own flock improvement and for shepherds who choose Maple Meadow Farms for breeding stock. Along with their CSIP tag, the registered stock are also tattooed and have an additional tag with the year letter and animal number applied for easy visual identification.

Ewes and lambs will spend a day or two in a claiming pen before being moved into the larger group of lambed ewes. They use a Grober automatic milk mixing machine for extra lambs. Ewes are expected to raise as many as three lambs and they will set up special pens for ewes with quads. The ewes with quads require extra feed and careful attention but Colleen and Dwayne feel it balances out with a reduced demand for milk replacer and allows the Rideau ewes to fully express the maternal traits for which they were developed. Lambs are weaned at 60 days and will be raised in one of the barns with the ewes headed outside.

None of the market lambs will go to the auction markets. Market lambs are generally finished to 100 to 120 lb live weight and the goal is to reach that weight within 120-150 days. They do some marketing of freezer lambs but the bulk of the lambs go as direct sales to local provincially inspected processors and as whole lambs to retail butcher shops. These are well finished 55 to 60 lb carcasses. Colleen talks about the feedback they get from the butchers and processors, saying “we hear directly from the folks who are buying our market lambs and this feedback is important as we work to create higher quality lambs”.

The flock is fed a variety of rations depending on the animal’s stage of production. They have maintenance, breeding, early and late gestation and a lactation ration for the ewes and grower rations for the lambs. Julie Lortie, an animal nutritionist with a local co-op, helps balance the rations. The farm owns a total of 500 acres and rents a further 20 acres. This supplies the bulk of the feed for these rations. The grain corn and the soybeans are used in the rations and also sold as cash crops. Barley is grown primarily for feed. Both corn silage and alfalfa silage are put up for the livestock. The silage is put into ag bags, tower silos and silage bunkers.

They have two custom mineral mixes. One with a coccidiostat and one without. Ewes get the coccidiostat mineral 2 weeks prior to lambing and throughout the lactation period. They have a mix mill and the “grain mix” used in the rations is ⅔ barley and ⅓ corn. The rations are mixed and usually fed along fence-line feeders both outside and in the barns.

The bunk silage is carefully managed. The open face of the silage is fed to the cows, leaving the fresh cut silage to be fed to the ewes. They do the cutting and raking of the hay but have a custom large square baler put up the dry hay. The alfalfa and corn silage is harvested with Maple Meadows’ own equipment and labour. They have been using corn silage for the last five years. They now put up 12 to 13 acres of corn silage a year. They have the large square dry hay bales chopped and blown into the end of the hay shed, usually 20-30 at a time. The increased cost of land has certainly changed how they feed the flock. Dwayne figures that 7 acres of corn silage produces the equivalent of 40 acres of hay.

The feed is all tested as part of the ration balancing. A few years ago they ran into a problem with pregnancy toxemia in the Rideau and Rideau cross animals and now add liquid molasses to the ration to provide the necessary energy for the prolific ewes.

Dwayne is currently doing all of the shearing. The ewes are sheared a month before lambing, along with vaccination (Glanvac-6) and hoof trimming. They will be dewormed if the faecal counts call for it. While a few fleeces are sold locally most of the wool is shipped to Canadian Co-operative Wool Growers in Carleton place, an hour’s drive away.

 

Colleen and Dwayne are careful about how they source their new genetics. They have been using artificial insemination as a way of safely sourcing new genetics and have their own semen storage tank. Ewes are sent to Sherbrooke, Québec where veterinarians, Dr. Richard Bourassa and Dr. Sylvain Rémy do the laparoscopic insemination. GenOvis evaluations, genotyping for scrapie resistance and flock health status are key factors in making decisions on any live ram purchases. With the recent loosening of border restrictions there is more interest from US producers in breeding stock. This in turn means that scrapie resistant genetics will become increasingly important. When choosing replacement rams the GenOvis Carcass Index (which includes gain) is used for the terminal breeds, the maternal index for Rideaus. The maternal/prolificacy index is used for the Dorset to increase both number born and number raised.

 

With a century of operations at Maple Meadow Farms it seemed appropriate to ask what has changed in farming. Dwayne Acres talked about the changes in feeding, saying that back then, it was “cheap labour, mostly our own. Everything was fed by pail.” As for genetics, there are now “new breeds like Rideau, Texel, Charolais and Ile de France where it used to be just Hampshire, Suffolk and Dorset.” Everyone agreed that there is a lot more science and technology on the farm. Computer balanced rations, feed tests, TMR machines with weigh scales to monitor the amounts fed, RFID readers tied via Bluetooth to weigh scales and GPS on tractors were not part of farming in Dwayne Acres’ youth.

