Producer profile: Woolley’s Lamb, Simcoe, Ontario

By Cathy Gallivan, PhD Schuyler Farms Limited, located near Simcoe, Ontario, consists of 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans, 700 acres of apples, 550 acres of sour (pie) cherries, and 400 acres of pasture and woodlot. The farm is run by brothers Brett and Ryan Schuyler,...

Feed for Profit: Mineral Supplementation

by Dale Engstrom, M.Sc., P.Ag I am often asked about using free-choice loose and block minerals. Are they needed? Do they do a good job of providing essential nutrients to sheep? Are they cost effective? Let’s start by reviewing what minerals are. Minerals fit into...

Drover’s Way Farm, Perth, Ontario

Story by Cathy Gallivan, PhD, Photos by Allison Taylor, PhD Oliver and Sarah Loten have been raising sheep for 20 years and, like most sheep farmers, have made a lot of changes to their flock and their management in that time. They started on a hobby farm near...

Producer Profile: Millferns Holsteins, Lower Onslow, NS

Story & photos by Cathy Gallivan, PhD I met with Fred and Anne Hamilton on a sunny day in early July, on the farm that has been in Fred’s family since the expulsion of the Acadians in 1760. The original land grant was 1,000 acres. By 1802, the family had eight...

Producer Profile: Red Willow Colony, Stettler, AB

Story by Peggy Johnson, Photos by Tracy Hagedorn After months of winter gloom, it was wonderful to drive across central Alberta on a sunny morning and experience the magic of spring: soft green of new leaves emerging from tree buds, the hint of grass in the roadside...

Producer Profile: Catto Sheep Farm, Lipton, SK

Story & photos by Stuart Chutter Martin and Louise Catto farmed in Scotland prior to moving to Canada almost 15 years ago. Although their principal enterprise was dairy farming, they would purchase 500 ewes each year in the fall, lamb them out in the spring and...

Producer Profile: Bouw Farms, Dugald, Manitoba

Story & photos by Cathy Gallivan, PhD On a cold, grey, October day, I met with Stefan Bouw on his family’s farm about 20 miles east of Winnipeg. I visited Stefan to talk about their recently established sheep flock but, as is often the case, discovered that the...

Producer Profile: Shepherd’s Choice, Norwood, ON

By Cathy Gallivan, PhD Photos by Allison Taylor, PhD At a time when more producers than ever are turning to accelerated lambing, one couple who tried it for eight years has made the decision to go back to lambing once a year. John and Eadie Steele have been raising...

Pasture Lambing in Barrhead County, Alberta

By Cathy Gallivan, PhD Photos by Tracy Hagedorn Back in 2008, Bernadette Nikkel and Darlene Stein bought a small flock of 30 ewes and shared it, so that each of them had something to use to train their Border Collies. Four years later, they and their families are...

Producer Profile: Springwater Farm, Albion Cross, PEI

Story & photos by Cathy Gallivan, PhD George and Melaney Matheson have literally gone back to the land. George grew up on the farm where they now raise sheep, hay and straw, but the land was sold when his father retired in 1974. The house was kept in the family,...

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Producer profile: Woolley’s Lamb, Simcoe, Ontario

By Cathy Gallivan, PhD Schuyler Farms Limited, located near Simcoe, Ontario, consists of 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans, 700 acres of apples, 550 acres of sour (pie) cherries, and 400 acres of pasture and woodlot. The farm is run by brothers Brett and Ryan Schuyler,...

Feed for Profit: Mineral Supplementation

by Dale Engstrom, M.Sc., P.Ag I am often asked about using free-choice loose and block minerals. Are they needed? Do they do a good job of providing essential nutrients to sheep? Are they cost effective? Let’s start by reviewing what minerals are. Minerals fit into...

Drover’s Way Farm, Perth, Ontario

Story by Cathy Gallivan, PhD, Photos by Allison Taylor, PhD Oliver and Sarah Loten have been raising sheep for 20 years and, like most sheep farmers, have made a lot of changes to their flock and their management in that time. They started on a hobby farm near...

Producer Profile: Millferns Holsteins, Lower Onslow, NS

Story & photos by Cathy Gallivan, PhD I met with Fred and Anne Hamilton on a sunny day in early July, on the farm that has been in Fred’s family since the expulsion of the Acadians in 1760. The original land grant was 1,000 acres. By 1802, the family had eight...

