Sheep Canada – Fall 2019

The Fall 2019 issue of Sheep Canada has now been mailed to subscribers. Content from this issue will be uploaded to the website in November after our paid subscribers have had a chance to see it first. You can still see content from earlier issues of the magazine.

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Table of Contents
4: Greetings from Deerville
5: Producer profile: Woolley’s Lamb, Simcoe, Ontario
9: Sidebar: What is silvopasture?
13: 1st Global Sheep Conference, Saskatoon, SK
15: Feed for profit: Nutrition and the immune system
19: Exploring new technologies will help the sheep industry
21: Items of interest from the Ontario SR Vet Conference
25: A manifesto on fire
27: 2019 All Canada Sheep Classic, Humboldt, SK
34: Career choices and the myth of multitasking
35: Buyer’s Guide

Sheep Canada – Summer 2019

Table of Contents
4: Greetings from Deerville
15: Do good fences make good neighbours?
17: Ontario producers benefit from working together
21: How good is your pasture?
23: I shot a coyote in my pyjamas
25: Worm-trapping fungus new tool in fight against parasites
27: She’s gone chicken crazy
29: Tales from the creek: Sustainability
31: Increased prolificacy benefits entire industry
35: Buyer’s Guide

Sheep Canada – Spring 2019

Table of Contents
4: Greetings from Deerville
11: I’m not a farmer but I play one on the Internet
13: Tales from the creek: Spend small, gain big
17: Interesting times
21: Easy, portable mineral feeder
24: Tag fees going up
25: There’s an app for that!
27: Sheep industry moves closer to traceability
29: Balancing visual selection and genetic evaluation
30: Strange Bob Square Bale Pants
31: We remember
35: Buyer’s Guide

Producer Profile: Lorea Tomsin, Sidney, BC

Lorea shearing at Aveley Ranch in Vavenby, BC.

By Barbara Johnstone Grimmer

Lorea Tomsin wears many hats in the world of sheep: shearer, wool crafter, purebred breeder, lamb producer, direct marketer, hauler, mentor and industry volunteer. She marches to the beat of her own drum and has developed a unique way to farm and add value to all of her products and services.

Lorea lives in Sidney, BC, at the southern tip of Vancouver Island on the Saanich Peninsula. Her interest in agriculture and sheep began at an early age. She wanted a cow but got a sheep instead, when she was nine. She bought her first purebred, a Silver Down Suffolk from W&K Gould when she was 12 or 13.

Lorea taught herself to shear by studying a poster for the Sunbeam ShearMaster and waited for a chance to be home alone to try her hand. The opportunity came when she was 13, and she proudly showed the family her accomplishment on their return.

“That’s what happens when your daughter isn’t allowed to mow the lawn,” Lorea explains. “My brothers always mowed the lawn; I had to wash the dishes.”

She learned by reading everything she could find about sheep and observing what worked and what didn’t. She also volunteered to help purebred breeders at sheep shows and was mentored by them. Lorea gives credit to the Cadsands in particular. “Mrs. Cadsand was a perfectionist and a phenomenal worker,” remembers Lorea. Lorea also helped younger sheep enthusiasts, teaching 4-H members how to select, care for, and show their projects.

As she grew into a young woman, Lorea continued shearing, even when eight months pregnant. She has sheared every year since, even when she didn’t have her own sheep. “Fifty-two years ‘n’ crawling,” says Lorea.

This triplet Suffolk ewe lamb has twin lambs in 2019.

Lorea’s Charollais ram was the Supreme Champion ram at the 2018 Grasslands Sheep Exhibition in Humboldt, Saskatchewan.

Lorea travels wherever the shearing jobs are, and enjoys the work and seeing different flocks and setups. In addition to shearing, she also worms, trims feet and assists with flock health and management.

Marketing lamb and vegetables at a farmers’ market.

Lorea also worked with wool as a child, learning how to knit and sew. “My mom taught me; she would even knit on airplanes back when you were still allowed to take knitting needles on board.”

Lorea used to make handmade wool duvets, but now takes her wool (as well as other people’s) to Custom Woolen Mills in Alberta to be made into duvets there. She makes her own hand-dyed socks, needle-felting kits, sweaters, vests, pillows, slippers, socks, and toques. She also sells tanned sheepskins. These products are marketed through her website (, as well as through Christmas craft fairs, wool events, farmers’ markets, and a nearby store that sells local products. Wool is also in demand on Vancouver Island by First Nations knitters who make Cowichan sweaters, and some of Lorea’s wool is washed and carded to provide them with local fibre.

