Sheep Canada – Winter 2022

To see more content from this issue, please subscribe online or call 1-204-371-2959 and ask to have a copy of the latest issue mailed to you right away.

Table of Contents

4: Greetings from Ste. Anne
5: Producer profile: Maple Meadow Farms, Osgoode, ON
13: Hay: Buy it or bale it?
17: Andrew Simms Farm: Shawville, QC
22: Research roundup
25: CCWG research and development announcement
29: Help Wanted! Finding staff for your sheep farm
33: Global Sheep Producers Forum
35: Buyer’s Guide



Producer Profile: Maple Meadow Farms A century of farming in Osgoode, Ontario

There’s a lot of history at Maple Meadow Farms in Osgoode, Ontario. Colleen Acres, her husband Dwayne Bazinet and their sons Mitchell, Taylor and Kieran have been running the operation since 2007, but the farm’s story starts several decades earlier. Sitting around the kitchen table with Colleen and Dwayne, along with Colleen’s parents, Dwayne and Laura Acres, we went over the long history of the farm. Later, a tour of the farm demonstrated what it looks like today.

Maple Meadow FarmsA century of farming in Osgoode, Ontario

Left to right: Dwayne and Laura Acres, Collen Acres, Dwayne Bazinet. Photo by Randy Eros

The farm, 45 minutes south of Ottawa, was purchased in 1923 by George William Acres (Colleen’s great-grandfather) as one of four 100 acre lots to help his four sons start their own farms. Colleen’s grandfather, Cecil, was one of those four young men. Cecil Acres ran hogs and a dairy operation as well as registered Hampshire, Southdown and Cheviot sheep. Through the 1950’s and 60’s Dwayne Acres recalls spending a lot of time at fall fairs throughout the region. Those fairs were a big part of farming and critical in getting your name out there if you wanted to sell breeding stock. Dwayne remembers getting $17/head for 100 lb slaughter lambs when he shipped them to Canada Packers in Hull Québec back in 1956. He is confident that the Maple Meadow Farms Hampshire are the longest continuous registered Hampshire flock in Canada.

The farm was still operating as a mixed farm when Dwayne and Laura got married in 1962. They took over the operation in 1964 and continued to run the dairy operation, registered Yorkshire, Tamworth and Hampshire swine and the registered sheep flocks. The dairy herd was switched over to beef in 2001. Though the farm is now run by the younger generations Laura and Dwayne Acres are still part of the operation. Their home is just down the road from the farmyard and they keep an eye on groups of ewes grazing the adjacent pastures.

Left: Collen Acres and Dwayne Bazinet with Dwayne’s father Larry Bazinet. Below:a group of young lambs in the renovated dairy barn. Opposite page top: Two sample of the rations used at Maple Meadow Fams. Below: Portable sun shade.

Dwayne Bazinet wasn’t a newcomer to farming when he married into the Acres family. He and Colleen met at a Junior Farmers event. Though he was raised in Montreal, his maternal
grandfather ran a dairy farm south of the Acres farm and his paternal grandfather farmed on the east side of Ottawa. Last year, Dwayne’s father, Larry, moved to the nearby town of Winchester, only a few miles away. To say that Larry is retired would be a bit of a stretch; while the rest of us sat around the kitchen table chatting about the farm, he was out in the yard with his tractor gathering and splitting wood for the boiler that heats the house and the lambing sections of the barns.

Colleen and Dwayne started farming in 1995 on a 55 acre farm that was part of her grandfather’s original farm property. They raised purebred Dorset and gradually added 100 commercial ewes which they housed on a nearby rental property. They purchased the home farm, Maple Meadows, from her mom and dad in 2007. Colleen left a position with the Canadian Seed Trade Association in 2005 to farm full time and Dwayne made the decision to leave his off-farm work with a local fuel supply company in 2015. Their eldest son, Mitchell, studied Agriculture at MacDonald College in Montreal and has now been home farming full time with his parents since 2019. Taylor, the middle son still lives at home and is working off-farm as a heavy equipment operator while the youngest, Kieran, is in his last year of high-school.

Though sheep and cropping are the main operations, there are 20 head of beef cattle and seasonal poultry. The current sheep flock is made up of both commercial and registered ewes. The 370 commercial ewes are mostly a Suffolk/Rideau cross with a few Polled Dorset cross as well. The remainder of the ewe flock are registered animals: 90 Rideau Arcott, 20 Hampshire,25 Suffolk and 15 Polled Dorset. The farm also grows and sells grain corn, soybeans and usually has some surplus barley and hay to sell as well.

The flock is bred for four different lambing groups during the year. The registered animals lamb in January/ February. The commercial ewes lamb in March and the ewe lambs have their turn in May at 14 months of age. They re-expose the March lambing group after weaning for an October/November lambing. They use CIDRs on this group. At the same time, they re-expose the purebred Dorset sheep and some of the Rideaus to a natural breeding, relying on their out-of-season breeding advantage.

The ewes lamb out in either the 42’ x 120’ hoop barn or a retrofitted dairy barn with the lambing pens set up on one end. Of the 1000 or so lambs that are born on the farm each year about half end up as market lambs. The rest are either sold as breeding stock, both cross-bred and registered, or retained as replacements for their own flock. Normal replacement for their flock runs between 16 and 18%.

The Rideau and Rideau cross ewes are the most prolific, averaging 270%. The Suffolk flock runs at 200% and the Dorset and Hampshire ewes at 165%.

Breeding stock sales are a very important part of their operation and Colleen and Dwayne have continued the family tradition of producing high quality animals. The they were introduced to the industry in the early 1960s.