Colleen has seen some significant changes even in then last 20 years. “More documentation and regulations like the CSIP, animal transport and concerns for welfare and biosecurity have all changed how we document things”.

Many years of flock wide blood sampling for Maedi Visna (ovine progressive pneumonia) ensures no positive carriers are in the flock. The rams are genotyped for scrapie resistance and they will test for Q fever and Johne’s if breeders require it. Industry concerns for animal health and on-farm biosecurity programs have changed how the farm’s genetics are promoted. They no longer participate in the circuit of rural livestock shows that was a big part of her growing up. A farm website and emails with photos or videos along with data support the farm’s marketing efforts. Scheduled on-farm visits to make final selections or just to visit and talk sheep are always welcome. “Involvement in 4-H has been an important part of my life and for our boys too,” says Colleen. “We supply ewe lambs and market lambs for the program and I have led the local 4-H sheep club for over 20 years.”

There has also been significant change in both the access to and the ownership of the local lamb processing plants. There are fewer plants and you need to book processing dates as much as a year ahead of time.

Through all of this talk about the farm and farming it was obvious to me that some things haven’t changed. The commitment to both the sheep industry and local community have remained as strong as ever. Dwayne Acres served the sheep industry for many years on both local boards and as Chair of the CSBA and the Canada Sheep Council (the predecessor to the Canadian Sheep Federation). He and Laura worked with local fairs and community organizations all through their farming careers. Now Colleen and Dwayne Bazinet are doing the same. Their commitment to farming doesn’t stop at the farm gate. Colleen is a past director of the Ontario Sheep Farmers board, sat on the CSBA board for six years and is a member of her local sheep district committee. Dwayne has been a fair volunteer and continues to supports the local hockey association either as an on-ice helper, team trainer or timekeeper. And now with another generation on board, things look very positive for a second century of sheep farming at Maple Meadow Farms.

Producer Profile: Wilson Acres Farm, Arrowwood, Alberta

James and Emilie Wilson’s operation, Wilson Acres Farms, is located in the gently rolling Buffalo Hills of south-central Alberta near the small town of Arrowwood. And though neither of them are new to agriculture they are relatively new to the Canadian sheep and lamb sector. My visit with this couple showed me that with the right attitude and hard work there are still ways for young folks to come into our industry.

Producer profile: Wilson Acres Farms, Arrowwood, Alberta

They have been renting the property for three years and are running a flock of 150 ewes in an accelerated program; each group lambing 3 times in 2 years. The current operation is located on 12 acres with hopes to expand in the future. There is a 135’x60’ barn on the site that houses most of the flock. The few outside paddocks are used for rams and some breeding groups.

Folks who have been in the sheep business for a while will recognize the name Floyd Williams. This is the property where Floyd ran his lamb feeding operation for many years. Their ewe flock was sourced from the Birch Hills Hutterite Colony in Wanham, AB and is a mix of Dorset, Rideau and Suffolk. Emilie and James thought that for health reasons it was important to source the ewe flock from one farm. The rams, all purebred, are Polled Dorsets (McDermit Ranch, Southey, SK and Coyote Acres, Halkirk, AB) and Suffolk (Jordan Livestock, Rimbey, AB and Ashbacher Suffolks, Halkirk, AB).

The ewe flock is run in two groups, one of 100 and one of 50. Lambing is in March, June and November. The regular breeding protocol calls for CIDRs and a PMSG injection. For the late June breeding this year they are running an experiment with part of that group receiving the PMSG and some not. They have marked the ewes’ rumps with different coloured paint to monitor the breeding activity. The rams are turned in with the ewes for 18-20 days. Last year, in the larger group of 100 ewes, they used 5 rams and ended up with a 97% conception rate. Moving forward their breeding plans call for an increase in ram power. They will continue to purchase their male genetics from purebred breeders throughout Alberta.

Six weeks prior to lambing the ewes will be vaccinated with Glanvac 6, shorn and have their hooves trimmed. At 70-80 days post breeding their veterinarian service, the Highview Animal Clinic, will scan the ewes. Any open ewes will be moved into the next breeding group. The culling standard? Two strikes and you’re out.

