by Stuart Chutter
Photo by Stuart Chutter.
Driving down a rural township road searching for the Candll Ranch, I knew I had arrived when I came across a postpounder, wire and a giant stack of fresh, green posts – sure signs of a growing sheep ranch.
Candll Ranch is the home of Cody and Liesl Lockhart, and their daughters Lucy, Jessica and Piper. The Lockharts manage a flock of 1,200 commercial ewes, as well as a herd of 500 cows, using a grass-based approach.
The family came to northwest Saskatchewan five years ago to manage a satellite cattle ranch owned by Cody’s parents. When the opportunity to purchase the ranch came up shortly after, sheep were their first choice for stocking the land. The ewe flock is largely made up of Cheviot and Clun Forest breeding, in keeping with their extensive approach to livestock production.
The ranch is managed with holistic principles; people, land and profit are the three priorities that influence decision making for the Lockharts. Balancing hard work with family time, improving the health of the land and its grass, and running a profitable business are the guiding themes for the operation.
The local ranching community is rich in holistic management philosophies. The PAR Grazing Club meets every two months and organizes grazing tours, speakers, instructors, and workshops to help ranchers achieve their personal and business goals. The last meeting featured a strategic planner to help develop measurable goals specific to each ranch. Group tours have included water systems, corn grazing and even a stop at an Alberta sheep dairy. The philosophies and learning opportunities from this group have been instrumental in the development of the ranch. Cody now considers grass management as the couple’s strength, and their competitive advantage in sheep production.
Balancing hard work with family time is another priority (Lockhart family photo).
When Cody and Liesl first arrived in Saskatchewan, they purchased all of their winter feed from local hay producers. The ewe flock was bale-grazed on three quarter-sections of pasture land for the first three years. However, as grain prices increased over that same time period the hay land was transitioned into crop production, forcing Cody to look for alternative winter feed.
Standing green feed, along with swathed cereal crops, have been used to replace the lost hay supply and reduce yardage costs. But the heavy snowfalls typical of northern Saskatchewan have a tendency to bury any remaining swaths in deep, crusted snow by the end of December. In an attempt to extend the grazing season into January, the Lockharts planted corn in the spring of 2014, and are optimistic about its possibilities for their winter grazing program.
Extending the grazing season as much as possible is a priority at Candll Ranch (Lockhart family photo).
When hay is required in the late winter to early spring, large round bales are partially unrolled directly on pasture. A hay wagon delivers several days’ worth of feed at a time, which can be strategically placed for any desired pasture rejuvenation. Oats are fed only for a short pre-breeding flushing period. With the heavy tree cover in Saskatchewan’s north, ewes have ample natural shelter and wind protection. During any severe weather, feed and straw for bedding are placed directly at these natural shelters. This feeding strategy helps control winter yardage costs, as the tractor is not required daily and there is minimal need for manure spreading from the yards.
The Lockharts’ holistic approach to grass management is also evident in their approach to predator control. Along with a significant local coyote population, the Candll Ranch is only 15 miles from the border of Prince Albert National Park and its resident pack of collared wolves. The first flock of 100 ewes that Cody and Liesl started with five years ago grazed the ranch without any losses to predators for about six months, when the first lamb was killed by a coyote. Once that initial taste was established, the losses were devastating. Cody calls it ‘clockwork’ how those coyotes, who knew the routine of the sheep, would pick off a lamb every morning. The emotional and financial toll on the Lockharts was overwhelming, as it is for any shepherds struggling with predators.
There were no dogs with the sheep at that time and so a mature Great Pyrenees was obtained, followed by a Maremma and two Anatolian Shepherds. Although these dogs were a deterrent and did make a difference, the losses continued. After doing some research and networking on the internet, the Lockharts imported two Kangal dogs from Montana and the losses stopped immediately. The white dogs (Pyrenees and Maremma) and the Anatolians, who had previously been overworked with the pressure from the coyotes, were relieved with the new help and their confidence levels surged. The Kangals were the right fit for a confident mixed pack that could appropriately address the predator situation on the ranch.
One of the Kangal dogs imported from Montana (Lockhart family photo).
The white dogs still have a place on the Candll Ranch, as they bond tighter to the sheep and will remain with the flock while the Kangals are out covering territory. But Liesl suggests that a reliable working instinct is difficult to find in Pyrenees puppies, due to show standards and non-working breeding, making the performance of a white dog puppy more of a gamble.
