Producer Profile: Lennox Lambs Ayton, Ontario

Story by Randy Eros

Sheep Canada photo

Laura knew she was marrying a serious shepherd when Jay asked if they could spend their honeymoon at a Sheep Convention. So that’s what Jay and Laura Lennox did this past October. Newly married, the young couple celebrated their marriage by attending the Ontario Sheep Farmers Convention and AGM. I met up with them there and took advantage of their hospitality, visiting the farm a few days later.

Lennox Lambs, as the farm is known, is a second generation operation. Jay grew up with sheep. His father, Kim Lennox spent time in New Zealand as a young man and when he came home in the early 1980’s he started a flock with 150 Corriedale ewes purchased from Ian Moilliet of the Aveley Sheep Ranch in Vavenby, British Columbia. Kim and his wife Grace bought the farm in 1987 and raised cattle and sheep, growing the original flock to 500 ewes while they were raising their six children. In the early 2000’s they started working with Canadian Arcott genetics, developing a well respected Purebred flock. By 2010 their cow/calf numbers increased and the sheep flock had dropped in numbers.

Jay left the farm to further his education, spending four years studying agriculture at Olds College in Alberta. He graduated in 2017 with both a diploma in Agriculture Management and a degree in Agribusiness. He didn’t just hit the library, he spent some of that time on the tractor; between 2014 and 2016 Jay won two Junior and one Senior Canadian Ploughing Championships. He placed 11th at the 2017 World Ploughing Championship, held in Kenya. Clearly, he’s a good man on a tractor. In 2018 he bought the flock of 200 ewes from his parents. And this year Jay and Laura will finalize their ownership of the farm. When he started out, Jay worked locally as an agrologist, initially full time and then part time before turning to full time farming in 2021.

Laura grew up with family farming roots in Paisley, Ontario. She graduated from The University of Guelph with an Agricultural Business degree\ and works full time for Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show and Ag in Motion.

The couple’s 100 acre farm, with its beautiful century-old farm house and large bank barn, is located near Ayton, Ontario, two and a half hours northwest of Toronto. The 700 head flock is made up of 500 purebred Canadian Arcott ewes, and 130 crossbred maternal ewes (Rideau/Canadian F1 and Romanov/Canadian F1). They have recently added another 70 Rideau ewes that were part of a select group that made its way east from the dispersal sale of the Canadian Lamb Company. The breeding program has ewes lambing out three times every two years. The replacement ewes are lambed out for the first time at 14 months and will move to the accelerated lambing program after their second lambing.

Canadian and Romanov rams are used on the ewe flock and Border Cheviot rams on all of the ewe lambs. Jay is very happy with his choice of rams for the young stock, “The Border Cheviot sired lambs will finish 5 to10 lbs lighter but it makes for a much easier lambing and the vigour in those lambs is impressive, they hit the ground running.” The plan is to move the majority of the breeding flock to Canadian/Romanov F1s. They will maintain their purebred Canadian flock, buying in Gen Ovis tested, registered Rams.

Teaser rams became part of the breeding program starting in 2022 and Jay is very happy with the results.
“For the in-season breeding we will get all of the lambing done in a 20 day span.” CIDR’s and PMSG injections are used with the out of season breeding groups. “For our Spring 2023 breeding we exposed 140 ewes to a large group of rams, 45 head. 90 of those ewes caught and they lambed out in five days. Very busy, but very productive.” They had Dr. Chris Buschbeck from Markdale Veterinary Services run semen tests on the rams.

There are groups lambing in February/ March, in June and then in September/ October. The barn is laid out in three sections, totaling 15,000 square feet. Two sections house the breeding flock with room to lamb out 250 to 300 ewes at a time. The third section of the barn houses the market lambs and rams.

The flock is averaging 1.5 lambs weaned per ewe per lambing. That works out to approximately two lambs per ewe each year. The lambs are weaned at 60 days and marketed in different directions depending on the season. The new-crop lambs are ready in 60 to 80 days and Jay wants to have the 100 lbs finished lambs out the door in under 120 days. In 2023 there were 1,000 lambs marketed and the target for 2024 is 1,400 head. The majority of the lambs, about 70%, are sold through The Ontario Stockyards in Cookstown, Ontario. Easter and Christmas new-crop lambs, make up another 15 to 20 % of the lamb sales. The rest are sold directly to packers. There are some breeding stock sales, all into Ontario flocks.

Laura and Jay Lennox. Photo by Kyrene Minty Photography.

Claiming jugs fold out from the ewe pens to be used during lambing and the ewe/lamb sets are then combined into larger groups as they leave the pens. Their tails are docked with rings and each lamb receives a selenium / vitamin E injection. Jay applies a non-RFID management tag to each lamb and does an ear-notch on all crossbreds, both male and female. He applies the CSIP tag when the lambs leave the farm. The lambs are weaned at around 60 days. There are not enough extra lambs to justify the expense of an automatic milk replacer set up. Milk for the extra lambs is mixed, acidified and fed cold each day. The pen for these lambs is inside an insulated shipping container, providing an easily controlled and secure environment.

