Producer profile: Woolley’s Lamb, Simcoe, Ontario

By Cathy Gallivan, PhD Schuyler Farms Limited, located near Simcoe, Ontario, consists of 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans, 700 acres of apples, 550 acres of sour (pie) cherries, and 400 acres of pasture and woodlot. The farm is run by brothers Brett and Ryan Schuyler,...

Feed for Profit: Mineral Supplementation

by Dale Engstrom, M.Sc., P.Ag I am often asked about using free-choice loose and block minerals. Are they needed? Do they do a good job of providing essential nutrients to sheep? Are they cost effective? Let’s start by reviewing what minerals are. Minerals fit into...

Drover’s Way Farm, Perth, Ontario

Story by Cathy Gallivan, PhD, Photos by Allison Taylor, PhD Oliver and Sarah Loten have been raising sheep for 20 years and, like most sheep farmers, have made a lot of changes to their flock and their management in that time. They started on a hobby farm near...

Producer Profile: Millferns Holsteins, Lower Onslow, NS

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Producer Profile: Catto Sheep Farm, Lipton, SK

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Producer Profile: Bouw Farms, Dugald, Manitoba

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Producer Profile: Shepherd’s Choice, Norwood, ON

By Cathy Gallivan, PhD Photos by Allison Taylor, PhD At a time when more producers than ever are turning to accelerated lambing, one couple who tried it for eight years has made the decision to go back to lambing once a year. John and Eadie Steele have been raising...

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By Cathy Gallivan, PhD Photos by Tracy Hagedorn Back in 2008, Bernadette Nikkel and Darlene Stein bought a small flock of 30 ewes and shared it, so that each of them had something to use to train their Border Collies. Four years later, they and their families are...

Producer Profile: Springwater Farm, Albion Cross, PEI

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Producer profile: Woolley’s Lamb, Simcoe, Ontario

By Cathy Gallivan, PhD Schuyler Farms Limited, located near Simcoe, Ontario, consists of 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans, 700 acres of apples, 550 acres of sour (pie) cherries, and 400 acres of pasture and woodlot. The farm is run by brothers Brett and Ryan Schuyler,...

Feed for Profit: Mineral Supplementation

by Dale Engstrom, M.Sc., P.Ag I am often asked about using free-choice loose and block minerals. Are they needed? Do they do a good job of providing essential nutrients to sheep? Are they cost effective? Let’s start by reviewing what minerals are. Minerals fit into...

Drover’s Way Farm, Perth, Ontario

Story by Cathy Gallivan, PhD, Photos by Allison Taylor, PhD Oliver and Sarah Loten have been raising sheep for 20 years and, like most sheep farmers, have made a lot of changes to their flock and their management in that time. They started on a hobby farm near...

Producer Profile: Millferns Holsteins, Lower Onslow, NS

Story & photos by Cathy Gallivan, PhD I met with Fred and Anne Hamilton on a sunny day in early July, on the farm that has been in Fred’s family since the expulsion of the Acadians in 1760. The original land grant was 1,000 acres. By 1802, the family had eight...

Producer Profile: Red Willow Colony, Stettler, AB

Story by Peggy Johnson, Photos by Tracy Hagedorn After months of winter gloom, it was wonderful to drive across central Alberta on a sunny morning and experience the magic of spring: soft green of new leaves emerging from tree buds, the hint of grass in the roadside...

Producer Profile: Catto Sheep Farm, Lipton, SK

Story & photos by Stuart Chutter Martin and Louise Catto farmed in Scotland prior to moving to Canada almost 15 years ago. Although their principal enterprise was dairy farming, they would purchase 500 ewes each year in the fall, lamb them out in the spring and...

Producer Profile: Bouw Farms, Dugald, Manitoba

Story & photos by Cathy Gallivan, PhD On a cold, grey, October day, I met with Stefan Bouw on his family’s farm about 20 miles east of Winnipeg. I visited Stefan to talk about their recently established sheep flock but, as is often the case, discovered that the...

Producer Profile: Shepherd’s Choice, Norwood, ON

By Cathy Gallivan, PhD Photos by Allison Taylor, PhD At a time when more producers than ever are turning to accelerated lambing, one couple who tried it for eight years has made the decision to go back to lambing once a year. John and Eadie Steele have been raising...

Pasture Lambing in Barrhead County, Alberta

By Cathy Gallivan, PhD Photos by Tracy Hagedorn Back in 2008, Bernadette Nikkel and Darlene Stein bought a small flock of 30 ewes and shared it, so that each of them had something to use to train their Border Collies. Four years later, they and their families are...

Producer Profile: Springwater Farm, Albion Cross, PEI

Story & photos by Cathy Gallivan, PhD George and Melaney Matheson have literally gone back to the land. George grew up on the farm where they now raise sheep, hay and straw, but the land was sold when his father retired in 1974. The house was kept in the family,...