Producer Profile: Red Willow Colony, Stettler, AB

Story by Peggy Johnson, Photos by Tracy Hagedorn After months of winter gloom, it was wonderful to drive across central Alberta on a sunny morning and experience the magic of spring: soft green of new leaves emerging from tree buds, the hint of grass in the roadside...

Producer Profile: Catto Sheep Farm, Lipton, SK

Story & photos by Stuart Chutter Martin and Louise Catto farmed in Scotland prior to moving to Canada almost 15 years ago. Although their principal enterprise was dairy farming, they would purchase 500 ewes each year in the fall, lamb them out in the spring and...

Producer Profile: Bouw Farms, Dugald, Manitoba

Story & photos by Cathy Gallivan, PhD On a cold, grey, October day, I met with Stefan Bouw on his family’s farm about 20 miles east of Winnipeg. I visited Stefan to talk about their recently established sheep flock but, as is often the case, discovered that the...

Producer Profile: Shepherd’s Choice, Norwood, ON

By Cathy Gallivan, PhD Photos by Allison Taylor, PhD At a time when more producers than ever are turning to accelerated lambing, one couple who tried it for eight years has made the decision to go back to lambing once a year. John and Eadie Steele have been raising...

Pasture Lambing in Barrhead County, Alberta

By Cathy Gallivan, PhD Photos by Tracy Hagedorn Back in 2008, Bernadette Nikkel and Darlene Stein bought a small flock of 30 ewes and shared it, so that each of them had something to use to train their Border Collies. Four years later, they and their families are...

Producer Profile: Springwater Farm, Albion Cross, PEI

Story & photos by Cathy Gallivan, PhD George and Melaney Matheson have literally gone back to the land. George grew up on the farm where they now raise sheep, hay and straw, but the land was sold when his father retired in 1974. The house was kept in the family,...

Sheep Canada – Winter 2010

Sheep Canada - Winter 2010 Table of Contents
4: Greetings from Deerville
6: Photo contest winners
9: Worm wars and Ivomec resistance
12: New saliva test for worm-resistant sheep
13: Sheep pellets of wisdom: the year in review
14: CSBA hires new general manager
15: How long can ewe stay?
16: Wool and seaweed make bricks stronger
17: Sheep may safely graze…on organic farms
18: Subscription & Buyer’s Guide forms
19: Buyer’s Guide
22: CCWG attend Nanjing wool conference in China
23: Ontario producers explore lamb survival
26: Baxter Black: 30th year editorial
27: Natural health remedies for sheep: sugar
29: Human resources must be tended as well as land and animals
30: If I was going to build a barn…revisited
31: BSE causes cattle eyes to glow
32: Update on atypical scrapie
33: Producer profile: Morning View Farm, Elnora, Ontario

Producer Profile: Morning View Farm, Elnora, AB

By Kathleen Raines

It was a frosty day as I headed down the aptly named ‘roller coaster road’ to Morning View Farm, with ice fog blanking out the deep valleys and shrouding the driveway until I was almost past it. The farm site is an old one for rural Alberta – the house was built in 1921, and moved to its present location in 1928.

Jaclyn, Hannah and Naomi Delisle. Photo by Kathleen Raines.

Jaclyn, Hannah and Naomi Delisle. Photo by Kathleen Raines.

When Claude and Debbie Delisle first saw the quarter-section in the early fall of 2004, they fell in love with the view to the east over rolling hills to the tiny village of Elnora and beyond, but they knew they had their work cut out for them. They purchased the farm in October of that same year and negotiated possession of the neglected outbuildings one month prior, to get started on cleanup before snowfall. Claude is a skilled electrician and, with the help of his father, he undertook the first stage of renovations and upgrades that would make the house livable for their family and the buildings suitable for livestock.

Sheep were not part of the original plan for the farm. Claude grew up on a farm in Ontario (his father raised sheep, but lost the barn and stock in a fire when Claude was very young) and studied livestock production at Olds College. Debbie was raised on a dairy farm in Manitoba and was working in Olds when the couple met. Married in 1999, their family grew to include Hannah in 2000, Naomi in 2001 and Jaclyn in 2004.

The simple desire to live in the country hinged on Claude’s goal of raising cattle and Debbie’s dream of working with horses. Ten cows were purchased in spring 2005, and work on the buildings and fences continued.