Left: Dwayne doing the late afternoon chore of pushing in the TMR along the fence-line feeder. Below: The open face of the bunk sileage, and October born lambs. Opposite page top: The feed mix wagon lined up next to the grain bins and liquid molasses tank ready for loading. Bottom: The end of the hoop barn with the large doors open for ventilation. Photos by Randy Eros

The current program, GenOvis, allows them to track a wide variety of traits in both the terminal and maternal breeds. Lambs are tagged at birth using Canadian Sheep Identification Program (CSIP) tags. The lambing information is entered into the FarmWorks data management program. They have been using the FarmWorks program since their involvement in RFID tag trials for the CSIP. As lambs grow their 50 and 100 day weights are added to the program. All purebred registered animals will have ultrasound measurements taken at 100 days for both loin depth and fat cover. There is significant work involved in the collection and management of the GenOvis data but Colleen and Dwayne feel the payoff is worth it for both their own flock improvement and for shepherds who choose Maple Meadow Farms for breeding stock. Along with their CSIP tag, the registered stock are also tattooed and have an additional tag with the year letter and animal number applied for easy visual identification.

Ewes and lambs will spend a day or two in a claiming pen before being moved into the larger group of lambed ewes. They use a Grober automatic milk mixing machine for extra lambs. Ewes are expected to raise as many as three lambs and they will set up special pens for ewes with quads. The ewes with quads require extra feed and careful attention but Colleen and Dwayne feel it balances out with a reduced demand for milk replacer and allows the Rideau ewes to fully express the maternal traits for which they were developed. Lambs are weaned at 60 days and will be raised in one of the barns with the ewes headed outside.

None of the market lambs will go to the auction markets. Market lambs are generally finished to 100 to 120 lb live weight and the goal is to reach that weight within 120-150 days. They do some marketing of freezer lambs but the bulk of the lambs go as direct sales to local provincially inspected processors and as whole lambs to retail butcher shops. These are well finished 55 to 60 lb carcasses. Colleen talks about the feedback they get from the butchers and processors, saying “we hear directly from the folks who are buying our market lambs and this feedback is important as we work to create higher quality lambs”.

The flock is fed a variety of rations depending on the animal’s stage of production. They have maintenance, breeding, early and late gestation and a lactation ration for the ewes and grower rations for the lambs. Julie Lortie, an animal nutritionist with a local co-op, helps balance the rations. The farm owns a total of 500 acres and rents a further 20 acres. This supplies the bulk of the feed for these rations. The grain corn and the soybeans are used in the rations and also sold as cash crops. Barley is grown primarily for feed. Both corn silage and alfalfa silage are put up for the livestock. The silage is put into ag bags, tower silos and silage bunkers.

They have two custom mineral mixes. One with a coccidiostat and one without. Ewes get the coccidiostat mineral 2 weeks prior to lambing and throughout the lactation period. They have a mix mill and the “grain mix” used in the rations is ⅔ barley and ⅓ corn. The rations are mixed and usually fed along fence-line feeders both outside and in the barns.

The bunk silage is carefully managed. The open face of the silage is fed to the cows, leaving the fresh cut silage to be fed to the ewes. They do the cutting and raking of the hay but have a custom large square baler put up the dry hay. The alfalfa and corn silage is harvested with Maple Meadows’ own equipment and labour. They have been using corn silage for the last five years. They now put up 12 to 13 acres of corn silage a year. They have the large square dry hay bales chopped and blown into the end of the hay shed, usually 20-30 at a time. The increased cost of land has certainly changed how they feed the flock. Dwayne figures that 7 acres of corn silage produces the equivalent of 40 acres of hay.

The feed is all tested as part of the ration balancing. A few years ago they ran into a problem with pregnancy toxemia in the Rideau and Rideau cross animals and now add liquid molasses to the ration to provide the necessary energy for the prolific ewes.

Dwayne is currently doing all of the shearing. The ewes are sheared a month before lambing, along with vaccination (Glanvac-6) and hoof trimming. They will be dewormed if the faecal counts call for it. While a few fleeces are sold locally most of the wool is shipped to Canadian Co-operative Wool Growers in Carleton place, an hour’s drive away.


Colleen and Dwayne are careful about how they source their new genetics. They have been using artificial insemination as a way of safely sourcing new genetics and have their own semen storage tank. Ewes are sent to Sherbrooke, Québec where veterinarians, Dr. Richard Bourassa and Dr. Sylvain Rémy do the laparoscopic insemination. GenOvis evaluations, genotyping for scrapie resistance and flock health status are key factors in making decisions on any live ram purchases. With the recent loosening of border restrictions there is more interest from US producers in breeding stock. This in turn means that scrapie resistant genetics will become increasingly important. When choosing replacement rams the GenOvis Carcass Index (which includes gain) is used for the terminal breeds, the maternal index for Rideaus. The maternal/prolificacy index is used for the Dorset to increase both number born and number raised.


With a century of operations at Maple Meadow Farms it seemed appropriate to ask what has changed in farming. Dwayne Acres talked about the changes in feeding, saying that back then, it was “cheap labour, mostly our own. Everything was fed by pail.” As for genetics, there are now “new breeds like Rideau, Texel, Charolais and Ile de France where it used to be just Hampshire, Suffolk and Dorset.” Everyone agreed that there is a lot more science and technology on the farm. Computer balanced rations, feed tests, TMR machines with weigh scales to monitor the amounts fed, RFID readers tied via Bluetooth to weigh scales and GPS on tractors were not part of farming in Dwayne Acres’ youth.

Colleen has seen some significant changes even in then last 20 years. “More documentation and regulations like the CSIP, animal transport and concerns for welfare and biosecurity have all changed how we document things”.

Many years of flock wide blood sampling for Maedi Visna (ovine progressive pneumonia) ensures no positive carriers are in the flock. The rams are genotyped for scrapie resistance and they will test for Q fever and Johne’s if breeders require it. Industry concerns for animal health and on-farm biosecurity programs have changed how the farm’s genetics are promoted. They no longer participate in the circuit of rural livestock shows that was a big part of her growing up. A farm website and emails with photos or videos along with data support the farm’s marketing efforts. Scheduled on-farm visits to make final selections or just to visit and talk sheep are always welcome. “Involvement in 4-H has been an important part of my life and for our boys too,” says Colleen. “We supply ewe lambs and market lambs for the program and I have led the local 4-H sheep club for over 20 years.”

