Sheep Canada – Winter 2019
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
By Cathy Gallivan, PhD
Sheep farmers who feed round bales are familiar with their convenience and also with the resulting high feed waste, even when round-bale feeders are used.
Many unique designs of round-bale feeders have been developed and some claim to reduce or even eliminate feed wastage. Researchers at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences conducted two experiments to investigate the effect of feeder design, roughage type and size of round bales on feed wastage in sheep.
Four indoor pens were each provided with a different type of round-bale feeder, and stocked with 10 Norwegian White ewes in early pregnancy. Ewes in each pen were given a bale of low-quality roughage (Roughage 1) that was left in the feeder for four days, followed by a bale of high-quality roughage (Roughage 2) for the next four days. Each group of 10 ewes was subjected to each type of feeder by rotating them among the pens.
Two of the round-bale feeders were circular; one had diagonal dividers (RD) and one had vertical dividers (RV). A third feeder (KR) had six sides made from linked panels that the ewes could move, with no dividers. The fourth feeder (TR) suspended the round bale in an open ‘basket’ over a square platform 18 inches off the ground. Bales were placed on the floor with round sides up in the first three feeders, and placed in the basket of the TR feeder with the round side facing sideways.
Roughage 1 (low quality) was grass silage harvested at a late stage of maturity with a dry matter (DM) content of 56.0%. Roughage 2 (high quality) was hay harvested at an early stage of maturity with 73.8% DM. Each type of roughage was baled in rounds that were approximately 47 inches tall and 52 inches in diameter. The average weight of the bales was 514 kg (288 kg DM) for Roughage 1 and 468 kg (346 kg DM) for Roughage 2. The median particle length was 7.7 inches for Roughage 1 and 3.8 inches for Roughage 2, which also had a greater leaf:stem ratio than Roughage 1.
Bales were replaced every four days, with leftover feed removed from the feeders before new bales were added. Every morning at 0800, the wasted forage on the floor surrounding the feeders was collected, weighed and sampled.
Feeding behavior of the ewes was scored by an observer at 2-minute intervals on Days 2 and 4 from 0900 to 1200, and 1500 to 1800, for each bale of Roughage 2 fed. Behavior was scored as the number of ewes eating with their whole head (both ears) inside the feeder, eating with their head partly inside the feeder (at least one ear outside the feeder), eating from the feeder while climbing with their front legs, or eating roughage from the floor outside the feeder.
Results – feed wastage
Overall, feed wastage averaged 1.1 kg DM/day per ewe. Feed waste was greatest on Day 1 (1.3 kg DM/day per ewe) and decreased gradually until Day 4 (0.9 kg DM/day per ewe). Feed wastage was almost four times as high for Roughage 1 as Roughage 2 (1.9 versus 0.5 kg DM/day per ewe). Feeder design also had significant impact on feed wastage, with more feed being wasted from the RV feeder (1.3 kg DM/day per ewe) than the KR and TR feeders (1.0 and 0.9 kg DM/day per ewe, respectively). The RD feeder (1.1 kg DM/day per ewe) was intermediate between the RV and KR or TR feeders.
Wastage from both types of round bales had lower dry matter content than the baled feeds. Wastage from Roughage 1 also had lower crude protein content compared to round bales of Roughage 1, but wastage from Roughage 2 had a similar content of crude protein as the round bales of Roughage 2.
Results – feeding behavior.
Ewes spent approximately 40% of the time during the observation periods eating. The time spent eating with the whole head inside the feeder was significantly lower for the TR-feeder than for the other feeders. Time spent eating with the head partly inside the feeder was lowest for the KR-feeder. Climbing with the front legs while eating was most prominent in the RV and TR-feeders. Time spent eating wastage from the floor was almost negligible. Interestingly, time spent eating with the whole head inside the feeder increased from 9.3% at Day 2 to 15.6% at Day 4, while time spent feeding with the head partly inside the feeder decreased from 30.3% at Day 2 to 20.8% at Day 4. Eating from the feeder while climbing with the front legs decreased only slightly from 3.6% at Day 2 to 2.8% at Day 4.
