||Table of Contents
4: Greetings from Deerville
11: Good-bye, pink metal tags!
13: Feed for profit: Basic rations
15: New GM at Canadian Sheep Breeders’ Association
16: Analysing big bale silage
18: Another anniversary for NorthumberLamb
19: Buyer’s Guide directory
23: Dam nutrition affects milk production of female offspring
24: Government of Canada invests in livestock industries
26: 2017 Sheep Value Chain Roundtable meeting
29: Research roundup
Story by Susan Hosford
Photos by Bradley K Smith & Don Forestier
The foothills on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains are home to some of Canada’s most famous and historic cattle rangelands. One of the original ranches still in operation is the Waldron. It was established in 1883 by Duncan McNab McEachran of Montreal, with financial backing by Sir John Waldron of England. The original ranch spanned 260,000 acres of land with more than 20,000 head of cattle and hundreds of horses. Today the Waldron consists of about 65,000 acres between the Porcupine Hills on the east and Whaleback Ridge on the west, running for 30 kilometers along the picturesque Cowboy Trail (Highway 22).
Mike Roberts, manager of the Waldron Ranch, with Susan Hosford and Don Forestier.
Over the years, different ranchers and groups of ranchers have owned the Waldron for grazing their cattle. In 1962, a group of ranchers formed the Waldron Grazing Co-op Ltd., and purchased the ranch to ensure grazing and maintain range quality. In 2014, an arrangement with the Nature Conservancy of Canada made the ranch’s grassland into a permanent conservation area.
Sheep don’t like getting their feet wet and are allowed to graze the streams in the riparian areas directly. The cattle are fenced out of these streams and drink from water tanks to avoid polluting the water and eroding the banks.
The ranch environment combines short growing seasons, low precipitation and unpredictable winters. Most of the forage is native plants that are adapted to the environment, occasional wildfires and to grazing animals. Overgrazing, or a lack of grazing, can impact the health of these native rangelands. One pasture, fenced off for 30 years, shows accumulated, un-grazed, dead plant material that effectively reduces plant diversity, grazing capacity, and the ability of the soil to use the limited rainfall.
Mike Roberts contemplates a paddock that has not been grazed for 30 years. This old, grey plant material is smothering out new growth.
Today the Waldron is managed to support domestic livestock as well as wildlife. Deer and elk give birth on the lower valley ranges, then move into the higher hills for the summer. Depending on the season, rainfall and forage growth, up to 13,000 cattle are grazed over the year. Cows with their calves are better able to deal with predators (wolves, bears, cougars) and are grazed in the foothills. Yearlings are grazed on valley ranges that have been in a small part seeded to perennial grasses and legumes. Only 1,200 acres of the 65,000 have ever been cultivated. In these valleys, miles of old barbed wire fences are being replaced with high-tensile electric fences. These new fences divide large pastures into smaller grazing paddocks of approximately 50 acres. To manage the pastures, animals are moved from paddock to paddock through central watering areas. Large water tanks are supplied with fresh water from fenced-off dugouts and springs.
Patches of leafy spurge are fewer and farther between since the arrival of sheep on the ranch.
Waldron’s manager, Mike Roberts, continuously monitors forage growth, grazing impact and livestock. A number of years ago, invasive plant species were starting to change plant diversity and impact forage quantity and quality. Cattle, like the bison before them, prefer grass over leafy forbs, shrubs, and brush. A band of 500-800 ewes was brought in from a neighbouring sheep operation. The sheep are fully shepherded as they graze through problem areas, and penned at night to discourage predation. They have developed a taste for leafy spurge, and can be seen picking off the top blooms as they move across the ranges and coulees. Today, the leafy spurge patches are small and getting smaller.
The main sources of water on the ranch are springs in the hills. Dugouts hold water from the springs, as well as run-off from melting snow and rains. Water is gravity-fed through large black plastic pipes from the hills to the dugouts, and then to water tanks in the lower pastures.
Dugouts are fenced so the cattle don’t have direct access; this insures the quality of the water and the integrity of the dugout itself. Streams in riparian pastures are also fenced off; the pastures are still grazed, but the cattle’s direct access to the stream banks is controlled. Mike says that, given a choice, cattle actually prefer drinking from a water trough to out of a dugout, or even a stream. Cattle, like humans, love convenience.
The sheep, however, have full access to the streams for their water needs. Sheep are far more riparian-area friendly than cattle. Sheep hate getting their feet wet and usually drink from the edge and then quickly back away without ever going into the water source. Mike says the sheep never actually drink from any of the water troughs on the ranch.