They have a technician come in between 45 and 60 days after the rams are pulled to scan the ewes. “We’re set up pretty well for scanning, we will get 200 ewes done in 45 minutes.” They will move open ewes to the next breeding group or cull if needed. Jay is a shearer and each breeding group will be shorn a month prior to lambing. The job gets done quickly, he has help from a couple of local shearers and in return lends them a hand when needed. The wool is shipped to Canadian Cooperative Wool Growers in Carleton Place, Ontario.

Jay has created a unique management software system by customizing a data survey using Google Forms, that allows him to collect his lambing, breeding and market information and sort it using Google Sheets.

The farm has 90 acres of land adjacent to the farm yard and they rent another 120 acres of nearby land that is cropped. The ewes lamb out in the barn, but grazing is very much part of the operation with the dry and breeding ewes rotating through intensively managed pastures. The grazing rotation has the flock moved every five days, with a 30 day rest period before re-grazing. The battle with de-wormer resistant parasites is ongoing. They work closely with their vet to rotate dewormers and stay ahead of the challenge. The latest treatment was with Levamisole and Flukiver.

The Lennox farm yard with a winter’s supply of baylage. Photo by Jay Lennox.

Jay’s understanding of agronomy and his interest in regenerative agriculture was evident as we drove around the farm. A group of 300 breeding ewes was out grazing a neighbour’s 35 acre field. The winter wheat had been harvested and Jay arranged to follow that with a cover crop of triticale and peas. There had been plenty of moisture and the pasture was lush and still growing well in late October. The arrangement is good for both farms. The land owner has a cover crop that controls both weed growth and erosion while the soil will be enhanced by the green manure and the sheep manure when the land is tilled and seeded next spring. The sheep enjoy a couple of weeks of grazing on a parasite free pasture close to home and it’s rent free.

The cover crop was adjacent to the 45 acre permanent pasture, where the sheep do most of their grazing, so it was easy to tie into the existing electric fence. The permanent pasture is seeded to a mix of rye grass, orchard grass, timothy, alfalfa and brome grass. The permanent pasture will be plowed after 10 years and a corn or grain crop put in just for one year, then it will be seeded back to pasture.

The remaining 45 acre plot was put into corn this year. A few acres of the corn had been harvested, revealing another one of Jay’s regenerative ag practices. Several weeks after the corn emerged, when it was at the V4 stage, he went through and seeded a forage turnip and rye grass mix between the corn rows. The removal of a few, select seed tubes and discs left the corn undisturbed when the forage was seeded. The turnips and rye grass, along with the corn stover, will be grazed once all of the corn has been harvested. Two varieties of corn had been seeded in that field: one with a wide, upright leaf and the other with a more lateral leaf arrangement. The upright leaved corn variety had allowed more sunlight to penetrate to the soil and the forage crop under these plants was noticeably stronger. Once the corn is harvested the flock will be moved into the corn stubble, extending the grazing season.

The ewe flock grazing on corn stover and turnips. Photo by Jay Lennox.

There was a young Maremma guard dog with the grazing flock and Jay explained this was a new addition to the farm. This is the first year they had lost stock to predation, one to a coyote and the second, he thought, possibly to a black bear.

The rations for the sheep are mixed on-farm and fed with a feed cart along feed alleys. They grow their own hay, corn and oats and barley. The late gestation and lactation rations use corn silage, grain corn and haylage. The maintenance ration is a little lower in protein but as Jay pointed out “with most accelerated lambing operations there is not much of a window to feed a maintenance ration to your ewes.”

The young lambs are fed a 20% pelletized creep ration until week four. After that they move to a farm mixed 16% ration that is 75% corn, 15% barley and oats and a 36% protein pellet. The market lambs also have access to free choice hay. By the time the lambs are market weight they are consuming 4 to 5 lbs of feed per day.

Jay figures that apart from lambing and harvest, the chores of feeding and maintaining the flock take about two hours per day. “Lambing is of course full-time work, and that’s when Laura steps in to help.”

The barn is currently being used to its maximum capacity with the 700 ewes and three lambings per year. The five-year plan, right now, is to hold the flock at this size and find efficiencies in how the flock is grazed. Having a larger flock would require barn renovations and an increase in the number of lambings per year. Not out of the question, but not just yet. Jay also finds time to sit on the Ontario Sheep Farmers’ board of directors.

Even with all the work the couple does, they sometimes hire a neighbour to do chores so they can get off the farm. They did, after all, have that honeymoon at the Sheep Convention.