Hand-dyed wool socks made at Custom Woolen Mills in Alberta from Suffolk and Cotswold wool.

Lorea delivered mail for 33 years for Canada Post, in BC, Alberta, and Quebec, returning to BC in 1990 to be closer to her aging parents. The sheep bug returned in 2001. Her oldest boy, Launey, had graduated by then, and the two younger ones, Emma and Tommy, were in high school. Lorea ventured into East Friesians, buying from the owner of Salt Spring Island Cheese after shearing their 90 ewes. She also had her eye on Suffolks, and brought some back from a purebred sale in Alberta, including a nice ram from Bill Matejka.

There are currently 80 ewes in Lorea’s flock, which is about twice the provincial average. Lorea breeds registered Charollais and Suffolk sheep, and her commercial flock has Finn, Rideau, Southdown, Ile de France, Texel, and even Icelandic breeding. She admits to having an interest in various breeds and blends them into her breeding program to meet her requirements for producing lamb as well as wool.

These wool-stuffed pillows serve as neck rolls, back support or yoga pillows.

The flock is kept on rented pastures most of the year. A central, rented farm has a good-sized barn for storing feed and wool and housing ewes at lambing time, plus outbuildings and pastures to manage her different groups.

The sheep have access to grass from spring to fall. Feed is costly on Vancouver Island, so Lorea monitors ewe productivity and does what she can to control her costs. The sheep are divided into groups with similar natures and needs, and Lorea feeds an alfalfa-based diet to pregnant and nursing ewes. A creep feeder offers free-choice alfalfa, and a self-feeding hopper inside the creep delivers a small, but steady, stream of grain to the lambs as they feed. Lorea has one part-time employee, which allows her to schedule shearing trips or deliveries.

So many ways to share the love of sheep: Lorea’s mother, Nancy (holding the lamb), was a Suffolk breeder. Before her mother passed away in 2017, Lorea took lambs on visits to retirement homes.

When asked about her concerns for the future, Lorea first mentions having a predictable land base for farming. Farming on rented land is quite common on southern Vancouver Island. Landowners in BC who lease their land to farmers get a reduction in their property taxes, an excellent incentive to keep land in agriculture. However, many property owners are aging or have other reasons to sell their land, making tenure for the farmer less than secure.

The other concern Lorea has is competition with cheaper, imported lamb and getting paid fairly. She finds that the public often doesn’t support quality, local meat as she feels they should.

Anyone who knows Lorea knows how fully she immerses herself into whatever she is doing. She has built her business on value-added and quality products. Lamb is processed locally and marketed directly as Pasture Perfect Local Lamb, through as many as three different farmers’ markets.

Breeding stock is sold privately, or through breeders’ sales, including the All Canada Sheep Classic sponsored each year by the Canadian Sheep Breeders’ Association. Lorea’s animals are selected for scrapie resistance, and she is one of three BC breeders registered on the GenOvis program for genetic improvement. Lorea finds that GenOvis is the best tool for genetic selection beyond visual evaluation, which many BC breeders still rely on. GenOvis requires more work and record-keeping, but Lorea says it’s worth it.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, Lorea has been president of the Inter-Island Sheep Breeders Association since 2011 and recently stepped down after nine years as BC’s director on the board of the Canadian Sheep Breeders Association (CSBA). She has also organized field days and workshops for sheep producers, as well as mentoring many new producers.

Lorea organized the CSBA’s AGM in Victoria in 2017 and worked on the All Canada Sheep Classic when it was held in Barriere, BC, in 2013. She was also one of three delegates who travelled to Mexico on behalf of the CSBA and Canadian Sheep Federation in 2016. The invitation by the Mexican government to send a delegation to Mexico Alimentaria came as a result of Canada’s participation in the Canada-Mexico Partnership meeting in Ottawa. Lorea noted that Mexico views agriculture as incredibly important and that Mexicans are proud of their production.

Lorea says, “I enjoyed my time on the CSBA board of directors, as I thought that the team worked professionally to advocate for the sheep industry, both the purebred and, by extension, commercial industries.”

In 2014, Lorea travelled to the Shetland Islands, and sheared her cousin, Alison Priest’s, Shetland sheep. Photo by Alison Priest.