Photo by Tracy Hagedorn.

Photo by Tracy Hagedorn.

Then Debbie made a fateful phone call in response to an ad on the local radio station – four Suffolk-type ewes and a ram were for sale. The sheep hadn’t been shorn in years so Debbie undertook the slow, painful process of shearing them by hand.

While that initial purchase wasn’t very productive – the ewes didn’t lamb and ended up being sold for meat – it did shift the Delisle’s thinking to the potential of lamb production. They met neighbouring shepherds Vera and Bill Mokoski of Treco Ranch, who were retiring and selling their established flock of purebred Danish Texels and Texel-Romanov crosses.

Debbie demonstrates new Racewell handling system. Photo by Tracy Hagedorn

Debbie demonstrates new Racewell handling system. Photo by Tracy Hagedorn

They purchased a small group of bred females from the Mokoskis in 2006 and lambed their first 18 ewes in 2007. Vera coached Debbie through that first lambing, and acted as her mentor while she completed the Green Certificate program in sheep production.

By 2008 the flock had grown to 40 females, the cattle were sold, and the Delisles had made the decision to “go big in sheep”. Their goal is to have the sheep support the family, with Claude having the flexibility to take on occasional contract work as an electrician. Being able to involve their daughters in the operation is an added benefit, and all three are building their own flocks and involved in daily chores.

Ewes exit the barn after a night of snow and high winds. Photo by Debbie Delisle.

Ewes exit the barn after a night of snow and high winds. Photo by Debbie Delisle.

The purebred Texels remain integral to the operation, generating income through sales of purebred and high-percentage rams, but Claude realized that they needed a more prolific maternal ewe to produce the 1,100-1,200 lambs called for each year in the business plan. His research on the Cornell system of accelerated lambing led to the Polypay as offering natural out-of-season breeding potential, good maternal traits and consistent twinning. According to Claude’s research, the additional advantages of the Polypay include strong flocking instinct and the demonstrated success of the Texel-Polypay cross in the United States. Their farm goal is to run 500 to 600 females, lambing 200 every eight months.

The year 2009 was one of transition, and sourcing the Polypay breeding stock was the major challenge. Unable to find the number of females they needed, they booked ewe lambs from two breeders in southern Alberta to be delivered over the next two years.

Only one of the two old barns on the farm site, formerly used for hogs, was salvageable; the hip-roofed barn was reluctantly bulldozed. The 30’ x 40’ hog barn became the lambing barn, and the first of three wood-arch tarped shelters, this one measuring 30’ x 72’, was erected nearby. Claude mounted the waterers on the outside walls to increase the flexibility of the space, which is used at various times of the year for lambing jugs, mothering pens, equipment housing and feed storage. A second, measuring 30’ x 45’, provides machinery and feed storage and a third, 30’ x 72’, was erected this year to house the new Racewell handling system and lamb feeding pens.

This well-organized system of having supplies needed for various tasks “ready to grab and go” is a trick Debbie learned from mentor Vera Mokoski. Photo by Kathleen Raines.

This well-organized system of having supplies needed for various tasks “ready to grab and go” is a trick Debbie learned from mentor Vera Mokoski. Photo by Kathleen Raines.

Both Debbie and Claude take advantage of every learning opportunity that comes their way; I originally met them both at an Alberta Lamb Producers’ seminar. Claude, in particular, is always researching new and better ways to raise and market their lambs. The Delisle’s participation in the Alberta Lamb Traceability project has allowed them to access funding to partially offset the cost of their handling system, Psion tag reader and FarmWorks software.

All of this year’s lambs were marketed through Sunterra Meats, a short half-hour drive away. Debbie feels they are establishing a good relationship with the plant and getting a fair price for their lambs.

Claude built these fenceline feeders from 12” gas pipe, cut in half. Mounted with lag bolts, the 2 x 4s are easily adjustable for sheep of different sizes. The ewe lambs occasionally knock hay cubes over the back of the feeder, and Claude later added a plywood backboard to reduce feed wastage. Photo by Kathleen Raines.

Claude built these fenceline feeders from 12” gas pipe, cut in half. Mounted with lag bolts, the 2 x 4s are easily adjustable for sheep of different sizes. The ewe lambs occasionally knock hay cubes over the back of the feeder, and Claude later added a plywood backboard to reduce feed wastage. Photo by Kathleen Raines.