There has also been significant change in both the access to and the ownership of the local lamb processing plants. There are fewer plants and you need to book processing dates as much as a year ahead of time.

Through all of this talk about the farm and farming it was obvious to me that some things haven’t changed. The commitment to both the sheep industry and local community have remained as strong as ever. Dwayne Acres served the sheep industry for many years on both local boards and as Chair of the CSBA and the Canada Sheep Council (the predecessor to the Canadian Sheep Federation). He and Laura worked with local fairs and community organizations all through their farming careers. Now Colleen and Dwayne Bazinet are doing the same. Their commitment to farming doesn’t stop at the farm gate. Colleen is a past director of the Ontario Sheep Farmers board, sat on the CSBA board for six years and is a member of her local sheep district committee. Dwayne has been a fair volunteer and continues to supports the local hockey association either as an on-ice helper, team trainer or timekeeper. And now with another generation on board, things look very positive for a second century of sheep farming at Maple Meadow Farms.

Sheep Canada – Fall 2022

To see more content from this issue, please subscribe online or call 1-204-371-2959 and ask to have a copy of the latest issue mailed to you right away.


Table of Contents

4:Greetings from Ste. Anne
5: Producer profile: Wilson Acres Farm, Arrowwood, Alberta
9: The collapse of the North American Lamb Company
11: 2022 All Canada Sheep Classic, Ancaster, Ontario
15: The future of your flock, choosing replacement ewes
18: Ultrasound training with the Canadian Sheep Federation
22: Research roundup
26: Butyric acid in silages
33: Campaign for Wool explores a shearer’s guild
35: Buyer’s Guide






Producer Profile: Wilson Acres Farm, Arrowwood, Alberta

James and Emilie Wilson’s operation, Wilson Acres Farms, is located in the gently rolling Buffalo Hills of south-central Alberta near the small town of Arrowwood. And though neither of them are new to agriculture they are relatively new to the Canadian sheep and lamb sector. My visit with this couple showed me that with the right attitude and hard work there are still ways for young folks to come into our industry.

Producer profile: Wilson Acres Farms, Arrowwood, Alberta

They have been renting the property for three years and are running a flock of 150 ewes in an accelerated program; each group lambing 3 times in 2 years. The current operation is located on 12 acres with hopes to expand in the future. There is a 135’x60’ barn on the site that houses most of the flock. The few outside paddocks are used for rams and some breeding groups.

Folks who have been in the sheep business for a while will recognize the name Floyd Williams. This is the property where Floyd ran his lamb feeding operation for many years. Their ewe flock was sourced from the Birch Hills Hutterite Colony in Wanham, AB and is a mix of Dorset, Rideau and Suffolk. Emilie and James thought that for health reasons it was important to source the ewe flock from one farm. The rams, all purebred, are Polled Dorsets (McDermit Ranch, Southey, SK and Coyote Acres, Halkirk, AB) and Suffolk (Jordan Livestock, Rimbey, AB and Ashbacher Suffolks, Halkirk, AB).

The ewe flock is run in two groups, one of 100 and one of 50. Lambing is in March, June and November. The regular breeding protocol calls for CIDRs and a PMSG injection. For the late June breeding this year they are running an experiment with part of that group receiving the PMSG and some not. They have marked the ewes’ rumps with different coloured paint to monitor the breeding activity. The rams are turned in with the ewes for 18-20 days. Last year, in the larger group of 100 ewes, they used 5 rams and ended up with a 97% conception rate. Moving forward their breeding plans call for an increase in ram power. They will continue to purchase their male genetics from purebred breeders throughout Alberta.

Six weeks prior to lambing the ewes will be vaccinated with Glanvac 6, shorn and have their hooves trimmed. At 70-80 days post breeding their veterinarian service, the Highview Animal Clinic, will scan the ewes. Any open ewes will be moved into the next breeding group. The culling standard? Two strikes and you’re out.

The ewes lamb out in the barn and will usually spend 24 hours in the claiming jugs. The lambs are weighed, tagged, and the tails banded. Males are usually left intact. When they started, Emilie and James were giving selenium and AD&E vitamin injections to each lamb but have switched to an oral administration of Vitaferst-Care. Unlike many parts of Western Canada the local soil and the feeds they produce are not deficient in selenium. With triplets, one is removed and raised on milk replacer using a Pyon Heatwave Milk Warmer setup. All the newborn lambs have access to an 18% creep feed ration.

The winter group of ewes lambed out at 158% with the average weight for the lambs at 10.7 lb. The lambing rate for the June group was lower at 112% but had much higher birth weights, averaging 13.5 lb. The Animal Management program from Gallagher is used for data collection and they have a Ritchie scale in the sorting chute.

Weaning takes place at 8 weeks. The lambs are fed initially on an 18% ration eventually moving to 16% as they grow. Most of the lambs are marketed at 80-100 lb. directly to a Halal Butcher located 45 minutes from the farm. They also direct market to several Indian restaurants in Calgary. The majority of the March born lambs were already gone when I made my late June visit to the farm. This year’s plans call for more record keeping; 50 and 100 day weights.

All of the rations, except the 18% creep feed, are mixed on farm and fed using a self propelled Jay-Lor tub grinder. They have been working with livestock nutritionist Courtney Vriens to create the different TMRs needed to manage the ewe flock, the rams and the growing lambs. All of the feed inputs are purchased and include a variety of silages, dry hay, dried distillers grain and corn. James works off-farm as the farm manager of a 75,000 head cattle feed-ot and through those connections is able to find the most affordable feeds. They use different silages and a variety of hay types in the feed mixes always looking, as James put it, “ to get the best bang for our buck.” The feeding is done daily in bunk feeders that line the central alley of the barn. Five different ewe rations are formulated for maintenance, flushing, early gestation, late gestation and lactation. As well, grower rations are mixed and adjusted for lamb growth.