With the addition of the more active and aggressive Kangal dogs came new challenges and difficulties. The Kangals cover significant ground and are unaware of property lines. Liesl makes great efforts to educate the neighbours on how their dogs behave, as well as making sure they understand her willingness to come get the dogs at any time if they are on their property.
They also offer to pay for spaying and neutering their neighbours’ dogs, in an effort to deter dogs from roaming when females are in heat. Hunting is also a risk; during the hunting season each dog is numbered with a bright spray marker so that hunters can tell them from game or coyotes. Liesl is also looking to add a thick vinyl reflective strip to their collars.
Each dog is protected with a spiked collar. Injuries and vet bills were becoming too common, both from predators as well as from fighting within the guardian dog group. A spiked collar ensures that any fighting among the dog pack does not escalate. This is especially important for the white dogs, which do not have the size and aggression of the Kangals.
A PVC pipe yoke is lighter and less irritating on the neck than one made from wood, but still works to reduce fence crawling (photo by Stuart Chutter).
This spiked collar provides protection for the guardian dogs (photo by Stuart Chutter).
Although the Kangals have been a tremendous addition to their predator management, Cody still considers them only part of the solution. Prudent deadstock removal and being out with the livestock play a major role. In keeping with holistic philosophies, for Cody and Liesl it is not about eradicating the coyote population, but rather keeping them away from their sheep and providing them with incentives to find food elsewhere.
Cody, Liesl, Lucy, Jessica and Piper Lockhart (Lockhart family photo).
Prior to ranching in Saskatchewan, Cody worked in construction in Alberta. This skill set will help the Lockharts with the next phase of their ranch goal – building a new 60’ x 120’ lambing barn. Cody and Liesl plan to move from pasture lambing to barn lambing in order to intensify their lambing process for a larger, more consistent and higher-quality lamb crop. The move will also allow for RFID data collection and improved culling, selection, and genetic decision-making. Modelling their plans after other successful prairie lamb producers, the Lockharts look to increase revenues through intensive lamb management while maintaining relatively low ewe maintenance costs through their extended grazing practices.
For the past several years, lambs have been marketed as feeder lambs straight off grass. Before that, an effort was made at direct marketing, but the time commitment required was too much of a trade-off on time spent managing the livestock and land.
Cody has served on the Canadian Lamb Producers’ Cooperative (CLPC) board of directors and the coop will be incorporated into their marketing plan for 2014 and going forward. A feedlot pen was built at the home farmyard and this year’s lamb crop is now on feed. The first pen is a temporary one made from wood, so that they can find improvements and learn more before investing in permanent facilities. This year will be the first where lambs are finished on-farm rather than marketed off grass. The initial membership shares of the CLPC only allow a percentage of the lamb crop to be sold through the coop. The Lockharts plan to look at future investment shares to allow them to increase marketing by that route, so that lambs can be shipped in larger loads for manageable transport costs.
The Lockharts have several of these self-feeders, purchased from a hog operation for use in the lamb feedlot (photo by Stuart Chutter).
Since stocking the ranch with sheep five years ago, the Lockharts have assembled the components of a productive sheep operation. Cody and Liesl look to 2015 with optimism – when intensive lamb production, low ewe maintenance cost, extended grazing, controlled predators, and a well-defined marketing plan will all come together.
Stuart Chutter is a commercial sheep and meat goat producer living near Gull Lake, Saskatchewan.
by Cathy Gallivan, PhD
Wooldrift Farm and sign.
Axel Meister and Chris Buschbeck are true pioneers in the North American dairy sheep industry. They established the first commercial sheep dairy in Ontario over 20 years ago and have milked sheep ever since.
They got started in Germany, where they studied agriculture (Chris) and human nutrition (Axel). While in school, they rented a house on a sheep farm and helped out with the work. They arrived in Canada in 1988, with a dream of establishing their own sheep dairy, and bought their first flock of 20 crossbred Dorset ewes a year later.
At that time, the closest thing to a dairy ewe in Canada was the Rideau Arcott, a synthetic breed that is 14% East Friesian. The Rideau had only recently been released to the Canadian sheep industry but there was a flock at the University of Guelph, where Chris was working in the sheep research program. They bought Rideau rams from the university and upgraded their flock to a high percentage of Rideau breeding.