Lorea’s grandfather came from the Shetland Islands in Scotland. In 2014 Lorea made a trip to Shetland and sheared on her cousin’s farm in a community shearing event. She noted that many women there are shearers, and that sheep from the community pastures were gathered up to be sheared and sorted by the entire community. This community cohesiveness struck a chord with Lorea.

“I enjoy helping people obtain beneficial information on raising sheep, learn to solve health issues with confidence, and do the best job they can for their business,” says Lorea. “Any trick I find that is an idea for a breed, or a product, or a use for someone’s wool, I am happy to share. I believe in farmers helping each other, and the benefits are for all.”

Barbara Johnstone Grimmer is a professional agrologist and sheep farmer living on Pender Island, BC.

Producer profile: Brookwater Farms, Kensington, PEI

L to R: Madison (12), Makayla (8), Harry and Vicki Elsinga.

By Cathy Gallivan, PhD

Photos by Chris Reaman

Like many Rideau Arcott breeders, Harry and Vicki Elsinga have achieved a high level of productivity in their Rideau Arcott flock. What is unusual is that they have done it without a major investment in facilities and while lambing their ewes only once a year.

Harry grew up on this 300-acre farm after his family moved to PEI from Ontario. He milked cows here until 2004, when he made the decision to disperse the herd and rent his land, rather than invest in costly upgrades to the barns. Then he got married and started a family and decided to get back into livestock production. After doing some research, he determined that the existing facilities would work well for sheep production.

He started by purchasing two small groups of sheep, which were never mingled. One of the groups was quickly dispersed when it turned out to be infected with Maedi visna. The other group of 35 Rideau Arcott ewes has grown into the present flock of 200. Harry still isn’t interested in major renovations to the barns, so the ewes lamb once a year in two batches in April and May.

The farmland is rented, so the sheep are confined to the yard year-round. Harry buys his forage from the renter (if the quality is there) and trades sheep manure for all the round bales of straw he needs.

Seven video cameras in the barn allow Harry to monitor the lambing ewes and bottle lambs from the house.

The first group of ewes were just finishing lambing when I visited on April 29. April was wet in PEI and the yard was muddy but the barn, located at the top of a hill, was dry and comfortable. The barn measures 50’x100’, and houses pregnant ewes, claiming pens and pens of ewes and lambs. A lean-to shed adds an extra 15’x100’ along one side, and houses the ‘bottle’ lambs being reared on a Lak-Tek automatic milk replacer machine. A 40’x80’ quonset will provide accommodation for the first batch of ewes and lambs when they are moved out of the lambing barn to make room for the second group.

L to R: Madison (12), Makayla (8), Harry and Vicki Elsinga.

Ewes in the April 2019 lambing group are going all out, delivering good-sized quintuplets (above, photo by Harry Elsinga) and quadruplets (below).

Self-feeders are accessed by lambs in separate creep feeders on either side.

After weaning, the ewes occupy an old bunk silo, with shelter from the rain, for the rest of the summer and into the fall. The ewes eat round bales of hay from June till October, which Harry puts out every third day. Starting in October, Harry flushes the ewes on better-quality forage and 1-1.5 lb. of corn each. He continues to feed in round bale feeders till about a month before lambing, when he switches to hand-feeding round bale silage and about one pound of concentrate in portable wooden feeders. The concentrate is a 60:20:20 mix of barley, oats and raw, whole soybeans. Lactating ewes get up to two pounds of concentrate a day and the best silage available. Ewes feeding two versus three lambs are penned separately, and Harry will reduce or eliminate the concentrate being fed to the ewes with two lambs if they are not losing weight during lactation.

Harry feeds a customized mineral premix, with 85 mg/kg of added selenium and no phosphorus. He feeds the salt and mineral free choice, and puts it out fresh in each of his pens and creep feeders daily. Removing the phosphorus helps maintain the calcium:phosphorus ratio at 2:1 or higher when animals are eating grain. During the summer months he reverts to a less expensive mineral, which does contain added phosphorus.

Repurposed canola oil (above) and seafood (below) containers are filled with concentrate from the delivery truck, then brought into the barn on a pallet fork on the tractor.

The silage quality is very good and the lambs start eating it when they are only a few days old.

Once the lambs are safely delivered, they become Vicki’s responsibility. She makes sure they are up and getting enough to eat; any that are slow to stand and suck get reconstituted powdered ewe colostrum from a bottle within minutes of birth.