The water troughs that are directly spring fed usually stay open in the winter but, if not, then the cattle have to drink directly from a spring or a stream that has open water. When there is clean snow the cattle don’t need water as long as they are grazing; they get their water requirements from the snow. Mike says that although this concept is foreign to many people, it has worked well at this ranch for over 100 years. The same applies to sheep in the maintenance stage of production.
Mike Roberts demonstrates intake on gravity watering system.
Cattle on the ranch drink from water tanks rather than directly from dugouts or streams. This water tank was made from a tractor tire.
Mike, a keen grazier, understands that grazing cattle and sheep is helping to protect and improve the rangelands to benefit both livestock and wildlife. Mike also believes that the rangelands would benefit from grazing 3,000 or more ewes.
Jamie Bueckert is the shepherd on the project. The sheep are night-penned with electric netting for predator control as well intensive brush or weed control.
Susan Hosford recently retired after more than 30 years with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, working with the sheep industry.
||Table of Contents
4: Greetings from Deerville
13: Feed for profit: Comparing feed costs
17: Classification methods for Canadian lamb
21: Genetic improvement: Better tools get results
25: 2017 All Canada Classic, Red Deer, Alberta
29: Matching the weight of the dam to the target market weight
31: Canadian Sheep Federation news
33: Fighting the creepies with the crawlies
35: Buyer’s Guide directory
|Links in this issue:
Lamb-feeding barns and the lambing barn, from the back of the yard. Photo by Emily Paynter.
By Cathy Gallivan, PhD
The latest census figures show Prince Edward Island as one of two Canadian provinces with sheep industries that have expanded significantly in the last five years (the other is Manitoba). In July, I took a drive along the Blue Shank Road out of Summerside, PEI, to visit one of the farms contributing to that growth.
The farm has been in the family since well before Confederation.
Emily, Jackie and Robert Paynter. Photo by Andrew MacArthur.
Blueshank Farms is the home of Robert and Jackie Paynter, and their daughters, Amy and Emily. It is also a Heritage Farm, meaning it has been in Robert’s family since before Confederation. Robert’s grandfather milked cows here, and Robert joined the farm right out of high school. Jackie also grew up on a dairy farm, but had an interest in sheep and brought Suffolks with her when she and Robert were married in 1983.
Jackie (sheep), Emily (tractor), and Amber Peterson, the Paynters’ shearer (blades), display their tattoos. Photo by Emily Paynter.
Those animals were later dispersed, but the interest in sheep remained. After the family stopped milking cows, and after a few years raising beef cattle (just in time for the arrival of BSE in the country), the family got back into the sheep business in 2006, with the purchase of a crossbred flock. Two years later, they added 75 Rideau Arcotts from Breezy Ridge Farm, in Ontario. A smaller group of registered Suffolks followed in 2015.
The flock currently consists of 300 ewes, most of which are purebred, unregistered Rideaus. The ewes lamb once a year, but not all at the same time. By lambing groups of approximately 100 ewes in February, April and May, the Paynters have been able to put more ewes through their lambing facilities and more lambs through their feeder barns; it also helps to spread out the workload and the cash flow. This year, for the first time, they have scheduled a November lambing, with 40 ewes due in the fall.
With the flock expanding gradually over the years, and being kept in confinement, the facilities have undergone a stepwise series of expansions. There is an old, hip-roofed barn (35’ x 100’), with a lean-to (12’ x 90’) on one side and a second addition (24’ x 60’) on one end, used for lambing. There are two Coveralls, measuring 30’ x 70’, and 30’ x 74’, which house open or pregnant ewes, and two wooden barns (35’ x 80’ and 35’ x 100’), for feeding lambs.
The hip-roofed barn was built in the 1950’s and measures 35’ x 100’. It has two additions, one on the side and one on the front.
The Paynters took two sides of a Coverall frame and put them end to end to create a 12’ x 90’ addition down the length of the old barn. Grain gets fed by hand from the walkway on the right.
Lights! Camera! A series of lights down what used to be the outside of the old barn make night-time lambing work easier; each light gets its power from the previous one. Lambing areas are all equipped with infrared video cameras; images are transmitted to a laptop or smartphone via WiFi.
The Paynters raise all of their own feed. They farm over 600 acres, including 500 acres of soybeans and grain. In addition to the fieldwork and silage, they do custom forage harvesting for other farmers, bale all of their own straw, and buy straw in the field from other farmers. Robert says the custom work makes it possible for them to own more, and better, equipment, which ensures their own forage is put up at the optimum time.
Lambs are started on a commercial, pelleted lamb creep feed. They get weaned at about eight weeks onto a mix of rolled barley, soybean meal and molasses, along with clover silage. This gets replaced with whole barley, whole raw soybeans and grass/clover silage, and then with a total mixed ration (TMR) with about 50% corn silage.