After milking the commercial ewes for two years, Chris and Axel were ready for animals with a greater genetic potential for milk production. The timing was right, as researchers at the university were getting ready to import frozen embryos from the UK, where AI and embryo transfer technology was further advanced.
The first import took place in 1994, and included 61 East Friesian embryos purchased by Chris and Axel. Using their commercial flock as recipients, they produced their first purebred lambs a year later. More embryos were obtained in 1995, this time from the Netherlands. The flock now consists of 80 East Friesian ewes, as well as a handful of purebred Texels.
I arrived for a visit in midafternoon, and was impressed by the beautiful farm and well-maintained yard.
Ewes lamb in the lower level of this bank barn. The small wing on the left of the barn is the holding area where ewes wait to be milked, which connects to the parlour building (not shown) further to the left. Lambs are fed in the nearby tunnel barn.
The lower level of the bank barn is whitewashed every year, which makes it light and bright.
This grain bin is inside the bank barn on the main floor, making it easy to access grain from either level.
Sheep are sheared on the upper level and wool dropped through a trap door (closed in this photo) into the packing stand below.
The ewes were resting in the lower level of the bank barn, where they lambed from February to June; a few still had their lambs on them. The rest of the lambs had either already been shipped or were on feed in the nearby ‘tunnel’ barn.
An average ewe in the flock drops 2.1 lambs. Chris says they will lose lambs if no one is around when they are born. Between multiple births and large udders that are low to the ground, some of the newborns have trouble nursing for the first time. To make sure every lamb gets a good feed soon after birth, Axel pens each ewe with her lambs and administers colostrum by stomach tube to every lamb.
Ewes stay in the claiming pens for up to four days, depending on how many lambs they have and the availability of pens. After that, they are kept in small groups of three or four with their lambs.
Lambs stay on their mothers for 30 days, but the ewes start milking in the parlour three to seven days after lambing. Removing the milk left by the lambs during this period maximizes the ewes’ production during the lactation, and also saves the time and money it would cost to raise the lambs artificially. Milking begins each year when 15 or 20 ewes have lambed, enough to make it worthwhile to run the equipment.
Ewes gather outside the bank barn prior to milking. The open door above them provides fresh air for the chickens inside; dairy regulations do not allow chickens running in the yard.
The bank barn from the back, showing the holding area (open door) and milking parlour (green metal building). Ewes gather in the pen outside the door; any lambs that are still with them ‘escape’ through the creep gates.
In the winter, ewes come up this ramp into the holding area from the lower level of the barn.
In the summer, the wall beside the ramp becomes a bridge over the top of it, so ewes can enter from outside. Above:The extended lambing season (February to June) results from what Axel calls a ‘serial breeding’ program. Because the ewes are still milking when they are bred, it is very difficult to divide them into separate breeding groups.
The breeding season starts with laparoscopic AI for the top end of the flock. The ewes are synchronized with CIDRs, which have no requirement for milk withdrawal. After the CIDRs have been removed, however, Axel has to dispose of the milk from the AI ewes for 10 days because of the PMSG used in the synchronization and the penicillin given at insemination. The milk isn’t entirely wasted; it gets fed to a friend’s pasture pigs who apparently “love the stuff”.
After the AI cycle, a single ram with a marking harness is put in with the entire flock. A week or two later, the ram is removed and there is a break when there is no ram with the ewes. Then a second ram, also with a marking harness, goes in followed by another break. The process is repeated until as many as four different rams have been used. If Axel wants to prevent a particular ewe from being bred by the next ram in the rotation, he puts a CIDR in her until that ram’s turn with the ewes is over.
Ewe lambs are kept in a separate group with their own ram, and bred to lamb in April. This makes it easier to train them to go into the parlour, as they get added to the main group one by one. The ewe lambs are bred to Texel rams to produce a better lamb carcass. Because they don’t have any milk records yet, none of their offspring are eligible for selection as replacements.
The milking parlour can accommodate 12 ewes at a time. The ewes are anxious to come in because they get a kilogram of concentrate each at every milking. They are bigger than I expected, weighing 175-190 lb. on average, and I am reminded that most dairy animals need capacity for feed in order to produce large quantities of milk. The ewes are sheared twice a year, in March and October, to keep them as clean as possible when they come in the parlour.