The ewes lamb out in the barn and will usually spend 24 hours in the claiming jugs. The lambs are weighed, tagged, and the tails banded. Males are usually left intact. When they started, Emilie and James were giving selenium and AD&E vitamin injections to each lamb but have switched to an oral administration of Vitaferst-Care. Unlike many parts of Western Canada the local soil and the feeds they produce are not deficient in selenium. With triplets, one is removed and raised on milk replacer using a Pyon Heatwave Milk Warmer setup. All the newborn lambs have access to an 18% creep feed ration.

The winter group of ewes lambed out at 158% with the average weight for the lambs at 10.7 lb. The lambing rate for the June group was lower at 112% but had much higher birth weights, averaging 13.5 lb. The Animal Management program from Gallagher is used for data collection and they have a Ritchie scale in the sorting chute.

Weaning takes place at 8 weeks. The lambs are fed initially on an 18% ration eventually moving to 16% as they grow. Most of the lambs are marketed at 80-100 lb. directly to a Halal Butcher located 45 minutes from the farm. They also direct market to several Indian restaurants in Calgary. The majority of the March born lambs were already gone when I made my late June visit to the farm. This year’s plans call for more record keeping; 50 and 100 day weights.

All of the rations, except the 18% creep feed, are mixed on farm and fed using a self propelled Jay-Lor tub grinder. They have been working with livestock nutritionist Courtney Vriens to create the different TMRs needed to manage the ewe flock, the rams and the growing lambs. All of the feed inputs are purchased and include a variety of silages, dry hay, dried distillers grain and corn. James works off-farm as the farm manager of a 75,000 head cattle feed-ot and through those connections is able to find the most affordable feeds. They use different silages and a variety of hay types in the feed mixes always looking, as James put it, “ to get the best bang for our buck.” The feeding is done daily in bunk feeders that line the central alley of the barn. Five different ewe rations are formulated for maintenance, flushing, early gestation, late gestation and lactation. As well, grower rations are mixed and adjusted for lamb growth.

I took a ride with James to a nearby hay processing plant where they loaded his truck with 3 large square bales of 2nd cut alfalfa. The fact that they are close to all of their feed supplies helps make this farm work for Emilie and James.

Producer profile: Wilson Acres Farms, Arrowwood, Alberta
I was surprised by how little machinery is required for their operation. The self-propelled tub grinder and a 25 horsepower JD tractor with a loader and grapple are all that is needed. It was with a nod of respect that I watched James unload the heavy alfalfa bales and move them into the barn with his small tractor. They do find it quicker to rent a skid steer when it comes time to clean out the barn between lambing groups. A pulley mounted to one of the beams in the barn allows for the unloading of the large tote bags of feed supplements and minerals.

James hails from Oxfordshire, England but has some Canadian roots; grandmother, Elaine, was born in BC before the family moved to England. He grew up around farming, his father, Simon, still works on the farm where James grew up. In his early 20’s James and a neighbour ran a small flock of sheep together. Realizing that his farming options in England were limited James made his way to Canada in 2014. He spent a year working on a farm near Rosetown, SK. On a trip home to England he met Emilie and together they made plans for Canada.

Producer profile: Wilson Acres Farms, Arrowwood, Alberta

Emilie, who was born in Warwickshire, had spent a gap year traveling in Australia and New Zealand, funding her trip by working on a number of farms. Once home she went back to school and obtained a degree in Agricultural Business Management at the University of West Englands’s Hartpury College. When they met in England in 2014 she had graduated and was working on an outdoor organic pig farm.

Producer profile: Wilson Acres Farms, Arrowwood, Alberta

The self-propelled Jay-Lor grinder used to mix five different rations and feed the flock.

They came to Canada in 2016 and settled in Shaunavon, SK for a few years before making the move to the farm in. They speak appreciatively of the Canadian Agricultural Loans Act Program (CALA) that has helped them finance the capital purchases needed to start up the farm. This program guarantees to the lending bank or credit union up to 95% of the loan. As they build their operation Emilie and James both work at off-farm jobs. James at the feed-lot and Emilie as the Financial Administrator for Trouw Nutrition. Emile is also very involved with the Alberta Lamb Producers (ALP). She has been on the Board of Directors since 2021 and is currently the vice-chair.

Increasing their flock and purchasing the farm along with some additional land are part of the future plans. The flock is relatively young but they are starting to develop criteria for replacement ewe selection. Dorset genetics seem to be the preferred direction, with Suffolk sires, to create good quality meat carcasses. James and Emilie have now added some purebred Texel to their operation and plan on using them in both the commercial operation and as show animals. They are looking at some British genetics as the Texel flock grows.