A second addition on the front of the hip-roofed barn measures 24’ x 60’, and provides additional space for lambing. The fenceline feeder is accessible to the TMR mixer.
The feeder fence has one board at ground level on the inside of the posts, with higher boards on the outside of the posts. Note block on posts that offsets the lower outside board enough to allow ewes to get their heads down far enough to eat, while limiting waste.
The Paynters have been feeding a TMR for four years, but not all of the barns are set up for it yet, so the rations fed to the ewes vary with their stage of production and location. Dry, open ewes get dry hay. During flushing and breeding season, they are fed the same TMR as the lambs (corn silage, grass/clover silage, whole raw soybeans and whole barley), or the same mix fed by hand if they are not in a barn that is accessible to the TMR mixer. After breeding, they get good quality silage, with grain and corn silage added back in as lambing approaches. High moisture corn will be added to the operation this year.
The TMR mixer/feeder is self-propelled and holds up to a tonne of feed.
All classes of livestock get a customized salt and mineral mix, formulated by Les Halliday (PEI Department of Agriculture and Forestry) and Jeff Walton (Belisle Solution Nutrition). The mineral, known as Blueshank Atlantic, contains organic selenium, a 3:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorus, and lasolocid for coccidia control, and is available for purchase anywhere in the Maritimes. The mix is delivered in the TMR and Jackie says that since they have been using it, their lambs are much stronger at birth and much quicker to get on their feet.
Interior of one of two lamb-feeding barns; the fenceline feeder allows one foot of space per lamb. Skylights in the roof on one side provide natural light; there are no electric lights in these barns. These solar ‘chandeliers’ extend the daylength in the feeder barns, encouraging the lambs to keep eating after dark.
There is no shortage of work. In addition to the cropping, custom work, and straw baling and hauling, the sheep are in total confinement and need to be fed every day. Robert mixes up the TMR each day, and delivers it to the feeder lambs and any of the ewes that are getting it at the time. This takes about an hour and a half each morning, but he also beds the sheep while the TMR is mixing. His evening chores take less time because the TMR is already mixed up. Jackie spends a similar amount of time in the morning and again in the evening, feeding in barns where the TMR mixer can’t go, and caring for the sheep.
The custom Blueshank Atlantic mineral mix is available for purchase.
Older daughter Amy just moved home from Alberta in May. She was active on the farm growing up, and ran a baler before she moved away. She now works as a carpenter on a large building project, and milks cows on a nearby farm.
Younger daughter Emily just got married in August. She and her husband, Andrew MacArthur, bought the house across the road. Andrew works full time on a large potato farm, and helps out at Blueshank Farms when he can. But Emily is an integral part of the operation. She works seasonally at a potato lab, but is off in the summer, allowing her to do all of the fieldwork in the spring, while Robert does the seeding. Starting in June, they put up their own, and other people’s, silage and hay, then later in the year they bale all of the straw they need for the sheep (150-200 round bales), plus a further 2,000 for sale. Emily also runs a snow blower in the winter, and buys and rears Holstein calves in the summer.
Two Coveralls are used to house open and pregnant ewes. This one can be fed with the TMR mixer as ewes get close to lambing.
Potatoes occasionally form part of the TMR. The latest are a variety of blue potato.
Left: This energy-free waterer in one of the Coverall barns was previously used for the cattle; it keeps the water from freezing on all but the coldest days, but is too tall for lambs.
Jackie does all of the work of lambing the ewes, with Robert taking on more of the feeding at this busy time. Emily takes over much of the lambing-time meal preparation, in addition to her job and snow blowing. Neighbours get involved too, dropping in with meals to keep the family going on the most intensive days.
As I visited with the Paynters in the lambing area, I noticed the sheep were decorated with a series of one or more coloured dots, which allows Jackie to match up ewes and their lambs without the hassle of numbered paint brands. A ewe with three lambs gets three dots on her back, as does each of her lambs in the same colour. By using multiple colours within small groups, Jackie can keep track of whose lamb is whose without having to catch animals and read tags.
Mature ewes get to raise up to three lambs, with the odd one keeping four if it looks like she can handle it. Ewe lambs usually raise two, but occasionally three; the day I visited I saw one raising four. The Paynters have a Lac-Tek milk machine and Jackie estimates they raise about 130 lambs a year on it.
Lambs can be marketed as young as 100 days of age, although most average four to five months. Some are pushed harder than others; at certain times of year it is better to slow them down a bit to wait for a higher price.
The Paynters sell a few registered Suffolk rams and also use them as terminal sires in their own flock. Photo by Emily Paynter.