Sheep Canada – Fall 2023

Table of Contents

4: Greetings from Ste. Anne
5: Producer profile: Aveley Sheep Ranch: Vavenby, BC
11: Flushing: What’s the hype?
13: 2023 All Canada Sheep Classic, Barriere, BC
17: Producer profile: Dominion Creek Ranch, Heffly Creek, BC
22: Research roundup
26: Emergency Preparedness
30: Searching for the silver lining
32: CCWG to start making wool pellets
33: Traceabilty changes moving forward, slowly
35: Buyer’s Guide


Producer profile: Aveley Sheep Ranch: Vavenby, British Columbia

Story by Randy Eros

Above: Valerie Garber leads the flock of 1300 Corriedale ewes and lambs to new pasture. Below: Joseph Moilliet working the back of the flock. Photos by Randy Eros 

The last few kilometers of the drive to the Aveley Ranch, two hours north of Kamloops, would be easier if it weren’t so beautiful. Tucked in between the North Thompson River and Vavenby Mountain you are faced with the hard choice of keeping your eyes on the winding road or staring at the scenery; I cheated and did a bit of both.

When I knew my travel plans were going to put me in British Columbia, I called Valerie Garber (Moilliet) of the Aveley Ranch to set up a visit. She and her brother Ian have been the driving force of this family farm for a very long time and it came as a surprise when the first thing she said was “You’ll want to talk to Joseph, Ian’s son, he’s really in charge now.” Though Joseph has taken on the role of manager it is clear that this is still very much a family operation.

The visit was a wonderful combination of coffee and history, moving some sheep, dinner and the following morning more sheep moving. The ranch has been in the family since it was homesteaded by Joseph’s great grandfather Tam Moilliet in 1905. Joseph’s grandfather, Jack was only 16 when his father’s early death in 1935 left him in charge of what had become BC’s largest sheep farm. Jack and his wife Alice had four children: Jacqueline, June, Ian and Valerie. Ian and his wife Karen partnered with his parents and would eventually take over. With his sister Valerie, they were the next generation to manage the farm. And now we’re onto the fourth generation, Joseph and his wife Cadence McRae.

Joseph is by no means alone in running the ranch. His parents, Ian and Karen still live on the farm as does his aunt Valerie and her husband John. Valerie and John’s house was the center of activity while I visited. Isaac, Joseph’s younger brother, is also full time on the farm.

Photo by Sheep Canada

The flock lambs out in April and by May is out on the mountain side grazing. The total flock, split evenly between ewes and lambs, is sitting at 1300 head. They have a small paddock that is set up next to rows of 6’x4’ claiming pens, 150 pens in total. The ewes and lambs will spend a day or two in the pen before being run through a step-down pen with a few ewes and then into larger groups. The ewes with twins are put in a separate group so they are easier to keep an eye on. Eventually the whole flock is sent out to pasture.

The lambs are docked in the claiming pen and all but select rams are castrated with rings. Lambs won’t get their CSIP tags till they leave the farm, but there is a customized tagging system for both ewes and lambs that is applied in the claiming pens. One colour for a ewe if she lambs at one year of age, a different colour for having twins. Lambs born as twins are also tagged (these are also paint branded), and finally another colour for all ram lambs that are left intact.

Photo by Sheep Canada

The ewe lambs are all exposed to lamb at a year of age and usually 20 to 30 % will catch. “This is very weather dependent” said Valerie as we toured the lambing area, “if we’ve had a really mild winter and good grazing we can see as high as an 80% catch.” There is no grain fed to the flock and hardiness is one of their selection criteria, along with twining, early maturity and longevity. “There are plenty of 10 year old ewes in the flock.”

The rams are turned in with the ewes for 60 days but 90% of the flock lambs within the first three weeks. They will do a bag check after three weeks and cull the open ewes. These ewes will end up being processed and sold for pet food into the Kamloops market.

The flock returns to the yard for shearing later in May. The ewes and lambs are separated to make the whole process easier. Joseph does some of the shearing himself but they get help in to get the job done quickly. Dave Carson and his crew of shearers help to make a pretty quick job of it. The Corriedale wool is fine and the skirted fleeces weigh between 7-9 lb each. Joseph is not shy about hanging on to the wool if prices are low, “We have the room to keep the wool dry and secure, we have held wool for three or four years before shipping.” The Moilliet family started shipping wool to the Canadian Cooperative Wool Growers the year it was established, 1918.

The flock will be brought back in again in early summer so the lambs can be dewormed. They have used both Ivomec and Valbazen. The flock continues to graze throughout the summer and early fall. In 2019, through the BC Environmental Farm Plan the ranch was able to secure funding for 4 km of new fencing. In the last few years that has extended to 10km of new fencing, including part of a gas pipeline right-of-way. When he started planning for the new fences Joseph wanted an alternative to the standard treated post. “The posts weren’t holding up so I started to look for options.” This led him to the Timeless Fence System, an American company based out of Tennessee. His own operation required enough fencing supplies that he qualified as a reseller for the company. Now he works with local producers to plan their fencing projects and provide the equipment.