It was a treat to meet with this young couple. They see a real future in the sheep and lamb industry and with their energy and enthusiasm there is no doubt they’ll get there.

Producer Profile: van der Veen Farms, Grand Valley, Ontario

By Cathy Gallivan, PhD

Photos by Katrina Joy Photography

Peter and Elly van der Veen emigrated from the Netherlands in 2002 with six children under 15 years of age. Another son, Peterje, died before they left the Netherlands. Twenty years later, the three oldest girls live on dairy farms in Shawville, Quebec (Eline), Barrhead, Alberta (Lisa), and Berwick, Ontario (Marleen), each with families of their own. Marleen took some ewes with her and still has a flock of Rideaus today. Another daughter, Ilze, and son, Pieter, live and work elsewhere in Ontario. 

L to R: Harold, Elly, Peter, Roy and Pieter van der Veen.

Harold, now 22, is the youngest of the children born in the Netherlands. He lives and works on the farm, and plans to take it over someday. Roy (17) was born after the family arrived in Canada, and is still in school.

Upon their arrival in Canada, the van der Veens purchased a 215-acre farm with an old house and a bank barn in Grand Valley. The land base has since grown to 525 acres, with a further 175 acres of rented land. There are four Coverall barns that are 50’ wide and 100-154’ long, as well as a 40×200’ pole barn. Peter and Elly built a new house shortly after purchasing the farm, and Harold and his girlfriend, Alyssa Teeuwissen, now live in the old house.

The family started off raising sheep and finishing pigs on straw. But the prices received for the pigs made that enterprise unprofitable, so they decided to concentrate on sheep farming. In 2008, they shipped their last pigs and started filling the barns with Rideau Arcott sheep. From there, the flock grew rapidly to 1,000 ewes lambing on an accelerated (STAR) system. 

The two Coveralls that are used for lambing have ceilings and insulation, which keeps them comfortable on cold days.

Further expansion of the flock would have required more land and buildings, so Peter and Elly started thinking about getting more income from the same number of animals by selling milk as well as meat. Rather than compromising the health status of the flock by purchasing outside ewes, they decided to raise their own by crossing dairy breed rams onto the Rideaus. After researching the available breeds, they settled on the British Milk Sheep, and in 2017 obtained rams from Eric & Elisabeth Bzikot in Conn, Ontario. These rams were bred to the calmest Rideau ewes with the best udders, to produce their first dairy ewes. A second dairy breed, the Lacaune, was added later and mated to the British Milk Sheep x Rideau crosses. Today there are about 300 pure Rideaus on the farm and another 600 ewes with at least 50% dairy sheep breeding.

The milking parlour has room for 24 ewes per side.

A milking parlour with room for 16 ewes on each side was installed in 2018, and later expanded to milk 24 on each side. As they waited for the first British Milk Sheep crosses to lamb, the van der Veens starting milking the Rideaus. Peter recalls that it took about two hours to get 100 Rideaus to just walk through the parlour for the first time, without even being milked. But they learned quickly, no doubt aided by the grain fed every time they came into the parlour. Peter says the dairy sheep crosses adapt to the parlour more readily than the Rideaus, which makes sense given that their British Milk Sheep and Lacaune sires came from flocks where animals were selected for milking performance in a parlour.

Harold and his girlfriend, Alyssa, do much of the milking. Sixteen of the spaces on this side of the milking parlour have meters for measuring milk production.

The ewes are bred to lamb throughout the year, and there are 300-400 being milked at any given time. The milking takes about two hours for two people. Harold is the main milker, assisted by Peter, Elly, Alyssa, or other family members when they are around. The milk is sold to Shepherd Gourmet Dairy (Saputo) in St. Marys, and is picked up every few days. 

In their first year of milking, the flock produced about 40,000 litres of milk for sale. By 2021, the output had grown to 105,000 litres. Peter points out that their sheep dairy enterprise is a work in progress. The flock includes 300 Rideaus, which produce less milk per day than the dairy cross ewes, and are milked for a shorter period of time after weaning their lambs. And both the Rideaus and the dairy cross ewes raise their lambs for 34 days before getting milked in the parlour. As they continue to refine their selection and management, Peter expects to add another 30,000 litres per year to the current production.

A big part of that improvement will come when they are able to measure and record the milk production of each ewe at every milking. The parlour came with 16 milk meters, which are used occasionally to determine when a ewe should be dried off. But milking 300-400 ewes takes long enough without reading milk meters and writing down the milk produced by each ewe. The van der Veens want to use their RFID tags and other available technology to record this data automatically, but incompatibilities between the RFID tags currently in use in Canada and the ones used by milk recording equipment have so far prevented them from doing this.