I took a ride with James to a nearby hay processing plant where they loaded his truck with 3 large square bales of 2nd cut alfalfa. The fact that they are close to all of their feed supplies helps make this farm work for Emilie and James.

Producer profile: Wilson Acres Farms, Arrowwood, Alberta
I was surprised by how little machinery is required for their operation. The self-propelled tub grinder and a 25 horsepower JD tractor with a loader and grapple are all that is needed. It was with a nod of respect that I watched James unload the heavy alfalfa bales and move them into the barn with his small tractor. They do find it quicker to rent a skid steer when it comes time to clean out the barn between lambing groups. A pulley mounted to one of the beams in the barn allows for the unloading of the large tote bags of feed supplements and minerals.

James hails from Oxfordshire, England but has some Canadian roots; grandmother, Elaine, was born in BC before the family moved to England. He grew up around farming, his father, Simon, still works on the farm where James grew up. In his early 20’s James and a neighbour ran a small flock of sheep together. Realizing that his farming options in England were limited James made his way to Canada in 2014. He spent a year working on a farm near Rosetown, SK. On a trip home to England he met Emilie and together they made plans for Canada.

Producer profile: Wilson Acres Farms, Arrowwood, Alberta

Emilie, who was born in Warwickshire, had spent a gap year traveling in Australia and New Zealand, funding her trip by working on a number of farms. Once home she went back to school and obtained a degree in Agricultural Business Management at the University of West Englands’s Hartpury College. When they met in England in 2014 she had graduated and was working on an outdoor organic pig farm.

Producer profile: Wilson Acres Farms, Arrowwood, Alberta

The self-propelled Jay-Lor grinder used to mix five different rations and feed the flock.

They came to Canada in 2016 and settled in Shaunavon, SK for a few years before making the move to the farm in. They speak appreciatively of the Canadian Agricultural Loans Act Program (CALA) that has helped them finance the capital purchases needed to start up the farm. This program guarantees to the lending bank or credit union up to 95% of the loan. As they build their operation Emilie and James both work at off-farm jobs. James at the feed-lot and Emilie as the Financial Administrator for Trouw Nutrition. Emile is also very involved with the Alberta Lamb Producers (ALP). She has been on the Board of Directors since 2021 and is currently the vice-chair.

Increasing their flock and purchasing the farm along with some additional land are part of the future plans. The flock is relatively young but they are starting to develop criteria for replacement ewe selection. Dorset genetics seem to be the preferred direction, with Suffolk sires, to create good quality meat carcasses. James and Emilie have now added some purebred Texel to their operation and plan on using them in both the commercial operation and as show animals. They are looking at some British genetics as the Texel flock grows.

It was a treat to meet with this young couple. They see a real future in the sheep and lamb industry and with their energy and enthusiasm there is no doubt they’ll get there.

Sheep Canada – Summer 2022

To see more content from this issue, please subscribe online or call 1-204-371-2959 and ask to have a copy of the latest issue mailed to you right away.

Sheep Canada Summer 2022 cover
Table of Contents
4: So long from Deerville
4: Greetings from Ste. Anne, Manitoba
5: Producer profile: van der Veen Farms, Grand Valley, Ontario
15: Using ultrasound to do your own preg checking
18: One in a million
23: Understanding behaviour improves handling and welfare
27: 50 years of memories
34: Wool innovation on the farm
35: Buyer’s Guide

Producer Profile: van der Veen Farms, Grand Valley, Ontario

By Cathy Gallivan, PhD

Photos by Katrina Joy Photography

Peter and Elly van der Veen emigrated from the Netherlands in 2002 with six children under 15 years of age. Another son, Peterje, died before they left the Netherlands. Twenty years later, the three oldest girls live on dairy farms in Shawville, Quebec (Eline), Barrhead, Alberta (Lisa), and Berwick, Ontario (Marleen), each with families of their own. Marleen took some ewes with her and still has a flock of Rideaus today. Another daughter, Ilze, and son, Pieter, live and work elsewhere in Ontario. 

L to R: Harold, Elly, Peter, Roy and Pieter van der Veen.

Harold, now 22, is the youngest of the children born in the Netherlands. He lives and works on the farm, and plans to take it over someday. Roy (17) was born after the family arrived in Canada, and is still in school.

Upon their arrival in Canada, the van der Veens purchased a 215-acre farm with an old house and a bank barn in Grand Valley. The land base has since grown to 525 acres, with a further 175 acres of rented land. There are four Coverall barns that are 50’ wide and 100-154’ long, as well as a 40×200’ pole barn. Peter and Elly built a new house shortly after purchasing the farm, and Harold and his girlfriend, Alyssa Teeuwissen, now live in the old house.

The family started off raising sheep and finishing pigs on straw. But the prices received for the pigs made that enterprise unprofitable, so they decided to concentrate on sheep farming. In 2008, they shipped their last pigs and started filling the barns with Rideau Arcott sheep. From there, the flock grew rapidly to 1,000 ewes lambing on an accelerated (STAR) system. 

The two Coveralls that are used for lambing have ceilings and insulation, which keeps them comfortable on cold days.

Further expansion of the flock would have required more land and buildings, so Peter and Elly started thinking about getting more income from the same number of animals by selling milk as well as meat. Rather than compromising the health status of the flock by purchasing outside ewes, they decided to raise their own by crossing dairy breed rams onto the Rideaus. After researching the available breeds, they settled on the British Milk Sheep, and in 2017 obtained rams from Eric & Elisabeth Bzikot in Conn, Ontario. These rams were bred to the calmest Rideau ewes with the best udders, to produce their first dairy ewes. A second dairy breed, the Lacaune, was added later and mated to the British Milk Sheep x Rideau crosses. Today there are about 300 pure Rideaus on the farm and another 600 ewes with at least 50% dairy sheep breeding.