By the end of September, the lambs are ready for market. On average 100 lambs will be direct marketed each year with the rest sold to a lamb buyer, usually going to Roger Albers out of Alberta. The ewes will continue to graze standing, stockpiled hay as long as the weather allows, usually well into December.

Joseph sees himself as a grass farmer. “There was a point when the grain prices went up and the lamb prices went down, so we stopped feeding grain. It’s all grass now.” Of their 2000 acres of land Joseph deems 800 of it as grazeable: open grazing land of 400 acres and another 400 of forest grazing. In the bottom of the valley there is another 110 acres of hayland where they make both small square and large round bales. “We like to graze it first and then bale up the 2nd cut.” There is a strong market for small square bales in their area. Some years it can be more economical to sell square bales and bring in large round bales for the sheep from the Peace River area. Back-to-back droughts in 2003 and 2004 taught the Moilliets that, if you can manage it, a two-year supply of hay is a good idea.

Above-Left: Joseph moving ewes through the claiming pens, photo by Valerie Gerber. Above: Maureen Kelly working the flock as it moves to the night pen, photo by Randy Eros

In 2020 Joseph diversified by adding beef cattle to the operation. Just 10 cows with a bull for now. They graze in the lower part of the property. They will have their first grass fed beef available for sale this year. “I see the cattle as another tool we can use to harvest the grass,” he noted, adding “they make a great rotation for parasite management.” The flock of 25 Corriedale rams spends the summer grazing the rough bush areas along the hay fields.

We moved the flock twice while I was visiting. The first evening Valerie took a few minutes to organize the work party before we headed out. Maureen Kelly, a local woman who helps out on the ranch saddled up her horse and headed out ahead of us. Valerie and I had made the five-minute drive up to the grazing flock where I got to meet the other shepherd, Aliette Pabit. Aliette is a 2nd year student from Toulouse University in France. She is on the ranch from July through September as a practicum experience for her agriculture degree. The flock needed to be pushed from the grazing area into their night pen, a few acres of electric netting that will help keep them safe from predators. This is an evening ritual that needs a little organizing but once the flock gets moving doesn’t seem to take much time at all.

Along with the sheep, the shepherds and the horse, there are a few dogs involved. The ever-present border collies push from behind with Maureen and Aliette; the team of 5 livestock guardian dogs (Maremma and Great Pyrenees) moving just ahead of the flock looking for trouble. Valerie leads the whole affair with a soft voice and a keen eye. The move was only about 20 minutes of walking but there are still dogs to feed, salt and mineral to be put out for the sheep, waterers to be checked and the fencer must be turned on for the night. The Moillets use Hi-Pro, salt free, 1-1 sheep mineral. They mix that with equal parts salt and feed it in wooden troughs made from cedar planks. “We use water softener salt; it doesn’t seem to absorb the humidity as quickly and is no more expensive” remarked Joseph.

Over the years the flock had grazed high alpine forest pastures that were a long way from home. They still graze forest pastures but they are much closer to home now. “We started to lose too many lambs to wolves,” lamented Joseph. As the forest infringed on the alpine meadows the forests got thicker and predation got worse. “The sheep were no longer just an occasional meal; they had become the wolves’ main food source.” The livestock guardian dogs were unable to adequately protect the flock in these heavily treed, remote forest grazing areas.

Photo by Sheep Canada

I learned a few new things while we walked the flock to their night pen. Sheep respond really well to a half a dozen tin cans strung out on a coat hanger or a piece of wire bent into a small circle. It makes a great rattle and is very effective when you want to push a flock along. I saw this unique tool everywhere: the horse’s saddle, the side mirror on Valerie’s truck and on a number of gate posts. The whole crew were using them. I also learnt a new term from Valerie, “When we are grazing the flock, we have to make sure they get a chance to ‘flop’ four or five times a day.” She was talking about needing to let the sheep stop and ruminate, or ‘flop’ down and rest. “If you just keep driving them to new grass all day long, they don’t get a chance to digest.”

These mountain pastures, along with the hayland at the bottom of the valley, is all irrigated with a complex network of pipes and sprinkler heads. They used to do flood irrigation on the hayland but by 2015 this was all converted to sprinklers. The irrigation is gravity fed from three creeks that flow into the valley. By reducing the size of the pipe as the water flows downhill you build enough pressure to operate the sprinkler heads. There are 200 sprinkler heads in the system. Draining the lines and blowing out the sprinklers takes two days, a task that needs to be done every fall before the cold weather sets in.