Once these data collection issues are resolved, the family will have more accurate information about the relative production of each of their breeds and crosses, and will be able to further refine their selection and culling of individual ewes. What they have found so far is that the Rideaus produce about a litre of milk per day, while the British Milk Sheep or Lacaune cross ewes yield around 2 litres per day. 

But there is a lot of variation within the breeds and crosses; one of the British Milk Sheep crosses produces as much as 5 litres per day, and they have ¾-Lacaune ewes giving 2.5 litres per day after lambing for the first time. Peter says the British Milk Sheep ewes have the greatest potential for milk production in their flock. But he likes the body and strength of the Lacaune ewes, and thinks they will probably last longer.

The van der Veens plan to continue keeping 300 Rideau ewes. The Rideaus have larger litters than the dairy sheep, particularly when they lamb in season, and this can lead to more work and higher death losses. But the large litters provide significant numbers of market lambs, as well as ewe lambs sold as breeding stock. They also have good longevity; some of the Rideau ewes on the farm are 12 years old.

And even though they produce less milk than the dairy sheep, the van der Veens find it worthwhile to milk the Rideaus as well as the dairy ewes. It costs 43 cents per day to feed a dry ewe and only 44 cents more (87 cents per day) for a lactating Rideau. The price they receive for a litre of milk depends on the protein content, but has recently been around $2.30 per litre, so even when a ewe produces as little as a half-litre of milk per day, she still nets 72 cents per day over her additional feeding cost.

There are other benefits to milking the Rideaus as well. Before they started milking, the Rideaus were culled on the number and weight of lambs they weaned. But going through the milking parlour twice a day means they can be culled directly for milk production, as well as udder size and shape. Rideaus that survive this culling make better mothers at lambing time, and this benefit gets passed on to the flocks that purchase ewe lambs from the van der Veens.

The Grober milk replacer machine can handle up to 100 lambs. Photo by Sheep Canada.

Most of the ewes raise their lambs for 34 days after lambing, before the lambs are weaned and the ewe begins milking in the parlour. Rideau ewes dry off earlier than the dairy ewes; they usually get milked for 60-90 days, compared to 150-200 days for the dairy ewes. The dairy ewes could probably milk even longer, but rebreeding and drying them off earlier allows them to produce more lambs than if they were milked for a longer period.

Lambs in this plastic tote in the warming room can be left to feed themselves by inserting a bottle of colostrum into the plastic tube secured at the end of the tote. Photo by Sheep Canada.

Lambing and milking year-round means the ewes are bred while they are still milking in the parlour. Before they started milking, Peter and Elly used MGA to induce out-of-season lambing, but they had to switch from MGA to CIDRs when they started selling milk for human consumption. The timing of CIDR insertion depends on the breed, with Rideau ewes getting a CIDR 40-50 days after lambing and the dairy breed ewes a bit later at 70-80 days. CIDRs are only used outside the normal breeding season. Rams go in with the ewes for 34 days at a time, followed by two weeks with no ram exposure, to allow for the lambing barns to empty out and be cleaned before the next lambing begins.

This device holds iodine and marking paint and can be hung from the ceiling framework anywhere in the lambing barn. Photo by Sheep Canada.

An ultrasound technician visits monthly to scan potentially pregnant ewes. Ewes get dried off 35-40 days before they are due to lamb again, or when their daily milk production measures less than half a litre.

The hooks holding this lamb are suspended from a small scale, allowing easy collection of birth weights. The metal frame has a place for everything needed when processing lambs, and can be wheeled from pen to pen.

A Grober milk replacer machine, and the lambs raised on it, are housed in an addition that connects the two lambing barns, along with a warming/recovery room and an office. The prolificacy of the Rideaus made the purchase of the machine a worthwhile investment even before the family began milking sheep. But since then it has become even more useful, as it provides the option of putting a ewe that gives birth to a single directly into the milking group and raising her lamb on milk replacer. 

Above and below: An opening in a chute is kept closed by sliding this piece of bent metal over the tops of the swinging doors. Photos by Sheep Canada.

The wheel on the end of this long gate allows it to swing around to crowd animals into a holding area prior to being weighed. Photo by Sheep Canada.