The milking parlour has room for 24 ewes per side.

A milking parlour with room for 16 ewes on each side was installed in 2018, and later expanded to milk 24 on each side. As they waited for the first British Milk Sheep crosses to lamb, the van der Veens starting milking the Rideaus. Peter recalls that it took about two hours to get 100 Rideaus to just walk through the parlour for the first time, without even being milked. But they learned quickly, no doubt aided by the grain fed every time they came into the parlour. Peter says the dairy sheep crosses adapt to the parlour more readily than the Rideaus, which makes sense given that their British Milk Sheep and Lacaune sires came from flocks where animals were selected for milking performance in a parlour.

Harold and his girlfriend, Alyssa, do much of the milking. Sixteen of the spaces on this side of the milking parlour have meters for measuring milk production.

The ewes are bred to lamb throughout the year, and there are 300-400 being milked at any given time. The milking takes about two hours for two people. Harold is the main milker, assisted by Peter, Elly, Alyssa, or other family members when they are around. The milk is sold to Shepherd Gourmet Dairy (Saputo) in St. Marys, and is picked up every few days. 

In their first year of milking, the flock produced about 40,000 litres of milk for sale. By 2021, the output had grown to 105,000 litres. Peter points out that their sheep dairy enterprise is a work in progress. The flock includes 300 Rideaus, which produce less milk per day than the dairy cross ewes, and are milked for a shorter period of time after weaning their lambs. And both the Rideaus and the dairy cross ewes raise their lambs for 34 days before getting milked in the parlour. As they continue to refine their selection and management, Peter expects to add another 30,000 litres per year to the current production.

A big part of that improvement will come when they are able to measure and record the milk production of each ewe at every milking. The parlour came with 16 milk meters, which are used occasionally to determine when a ewe should be dried off. But milking 300-400 ewes takes long enough without reading milk meters and writing down the milk produced by each ewe. The van der Veens want to use their RFID tags and other available technology to record this data automatically, but incompatibilities between the RFID tags currently in use in Canada and the ones used by milk recording equipment have so far prevented them from doing this.

Once these data collection issues are resolved, the family will have more accurate information about the relative production of each of their breeds and crosses, and will be able to further refine their selection and culling of individual ewes. What they have found so far is that the Rideaus produce about a litre of milk per day, while the British Milk Sheep or Lacaune cross ewes yield around 2 litres per day. 

But there is a lot of variation within the breeds and crosses; one of the British Milk Sheep crosses produces as much as 5 litres per day, and they have ¾-Lacaune ewes giving 2.5 litres per day after lambing for the first time. Peter says the British Milk Sheep ewes have the greatest potential for milk production in their flock. But he likes the body and strength of the Lacaune ewes, and thinks they will probably last longer.

The van der Veens plan to continue keeping 300 Rideau ewes. The Rideaus have larger litters than the dairy sheep, particularly when they lamb in season, and this can lead to more work and higher death losses. But the large litters provide significant numbers of market lambs, as well as ewe lambs sold as breeding stock. They also have good longevity; some of the Rideau ewes on the farm are 12 years old.

And even though they produce less milk than the dairy sheep, the van der Veens find it worthwhile to milk the Rideaus as well as the dairy ewes. It costs 43 cents per day to feed a dry ewe and only 44 cents more (87 cents per day) for a lactating Rideau. The price they receive for a litre of milk depends on the protein content, but has recently been around $2.30 per litre, so even when a ewe produces as little as a half-litre of milk per day, she still nets 72 cents per day over her additional feeding cost.

There are other benefits to milking the Rideaus as well. Before they started milking, the Rideaus were culled on the number and weight of lambs they weaned. But going through the milking parlour twice a day means they can be culled directly for milk production, as well as udder size and shape. Rideaus that survive this culling make better mothers at lambing time, and this benefit gets passed on to the flocks that purchase ewe lambs from the van der Veens.

The Grober milk replacer machine can handle up to 100 lambs. Photo by Sheep Canada.

Most of the ewes raise their lambs for 34 days after lambing, before the lambs are weaned and the ewe begins milking in the parlour. Rideau ewes dry off earlier than the dairy ewes; they usually get milked for 60-90 days, compared to 150-200 days for the dairy ewes. The dairy ewes could probably milk even longer, but rebreeding and drying them off earlier allows them to produce more lambs than if they were milked for a longer period.

Lambs in this plastic tote in the warming room can be left to feed themselves by inserting a bottle of colostrum into the plastic tube secured at the end of the tote. Photo by Sheep Canada.

Lambing and milking year-round means the ewes are bred while they are still milking in the parlour. Before they started milking, Peter and Elly used MGA to induce out-of-season lambing, but they had to switch from MGA to CIDRs when they started selling milk for human consumption. The timing of CIDR insertion depends on the breed, with Rideau ewes getting a CIDR 40-50 days after lambing and the dairy breed ewes a bit later at 70-80 days. CIDRs are only used outside the normal breeding season. Rams go in with the ewes for 34 days at a time, followed by two weeks with no ram exposure, to allow for the lambing barns to empty out and be cleaned before the next lambing begins.

This device holds iodine and marking paint and can be hung from the ceiling framework anywhere in the lambing barn. Photo by Sheep Canada.

An ultrasound technician visits monthly to scan potentially pregnant ewes. Ewes get dried off 35-40 days before they are due to lamb again, or when their daily milk production measures less than half a litre.

The hooks holding this lamb are suspended from a small scale, allowing easy collection of birth weights. The metal frame has a place for everything needed when processing lambs, and can be wheeled from pen to pen.

A Grober milk replacer machine, and the lambs raised on it, are housed in an addition that connects the two lambing barns, along with a warming/recovery room and an office. The prolificacy of the Rideaus made the purchase of the machine a worthwhile investment even before the family began milking sheep. But since then it has become even more useful, as it provides the option of putting a ewe that gives birth to a single directly into the milking group and raising her lamb on milk replacer. 