We moved the sheep again the following morning, from their night pen into a large pasture/hay field adjacent to the farmyard. This was part of bringing the flock in to deworm the lambs in the upcoming week. This was a bit longer of a drive and walked the flock past the shearing shed, sorting yards and loading corrals. All of these facilities are built with lumber harvested from the Aveley Ranch forests over the years. I asked Joseph about how the wood harvest fit into their operation. “You want to have a good forester to help you manage your annual allotment.” Along with that, Joseph added “We have as much timber land as we do agricultural land and I see the potential in improving both the forest and the pasture.” The value of the forest can be seen everywhere on the property; our drive out to see the Ranch’s saw mill took us through a tree-planters summer camp.

Moving the sheep with Joseph and Valerie gave me a real insight into the day-to-day operations of the Aveley Ranch. Equally important for me was the time spent with Ian Moilliet. Ian’s love for his family, the land and the sheep was so evident in all that he shared. Ian’s book, The Shepherd’s Heart, gives a wonderful insight into the Moilliet family history and how they farm. And more than a little insight into Ian.

Valerie does a great job of keeping folks up to date with the ranch activities through her Facebook page (Valerie Gerber). She is an excellent photographer with an eye for the beauty of the land and the flock.

As Joseph and I finished up our visit he pointed over towards his new house, smiling proudly. It is almost finished and he and Cadence should be all moved in by Christmas. The view is spectacular. From where we were standing, we could see the flock grazing. I asked Joseph about the A-frame shed in the pasture and he said “That’s one of the oldest buildings on the property; 1905 maybe 1906, we still use it to store hay.” So, a new house for this new generation and a sturdy old hayshed as a reminder of where they’ve come from.

Sheep Canada – Summer 2023

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: Foothill Farm, Canning, NS
11: Contract grazing: Doing it right.
16: Moo Baa Farms: Grandora, SK
22: Research roundup
26: Feed efficiency. A closer look.
29: Western Canadian Lamb Cooperative
31: Is a necropsy workshop considered a date?
35: Buyer’s Guide


Producer Profile: Foothill Farm Canning, Nova Scotia

Story & Photos by Cathy Gallivan, PhD

The raised feed alley in one of the barns.

In the 23 years I’ve been interviewing sheep farmers for Sheep Canada magazine, I’ve visited a few operations raising sheep in total confinement in converted pig barns. But I got a surprise when I visited Foothill Farm in Canning, Nova Scotia, the home of Coleman Ueffing and his wife, Drew Slaunwhite. If you didn’t know better, you’d never guess that the buildings where the sheep are housed hadn’t been purpose-built for them. They are as bright and airy as any sheep barns I’ve ever been in.


Coleman is the third generation of his family on the farm, which has at one time or another been home to pigs, chickens (broilers and layers), and even mink. The pig enterprise peaked in 2012 at 2200 sows, when they shipped 1,500 40-lb. weaners every other week. The pigs are gone now, as are the mink, but Coleman’s father still has chickens in three of the 10 barns on the premises.

Coleman Ueffing with a few market lambs

The 130 acres of land and the remaining buildings are available for Coleman and Drew to acquire gradually over a period of years as they build their own farm enterprise. They have been renting 40 acres of grassland and three of the barns, and are making arrangements to purchase those barns plus an additional 65 acres.

Coleman started acquiring sheep three years ago, with the purchase of 30 ewe lambs. He added another 50 six months later and 75 more the following year, to bring the flock up to the current 155. He plans to expand to 400 eventually.

Coleman demonstrating the padded piglet squeeze on this repurposed lambing cart.

Coleman and Drew both work off the farm, so for now they have to fit their farming in around their full-time jobs. Drew is a nurse and works at the Valley Regional Hospital in nearby Kentville. Coleman works for a friend who farms 1,000 acres and raises beef cattle only five minutes away. The proximity of the farm gives Coleman the flexibility to run home during the day if he needs to check on his sheep.

Coleman spent a year at the agricultural college in Truro before returning to the farm and worked in his father’s pig and chicken enterprises. He says he is gradually getting his head around the differences between ruminants and non-ruminants. He makes use of the services offered by Perennia, a provincial development agency based in Truro, and gets his rations balanced by Katie Trottier, a ruminant livestock specialist on the Perennia team.

An aerial shot of the farm, three of the barns have been renovated for the sheep operation.

The rations are based on corn and soybean meal, which are readily available in the area, and Coleman grows his own haylage and hay on the 40 acres of rented land. He plans to grow more of his own feed on the 65 acres they are purchasing. Rather than purchasing all the necessary equipment, he will pay the friend he works for to custom farm it for him, and will probably end up doing the work himself as part of his day job.

There are seven barns available to him as his operation grows, and Coleman has renovated three of them for use with his sheep.

As we walk through the first one, which measures 180×50’, I can see the work that has gone into its conversion. The sides have been opened up to let in light and air, and the cement partitions that made it a pig barn have been jackhammered out. The interior is divided in half lengthways by a raised feed alley, which is wide enough to allow round bales to be unrolled behind a tractor.