Mature ewes that give birth to three or more lambs raise two or three of them, while ewe lambs generally only keep two, unless the milk replacer machines are near to capacity.

While they are still in the claiming pen, Vicki eartags them, and uses a piece of software called Flock Hand on a Psion tag reader to record lambing data (including birth weights) for later downloading into EweByte. With daughter Madison’s help, she also paint-brands and docks the lambs, and administers Baycox to prevent any problems with coccidia.

After leaving the claiming pens, ewes go into separate group pens for those feeding two versus three lambs. Each group pen has a creep feeder with a custom creep ration that Harry brings in from the Sunderland Co-op in Ontario. The ration is medicated with Deccox and tetracycline, and contains added selenium at .3 mg/kg.

Vicki continues to watch the lambs closely after they leave the claiming pens, offering bottles and taking note of which lambs need extra milk. Some just need supplementing for a day or two until their mothers come into their milk; others get removed and put into the bottle pen. Harry says they hate making the decision to raise another lamb artificially, but they hate losing a lamb even more. And if they wait too long, the lambs go downhill very quickly.

The shed adjoining the barn is given over to the bottle lambs, which thrive on a Lak-Tek milk replacer machine and Mapleview Agri milk replacer (also from Ontario). Harry added a second milk replacer machine the week after we visited; he figures he can feed up to 80 lambs on one machine. Harry is in charge of maintaining the machines and cleaning them every day.

The shed on the side of the barn houses the rams and the bottle lambs. Harry sets up the second automatic milk replacer feeder when he gets 80 or more bottle lambs. Photo by Harry Elsinga.

Bottle lambs get weighed every other day in a sling attached to a scale. They start off in the small bottle lamb pen and move to the big bottle lamb pen when they are doing well on the milk machine and can hold their own there. When they reach 22 lb. in the big bottle lamb pen, they get moved into a third pen where they are weaned. By weaning each lamb at a specific weight, rather than in large batches, Harry says he can raise three bottle lambs on a single bag of milk replacer. The bottle lamb pens are supplied with creep ration and fresh silage every day, which the lambs start to consume when they are only a few days old.

Lambs raised on ewes get their first vaccinations when they are weighed and weaned at 50 days of age. Male lambs are vaccinated with Tasvax and female lambs with Glanvac-6. Ewe lambs, and any ram lambs that will be kept or sold for breeding, get vaccinated again at 100 days of age, with Glanvac-6. Bottle lambs get vaccinated with Tasvax when they are two weeks old, and then are treated the same as the other lambs at 50 and 100 days of age.

After weaning, lambs continue to self-feed on their creep ration and the best round bale silage in the wooden feeders. The creep is gradually replaced with the barley, oats and soybeans mix until the lambs are consuming two pounds per head per day, when Harry starts feeding it by hand. He limits them to two pounds per day to encourage rumen development in the lambs and to avoid problems with acidosis and urinary calculi.

The ewes eat first cut hay in round bale feeders (above) from June to October, and silage and grain from these wooden feeders (below) in late pregnancy and lactation. Photos by Harry Elsinga.

Vicky uses EweByte to track the ewes and lambs on the farm, and this information is uploaded electronically to the GenOvis genetic evaluation program, which provides EPDs and selection indexes to make selection decisions and facilitate breeding stock sales. Harry has been keeping the top 10% of females on the Maternal Index, but is also participating in a pilot project to test a new index being developed for Rideau breeders.

The flock is enrolled on the Ontario Sheep Farmers’ Maedi visna program and has achieved ‘A Closed’ status.

Harry has sold out of ewe lambs the last couple of years, and also sells a number of ram lambs. Lambs that are not sold as breeding stock go to the Northumberlamb Co-op in Truro, NS, a two-hour drive from the farm.

Harry is the PEI director on the Canadian Sheep Federation, and participated in a pilot project coordinated by the CSF earlier this year to test-drive a technology known as a blockchain. Harry is excited about the potential of blockchains and their application in the Canadian sheep industry and elsewhere

Harry and Vicki work hard for two months each year when the ewes are lambing, but their annual timetable allows a more balanced life the rest of the year. They have achieved an impressive level of production without going into debt for upgraded facilities. But they don’t hesitate to spend money on the feed, health care and equipment that makes their ewes produce at very high levels and keeps their lambs alive.

For more photos and updates on the flock, follow Brookwater Farms on Facebook.