Given the fact that Morning View Farm is still very much in a growth phase, it’s understandable that the couple’s learning curve has been steep. Debbie finds that each year presents them with a new challenge.

During their first lambing, the highly prolific Romanov-cross ewes showed signs of pregnancy toxaemia. Grain overload, chilled lambs and, this past year, high mortality in the bottle lambs have been issues, but each year the operation continues to grow and reward the couple sufficiently that they remain committed to their farm goals.

Debbie has taken on a new challenge this fall, letting her name stand as a director with the Alberta Sheep Breeders’ Association.

Like many Alberta shepherds the Delisles have struggled to find shearers, and part of their learning plan has involved each of them completing the Alberta Lamb Producers’ shearing school. Following Debbie’s ‘graduation’ in early 2010, she and Claude purchased a new professional shearing system for use on their own flock and to generate additional off-farm income. Debbie reports that she sheared 17 head on her best day to date, and as a shearing school classmate, I can attest that she does a very neat job.

The farm has roughly 100 acres of arable land and 20 acres each of bush and native pasture. Water is abundant and is fed to outlying pastures in the summer by surface lines with valves every 200 feet. Claude is gradually upgrading the fence with the addition of page wire on the perimeter and six strands of barbed wire on internal lines. One of Hannah’s summer jobs last year was shepherding, holding the ewes off the greenfeed while Claude fenced. Most of Claude’s machinery, older and smaller-scale, was given to him but has worked well. Annual pastures generally include some fall rye for early season grazing and have easy access to the barns and pens for water and security for ewes with young lambs. Turnips were successfully used this year for the first time to flush ewes and finish lambs. Coyote losses haven’t been a major problem so far, but a variety of security measures including two guard dogs and a llama are in place, supported by ongoing improvements to fences.

Month old Texel and Texel cross lambs.  The ewe ration includes barley, alfalfa cubes and free choice greenfeed. The round bale feeder is from the CCWG. Photo by Kathleen Raines.

Month old Texel and Texel cross lambs. The ewe ration includes barley, alfalfa cubes and free choice greenfeed. The round bale feeder is from the CCWG. Photo by Kathleen Raines.

The original plan for flock expansion has been modified as Claude has been busier than anticipated with off-farm work, leaving Debbie to manage the daily tasks alone. They lambed 113 ewes this year and now have 50 more Polypay ewe lambs and a handful of additional purebred Texels. Finding unrelated stock of both breeds has been a problem, and the new Texels were brought in from Ontario. They now have 195 ewes bred to lamb in two groups in 2011.

Claude’s dream of cattle is but a memory, but Debbie keeps her interest in horses alive with Acorn, the Norwegian Fjord pony she is training. Full time jobs, a full time sheep operation and a busy young family don’t leave much time for play, but Debbie is happy to report that Acorn is coming along very well.

 

Kathleen Raines raises Rideau Arcotts and F1 crosses near Spruce View, Alberta.

Sheep Canada – Fall 2010

Sheep Canada - Fall 2010 Table of Contents
4: Greetings from Deerville
5: Island sheep tour
9: Geneticists emphasize maternal sheep breeds
12: Boundary issues
13: Postcards from New Zealand
16: Baxter Black
17: Ontario Suffolk Sheep Association 4th Terminal Sire Sale
18: Subscription & Buyer’s Guide forms
19: Buyer’s Guide
22: FCC to fund farm safety
23: Your questions on mandatory ID
26: RFID benefits UK shepherds
28: Great expectations – getting real about EID
29: Replacement tags for purebred registrations now available
30: Natural remedies for sheep: apple cider vinegar
31: Scrapie Canada’s new project
32: Changes to import protocol for female sheep and goats
33: Producer profile: Thistlestone Farm, Acton, Ontario

Island Sheep Tour

Story & photos by Jonathan Wort

The earliest record of sheep in Canada is found in the records of De Mont’s voyage to Acadia (Nova Scotia) in 1604; Champlain established Port Royal the following year. It appears that the Acadians raised sheep from the early days of their presence here. The tradition continues to this day with several Acadian families, such as the d’Eons, d’Entremonts and Boudreaus who have kept sheep for many many generations on islands off the coast of Nova Scotia.