In this experiment, the ewes were offered half or whole round bales of only one roughage in each of the same four types of feeders. Roughage in this experiment was harvested at a late stage of maturity and 76.6% DM. Median particle length of the hay was 6.2 inches. Bales were fed as either half bales averaging 188 kg (145 kg DM) or whole bales weighing 419 kg (323 kg DM). Feeding behaviors were scored as in Experiment 1, but morning observations were limited to only one hour due to low feeding activity between 1000 and 1200.
Results – Feed wastage
Overall mean feed wastage in Experiment 2 was 2.2 kg DM/day per ewe and decreased gradually from Day 1 (3.0 kg DM/day per ewe) to Day 4 (1.4 kg DM/day per ewe). Feed wastage was almost twice as high for whole bales (2.9 kg DM/day per ewe) as for half bales (1.5 kg DM/day per ewe). Feed wastage was similar for all feeder types when feeding whole bales, but higher for the TR feeder when feeding half round bales. As in Experiment 1, the dry matter content of the wastage was lower than that of the round bales.
Results – feeding behavior.
Ewes spent approximately 70% of their time eating during the observation periods. Time spent eating with the whole head inside the feeder was much higher when feeding half bales than when feeding whole bales. Feeder design also influenced feeding behavior in that time spent eating with the whole head inside the feeder was lower for the TR-feeder. Time spent eating with the head partly inside the feeder was much higher when feeding whole bales, and also higher on the TR-feeder compared to the other feeders. Time spent eating while climbing with the front legs was significantly higher when feeding whole bales compared to half bales, but this behaviour only occurred on the TR-feeder when feeding half bales. Ewes spent more than twice as much time consuming feed wastage from the floor around the feeders when fed whole versus half bales, regardless of the type of feeder.
Effect of roughage quality
The amount of feed wasted in both experiments was generally high, ranging from 0.5–2.9 kg DM/day per ewe. The amount of feed wasted was actually more than estimates of how much ewes of this size would consume, in two of the four periods. Feed wastage was highest on the day a new bale was fed and gradually decreased over four days. Type of roughage, size of bale (half or whole), and feeder design all had significant effects, but the major factor influencing feed wastage was roughage quality.
In Experiment 1, the feed wastage was nearly four times higher for Roughage 1 than Roughage 2. Roughage 1 was harvested at a later stage of maturity and, hence, had a lower nutritive value. Late-harvested forages also have more stems in relation to leaves, which was seen in the longer particle length of Roughage 1. Ewes were selecting leaves in Roughage 1, as shown by the lower level of crude protein in the wastage compared to that in the round bale. The ewes must have pulled the long fibrous stems out of the feeders and left them as wastage on the floor around the feeder. There was no indication that leaves were being selected from Roughage 2, however, as the crude protein level in the wasted feed was the same as that in the round bale. Therefore, differences in selection may be a product of a greater leaf:stem ratio in the early- versus late-harvested roughage. Dry matter content of the roughage did not affect feed wastage in this study.
In Experiment 2, the roughage used was also harvested at a late stage of maturity, resulting in even more waste (2.9 versus 1.9 kg DM/day per ewe).
Effect of whole versus half bales
Feeding half bales rather than whole ones reduced feed waste by nearly half. Reducing the amount of feed in the feeder may have allowed the ewes to eat with their heads in a normal, downward position unlike when feeders contain whole bales, causing them to raise their heads to eat. The researchers speculated that the ewes dragged the feed out of the feeder in order to eat in a more normal position. This theory is supported by the data, which shows that the ewes spent more time (50.5%) with their heads inside the feeder when feeding on half round bales than when feeding on whole round bales (27.4%), resulting in more of the potential wastage being dropped inside the feeder and less on the ground outside.
In general, the ewes spent little time consuming wastage from the floor around the feeders. However, they spent more time doing so when eating whole bales compared to half bales in Experiment 2, which is probably related to the larger amount of feed wastage available when larger amounts are fed.
Effect of feeder design
Although there was a significant effect of feeder design on feed wastage, the real differences were small. In Experiment 1, where only whole bales were used, the TR feeder had the lowest feed wastage. In Experiment 2, there were no differences between the round-bale feeders when feeding whole bales, but the TR feeder had the highest wastage when feeding half bales. This might be because the half round bales did not fit properly in the TR-feeder design. The ranking of the other feeders also differed between Experiments 1 and 2, so there seems to be no clear effect of feeder design on feed wastage.