Most of the Blueshank lambs go to the Northumberland Lamb Marketing Co-Op, Ltd. (Northumberlamb), near Truro, about 2.5 hours away. The target weight for lamb carcasses is 23-24 kg, and lambs leave the farm at about 115 pounds. Conformation scores of 4’s, and even 5’s, add to the base price of the day. By pushing the February-born lambs hard, and letting the later lambs coast till December, the Paynters can ship lambs about nine months of the year. With ewes lambing in November in 2017, they should be able to spread the marketing out even more.
Some lambs go as breeding stock; the Paynters sell packages of ewe lambs, including some sired by the Suffolk rams, to flocks in PEI, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec.
Replacements are selected on conformation and the performance of the dam. Singles are not eligible for selection and ewes that give birth to singles are culled (unless they are first time lambers). This strategy seems to be working; the ewe lambs drop 2.0–2.5 lambs on average, and this year the two-year-olds averaged 3.1 lambs each.
The health program involves running a virtually closed flock and regular vaccinations with Tasvax-8 and CaseBac. Because the sheep are housed inside year-round, parasites and predators are not a problem.
After several years of expanding both the flock and the facilities, the Paynters are now more interested in maximizing the production of the ewes they already have than in further expansion of the flock or facilities. With the involvement of the next generation, Blueshank Farms seems set to remain in the family for more generations to come.
Most of the former hog barn is being converted and used for sheep. The taller portion at the far end is where the roof was raised and the old dry sow barn made into a shop. Photo by Michael Buck.
By Kathleen Raines
The only animals to be seen on the laneway leading up to Young Buck Farms are a pair of dogs and a couple of cats, but the immaculately-maintained barns and grain bins make it clear that this is a working farm. Michael and Vanessa Buck, along with Michael’s parents Judy and Garfield, are rapidly converting a grain farm into a thriving sheep enterprise. The Young Buck flock has grown from 30 head in 2013 to almost 300 this year, and the Bucks plan to double it again over the next year.
The farm is located near the tiny hamlet of Peers, in Yellowhead County, two hours west of Edmonton. Up until 2009, the livestock component of the farm was a 150-sow farrow-to-finish operation. Michael, who holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta, was a self-described “over-educated trucker” working in the oil patch. He planned to work as a commodity trader. But life in the city did not appeal to this country boy, so he and Vanessa settled on family land across the road from the main farm site, shortly after his 2006 graduation.
Judy, Garfield and Michael in the lambing barn. Forty-five lambing jugs line the outside walls. The green signboards and stainless steel feeders were once used for pigs. Every jug has a new water bowl this year. Yellow pens on the right are 20’ x 20’ and used as drop and hardening pens. Made from construction site fencing, they are 6’ high; a custom order for 4’ high fencing would have cost more. Rubber belting over the feed opening keeps lambs inside. Below: Feed opening from the inside of the pen. Photos by Dale Engstrom.
After several years of reading and research, including meetings and visits with sheep industry partners across western Canada, Michael settled on lamb production to establish himself as a farmer. What drew Michael to the sheep industry was its market opportunities, the reasonable level of investment required, the potential to involve the whole family, and the ability to expand quickly from within. An added bonus was that the pig barns could be put to use again. As the slump in the oil patch deepened, Michael was laid off in 2016 and the sheep plan was fast tracked.
The first group of 30 ewes proved to be a mistake. These were quickly dispersed, and replaced in 2014 with purebred Romanov, and Charollais x Romanov, ewes from Ileana Wenger and Dan Sinclair of Bowden, Alberta. These productive, high-health, F1 females will be the core of the flock as it expands over the next four or five years toward the goal of 1,200 head. Michael’s mother, Judy, owns the Romanovs, which will be maintained as purebreds to produce replacements. The Charollais x Romanov ewes will be bred to Canadian Arcott rams to produce market lambs. Charollais and Canadian rams will be acquired from flocks with genetic evaluations, and high health status. Michael is excited by the carcass quality and growth rate of the market lambs they have produced over the last year.
This year’s lambing was split into two groups, with two-thirds of the ewes lambing in April. The rest, which are mostly ewe lambs, will follow in June. The April group was vaccinated with 8-way two weeks prior to lambing, then sorted into groups of 20 and moved into the barn a week later.
As each ewe lambs, a card is filled out and placed on the signboard between the jugs. Photo by Kathleen Raines.
The old finishing barn is now the lambing barn, and Michael was especially appreciative of the space this spring during a long stretch of unseasonably wet and cold weather. Forty-five lambing jugs (most are 5’x5’), each with its own water bowl, line the walls of the barn, with a double row of larger (20’x20’) pens in the centre for groups of 20 pregnant, or 15 nursing, ewes. All of the barn equipment is easy to disassemble, so that facilities can be cleaned and disinfected between production stages. More conversions are planned to accommodate the growing flock. The old farrowing room will be converted to a loose housing area where ewes will drop their lambs in time for the next lambing season.