The milking parlour holds 12 ewes at a time. When the gate from the holding area opens, the door to the end stall also opens, so the first ewe in has to go all the way down the line to enter a stall and get her feed.
As each ewe enters a milking stalls, she pushes against a handle that opens the next stall, and so on, so the milking stand fills from the far to the near end, with no empty stalls.
The ewes get a kilogram of concentrate at each milking, or 4.4 lb. per day.
There are six milking machines, so Axel wipes and strips the udder of every second ewe, and then puts machines on those six. By the time the last one is milking, it’s time for the machine to come off the first one. He then repeats the process with the other six ewes and all 12 exit the parlour.
Udders are cleaned with dairy wipes prior to milking.
Once the machine is on, the ewes milk very quickly.
With six machines and 12 ewes in the parlour, milking goes faster with two people. The second ewe from the left has a black zip tie on one hind leg, indicating that she is still feeding her lambs. Note record book on ledge by door to walk-in freezer.
Sheep’s milk can be frozen without altering its cheese-making potential. Chris and Axel freeze their milk in a walk-in freezer and deliver it to processors at regular intervals, rather than selling fresh milk from a bulk tank.
The pipeline ends in a 15-litre covered pail in the milk room. During the milking, as this pail fills up, Axel pours it off into another one, weighs it, and puts it in the freezer.
The pipeline ends in a covered 15-litre pail.
Milk is poured into another pail, which has a few inches of frozen milk in the bottom for rapid cooling, before being weighed and placed in the walk-in freezer.
This overhead gate, plus the grain feeders, in front of the ewes keep them in the milking stalls until the entire group has been milked.
After each group is milked, the gate at the front of the stalls is raised and the feeders drop down into the floor to allow the ewes to exit. The feeders are normally empty at this point; this photo was taken as Axel demonstrated the equipment before milking started.
Between gathering the ewes, feeding and milking them, looking after the milk and cleaning up afterwards it takes Axel two hours to milk 60-70 ewes by himself, or just over an hour when he and Chris do it together.
At the time of my visit, Axel was milking 62 ewes, and getting around 45 litres of milk at each milking. The average Wooldrift ewe produces 375 litres in a lactation, but the best ewes can exceed 700 litres.
Milking continues until the average daily production drops below half a kilogram, sometime between October and the beginning of December. Axel cuts back on the grain toward the end of lactation, and dries ewes off in groups as their individual production drops.
The frozen milk is sold to more than one cheese processor. Prices paid for sheep milk in Ontario range from $1.40 to $ 2.20 per litre, with most being around $1.80. Some processors have started to pay more for winter milk, when supplies are usually low.
Chris and Axel buy back some of the cheese made from their milk and sell it on the farm, as well as through natural food stores and farmers’ markets. They carry pecorino (a semi-hard Italian-style cheese), a spiced feta and a delicious sheep’s milk yogourt.
Chris and Axel farm 78 acres, 35 of which are in pasture. The pasture is split into six paddocks that can be further subdivided with electric fence. Rotating the pastures is the only method of worm control they can use when the ewes are milking. Chris monitors fecal egg counts and treats individual animals only if necessary, then withholds their milk. The ewes get wormed in the fall after they are dried off.
Chris and Axel measure and record everything. In addition to the comprehensive lambing records kept by many breeders, they record the total production at each milking, as well as the minimum and maximum temperature of the walk-in freezer each day. The individual milk production of each ewe is measured monthly, and samples sent to the provincial Dairy Herd Improvement lab for somatic cell counts and fat and protein levels.
Meters are used once a month to measure the production of each ewe.
Measuring individual production on the ewes allows Axel to recognize his top producers.
Chris has been using EweByte software since it was created in the early 1990’s. When a sheep dairy module was added several years ago, Chris keyed in over 10 years of historical milk production data, all the way back to 1995. The flock is also enrolled on GenOvis (formerly the Sheep Flock Improvement Program in Ontario). Chris says the record keeping pays off when selecting their own replacements, as well as for selling breeding stock.
Although there is lots of work to be done on the farm, there isn’t enough income for both Chris and Axel to do it full time. Chris enrolled in vet school at the University of Guelph in 1995 and completed her DVM in 1999. She is a co-owner of Markdale Veterinary Services, and works there as one of three large animal vets. She is also the owner of SR Genetics, which offers laparoscopic AI and embryo transfer services to sheep and goat breeders across Canada.