Lamb-feeding barns and the lambing barn, from the back of the yard. Photo by Emily Paynter.

By Cathy Gallivan, PhD

The latest census figures show Prince Edward Island as one of two Canadian provinces with sheep industries that have expanded significantly in the last five years (the other is Manitoba). In July, I took a drive along the Blue Shank Road out of Summerside, PEI, to visit one of the farms contributing to that growth.

The farm has been in the family since well before Confederation.

Emily, Jackie and Robert Paynter. Photo by Andrew MacArthur.

Blueshank Farms is the home of Robert and Jackie Paynter, and their daughters, Amy and Emily. It is also a Heritage Farm, meaning it has been in Robert’s family since before Confederation. Robert’s grandfather milked cows here, and Robert joined the farm right out of high school. Jackie also grew up on a dairy farm, but had an interest in sheep and brought Suffolks with her when she and Robert were married in 1983.

Jackie (sheep), Emily (tractor), and Amber Peterson, the Paynters’ shearer (blades), display their tattoos. Photo by Emily Paynter.

Those animals were later dispersed, but the interest in sheep remained. After the family stopped milking cows, and after a few years raising beef cattle (just in time for the arrival of BSE in the country), the family got back into the sheep business in 2006, with the purchase of a crossbred flock. Two years later, they added 75 Rideau Arcotts from Breezy Ridge Farm, in Ontario. A smaller group of registered Suffolks followed in 2015.

The flock currently consists of 300 ewes, most of which are purebred, unregistered Rideaus. The ewes lamb once a year, but not all at the same time. By lambing groups of approximately 100 ewes in February, April and May, the Paynters have been able to put more ewes through their lambing facilities and more lambs through their feeder barns; it also helps to spread out the workload and the cash flow. This year, for the first time, they have scheduled a November lambing, with 40 ewes due in the fall.

With the flock expanding gradually over the years, and being kept in confinement, the facilities have undergone a stepwise series of expansions. There is an old, hip-roofed barn (35’ x 100’), with a lean-to (12’ x 90’) on one side and a second addition (24’ x 60’) on one end, used for lambing. There are two Coveralls, measuring 30’ x 70’, and 30’ x 74’, which house open or pregnant ewes, and two wooden barns (35’ x 80’ and 35’ x 100’), for feeding lambs.

The hip-roofed barn was built in the 1950’s and measures 35’ x 100’. It has two additions, one on the side and one on the front.

The Paynters took two sides of a Coverall frame and put them end to end to create a 12’ x 90’ addition down the length of the old barn. Grain gets fed by hand from the walkway on the right.

Lights! Camera! A series of lights down what used to be the outside of the old barn make night-time lambing work easier; each light gets its power from the previous one. Lambing areas are all equipped with infrared video cameras; images are transmitted to a laptop or smartphone via WiFi.

The Paynters raise all of their own feed. They farm over 600 acres, including 500 acres of soybeans and grain. In addition to the fieldwork and silage, they do custom forage harvesting for other farmers, bale all of their own straw, and buy straw in the field from other farmers. Robert says the custom work makes it possible for them to own more, and better, equipment, which ensures their own forage is put up at the optimum time.

Lambs are started on a commercial, pelleted lamb creep feed. They get weaned at about eight weeks onto a mix of rolled barley, soybean meal and molasses, along with clover silage. This gets replaced with whole barley, whole raw soybeans and grass/clover silage, and then with a total mixed ration (TMR) with about 50% corn silage.

A second addition on the front of the hip-roofed barn measures 24’ x 60’, and provides additional space for lambing. The fenceline feeder is accessible to the TMR mixer.

The feeder fence has one board at ground level on the inside of the posts, with higher boards on the outside of the posts. Note block on posts that offsets the lower outside board enough to allow ewes to get their heads down far enough to eat, while limiting waste.

The Paynters have been feeding a TMR for four years, but not all of the barns are set up for it yet, so the rations fed to the ewes vary with their stage of production and location. Dry, open ewes get dry hay. During flushing and breeding season, they are fed the same TMR as the lambs (corn silage, grass/clover silage, whole raw soybeans and whole barley), or the same mix fed by hand if they are not in a barn that is accessible to the TMR mixer. After breeding, they get good quality silage, with grain and corn silage added back in as lambing approaches. High moisture corn will be added to the operation this year.

The TMR mixer/feeder is self-propelled and holds up to a tonne of feed.