Mink cages serve as hay feeders and are used across pig penning that has a new life as claiming pens.

On the day I visited, the only animals in the barn were the rams, plus a couple of cows that belong to Coleman’s mother. The rams are Dorsets and Rideau Arcotts, breeds chosen for their ability to lamb out of season. The Dorsets were sourced from Ryan and Romy Schill in Ontario, and the Rideaus were acquired closer to home from Harry Elsinga on Prince Edward Island. There were also several bags of wool stored in this barn. Coleman hasn’t sold any wool yet, but he uses it for insulation in his barns.

The second and third barns that Coleman has renovated are 220x 50’ and 250×50’, and are connected to each other to form one long, continuous structure that is 470 feet long. The sides of each of these have also been opened up, and the interior concrete dividers removed.

The outside alleyway in one of the barns, complete with a modified pig feeder serving as a waterer.

The shorter barn houses the 155 ewes and the remainder of a recent lamb crop on either side of a raised, central feed alley. Narrow alleyways run the length of the outside walls, and are used to move or sort groups of sheep. Coleman uses a tractor to unroll round bales in this barn as well, and grain and other concentrates are fed by hand. But the alley is wide enough, and the roof high enough, for a TMR mixer that will be added when the flock is large enough to justify it.

The longer barn isn’t used for housing sheep yet but the walls have been opened up and the hard work of removing the concrete pen dividers has been done, leaving a huge, open space used to store round bales, as well as panels and equipment not currently in use. A permanent handling system is planned for this barn, at the end that opens to the barn where the sheep are.

Everywhere you look, you see equipment from previous enterprises that has been adapted for sheep. Pig feeders have been modified with floats, turning them into automatic waterers. Other pig feeders serve as mineral feeders. The storage area holds stacks of smooth white panels, once used for penning pigs, which turn into claiming pens at lambing time. The cages formerly used for mink work as hay feeders, spanning two claiming pens

A wheeled cart once used for processing piglets serves the same purpose for lambs.

Unlike other milk replacer machines, the Heatwave milk warmer doesn’t mix the milk replacer powder and water. The machine is designed to be filled with milk replacer, or whole milk, which it then keeps warm and delivers through tubes and nipples to lambs in one or more pens, so that lambs have 24/7 access to milk replacer without the need for frequent mixing and bottle feeding. Coleman uses a non-acidified milk replacer in the Heatwave.

Like the rams, the ewes are mostly Dorset and Rideau Arcott. Coleman alternates between Dorset and Rideau rams with each breeding season, so he always knows which breed sired each group of lambs.

Coleman is interested in accelerated lambing, and has lambed groups of ewes in the fall and winter, but has since decided that winter lambing is not for him. He has more than enough space to lamb all his ewes at once, and this spring decided to simplify things by exposing the whole flock, including some recently-weaned ones, for an August/September lambing. He relies on the ewes’ natural ability to breed out of season, but plans to add light control in the future. A second breeding in late summer will pick up any that fail to conceive for that lambing.

On the day I visited in mid-April, there were four Dorset rams in with the 155 ewes. The ewes, which are between one and three years of age, gave birth to about 1.8 lambs each in the last lambing, and weaned about 1.6. These numbers will increase as the ewes mature and reach their peak production years.

The lambs are grown out to 80–100 pounds, and most are sold to Oulton’s Meats in Windsor. Others go to the Maritime Cattle Market auction in Truro and from there to markets in Ontario. Coleman sells Easter lambs if he has them ready at the right time, but this market isn’t a priority for him.

The feed alleys in the barns are raised so the sheep don’t have to kneel to eat as the bedding pack builds in their pens.

Things are only going to get busier for Coleman and Drew, as they are expecting their first child at the end of July. But they have a unique opportunity to grow their flock at a pace that makes sense for them, with additional land and infrastructure in place and available for purchase as they need it.

Sheep Canada – Spring 2023

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: Gentes Ridge Ranch, Battleford, SK
13: New owners for Sungold
15: Exit Strategy. Do you have one?
22: Research roundup
25: Grading up. Creating domestic purebreds
29: Wool Away! Shearing and wool handling.
35: Buyer’s Guide


Producer profile: Gentes Ridge Ranch, Battleford, Saskatchwan

Story & Photos by Randy Eros

Owen and Jennifer Gentes’ operation, Gentes Ridge Ranch, is an hour and a half northwest of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan along the #16 highway and from there a short 15 minute drive south, past the town of Battleford.

The farmyard sits in the middle of 480 acres of rolling mixed prairie land. Seventy acres in hay and 175 acres split evenly for oats, green feed and barley with the rest forest and native grass. Owen and Jennifer purchased the land in 2012, it is now home to a flock of 300 Rideau Arcott, most of them registered purebreds. They have three children, Simon ,21 is at the University of Saskatchewan, Andrew, 19 is working in Saskatoon and their daughter Grace, 17 is in her last year of high school.