Each hardening pen has its own card, showing who is in the pen. Record cards from the lambing jugs follow the ewes and lambs to the hardening pen. Photo by Kathleen Raines.
Lambs are weighed at birth, injected with Vitamins ADE and selenium, and have their tails banded. All lambs are double-tagged, with a CSIP tag and a second easy-to-read dangle tag. The dangle tags are colour-coded to distinguish purebred Romanov females from females sired by Romanov, Charollais or Canadian Arcott rams. Male lambs are castrated and all get the same colour tag. In addition to the FarmWorks by Shearwell program, “paper is backed up by paper”, Michael says. Communication is essential; lambing jugs are numbered, and a record sheet for each lambing hangs on the pen and moves with the ewe and her lambs to the group pen. Lambs have access to an 18% crude protein creep feed as soon as they leave the jugs. After leaving the hardening pens, ewes and lambs go outside to feedlot pens.
Ewes are only expected to raise two lambs, so managing bottle lambs is an important, round-the-clock job. Judy is in charge of the nursery, which occupies two of the barn’s six former weaner rooms, maintained at a steady 17 degrees Celsius. Rooms are subdivided into three sections, housing 15-20 lambs each, with milk replacer supplied by two Lac-Tek machines.
The flock includes Canadian and Rideau Arcotts, in addition to the Romanovs and Romanov crosses, which makes it challenging to keep all the ewes in optimal body condition. Photo by Dale Engstrom.
The Bucks farm about 2,000 acres and produce all their own feed. One quarter-section (160 acres) is seeded to hay and fenced with page wire. Garfield anticipates doubling the acres in forage this year, using the first cut for silage and pasturing the regrowth. Pasturing is not part of the long-term plan, however, as Garfield and Michael agree that keeping the sheep in dry lots is a more efficient use of their land base, eliminating concerns about parasites and predators, as well as the need to transport animals to and from the pasture. Two livestock guardian dogs patrol the farm and keep coyotes at a distance, but Michael related a very disturbing story about ravens preying on newborn lambs last year—a further incentive to lamb indoors.
Each hardening pen is equipped with an automatic water bowl and a creep feeder. The blue plastic feeders inside the creep area came out of the weaner room in the pig barn. Photo by Dale Engstrom.
A used feed truck and mixer, purchased from a neighbour, makes quick work of feeding the outside sheep. Dry, alfalfa-grass hay bales are tub ground by a custom operator and piled in the feed yard. At feeding time, the ground hay is mixed with bagged, alfalfa-grass silage, barley and a consultant-formulated vitamin/mineral premix. Michael has just purchased a used, walk-behind feed cart from Saskatchewan, and looks forward to being able to feed a consistent TMR blend to the inside sheep as well.
Lambs are weaned at eight weeks and then fed a mix of whole barley plus a consultant-formulated, 32% crude protein supplement. Nutritionist Dale Engstrom has worked with the Bucks to design custom mineral mixes; the lactation blend features added Vitamin E and a trace level of copper, based on testing of the farm’s feed. The Bucks are finalizing the blueprint for a new 64’x220’ grower barn, which will be built in 2018. This will allow them to house ewes and lambs inside until after weaning, and to grow lambs out to market weight under more controlled conditions.
Slatted floors in the former pig barn were replaced with solid concrete, except for a small portion of each pen kept for drainage during wash up. The drain is covered with OSB when the pen is occupied. Photo by Dale Engstrom.
The new facility will also house the handling system and a shearing station designed to meet the needs of the New Zealand shearing crew that travels through the area each spring. Michael would prefer to have the ewes shorn prior to lambing, but has had positive experiences over the last couple of years with the Kiwi shearers, who work quickly and independently and handle the sheep gently. That fact, combined with a scarcity of qualified local shearers, means he has no plans to alter the current system or to add shearing to his own resume. “Too hard on the back and knees!” he laughs.
Extra lambs are reared in the former weaner room, on one of two Lak-Tek milk replacer machines. The OSB will be covered with straw when lambs are present. Photo by Dale Engstrom.
Most of the Bucks’ lambs are marketed at around 80 pounds to a local feedlot operator, but a small number are finished and sold as freezer lambs. Completion of the new barn will allow the Bucks to finish all of their lambs, rather than selling feeders. Fifty to 100 of this year’s lambs will be sent to SunGold, and Garfield looks forward to analyzing carcass data to evaluate rams, and selecting for a more consistent, high-quality carcass animal. The farm has just been enrolled on GenOvis, which Judy admits is “a lot of work to start”, but which will be a valuable tool for selecting replacement stock.