But Chris and Axel were health conscious long before she became a vet. They started testing for Maedi-visna in 1989, and joined the provincial program when it started in 2000. Chris is considering testing their herd sires for genetic resistance to the disease, using a new test available in the US. They are also enrolled in the national Voluntary Scrapie Flock Certification Program and are now Scrapie Certified.
The biggest health problem with the East Friesians is pneumonia in the lambs, particularly when the animals are housed in the bank barn. They are vigilant about detecting and treating it when it occurs, and try to select against it. They used to have problems with coccidiosis in lambs when the yards were wet, but find that drenching the lambs with Baycox at weaning works well to prevent it.
After weaning, the lambs get moved to the tunnel barn, where they are fed a mix of corn and other grains, but also have access to pasture. Most of the ram lambs, plus the bottom 25% of the ewe lambs, are sold whole as freezer lambs or converted into individual cuts and sausage. The rest are sold as breeding stock or retained as replacements.
I asked Chris and Axel about the changes they have seen in the dairy sheep industry since they got started.
Chris says there is greater awareness of milking sheep now. When their sons (Lucas, 28, and Michael, 26) were little, one of them told a teacher that his parents were milking sheep and the teacher ‘corrected’ him, telling him that people milked goats, not sheep.
They’re not the only ones milking sheep any more. There are now more than 50 farmers milking sheep in Ontario, producing 1.5 million litres of sheep milk per year. There are also more processors buying fresh and frozen sheep milk and making it into more types of cheese, more of which is consumed locally.
Helping to develop an industry means giving your time. Chris is president of the Small Ruminants Veterinarians of Ontario, and she and Axel were instrumental in founding the Ontario Dairy Sheep Association. In 2009, they won the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence for ‘shepherding the growth of the sheep milk industry in Ontario’.
They have also been recognized internationally. At the 2013 North American Dairy Sheep Symposium, Axel received the William J Boylan Distinguished Service Award, for his ‘truly significant contributions to the growth of the dairy sheep industry in North America’, including his work in pioneering dairy sheep production, developing East Friesian genetics and organizing the very first dairy sheep meetings in North America.
Story & photos by Cathy Gallivan, PhD
Visiting with the Good family the first week of May was like visiting people who have been raising sheep for a long time. The flock is well-established, with comfortable facilities, well-fed sheep and an impressive level of production. But the Goods just had their third lambing in 2013. How did they get their act together so quickly?
A background in farming and livestock helps. Dean and Bernice have been farming since 1972. Dean ran a small cow/calf operation all his life, until they got the sheep, and milked cows for several years back in the 1970’s. In addition to the sheep, the family currently produces 330,000 broiler chickens per year. Dean is an electrician by trade, and sold and serviced dairy farm equipment for 25 years, which gives him a unique ability to develop equipment for his own operation. Son Cody is home from the oil patch in Alberta, engaged to be married, and also works full time on the farm.
Before investing in sheep, the Goods did their homework. They researched markets for their lamb, including the Northumberlamb Co-op in Truro, Nova Scotia, which was looking for out-of-season lambs. They also visited several large sheep farms in Québec and studied their production systems, including the use of light control. But they didn’t just copy what they saw. They took the information and adapted it to their own situation. Most of the farms they visited in Québec were using light control, with the goal of lambing more often than once a year. The Goods adopted the light control system, but instead of accelerating the flock, decided to lamb only once a year – in the fall. Their flock lambs from mid-October to mid-November, and their lambs are finished in March and April, when there is no waiting at Northumberlamb, and there is a premium of $0.20 per pound on the rail grade price.
The light control program has been very effective for the Goods, a testament to how carefully they have followed the program developed by the CEPOQ research station in La Pocatière. Called the ‘extension’ system, the method involves adding light to make the days longer, rather than confining ewes in lightproof barns to make days shorter. In the Goods’ system, the lights are kept on in the barn through the winter to provide 22 hours of daylength for four months. It doesn’t take a lot of electricity; there are two very efficient, high-pressure fluorescent lights that use 180 watts each, which at $0.12 per kilowatt works out to $28 per month for both lights.
The sheep are housed in the former cow barn, which measures 56’x120.