All classes of livestock get a customized salt and mineral mix, formulated by Les Halliday (PEI Department of Agriculture and Forestry) and Jeff Walton (Belisle Solution Nutrition). The mineral, known as Blueshank Atlantic, contains organic selenium, a 3:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorus, and lasolocid for coccidia control, and is available for purchase anywhere in the Maritimes. The mix is delivered in the TMR and Jackie says that since they have been using it, their lambs are much stronger at birth and much quicker to get on their feet.

Interior of one of two lamb-feeding barns; the fenceline feeder allows one foot of space per lamb. Skylights in the roof on one side provide natural light; there are no electric lights in these barns. These solar ‘chandeliers’ extend the daylength in the feeder barns, encouraging the lambs to keep eating after dark.

There is no shortage of work. In addition to the cropping, custom work, and straw baling and hauling, the sheep are in total confinement and need to be fed every day. Robert mixes up the TMR each day, and delivers it to the feeder lambs and any of the ewes that are getting it at the time. This takes about an hour and a half each morning, but he also beds the sheep while the TMR is mixing. His evening chores take less time because the TMR is already mixed up. Jackie spends a similar amount of time in the morning and again in the evening, feeding in barns where the TMR mixer can’t go, and caring for the sheep.

The custom Blueshank Atlantic mineral mix is available for purchase.

Older daughter Amy just moved home from Alberta in May. She was active on the farm growing up, and ran a baler before she moved away. She now works as a carpenter on a large building project, and milks cows on a nearby farm.

Younger daughter Emily just got married in August. She and her husband, Andrew MacArthur, bought the house across the road. Andrew works full time on a large potato farm, and helps out at Blueshank Farms when he can. But Emily is an integral part of the operation. She works seasonally at a potato lab, but is off in the summer, allowing her to do all of the fieldwork in the spring, while Robert does the seeding. Starting in June, they put up their own, and other people’s, silage and hay, then later in the year they bale all of the straw they need for the sheep (150-200 round bales), plus a further 2,000 for sale. Emily also runs a snow blower in the winter, and buys and rears Holstein calves in the summer.

Two Coveralls are used to house open and pregnant ewes. This one can be fed with the TMR mixer as ewes get close to lambing.

Potatoes occasionally form part of the TMR. The latest are a variety of blue potato.

Left: This energy-free waterer in one of the Coverall barns was previously used for the cattle; it keeps the water from freezing on all but the coldest days, but is too tall for lambs.

Jackie does all of the work of lambing the ewes, with Robert taking on more of the feeding at this busy time. Emily takes over much of the lambing-time meal preparation, in addition to her job and snow blowing. Neighbours get involved too, dropping in with meals to keep the family going on the most intensive days.

As I visited with the Paynters in the lambing area, I noticed the sheep were decorated with a series of one or more coloured dots, which allows Jackie to match up ewes and their lambs without the hassle of numbered paint brands. A ewe with three lambs gets three dots on her back, as does each of her lambs in the same colour. By using multiple colours within small groups, Jackie can keep track of whose lamb is whose without having to catch animals and read tags.

Mature ewes get to raise up to three lambs, with the odd one keeping four if it looks like she can handle it. Ewe lambs usually raise two, but occasionally three; the day I visited I saw one raising four. The Paynters have a Lac-Tek milk machine and Jackie estimates they raise about 130 lambs a year on it.

Lambs can be marketed as young as 100 days of age, although most average four to five months. Some are pushed harder than others; at certain times of year it is better to slow them down a bit to wait for a higher price.

The Paynters sell a few registered Suffolk rams and also use them as terminal sires in their own flock. Photo by Emily Paynter.

Most of the Blueshank lambs go to the Northumberland Lamb Marketing Co-Op, Ltd. (Northumberlamb), near Truro, about 2.5 hours away. The target weight for lamb carcasses is 23-24 kg, and lambs leave the farm at about 115 pounds. Conformation scores of 4’s, and even 5’s, add to the base price of the day. By pushing the February-born lambs hard, and letting the later lambs coast till December, the Paynters can ship lambs about nine months of the year. With ewes lambing in November in 2017, they should be able to spread the marketing out even more.

Some lambs go as breeding stock; the Paynters sell packages of ewe lambs, including some sired by the Suffolk rams, to flocks in PEI, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec.

Replacements are selected on conformation and the performance of the dam. Singles are not eligible for selection and ewes that give birth to singles are culled (unless they are first time lambers). This strategy seems to be working; the ewe lambs drop 2.0–2.5 lambs on average, and this year the two-year-olds averaged 3.1 lambs each.

The health program involves running a virtually closed flock and regular vaccinations with Tasvax-8 and CaseBac. Because the sheep are housed inside year-round, parasites and predators are not a problem.

After several years of expanding both the flock and the facilities, the Paynters are now more interested in maximizing the production of the ewes they already have than in further expansion of the flock or facilities. With the involvement of the next generation, Blueshank Farms seems set to remain in the family for more generations to come.