Michael’s wife, Vanessa, works full time as a massage therapist, but she and their daughter, Adeline, help out whenever they can. Photo by Kathleen Raines.
Son, Kelvin, is also involved in the family farm. Photo by Michael Buck.
Michael’s finance training comes in handy as he pencils out expansion plans. Once the flock has reached the target of 1,200 they will be “culled hard” to ensure a more consistent ewe type and market lamb crop. The Bucks plan to have 400 ewes lamb in each of November, March and June (ewes lambing once per year), with 2400+ lambs marketed annually after the top 10-15% are retained as replacements. This level of production will provide reasonable year-round work for hired help in the barns, accommodate the cropping season and allow Michael to take on more custom silage cutting. He and Garfield are investigating slaughter options with an eye to selling more freezer lambs, for which they receive more consistent prices. They are also interested in learning more about sheep dairying.
The long-term plan doesn’t include pasturing but, for now, the ewes and lambs enjoy time together on grass. Photo by Michael Buck.
The flock certainly seems to have the prolificacy to meet the family’s goals. In 2016, 143 ewes lambed and gave birth to 335 lambs (234%), of which 230 were sold, 71 were retained for breeding and 35 died. So far this year, 194 ewes have given birth to 473 lambs (244%); a further 86 (mostly ewe lambs) are due to lamb in June.
The former beef feedlot now works for sheep. Photo by Michael Buck. Below: Sections of concrete slatted floor from the pig barn help sheep reach water bowls originally installed for cattle. Photo by Dale Engstrom.
Young Buck Farms have set themselves an ambitious plan and the multi-generational team working to make it succeed is knowledgeable, enthusiastic and dedicated. Michael and Judy handle the majority of the lambing checks and chores, while Garfield focuses on feeding, carcass composition, and machinery and facility repairs. Michael identifies Judy as “the hardest-working person on the farm”, with the nursery, record-keeping, book-keeping, and general house and yard duties. There are rare moments of peace, including what Michael describes as his favourite time of day in the barn—that quiet interval when the ewes are eating and the lambs race around the pens.
Portable sheds are 8’x32’, and 6’ high in front. Gates on the ends act as windbreaks; closing one creates a sheltered creep area. An adjustable skid shoe/foot on the ends of the gates rests on the ground and keeps them from moving. Photo by Michael Buck.
There have been setbacks, including 700 acres of crop (canola, wheat and barley) left in the field in 2016’s wet and snowy fall and still being harvested this spring. But the tagline on Michael’s business card—“Growing to feed the future”—shows every sign of becoming a reality for the Buck family and their contribution to the Alberta lamb industry.
A used feed truck and mixer purchased from a neighbour. Photo by Michael Buck.
You can follow the Bucks’ progress on Twitter @YoungBuckFarms.
Kathleen Raines breeds Rideau Arcott sheep near Markerville, Alberta.
Alberta Lamb Producers Lamb Market Reports
Alberta Lamb Producers Marketing Your Lambs
Saskatchewan Sheep Development Board (SSDB) Marketing Fact Sheet
Saskatchewan Sheep Development Board Lamb Markets
Winnipeg Livestock Sales
Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency Ontario Markets
Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency Where Should I Market My Lambs?
Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency Mobile Application
Manitoba Sheep Association Market Reports
Fraser Valley Auction (Langley BC)
Sheep Producers Association of Nova Scotia Market Price Reports
Information for Shippers to Northumberlamb
Sungold Specialty Meats Ltd. Livestock Pricing
Religious and Ethnic Holidays and Demand for Lamb (OSMA)
More pasture options through corn grazing.
Effect of winter grazing system on beef cow performance and system costs.
Photo by Rhonda McCarron.
By Cathy Gallivan, PhD
Ian and Rhonda McCarron’s house sits on the highest point, and at the centre, of their 200-acre farm. The view is extensive; you can see four different counties from here. Ian and Rhonda bought the farm, which is about five miles from downtown Antigonish, in 1996 and moved onto it two years later.
The Brook Ridge flock began, as many do, as a 4-H project. Ian and Rhonda went out to look for a 4-H goat and came home with five Border Leicester ewes and their lambs, from the late Ralph Downey of Glengarry, in Pictou County. That was in 1998, and that same fall they acquired 12 more Border Leicesters, also with lambs, from David Hughes of Canning, in Kings County.
The steel barn measures 30’ x 45’ and has box stalls for horses. The lean-to on the far side is 16’ wide, and originally housed the entire flock, but now serves as the warm area at lambing time. Photo by Rhonda McCarron.
Ian feeds apples to some of his favourite Romanov ewes. These lambs were born in November and December, and sired by an Ile de France ram. The lean-to is easily cleaned out between lambings through the door at the far end.