The lambing ‘cottage’ is stored behind the barn when not in use, but parked right inside the barn during lambing to provide some comfort to those on 24-hour lambing watch.
On April 1st, the lights are turned off and the sheep receive only natural daylight for 56 days before the rams go in on May 25th. The sudden decrease from artificially long days to normal spring daylength causes the sheep to cycle. The breeding season lasts for 35 days; the Goods have found that if a ewe doesn’t get pregnant in the first two cycles under this system, she won’t conceive later in the spring either.
The flock consists of purebred Rideau Arcotts (45%) and Dorset x Rideau crosses (55%), all of which were sourced from light-controlled barns in Québec. The ewes have done a good job of conceiving out of season. In their first lambing in 2001, 121 ewes lambed (93% of those exposed; most were first-time lambers). Fertility increased to 98% in 2012, and settled at 96% (including 50 new ewe lambs) in 2013. Ewes are pregnancy-checked by ultrasound 70 days after breeding. Open ewes are transferred to a nearby spring-lambing flock, and synchronized with CIDR’s to lamb in January or February. This farm is also on light control, so the ewes return to the Good farm at the beginning of April and rejoin the flock to be bred for fall lambing. If they fail to conceive again they go back to the neighbour’s, and stay there.
In 2013, the Goods lambed 145 ewes that gave birth to 331 live and six stillborn lambs (2.3 lambs born per ewe lambing). Eleven lambs died after birth, leaving 320 lambs (2.2 per ewe lambing) to be sold. The first 245 were sold in March and April; the remaining 75 were scheduled for shipment on May 15th.
The Goods farm 120 acres of land. They produce 1,300-1,400 round bales (4’x4.5’) of haylage each year. With the ewes being fed 12 months a year, they use around 450 bales themselves; the rest is sold to a local farmer with 300 ewes, and elsewhere.
The sheep are housed year-round in the former cow barn, which is naturally ventilated, bright and airy. It has been modified for sheep by removing most of the hayloft that used to run down the centre of the barn. When I visited, it was set up with three 13’ x 56’ pens and three more that were 13’ x 48’. These can be subdivided into as many as 22 smaller pens if needed, all with access to water from seven automatic water bowls. The six pens are arranged around two raised feed alleys running the length of the barn, one along the north side and the other about a third of the way in from the south side. Another alleyway divides the barn in half crosswise.
The barn is divided into six large pens served by two feed alleys. The raised platforms at each end of the barn are filled with round bales of straw at intervals throughout the year (photo by Cody Good).
When I visited, the ewes were eating haylage from round bale feeders designed and built by the Goods. During the breeding season, they each get a half-pound of grain as well.
Round bale feeders have adjustable sides that move as the bale is consumed.
Hooking this sheet of plywood over the sides keeps the ewes’ heads out of the way when dropping another bale into the feeders.
During lambing, claiming pens are set up in the back of the big pens. The round bale feeders are removed and haylage is fed from bales suspended off the ground in the feed alleys. Very early haylage is put up for this time of year (and for breeding). The temperature of the barn is kept above freezing year-round, so water is easily delivered to claiming pens by hoses connectd to pipes strung along the rafters of the barn.
The feed alley against the north wall has a rail for moving round bales up and down the alley. Bales are placed on this base/spike, which is then hung from the rail.
Dean wasn’t confident that the ceiling of the barn would support the weight of two rails, so the inside alley has two of these homemade bale unrollers, which turn a bale easily on a roller bearing for feeding, but lift it up out of the way so a feed cart can pass beneath.
Grain feeding begins again a week before lambing, with a mix of grain and protein supplement pellets, starting off at one pound per day and increasing to two or 2.5 pounds per day, depending on the number of lambs.
The height of the feed alleys can be raised easily with a cordless drill as the bedding pack builds up in the barn. Lamb escapes from the pens are rare. Note the PVC pipe in the alley, which keeps the grain in where the ewes can reach it.
Grain and pellets are augered in from outside. The whiteboard on the right keeps track of animal numbers in each pen on a daily basis. Rations for the next feeding are prepared after each feeding.