Raising a single lamb on milk replacer seems counterintuitive to most sheep producers, but the amount of milk a ewe produces depends to some extent on how much milk her lambs remove from her udder. The more the lambs drink, the more the ewe produces, so ewes with multiple lambs produce more milk than when they have single lambs. 

By the time a single lamb is weaned at 34 days of age, the milk production potential of the ewe has already been set at a lower level than if she had been feeding multiple lambs. Milking her in the parlour and raising her lamb on milk replacer removes more milk from her udder in the first month of lactation, and results in a higher daily production. It also means that she gets milked for 30 days longer than if she first raises her lamb. 

This Lacaune cross ewe has a good udder/teat structure for milking in the parlour.

A ewe that produces a litre of milk a day, for an additional 30 days (all ewes feed their lambs for the first day or two), will produce an extra $74 worth of milk, which is more than twice what it costs to raise her lamb on milk replacer ($35).

Not all ewes giving birth to singles will go directly to the milking parlour. The Grober milk replacer machine has a capacity of 100 lambs at a time, so whether a ewe raises her single lamb or not depends on the space available on the machine, and on how much they need the extra milk in the tank at the time.

The family uses Google Docs to share information about rations and numbers of animals between the computer and everyone’s devices. An iPad in the telehandler provides the latest numbers for Harold as he feeds the sheep.

With ewes being fed, bred, lambed and milked year-round, there is no shortage of work, and the summers are even busier, with 100 acres of forage to harvest and cash crops to manage. The grass is cut four, or sometimes five, times a year and put up as haylage in a pit or (very rarely) baled as dry hay and sold. There is no alfalfa in the mix, but one field of orchardgrass is now in its 18th year of production. Cash crops include 180 acres of soybeans, 140 acres of wheat and 270 acres of corn, 40 of which will be harvested as silage.

Above and below: This bunk shaver allows Harold to remove silage from the pit leaving a smooth surface that reduces spoilage.

Dry ewes are grazed on the forage land in between cuttings. Milking ewes need to be close to the parlour, and can’t be wormed when they are being milked. The grazing ewes are moved nearly every day, and only return to a previously grazed area when at least three weeks has elapsed. Worming is kept to a minimum, with regular worming of the entire flock having been replaced by selective worming of only the animals that need it, when they are in the handling system for other purposes.

Above and below: The telehandler is also used to load silage into the TMR mixer. With five different TMRs being mixed and fed each day, the van der Veens can get by with a smaller TMR mixer and narrower feed alleys.

Sheep in the barns are fed total mixed rations (TMRs) in feed alleys once a day. The rations are formulated by Courtney Vriens, an independent nutritionist who specializes in small ruminants. The TMRs contain corn silage, haylage and corn grain, all grown on the farm, as well as purchased protein, vitamin and mineral supplements. The sheep consume 180-200 tonnes of the corn each year. The corn is rolled before being added to the rations to keep the dominant ewes, who eat first, from sorting and eating it all.

Between Rideaus and dairy ewes, and sheep in different stages of pregnancy and lactation, there are five different TMRs to be mixed and fed each day (see table on page 9), which takes about two hours. In addition to the TMRs fed in the barns, the ewes get 80 grams of a parlour supplement (160 grams/day) on each trip through the parlour.

The telehandler has a number of attachments. In addition to running the bunk shaver and loading the silage, it has a blade for pushing the feed back to the sheep along the 1420’ of feed alleys on the farm. It is also used to operate the Emily automatic bedding machine. With the right equipment, one person can feed all of their animals in about two hours a day, and bed the pens in another half hour.

Coyotes were a problem in the past when the family had only one or two guardian dogs; one year they lost 50 lambs. Since increasing to three or four guardian dogs, they haven’t had any kills in the last two years. Ravens have been more of a problem in recent years. Not only do the ravens attack the lambs inside the barns (which are open on the ends), Peter blames them for stressing out the ewes and rams at breeding time and reducing their conception rates.

Lambs that weigh less than 60 lb. are fed a pelleted ration in these turkey feeders. The feeders are filled automatically and their position off the ground keeps the lambs’ feet out of the feed. Once they reach 60 lb., lambs go on the market lamb TMR, which is fed in the feed alley.

Above: British Milk Sheep ram. Below: Lacaune ram.

The van der Veen farm has come a long way in 20 years. With new milk meters on order, the next big development should be the ability to automatically record the milk production of each ewe at each milking, and to use this data to improve their selection for higher levels of milk production. And with Harold’s commitment to the farm operation, Peter and Elly can look forward to retiring someday and seeing what they have built continued by future generations of their family.