James Vallis seems to know what he’s doing with this lobster, served on the Saturday night of the island sheep tour.

James Vallis seems to know what he’s doing with this lobster, served on the Saturday night of the island sheep tour.

The sheep graze year-round on these islands, feeding on grass in the summer and seaweed in the winter months. It is thought that the early European fishermen who came here to fish for the summer brought sheep with them on their boats and pastured them on the islands, beginning the tradition of raising sheep in this manner.

On the weekend of June 19th, the Purebred Sheep Breeders’ Association of Nova Scotia was hosted by Mary Morse, Leroy d’Entremont and their family for a weekend island sheep tour. The event started with supper on Saturday evening at Le Village historique acadien in Pubnico. The meal featured lobster caught by Leroy. Supper was followed by an informal gathering of sheep producers and local residents, with music provided by several local musicians.

Sunday morning everyone met at a wharf on Shelburne Harbour for the half hour boat ride to McNutt’s Island in the mouth of the harbour. Shelburne Harbour is the third-largest natural harbour in the world.

The island sheep are North Country Cheviot and Scottish Blackfaces.

The island sheep are North Country Cheviot and Scottish Blackfaces.

While on the island, the sheep breeders were treated to coffee breaks and moussaka, prepared with local mutton, for lunch. Ann Yarborough and Greg Brown, the island’s only remaining full-time residents, prepared the treats in their wonderful restored 150-year-old fisherman’s house. Ann and Greg bought the property in 2007, and have become an important part of the island. You can find out more about them from Ann’s blog, Nova Scotia Island Journal or Greg’s book of the same name.

Greg welcomed everyone to their island home by saying that they were very happy with the lawn maintenance crew (sheep) who had been mowing (eating) the grass, and fertilizing it for generations. The only compromise that they have had to make is to maintain the fences around their flower and vegetable gardens.

The first stop on the tour was the sheep pens where Leroy does all his sheep handling, shearing, and sorting. From there we made our way, by various unique modes of transport, to the other side of the 2,000-acre island to the lighthouse where we hoped to see the sheep.

The sheep graze on grass in the summer and seaweed in the winter.

The sheep graze on grass in the summer and seaweed in the winter.

Leroy told us that McNutt Island currently supports a flock of about 90 crossbred North County Cheviot and Scottish Blackface ewes. He breeds these ewes to either a North Country Cheviot or Scottish Blackface ram, in order to retain a crossbred flock. On other islands, such as Blue Island, he has a purebred Scottish Blackface flock. He finds that by maintaining crossbred and purebred flocks on different islands he can breed sheep that are suited to the environmental conditions on the various islands and produce marketable lambs.

One of Leroy’s Border Collies hitches a ride to the island.

One of Leroy’s Border Collies hitches a ride to the island.

The islands vary considerably in size and geography. Some are forested and others are not much more than rock outcrops in the ocean. A critical factor that determines the islands’ suitability for sheep is the amount of seaweed that washes up on the shore in the fall and winter storms. Without this, the sheep would not have enough winter feed.

On McNutt Island the sheep graze the open land along the shore and around the houses or areas where people lived in the past. The interior of the island is thick hardwood and softwood forest. Leroy relies on Border Collies to work his sheep; without them it would be impossible to gather the sheep and work with them.

The sheep have become an important part of the ecology of the island that they graze. Several islands have lost their sheep flocks. When this happens, within a couple of years the islands grow up in an impenetrable web of bushes and raspberries, changing the landscape dramatically. Once this happens even the bird population changes, with shore birds no longer nesting on the islands.

One of the ‘various, unique forms of transportation’ used on the island sheep tour.

One of the ‘various, unique forms of transportation’ used on the island sheep tour.

Island sheep flocks used to exist all along the shore of Nova Scotia. But the only flocks that continue to this day are in the southwestern region where fishermen like Leroy continue the tradition of inshore fishing  and raising sheep, started by their ancestors in the early 1600’s. Leroy and his fellow island sheep farmers are very proud of this tradition and plan to continue it for many generations to come.

Jonathan Wort works for Agrapoint in Truro, Nova Scotia. He and the rest of the tour group would like to thank Leroy and Mary and their family, and Ann and Greg for sharing their world with the Purebred Sheep Breeders Association of Nova Scotia.