Like all sheep producers, the Goods have some sheep that work harder than others. Dean is working to adapt technology from the dairy industry for use by sheep so that he can give individual ewes extra feed over and above what the rest are getting. These ewes wear a neck collar with an RFID tag attached to it. The RIFD tag identifies them to a computer that is connected to an automatic feeding stall, which will hold only one ewe at a time. When a ewe with a neck collar steps into the feeding stall, the computer releases a preset amount of feed. When a ewe with no neck collar steps into the feeding stall, nothing happens. The system is still in a very early stage of development, but will be valuable for managing the high-producing ewes in the flock when it is ready.
Dean is adapting a computer feeder for use by sheep.
Ewes that give birth to three or four lambs are given the opportunity to raise all of them, but the Goods raise 30-40 lambs artificially each year. There is some re-sorting of the ewes when they come out of the claiming pens, based on the number of lambs they have. Ewes with three or four lambs end up in one of the two pens that are close to the Lak-Tek automatic milk replacer feeder, in case they need to go on the machine. Most of the lambs are weaned at six weeks of age but those on milk replacer are weaned after reaching 20 pounds.
This portable cupboard has a sink and a small hot water heater (inside) and can be positioned anywhere there is water and electricity. The Goods use a Lak-Tek artificial milk replacer feeder (which Dean also sells) that is situated outside the two pens where lambs on milk replacer are housed.
Lambs have access to a commercial creep feed crumble from birth to weaning, and are fed on a mixture of corn, barley, oats, and a protein supplement pellet after weaning. Lamb rations have Bovatech™ added, to prevent coccidiosis. The lambs are also fed second-cut haylage in the feed alleys.
These grain self-feeders were also built on-farm, and hold 600 lb. of lamb feed; the offset ring keeps the lambs from putting their feet in the feed.
The barn gets a little crowded after weaning when the lambs are growing, so the Goods move 50 of the ewes to a nearby hay barn, where they can also receive additional light. The sheep barn is cleaned out every two months. The Goods trade manure from their sheep and chickens for grain with local farmers.
Salt and mineral feeders made from PVC pipe are located outside each pen for easy refilling. A disk inside with a smaller hole than the pipe prevents too much of the mineral from coming out and hardening before the sheep eat it.
The Goods are ready adopters of RFID technology. Lambs are tagged at birth with RFID tags and Cody uses a Psion to collect lambing data in the barn and transfer it to the computer in the house. Having tried a few software packages, Cody decided that the Select Sheepware® software from Ireland best suited their needs. Lambing information, health records and weekly lamb weights are entered into the system, as well as the carcass and price data on individual lambs that comes back from Northumberlamb. Cody uses the software to generate reports showing which rams and ewes have produced the lambs with the best GR measurements and conformation scores, and have made the most money. They don’t need this information to select replacements, however. The Goods buy in their replacements from Québec, which keeps them in touch with the people who got them started on their breeding program. Because they come from light-controlled barns, the purchased ewe lambs are already on the Goods’ schedule when they arrive. Buying in replacements also means that the entire flock can be bred to rams of terminal sire breeds, which helps with their goal of producing leaner lambs. They have used Canadian Arcott, Ile de France, Texel and Charollais rams, and plan to add a Suffolk this year. Breeding in the spring requires more rams; the Goods use one for every 25 ewes. Rams are kept on the same light schedule as the ewes, but in a different barn.
Most of the lambs go to Northumberlamb, where the target is a 54-pound carcass. A few are sold locally as freezer lambs, and this year a number went to the auction in Cookstown, Ontario. With a 10% shrink, these lambs averaged 102 pounds in Cookstown and returned $215-$222 each. Weekly trucking is available from the island to both Nova Scotia and Ontario; it costs $12 to ship a lamb to Truro and $14 to Cookstown. The Goods are exploring all the options for marketing their lambs, and recently attended an information session for the Canadian Lamb Producers Cooperative that was held on the island. The Goods are fortunate to have their shearer live nearby as their ewes get sheared twice a year, before breeding and lambing. Feet are trimmed once a year, before breeding. Like many island sheep farmers, they get help from the veterinary college in Charlottetown, both at lambing and at other times. The Goods want to know what caused every single death, so lambs that die are taken for post mortem inspection at the UPEI veterinary lab.
Left to right: Emmy Lou Clarkin, Cody, Bernice and Dean Good.
The Good family is off to a great start with their sheep flock. The time they spent doing research before getting started, combined with hard work and innovation has produced a very workable system for their situation. They may expand in the future, but are in no hurry, as they wish to plan carefully to use their labour as efficiently as possible.