Owen was raised on a 300 acre beef farm near the small community of Corning, an hour and a half southeast of Regina. Owen jokes about it being the typical small prairie community; there was him and one other student in his high school graduating class. Jennifer was raised in Saskatoon but like many prairie kids there are some strong farm roots; her uncle still works the family farm near Duck Lake, Saskatchewan.

West side of the 38′ x 80′ hoop barn.

Owen and Jennifer’s first farm was a 160 acre parcel located east of Saskatoon. There they ran a few horses and their first sheep. They purchased a flock of 57 commercial Canadian Arcott from Richard Zubot that they ran with the kids for 4H programs. Their main farm activity at the time was the annual production and delivery of 16,000 small square hay bales for the acreage farms in the surrounding area.

Groups of ewes feeding in the central alley-way on the east side.

When they moved to the new farm, near Battelford, 10 years ago there was no infrastructure for the sheep. The house had been used as a lodge for a neighbouring hunt farm. At the time Owen and Jennifer both worked full time in Battleford, Jennifer teaching and Owen working in the hydraulic industry.

The transition to a bigger sheep operation on the new farm had a bit of a rough start. They expanded to 100 ewes and in that same year ran into a problem with a pelleted ration that had been made from grain with high levels of ergot infection. “That tainted feed reduced milk production and poor blood circulation caused frozen ears and feet, those were some of the problems” Owen recalled. They choose to sell off the flock and start again. Since that experience they have grown most of their own grains.

The livestock guardian dog, an essential part of prairie sheep management.

The following year, 2013, they started to repopulate the sheep flock, picking up 50 Rideau x Charollais ewes. That same year, the Saskatchewan branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) was called in to disperse the sheep flock from a large farm operation in southern Saskatchewan. Groups of purebred Registered Rideau ewes were tendered for sale and the Gentes were successful in purchasing a group of 250 young ewes. They sold off part of the group and ended up with just over 100 ewe lambs and one year old ewes. Owen remembers bringing them home “they were advertised as open ewes, but of course, more than a few of them lambed.”

A group of 2022 born ewe lambs.

They were initially lambing the mature flock in February and then the ewe lambs in April but as their flock expanded and Owen reduced his offfarm work, they changed their lambing program. They now run what Owen describes as a modified accelerated operation “Groups of 30 to 40 ewes are exposed to lamb almost year-round.” They don’t expose ewes for a May lambing in order to free up time for spring seeding, nor August or September to accommodate harvest. Besides their own crops Owen also helps his neighbours during seeding and harvest.

The operation that they built allows Owen to handle different groups of ewes and lambs with real efficiency. The only fully enclosed part of the operation is a 38’ x 80’ hoop barn that sits at the west end of a long central feeding alley. All of the pens, 11 in all, can access the alley for sorting and grain feeding. Grain is pail fed into wooden troughs in the alleyway and the selected group is allowed in to feed. When the group is finished with the grain Owen’s border collie, Kate, will run the sheep back into their pen, the gate is closed and the next group is fed. The dry ewes and replacement ewe lambs are fed whole oats while barley is fed to lactating ewes, bred ewes and young rams. The feeding system was made even more efficient a few years ago when Owen installed a grain shed on the south side of the alleyway. Now the grain is just a few feet from where he needs it. Hay is fed in collapsible round-bale feeders inside the pens. Several of the pens have access to larger areas and when I was at the farm in January two groups of ewes were being fed their hay and green feed on nearby stubble fields. Depending on the weather Owen will unroll this feed daily or every second day.

They put up their own 5’x 6’ round bales of alfalfa and oat green feed and usually grow all of their grain. Drought affected their region in 2021 and feed supplies were limited. Owen was happy to have some carry over from 2021 but still had to buy in some oats, barley and flax screenings.

Shearwell auto drafter with RFIDreader panels and a Bluetooth enabled scale.

The hoop barn plays a number of different roles. The sorting system is set on one end of the barn and includes a Shearwell automatic drafter with a Bluetooth scale and a Ritchie Combi Clamp. Owen is a big fan of the Bluetooth scale and the CSIP tags (Canadian Sheep Identification Program) “it would take me two hours to weigh 200 lambs now I can do it in 20 minutes, with no errors.” The automatic drafter comes with build in RFID reader panels making life a lot easier, “though both the panels and the gates will slow down a bit in our extreme cold weather.” He has used other holding crates but finds the Ritchie combi clamp works better for CIDRs, “fewer broken applicators and sore hands” he says. Owen feels that the better your handling system the more likely you are to use it.

The whole flock is sheared at the end of April. Laurie Reed, an Alberta based shearer, and his crew will have the work done in a day. The wool is bagged up and sold through Canadian Cooperative Wool Growers.