Sheep Canada – Summer 2010

Sheep Canada - Summer 2011 Table of Contents
4: Greetings from Deerville
5: Lessons from a shearer
8: Canadian lamb consumption up
9: 2010 All Canada Classic, Richmond, Québec
11: Selecting an appropriate turnout date
13: Instinctive solutions to predator problems
18: Subscription & Buyer’s Guide forms
19: Buyer’s Guide
22: Sheep Canada Photo Contest
23: Natural remedies: colloidal silver
24: Advertisers’ Index
25: Sheep go to heaven
26: The new faces of sheep farming in Nova Scotia
31: Baxter Black: Loading bulls the cowgirl way
32: If I was going to build a barn…
34: Leslie Samson: wool artist

Sheep Go To Heaven

Story & photo by Alyson Champ

I never fully understood the connection between goats and the devil until I owned a goat, and then it all became clear. It’s not their horns or their weird eyes that make them seem evil. It’s their personalities.

Pinceau – aka The Goat.

Pinceau – aka The Goat.

Sheep will test your fences, get into your garden, run when you don’t want them to, or refuse to move when you most need them to, but what sheep seem to lack, and what goats possess in abundance, isn’t so much intelligence as it is a creative imagination: the capacity to posit the big “what if:”

“What if I turn the key in the tractor ignition?”

“Suppose I eat this bucket handle?”

“I wonder what would happen if I picked up this handsaw and ran away with it?”

Sheep just don’t think this way.

The Goat never ceased trying to find new ways to amuse himself- amuse himself and torment us. Ever the nimble escape artist, he broke, jumped, or climbed his way out of every stall, pen, or paddock he was put in. From his point of view, a fence wasn’t so much an enclosure as it was a suggestion: “You probably should stay in here and eat this grass…but then again, you might prefer to be out there eating those currant bushes. Really, it’s entirely up to you.”

He ate through electrical wiring in the barn, pulled insulation out of the walls, broke windows, collapsed feeders, and destroyed the slop sink by standing in it. With lips as quick as the Artful Dodger’s fingers, The Goat could go through your pockets and grab your wallet, a pen, a utility knife, a syringe full of penicillin, a pair of hoof shears, or just about anything else you’d care to mention, and be off with it in a flash.

You wouldn’t even know something was missing until you found yourself patting your pockets, saying, “Now where the heck did I put….”

Too many times my toolbelt-clad husband would go out to the barn to repair some goat-related damage and come back with half his screw drivers missing. Or his tape-measure. Or his pliers.

And that myth about goats eating anything and everything? Well, that’s not a myth. They really will eat anything. I didn’t believe it either until I witnessed The Goat cheerfully scarfing down a plastic bag with a side order of latex glove.

In the end it wasn’t his appetite for destruction that ended The Goat’s tenure here as much as it was simply his appetite. One day The Goat got out and ate my husband’s plantation of cherry trees. And that was that.

Now The Goat lives at my friend Anna-Maria’s place. No, it wasn’t an act of revenge for those horrible (but ultimately tasty) Muscovy ducks that she gave me. As crazy as it sounds, she really wanted The Goat. Honest!

 

Alyson Champ is a farmer and artist living in St. Chrysostome, Québec. Her art can be seen on her website at www.alysonchamp.com and her blog at http://alysonchamp.blogspot.com/.

Sheep Canada – Spring 2010

Sheep Canada - Spring 2010 Table of Contents
4: Greetings from Deerville
5: Rounding up sheep research in Nova Scotia
10: An all-natural fertilizer that’s dirt sheep
12: Know your enemy: the amazing barber pole worm
14: Population dynamics of worms on Canadian sheep farms
16: New test for costly parasite in sheep industry
18: Subscription & Buyer’s Guide forms
19: Buyer’s Guide
23: Natural remedies in sheep production: oil of oregano
25: Economic Action Plan strengthens sheep and goat industy
26: FCC offers energy loans to farmers
27: Canadian Young Farmers’ Forum
28: Risk of TSE transmission by embryo transfer and AI
29: Improving semen viability and AI through research
31: Baxter Black: Cowboy ingenuity
33: Matching a breed to your location
38: Making your dreams a reality

Matching A Breed To Your Location

Story & photos by Rob Fensom

I have lived in Canada for 30 summers now, having spent roughly half my time on the prairies and half in the southern interior of British Columbia. Most of that time I have been ranching, and one thing that is often glaringly obvious is the mismatching of livestock to location.