Electrical outlets for claiming pens were installed in the ceiling so that if a heat lamp gets pulled down into the bedding, it will be unplugged as it falls.
Ian had this lambing supplies tote custom built; separate compartments make it easier to find things and keeps them cleaner.
In the early years of the farm, Rhonda was working full time as a radio announcer for the local Antigonish station and Ian was flying back and forth to work in Alberta. Rhonda left the radio station in 2013 and worked three more years for a not-for-profit literacy network, before giving it up in 2016. Ian came home in April of 2014, after a dozen years of work in the west. In addition to the farm, the McCarrons have a 600-acre woodlot, which keeps Ian busy in the winter.
Today the flock numbers 210 ewes, including 35-40 Border Leicesters, 15 Romanovs, 50 Border Leicester x Romanov crosses and 20 Rideau Arcotts. The rest of the flock has Southdown, North Country Cheviot and Polypay breeding. Much of the expansion is relatively recent; the Romanovs arrived in 2014 and the Rideaus and North Country Cheviots in 2015.
The ram pen houses Border Leicester and Southdown rams, and one Ile de France. The first lambs out of the Ile de France ram were born in December to the Romanov ewes, and Ian and Rhonda like what they see so far. They will be adding another terminal sire in 2017 but haven’t decided yet what it will be.
Ile de France-sired lambs eating whole barley and soybean meal in the creep feeder.
The Border Leicesters are registered, and in the past Rhonda enjoyed going to shows and being involved in the Purebred Sheep Breeders’ Association of Nova Scotia, and the 2006 and 2012 All Canada Classics. But with the expansion of the flock and the move to full-time farming, these activities have had to be cut back.
As the flock has grown, so have the facilities. Ian and Rhonda’s first building project was a steel barn for the horses, which they moved from a property they were selling. Rhonda has had horses most of her life, and she and her daughter Jaime (now living in PEI with her own family) each still keep a horse on the farm.
The farm has 75 acres of cleared land, which was fenced with page wire when they bought it. Ian and Rhonda removed the page wire and replaced it with a six-strand electric fence (nine strands in the wooded areas) that, with the help of two guardian dogs, keeps the sheep safe from predators.
The dome-shaped plastic addition to the steel horse barn measures 30’ x 70’. This bright, airy space is home to a gang of guinea fowl. Round bale haylage is fed in basket feeders from Mar-Weld. Rhonda feeds grain in this wooden feeder by climbing the steps at the near end and walking along the boards at the top on the left side.
The cement pad at the north end of the barn is 40’ long and keeps the sheep out of the mud.
A lean-to on the horse barn was home to the whole flock in the early years, but now houses claiming pens and space for ewes with lambs. A plastic dome was added to the north end of the steel barn in 2004, and a new wooden sheep barn and machinery shed built in 2015. Cement pads at the north end of the two sheep barns keep animals out of the mud and make it easier to feed round bales.
Ian puts up most of the forage for the sheep, making two cuts of round bale haylage each year. The rest of the feed and all of the bedding (straw) are purchased. Lambs get weaned and grown out on concentrate; only the ewes are pastured, from June till the end of September. Young lambs get a medicated lamb grower, and then whole barley and soybean meal as they get older. Ewes are supplemented with whole barley and soybean meal through late pregnancy and lactation. Salt and minerals are fed free choice.
As in the rest of Canada, Nova Scotia producers struggle with the barber pole worm. By not pasturing lambs, and by weaning ewes before they are pastured, Ian and Rhonda have been able to limit the effect of the parasite on the flock. Because the lambs never go to pasture, they do not have to be wormed, but a close eye is kept on the ewes. Starting when they are still inside raising their lambs, Ian and Rhonda check mucous membranes around the eyes for signs of anemia, and worm any ewes that require it. Over the summer, they bring the ewes in to a holding pen in the main pasture and repeat the process every few weeks.
The new wooden sheep barn is 45’ x 80’, and has a 40’ cement pad at the north end.
A wooden grain bin on one side of the wooden sheep barn holds about 12 tonnes of feed. Photo by Rhonda McCarron.
An insulated room houses the hydrant and hose used to water pens in this barn. Although the hydrant itself is frost-free, having it inside the heated room means the hose doesn’t have to be disconnected and drained after each use. Photo by Rhonda McCarron.
With 210 ewes in the flock, the barns are now at capacity. The Romanovs are fed and managed separately from the rest of the flock, to support their higher lambing percentages. They lambed to the Ile de France ram in December and produced mostly triplets, with the odd set of twins or quadruplets. The Rideaus lambed to Border Leicester rams in September and October last year, producing mostly twins. The Border Leicester x Romanov crosses will lamb for the first time this year, and Ian and Rhonda expect them to outperform their other crossbred ewes, which average about 170%.
