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.