Above and below: An opening in a chute is kept closed by sliding this piece of bent metal over the tops of the swinging doors. Photos by Sheep Canada.

The wheel on the end of this long gate allows it to swing around to crowd animals into a holding area prior to being weighed. Photo by Sheep Canada.

Raising a single lamb on milk replacer seems counterintuitive to most sheep producers, but the amount of milk a ewe produces depends to some extent on how much milk her lambs remove from her udder. The more the lambs drink, the more the ewe produces, so ewes with multiple lambs produce more milk than when they have single lambs. 

By the time a single lamb is weaned at 34 days of age, the milk production potential of the ewe has already been set at a lower level than if she had been feeding multiple lambs. Milking her in the parlour and raising her lamb on milk replacer removes more milk from her udder in the first month of lactation, and results in a higher daily production. It also means that she gets milked for 30 days longer than if she first raises her lamb. 

This Lacaune cross ewe has a good udder/teat structure for milking in the parlour.

A ewe that produces a litre of milk a day, for an additional 30 days (all ewes feed their lambs for the first day or two), will produce an extra $74 worth of milk, which is more than twice what it costs to raise her lamb on milk replacer ($35).

Not all ewes giving birth to singles will go directly to the milking parlour. The Grober milk replacer machine has a capacity of 100 lambs at a time, so whether a ewe raises her single lamb or not depends on the space available on the machine, and on how much they need the extra milk in the tank at the time.

The family uses Google Docs to share information about rations and numbers of animals between the computer and everyone’s devices. An iPad in the telehandler provides the latest numbers for Harold as he feeds the sheep.

With ewes being fed, bred, lambed and milked year-round, there is no shortage of work, and the summers are even busier, with 100 acres of forage to harvest and cash crops to manage. The grass is cut four, or sometimes five, times a year and put up as haylage in a pit or (very rarely) baled as dry hay and sold. There is no alfalfa in the mix, but one field of orchardgrass is now in its 18th year of production. Cash crops include 180 acres of soybeans, 140 acres of wheat and 270 acres of corn, 40 of which will be harvested as silage.

Above and below: This bunk shaver allows Harold to remove silage from the pit leaving a smooth surface that reduces spoilage.

Dry ewes are grazed on the forage land in between cuttings. Milking ewes need to be close to the parlour, and can’t be wormed when they are being milked. The grazing ewes are moved nearly every day, and only return to a previously grazed area when at least three weeks has elapsed. Worming is kept to a minimum, with regular worming of the entire flock having been replaced by selective worming of only the animals that need it, when they are in the handling system for other purposes.

Above and below: The telehandler is also used to load silage into the TMR mixer. With five different TMRs being mixed and fed each day, the van der Veens can get by with a smaller TMR mixer and narrower feed alleys.

Sheep in the barns are fed total mixed rations (TMRs) in feed alleys once a day. The rations are formulated by Courtney Vriens, an independent nutritionist who specializes in small ruminants. The TMRs contain corn silage, haylage and corn grain, all grown on the farm, as well as purchased protein, vitamin and mineral supplements. The sheep consume 180-200 tonnes of the corn each year. The corn is rolled before being added to the rations to keep the dominant ewes, who eat first, from sorting and eating it all.

Between Rideaus and dairy ewes, and sheep in different stages of pregnancy and lactation, there are five different TMRs to be mixed and fed each day (see table on page 9), which takes about two hours. In addition to the TMRs fed in the barns, the ewes get 80 grams of a parlour supplement (160 grams/day) on each trip through the parlour.

The telehandler has a number of attachments. In addition to running the bunk shaver and loading the silage, it has a blade for pushing the feed back to the sheep along the 1420’ of feed alleys on the farm. It is also used to operate the Emily automatic bedding machine. With the right equipment, one person can feed all of their animals in about two hours a day, and bed the pens in another half hour.

Coyotes were a problem in the past when the family had only one or two guardian dogs; one year they lost 50 lambs. Since increasing to three or four guardian dogs, they haven’t had any kills in the last two years. Ravens have been more of a problem in recent years. Not only do the ravens attack the lambs inside the barns (which are open on the ends), Peter blames them for stressing out the ewes and rams at breeding time and reducing their conception rates.

Lambs that weigh less than 60 lb. are fed a pelleted ration in these turkey feeders. The feeders are filled automatically and their position off the ground keeps the lambs’ feet out of the feed. Once they reach 60 lb., lambs go on the market lamb TMR, which is fed in the feed alley.

Above: British Milk Sheep ram. Below: Lacaune ram.

The van der Veen farm has come a long way in 20 years. With new milk meters on order, the next big development should be the ability to automatically record the milk production of each ewe at each milking, and to use this data to improve their selection for higher levels of milk production. And with Harold’s commitment to the farm operation, Peter and Elly can look forward to retiring someday and seeing what they have built continued by future generations of their family.

Sheep Canada – Spring 2022

To see more content from this issue, please subscribe online or call 1-204-371-2959 and ask to have a copy of the latest issue mailed to you right away.

Table of Contents
4: Greetings from Deerville
5: Producer profile: GRannie Rambouillets & Johnstone Farms Border Cheviots, Binscarth, Manitoba
13: Calculating cost of production
18: New export opportunities for Canadian sheep
23: New tools for Canadian sheep farmers
25: Government of Canada invests in wool industry
27: More money for wool
29: No volcanos, no earthquakes, no alligators
32: Improved genetic services for sheep and goats
35: Buyer’s Guide

Producer profile: GRannie Rambouillets & Johnstone Farm Border Cheviots, Binscarth, MB

By Randy Eros

Photo by Randy Eros

Graham Rannie and Janice Johnstone run two separate flocks of sheep on their farm near Binscarth, Manitoba, four hours northwest of Winnipeg. Janice has 125 Border Cheviot ewes (100 of which are registered), while Graham has 95 Rambouillet ewes (75 of which are registered), for a total of 220 ewes.