Although feeder design did have a small effect on feed wastage, the quality and amount of roughage delivered into the round bale feeders had the largest effect on how much feed was wasted. Low-quality forage fed in whole round bales resulted in the most waste, but producers may take some consolation in knowing that ewes are consuming the higher-protein portions of poor-quality bales before wasting the rest, and that they will waste much less hay fed in round bales if it is of better quality.
S.G. Kischel et al., 2019. The effect of round-bale feeder design and roughage type on feed wastage in sheep feeding. Animal, 13 (10): 2388-2397.
By Cathy Gallivan, PhD
Schuyler Farms Limited, located near Simcoe, Ontario, consists of 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans, 700 acres of apples, 550 acres of sour (pie) cherries, and 400 acres of pasture and woodlot. The farm is run by brothers Brett and Ryan Schuyler, who are in the eighth year of a 10-year transition from their father, Marshall, and uncle, Drew Schuyler. The brothers have clearly-defined responsibilities: Brett is in charge of field management for the corn, soybeans, apples and cherries, and of the staff, including seasonal workers and eight full-time people. Ryan is in charge of the administrative side, looking after the finances, paperwork and food safety requirements.
Carrie Woolley is married to Brett Schuyler, and the mother of Emma (2) and Elliott (8 months). Carrie grew up in the area on a dairy farm, and she, as well as Brett and Ryan, all attended the University of Guelph, graduating in 2007(Ryan), 2008(Brett), and 2011(Carrie). After her undergraduate degree, Carrie stayed on in Guelph to complete a Master’s degree in Animal Behaviour and Welfare (working with dairy cattle), which she completed in 2013.
While she was working on her Master’s degree, Carrie was considering how to add livestock to the other operations at Schuyler Farms. The seeds of a sheep operation were planted in 2011, when a friend from New Zealand suggested grazing sheep between the rows of trees in the orchards, rather than mowing them. For the first two years, the Schuylers custom-grazed a neighbour’s sheep, using portable electric netting, to test out the concept. That arrangement lasted for two summers, ending just as Carrie was returning from Guelph, at which point she and Brett decided to acquire their own sheep.
The flock started small, with the purchase of a dozen North Country Cheviots and five Shetlands. Then Carrie met up with Mark Ritchie and Cherry Allen of Footflats Farm on Amherst Island (see Fall 2012 issue of Sheep Canada), who became her mentors as she started her own flock. At Footflats Farm, Carrie saw a production system that she could adapt to her own situation, one based on easy-care but relatively productive crossbred ewes (a mix of Border Cheviot, Romanov and Coopworth), which were housed outside, lambed once a year, and handled very little. Today, Carrie is managing 600 ewes.
In addition to the orchards, Carrie also has access to about 300 acres of permanent pasture on marginal land. The flock lambs there in May each year. The cherries are harvested in July, after which the lambs are weaned onto the cherry orchards in August.
Schuyler Farms shares ownership of a cherry processing facility (Norfolk Cherry Company) with one of their neighbours. The cherries are harvested by machines, then immersed in cold water for 24 hours, sorted, pitted, packaged and frozen for future sale.
Apple picking takes place in September and October. The process is much more labour-intensive, requiring 150 temporary labourers from Trinidad and Tobago, who are housed on the farm during their stay. The 10-12 different varieties of apples are packed and sold through the Norfolk Fruit Growers’ Association.
As the sheep flock expands, so does the need for more pasture. In addition to the marginal land already being used, there are 250 acres of low value woodlot. For the last four or five years, the woodlot has been developed through a practice known as silvopasture (see sidebar page 9), in which enough of the tree canopy is removed to allow sunlight to penetrate to the forest floor, encouraging the growth of grass and other plants to support grazing by the sheep. The process involved having a professional forester mark trees to be removed by loggers, after which a forestry mulcher was brought in to clean up the understory. The area has now been aerially seeded to a mix of orchardgrass, birdsfoot trefoil, red and white clovers and ryegrass.
The perimeters of the permanent pastures (including the silvopasture) are fenced with Electrolock, an electrified Gallagher product that looks like pagewire, which is left up year-round. There is an additional live wire under the Electrolock, and one offset wire on the outside of the fence. Between the electric fence and a team of 13 livestock guardian dogs, Carrie hasn’t had much trouble with predation so far, although she does get the odd coyote kill.