Hailing from Britain as I do, where every county or area has its specific breed of sheep, cow, pig, duck or chicken, I find it strange that folks here buy with the heart not the head, keeping the breeds they like even if they are ill suited to the area where they live. This seems to be a bigger problem with small farms than with larger-scale operations. Of course, it’s probably easier to ignore the financial lesson being doled out by owning tropical sheep on a bald prairie with eight months of winter when you have only 20, rather than 200 or 2,000 animals.

It’s always easier to spot our neighbours’ mistakes than our own, so to begin with I will use Britain as an example. No shepherd there would dream of taking Dorset ewes up to the highlands of Scotland and swapping them for Scottish Blackface ewes to take back to the rolling fertile pastures of Dorset County. The Blackface ewes would become overly fat, with many not breeding, and those that did would end up with more lambs than they knew what to do with, along with many foot problems and a few cases of bloat. The Dorsets in Scotland would no doubt lose condition, some would not breed, and many that normally have twins would only have singles. All of the above would make for stressed sheep, stressed shepherds and empty bank accounts.

Sheep Canada

Now to bring this closer to home, I will use my own experience as the bad example. Remember, you know nothing without experience, and the man who hasn’t made any mistakes probably didn’t do a lot either. The trick is to learn by other’s mistakes, it’s a lot cheaper!

I used to ranch in southern Manitoba, we ran sheep, cattle and goats. The sheep were mostly Dorset/Suffolk crosses and suited for our area and management. Then one day I went and fell in love with Columbias, a huge wool breed with lambs that finish at 140 pounds, with lovely fine wool and a low lambing percentage that often goes hand in hand with easy care sheep. Not only did I pick a breed that was ill suited to our economic needs and management style, but I hauled them in from Maple Creek, Saskatchewan (a dry, short-grass area) into a moist park-like setting with grass up to our underwear.

I thought our plentiful grass would increase the lamb crop, but it was like lettuce compared to the granola-like, nutrient-dense stuff in Maple Creek. No extra lambs appeared the next spring, and over two years the wool clip value dropped as the wool became coarse, going from the fineness of silk to the thickness of bristles on a wire brush. It took four years of denial before I smartened up and got rid of the Columbias. As Red on television’s That 70s Show would say, “what a dumbass”. Buying breeds with the heart instead of the head will do that to a fellow.

Now I’m not telling you to sell off your sweethearts and study up on climate, grass and livestock to get a winning combination. But if you want to improve your bottom line, and even with all your tender loving care your gals are not coming up with the goods, maybe it’s time to do a little investigating. Believe me, it’s quicker to destock and buy the right breed than try to upgrade a breed that is a poor fit.

These days we ranch in British Columbia and rotationally graze irrigated pasture. This requires a high degree of management and needs a good return for all the labour of moving electric net fencing and irrigation pipes.

The mothering-up paddock in April, grazing started on April 29th in 2009.

The mothering-up paddock in April, grazing started on April 29th in 2009.

In playing with breeds, I bought in older ewes from small flocks that were being sold. There is some disease risk to doing this, but it has worked out well. We got Dorsets, Romneys and Suffolks. Our pastures are lush and green, and are grazed four to six times a season, so we need a breed that can make good use of these conditions.

The Dorsets and Romneys are coming up trumps, as the conditions here are similar to where these breeds come from. The Suffolks are not doing as well, unless their lambs are sired by the Dorset ram – the Dorset genetics seem to make better use of the grass. Romneys are also a lush grass-type animal, with the added bonus of worm and footrot resistance, as they come from Romney Marsh, a wet lowland in Kent, England.

The Suffolks hail from a grain-growing area of England, and were used to clean up crop land in the fall, and no doubt became accustomed to some grain. The ones I had seemed to be poor milkers on grass, and their lambs did not do as well as the other two breeds, so they had to go. They have now been sold, not because they were bad sheep (they did 175%), but because their lambs in our system did not finish on grass, which is what we require.

So remember, no rash moves, but take a closer look at where your breed comes from and do some looking at your pasture type and weather records. Maybe it’s time to end that love affair and start shepherding with your head. Your bank account will thank you for it.

 

Rob Fensom ranches in the southern interior of British Columbia and is a grazing mentor to those in need. He has been known to graze any type of critter for a buck.