The farmyard sits in the middle of the home quarter, which makes clearing snow after a prairie blizzard a big job. Photo by Graham Rannie.

The farmyard sits in the middle of 160 acres of grazing land. The land is divided by permanent fencing into six paddocks of varying sizes. Portable electric fencing is used to further subdivide the paddocks as needed. The pastures are seeded with a variety of forage mixes that include: meadow brome, birdsfoot trefoil, tall fescue, alfalfa, creeping red fescue, orchardgrass and cicer milkvetch. 

Graham is quite fond of the milkvetch, saying, “It starts growing in the spring about the same time as the alfalfa. But it’s non-bloating and retains its leaves well into October.”

Graham and Janice also own an adjacent 160 acres. One 30-acre field on this quarter is in alfalfa for hay, and 100 acres are rented out as cropland. The remaining 30 acres is one of the many sloughs that dot the northern reaches of the western prairies.

The land has been in Graham’s family for over a century now, as his grandparents bought it in 1919. The first sheep on the farm were 10 ‘experienced’ ewes that arrived in 1968, when Graham was just 13. He acquired his first registered sheep, four Suffolk ewes, in 1969. The Suffolk flock grew to 125 ewes before being dispersed in 1987, after which Graham kept only commercial ewes until 1994, when he leased a flock of registered Rambouillets with a deal that let him keep two-thirds of the lamb crop. By 2001 he had purchased four small Rambouillet flocks, including the original leased animals, and was on his way as a Rambouillet breeder.

Graham raised Suffolks and commercial sheep before acquiring his first Rambouillets in 1994. Photo by Graham Rannie.

The Border Cheviot flock moved from BC to Manitoba with Janice when she and Graham were married in 2004. Photo by Graham Rannie.

Janice grew up in BC and was involved in the 4H community there. She was quite gifted at fitting out show animals and when asked what she would like for helping a Border Cheviot breeder with some animals, she asked for a bottle lamb. That ewe lamb was the start of her registered Border Cheviot flock, and she can still trace animals in the flock back to that one lamb.

Graham and Janice met, appropriately, at a sheep show in Chilliwack, BC, in 1997 and married in 2004. The shepherds are married, but their flocks aren’t. The two groups of ewes are kept separately all year, with the Border Cheviots shed lambing in April/May and the Rambouillets lambing on pasture in June. Each flock has three or four breeding groups, each bred with a single ram to allow them to register the offspring. Rams are pulled after 35 days of breeding. Breeding in the normal breeding season means that 90–95% of the ewes are covered in the first cycle for both breeds.

Graham and Janice use claiming pens for the Border Cheviot lambing, to give the ewes and lambs a few days to bond before they are combined into step-down groups of 6–8 ewes with their offspring. From there, they get moved into an open-sided shed until the lambing is finished. The lambs are paint branded at birth and docked. No routine injections are given, but animals get treated if they have a problem.

Graham and Janice use matched sets of Shearwell SET tags to identify their registered sheep, as an alternative to tattooing. The yellow tag from each set also serves as the RFID tag required for animals leaving the farm. If one tag of a set gets lost, Graham can order a replacement for it from Shearwell. Photo by Randy Eros.

Registered Border Cheviot lambs are double-tagged when they are about a month old, as Janice finds the Shearwell tags too heavy for the small ears of newborn Border Cheviot lambs. The lambs have access to an 18% crude protein creep ration that is reduced to 14% as they grow, and replaced with whole barley after weaning at around 90 days. Once the pastures are up in late May, the flock is moved onto the paddocks for rotational grazing, with a move every four days.

After the Border Cheviots finish lambing there is a short break before the Rambouillets begin. The Rambouillet ewes lamb on pasture with the pregnant ewes being ‘drifted’ forward every two days, while the ewes with newborn lambs stay where they’ve lambed. These ewes with lambs are combined every four or five days, and held in groups of 40 ewes until the entire flock has given birth and the youngest lambs are at least two weeks old. The Rambouillet flock grazes separately from the Border Cheviots all summer, with the Rambouillet lambs having access to the same creep feed as the Border Cheviots.

Graham was quick to point out significant differences in breed behavior when it comes to lambing. The Border Cheviot lambs are quite vigorous and attach to the ewe immediately, “like Velcro”, making handling the lambs easy in a shed lambing setup. A camera in the lambing shed broadcasts images to the house and lets them know if they need to make a trip to the barn at night. 

Lambing the Rambouillets is a bit more nuanced, the ewes will give birth and lick the lambs off, nurse them, lay them down and then go off to drink and eat. The fewer interventions in this situation, the better. Graham has learned to leave the flock alone from sunset to sunup; night-time checks just lead to orphan lambs. These pasture-born lambs will be caught with a fishing net by the time they are two days old, for tail docking and tagging.

All of the pastures have access to water, either through strategically placed waterers or hydrants and hoses. The pastures are grazed as late into October as the weather will allow, with hay used to supplement late season grazing.

The Border Cheviot flock is weaned in August and the Rambouillets in September. Once the Rambouillets have been weaned, the lambs from both breeds are combined, and males are separated from females. When I visited the farm in mid-February, there were five different groups on the farm: bred Rambouillet ewes, bred Border Cheviot ewes, mature rams of both breeds, young rams of both breeds, and a single group of ewe lambs and retired ewes of both breeds.

The sheep consume both native grass bales and alfalfa bales in the winter months; most of it is baled by Graham but some of it is purchased. Breeding groups get hay unrolled in the wintering yards, while the other groups are fed in collapsible, round bale feeders. The native grass bales are run through a shredder for the ewes, while the alfalfa is simply unrolled to prevent leaf loss. 