Small breeding pens.

The claiming pens are portable and get set up as needed for each group. As the lambing continues the space can be converted to a post lambing area for the ewes and young lambs.

The ewes are managed differently; depending on if they are to be bred in-season or “out-of season”. Owen considers in-season breeding for his Rideaus to be anytime between September and early February. No CIDRs (Controlled Intervaginal Drug Release) are used but the ewes will get a shot of Estrumate seven days prior to breeeding and then again when the rams are turned in. For out-of-season breeding with the mature ewes, CIDRs will be inserted 12 days prior to breeding and removed on the day of breeding. For in-season breeding of ewe lambs Owen will insert the CIDRs for six days prior to breeding. There is sufficient drugs remaining in the CIDRs to use them a second time when breeding the next group of ewe lambs.

Customized management tags.

Owen describes himself as “a big fan” of the GenOvis program. “We are not scanning for carcass traits yet but that may change.” Over the last few years they’ve brought in rams from Christian Beaudry at Agronovie in Granby, Québec. The Top Ram reports are what Owen looks to when choosing new rams. “I like the work they’ve done in Québec, they’re light years ahead with these genetic selection programs.”

As a breeder of purebred registered stock Owen is very careful with his breeding. After the CIDRs are removed the ewes are sorted into groups of five or six head and placed in small pens with a single purebred ram. The rams are in with the ewes for only three days. This tight breeding timeframe means that when the ewes are induced with Dexamethsone at 143 days the lambs are born within a three-day window. All ewes are vaccinated with Case-Bac, four weeks prior to lambing.

Moving from annual lambing to this accelerated system has dropped the average lambing percentage but not the overall number of lambs born each year. With annual lambing the ewes were averaging 2.87 lambs, now it varies, depending on the season, from 2.2 to 2.6 per lambing. Given that the ewes are now lambing more often it works out about the same and Owen finds he has fewer bottle lambs.

Ewes are usually left with 2 or 3 lambs and the extras are raised using a Grober machine. He has used a Lac-Tek in the past and find they both worked well for their operation. Owen called the milk replacer machines game changers “as the flock grew, we just didn’t have time for bottles.”

They have been on the GenOvis program for the last 6 years using Farmworks to capture their lambing data. The ewes and lambs will spend a day in the claiming pens where the lambs are weighed and a customized Shearwell management tag (non RFID) is applied. All of the lambs are docked and any commercial male lambs are castrated. They purchase an 18% creep ration for the preweaned lambs and also make sure that they are exposed to the mixed ration that will become their complete diet after weaning.

Lambs are weaned, weighed and given a Case-Bac vaccination at 50 days. One of the advantages of the tight lambing groups is the accuracy of the 50 day weight data; the lambs really are 50 days old. The ewe lambs and ram lambs will be given a Case-Bac booster four weeks later. The CSIP tags are also applied at weaning. The commercial lambs get a regular CSIP tag while the purebred lambs get the matched-set CSIP tags which work as an alternative to tattooing. The weaned lambs are fed an on farm mixed ration of barley and soya bean meal. Owen does his ration balancing with the SheepBytes program. A few years ago he tried replacing the soya bean meal with canola meal as a less expensive option but wasn’t happy with the results. “Palatability was the problem; the lambs wouldn’t eat it.” Feed for the weaned lambs is delivered through a long Flex Flow auger that fills a series of repurposed hog feeders. The feeders are hung on chains inside a south facing open sided shelter. The feeder heights can be adjusted to accommodate additional bedding. Minerals and vitamins are fed free choice to all the sheep using salvaged auger scoops, screwed to the shelter walls.

Market lambs are sold through the Saskatchewan Sheep Development Board (SSDB). The Saskatoon assembly yard is an hour and a half away. Registered Rideau ewe and ram lambs are usually in high demand with sales of 150 head per year. Things changed in 2022 with the collapse of the North American Lamb Company (NALCO). The dispersal of NALCO’s large flock had a negative effect on western Canadian breeding stock sales and the Gentes were not immune to this. Owen ended up wintering more ewe lambs this year. “This year we had quite a few folks back out of sales, they were taking advantage of NALCO’s dispersal, but the demand for good breeding stock will bounce back.”

The pen of registered Rideau rams. Opposite page left: ewes and lambs in the hoop barn. Right: Weaned lambs with the flex-auger fed feeders.

This visit with Owen and Jennifer showed me a new way of looking at year-round lambing. The fact that they can run this many sheep, in this many groups in a set up that is primarily out of doors was inspiring. Owen has spent time on the SSDB as well as on the board of the Canadian Sheep Federation. Through all that time he has seen more than a few sheep operations and he’s paid close attention. “I am a dreamer, when I see something that works, I wonder how I can take it home and use it”. Clearly a philosophy that has paid off.