In addition to grazing in pastures and orchards, the sheep also clean up crop residues such as corn stover. The climate is pretty mild in this southern part of Ontario (42.8° N), with very little snow, which means the sheep don’t require any harvested feeds before the end of the year.
By the new year, the flock is back on the permanent pastures and silvopasture, where they get fed round bales of silage or dry hay, depending on the year. Most of this hay is made in the early part of the summer in the cherry orchards, where the rows between the trees have been seeded with pasture mixes containing alfalfa and clovers. This is in sharp contrast to the days before the arrival of the sheep, when the rows between the trees were kept mowed “like golf courses.” Between the haying and grazing in the orchards, the farm now saves $20,000-$30,000 per year in mowing costs.
The apple trees normally last 40-50 years, while the cherry trees average only 30, partly because of the shaking they endure from the harvesters. I asked if the sheep cause any damage to the trees and Carrie told me that the sheep don’t damage mature cherry trees, but the apple trees have to be handled a little more carefully. Only the lambs graze near the apple trees, and only trees that are more than four years old. The lambs also consume apples that fall to the ground under the trees.
With 25% each of Border Cheviot and Romanov in the commercial ewes, the flock is relatively productive, dropping about 1.7 lambs per ewe on average. The ewes are bred in one of two groups, each with several Coopworth rams. The ewe lambs are in their own group with Border Cheviot rams. Lambing takes place in May. The ewes and lambs stay in the same groups from before lambing until August when they are weaned. Carrie interferes with them very little during lambing, only going out to check for dead or ‘orphan’ lambs. Ewes that need help in this system get culled and orphans get sold as bottle lambs.
When I asked Carrie how she chose her ewe lamb replacements given that the sires and dams are not recorded, she told me that all the ewes are scanned during pregnancy to determine if they are carrying one or more lambs, and then separated into lambing groups based on their scan results. This allows Carrie to give the ewes carrying two or more lambs the best, and most sheltered, lambing pastures. It also allows her to select lambs that are born as twins or triplets simply by restricting her selections to lambs born in that group/pasture.
For managing the flock, Carrie uses a piece of software from Gallagher called APS, and speaks favourably of the company’s willingness to work with her to make needed changes to the software. If a lamb that has been treated walks across the scale, its tag is scanned and a reminder pops up to make sure it doesn’t get shipped before it should.
With sheep grazing in up to seven different locations at once, Carrie needs several energizers and watering systems. She also has a Prattley yard and an Hdale squeeze chute that can clamp animals for vaccinating and other procedures. The chute feeds into an electronic scale and Prattley autosorter.
Carrie kept 200 ewe lamb replacements in 2018. Another 500 went to a feedlot near Holstein at the end of the summer grazing season, at 50-70 lb.
A further 300 were sold as freezer lambs. These were her fastest-growing slaughter lambs, and were processed at a local abattoir (VG Meats) at 80-100 lb., in late October or early November. The frozen lamb is stored in the freezers at Norfolk Cherry Company for sale throughout the next year.
Most of the customers are restaurants, which buy specific cuts such as racks, rather than individual households buying single lambs for their freezer, and VG Meats handles most of the arrangements once the lambs have been delivered to the plant. As a local product with a unique story/brand (orchard grazing), Woolley’s Lamb is popular with restaurants that focus on local food, such as David’s Restaurant in Port Dover, which serves their lamb with a cherry chutney.
Carrie plans to expand her breeding flock of 50 purebred Coopworth ewes, and to use AI to breed them with semen from New Zealand sires selected for parasite resistance. She plans to increase the size of the commercial flock until they have about 1,000 ewes in total. Although she appreciates the vigour and productivity that the Border Cheviot and Romanov offer, she is considering increasing the percentage of Coopworth breeding in the ewes from the current level of 50%, in order to get a slightly larger lamb carcass.
After only seven years of owning her own sheep, Carrie has taken the management system she learned from Mark and Cherry at Footflats Farm and put her own stamp on it, by integrating the flock into the other operations at Schuyler Farms, and maximizing the use of resources already owned by the farm.
|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
|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
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.
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.
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 (countrywools.com), 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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