The breeding ewes get a flushing ration of whole grain for four weeks before and after breeding. This winter, the native grass hay didn’t test out very well and the ewes are also getting a half-pound of barley every day, all winter long. The winter grain ration is purchased; Graham uses either barley, oats or corn, depending on price and availability. Ration balancing is done with SheepBytes, paying close attention to copper and molybdenum levels. The native grass hay generally tests out with very low copper, so Graham feeds both sheep and cattle minerals to get the appropriate levels. 

With only one mature dog and two yearlings, the farm is a little understaffed when it comes to livestock guardian dogs right now. Graham likes to run four or five mature dogs, and will be adding to the group this year. Coyotes are the main challenge, but there are also cougars, wolves and bears in the area. 

Graham has invested in a Ritchie Combi Clamp, allowing him to weigh and perform other tasks much quicker and easier than in the past. Photo by Randy Eros.

Graham and Janice have invested in the Ritchie Combi Clamp sheep handling system, and use FarmWorks software for their data management. The Combi Clamp is great for recording weights, and has also made tagging, vaccinating (Glanvac), hoof trimming and sorting all a lot easier. “I figure I’ll be able to keep handling sheep well into my 80’s, no early retirement here,” jokes Graham. 

The animals are selected for a number of criteria including average daily gain, conformation, wool quality and breed character. Graham and Janice aim to select the top 10% of the ram lambs and top 30% of the ewe lambs for sale or retention in the flock. 

The Rambouillet wool is fine and crimpy. Photo by Randy Eros.

Both flocks have attended and done well at the annual All Canada Sheep Classics, most recently in Humboldt, Saskatchewan in 2019. 

Ewe lambs of both breeds are bred to lamb for the first time at two years of age. Graham and Janice find they grow out better this way, and feel that their overall production balances out over the six or seven lambings that most ewes average. The two breeds have similar levels of prolificacy, and lamb out at 160–180%. If enough ewes have triplets, they will create a separate group for them that is run on select pastures and fed a bit of grain. This is the only time when ewes and lambs of both breeds graze together.

Commercial coloured ewes with Rambouillet ancestry allow Graham to sell naturally coloured, fine wool to handspinners. Photo by Randy Eros.

Lambs that don’t make the cut for breeding are marketed through livestock auction yards in Virden, Manitoba or Yorkton, Saskatchewan, both of which are about 75 minutes away. The Border Cheviot lambs finish at 90–110 pounds; the larger-framed Rambouillets can go much higher. But lately Graham has been selecting Rambouillet rams for a lighter mature weight, somewhere around 250–325 pounds, in order to produce finished lambs that are better suited to the Canadian market.

Over the last 20 years, two-thirds of the Rambouillet rams that Graham has used have come out of the US; a few have been sourced in Canada and the rest retained from within the flock. Finding registered Border Cheviot rams to bring into the flock is more difficult. Janice has the largest registered flock in the country and has sold rams coast to coast; finding new, unrelated, genetics can be a challenge. They are working with their local vet to explore the possibility of importing semen for an AI program.

Above: Because wool is a significant part of the income from the flock, Graham is well organized for shearing day. Below: Fleeces are skirted and sorted to maximize the return from the wool. Both photos by Graham Rannie.

Wool quality is an important factor in the selection process for the Rambouillets. Graham’s interest in wool is a reflection of his time as a roustabout in shearing sheds on the other side of the world. Fresh out of high school, he worked on a mixed farm on New Zealand’s North Island, where the one-man operation ran 2,000 ewes, 1,600 hoggets, 300 feeder cattle and 60 breeding cows. In his words, “it exposed this prairie kid to a whole different type of farming.” 

From there he went on to spend the next three years working for shearing crews in both New Zealand and Australia. He learned to shear by doing the bellies and crutching, and finishing up the last few sheep in a run. His first real day of shearing came when one of the shearers showed up late and told Graham he was welcome to get started. There was some discussion at the end of the day whether his count was 99 or 101; either way it was a good day’s work that set him up for some custom shearing back home in Canada. A nagging shoulder injury forced Graham to get a shearer in to help out this year, a new thing as he has always done his own before now.

Graham has done some interesting work improving the quality and quantity of wool produced by the Rambouillets. He sends samples to Lisa Surber, of LM Livestock Services in the US, for fibre diameter analysis. The results from the 2021 clip off the yearling ewes are impressive. The average micron count for the 20 samples was 19.40, with the finest measuring 17.48. In Graham’s experience, the count will go up by 1 micron as the animals get older. The fibre diameter for the flock falls between 21 and 23 microns. 

Click here to see fibre test results from GRannie yearling ewes in August 2021.

Selection for fleece weight is another important consideration. In 2007, Graham imported a South Dakota ram that added significantly to the fleece weights by increasing both staple length and fibre density. The mature ewes will shear a 12-pound fleece that will skirt down to 7–8 pounds of good wool. The staple length on the yearling samples runs 3–4 inches.

A few years ago Graham purchased some coloured, commercial ewes. By breeding them to his Rambouillet rams he has created a small group of commercial ewes with rich-coloured, well-crimped, fine wool that is perfect for hand spinners and felters. The Rambouillet wool is sold to a number of small mills across the prairies, with some of the best fleeces held back for the craft market. While most producers are struggling to cover the cost of shearing with their wool sales, Graham figures the sale of the Rambouillet wool represents as much as 20% of the income generated from the flock.

Young Border Cheviot and Rambouillet rams are penned together in the winter and fed round bales in collapsible round bale feeders. Photo by Randy Eros.

Managing any purebred sheep flock is a lot of work. The feeding, lambing, record-keeping, shearing, selection and marketing are only a few of the tasks that need to be done. These two shepherds have a wealth of knowledge and no shortage of experience. Graham notes that between the two of them they’ve been shepherds for over a century, and they’re still going.

Randy Eros and Solange Dusablon and their son Michel own and operate Seine River Shepherds near Ste.-Anne, Manitoba.