The machinery shed is 30’ x 70’, and is also used to store straw.
Ian and Rhonda are also looking to the Romanovs to help them achieve their objective of producing lamb year-round. Rhonda is on the board of the Northumberland Lamb Marketing Co-operative, Ltd., known as Northumberlamb. The co-op is now in its 35th year and, since acquiring federal inspection status two years ago, has been able to increase the number of lambs it buys and markets. Out-of-season lambs are particularly sought after, and premiums paid for them. Producers who sell lambs out of season also get priority when shipping lambs in late summer and fall. Members of the co-op are required to offer all of their lambs to the co-op first, with the exception of lambs sold to private freezer customers.
In 2016, the McCarrons had four lambings. The biggest group, including the Border Leicesters, lambed in February and March. A smaller group lambed in May and June, followed by the Rideaus in September and October and the Romanovs in November and December. So far, they have relied on the natural ability of the Rideaus and Romanovs to breed out of season, rather than using CIDRs or light control.
The McCarron’s garage has been remade into a wool shop, which supplements sales from the market. Blankets from the MacAusland mill in PEI are a big seller.
Potpies made from cubed lamb shoulder can be cooked from frozen.
All of their lambs go to the Northumberlamb, which is about an hour away. Even the freezer lambs go to the co-op’s plant for processing, after which they are repurchased for sale to private customers. Rhonda sells both whole and half lambs, but is currently servicing only repeat customers, as the co-op takes all the lambs they produce at a good price. But marketing freezer lambs allows the McCarrons to hedge their bets in case of a drop in the price of lamb, as well as offering an outlet for lambs that get too heavy or which the co-op may not be able to take in late summer or early fall.
For the week ending February 24th, the base price at Northumberlamb was 9.80/kg, dressed. This is for a lamb with an index of 100, based on its carcass weight and GR measurement (see the Shippers page at northumberlamb.ca) and with three conformation scores (shoulder, loin and leg) of 3. Each conformation score of 4 earns an additional 11 cents/kg. Rhonda tells me that in 2016 they shipped 154 lambs to Northumberlamb, which averaged $10.07/kg.
Ian and Rhonda manage their feeding and marketing carefully to hit the right combination of carcass weight and fat cover. They usually ship ram lambs up to 54 kg live weight and ewe lambs up to 49 kg, depending on the breed, sex and time of year. None of the male lambs are castrated, which allows them to push their live weights a little higher.
Every farm has a super sheep, or at least one that is remarkable. This ewe, Maggie, came to Brook Ridge Farm as a lamb, with her mother (also horned and black) and twin brother, from Ian’s father’s farm. Maggie lived a long, healthy and cantankerous life at Brook Ridge Farm, dying in the summer of 2015 at the age of 17! Photo by Rhonda McCarron.
Rhonda enjoys sharing their experience of sheep farming with the public, and the farm has taken part in Open Farm Days in the past. The Antigonish Farmers’ Market offers another venue to tell the purchasing public about farm life and what it entails, and Rhonda has used the market to add value by marketing lamb direct to consumers for the past 15 years. The market is open every Saturday from the first of May until the week before Christmas and Rhonda attends each week, selling individual cuts as well as taking orders and delivering freezer lambs. To make the time spent at the market more worthwhile, she also offers a variety of wool and sheepskin products. All of Brook Ridge Farm’s non-Romanov wool goes to McAusland’s in PEI, and the mill’s yarn and blankets are a big seller at the market. Rhonda’s website (brookridgefarm.ca) gives buyers a chance to learn more about the farm and the sheep, and to place orders from as far away as France. Christmas is an especially busy time for orders from the website.
New products are continually being added. The lamb product line was expanded in 2016, to include frozen lamb potpies. Rhonda rents a commercial kitchen two days a week during the market season, where she and a helper make 82 five-inch pies per week. With a delicious homemade piecrust, meticulously-trimmed lamb shoulder, vegetables and gravy, the pies are sold frozen for $7.95 each or 2/$15. I had a chance to sample one at lunchtime and it was excellent. Rhonda is also working with an area wool processor to convert some of their less-desirable wool (from the Border Leicester x Romanovs) into a new product, a felted wool insole.
Nearly 20 years after acquiring their first sheep, Rhonda looks back and muses that there is a lot more labour involved in raising sheep than people think. She finds it takes years for most people to evolve into a workable feeding, handling, weighing, sorting and marketing system, and feels they now have the facilities, numbers and genetics (Romanovs) they need. Nearly 20 years of experience has given them the confidence to stay home full-time on the farm, and know that they can continue to adapt and evolve as necessary in the coming years.
The view from the yard in summer. Photo by Rhonda McCarron.