Sheep Canada – Spring 2024

An important correction. The spring 2024 Issue of Sheep Canada is listed as Volume 49, Number 1. This marks a noticeable change from the winter 2023 issue that was labeled Volume 39, Number 4. That 10 year change is not an error but a correction. In 1989 a typographical error changed the Volume from 14 to 4. That error carried on unnoticed for 35 years. As we approach the 50th anniversary of Sheep Canada magazine we wanted to make sure that our numbers matched up with the actual number of issues published.

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Sheep Canada magazine - Spring 2024
Table of Contents

4: Greetings from Ste. Anne
5: Producer profile: Dusty Ridge Ranch, Grunthal, MB
6: Scrapie Genotyping in Sheep
12: Spring disease pressures
15: How many livestock guardian dogs do I need?
22: Research roundup
24: Lamb marketing: Nobody said it was easy
28: Learning about sheep
30: Canadian wool: Meeting the challenges
35: Buyer’s Guide


Producer Profile: Dusty Ridge Ranch Grunthal, Manitoba

Producer Profile: Dusty Ridge Ranch Grunthal, Manitoba

Story by Randy Eros. Photos by Dusty Ridge Ranch

An hour’s drive south of Winnipeg, just past the small town of Grunthal, Manitoba will get you to the Dusty Ridge Ranch. Harold and Sherry Bosma and five of their nine children run a 230 head sheep flock out of a re-purposed dairy barn. They run three separate flocks: 45 registered Tunis, 132 registered Canadian Arcott and 53 F1 and crossbred ewes. The Bosma family has been raising sheep here for seven years now, but the real story behind the Dusty Ridge Ranch sheep operation actually starts with goats.

Producer Profile: Dusty Ridge Ranch Grunthal, Manitoba

The Bosma Family, left to right: Harold, Ciarra, Taquayla, Toby, Cruz, Sherry and Faith.

In July of 2017 the Bosmas had been working for several years to develop a goat operation. Both Sherry and Harold have rural backgrounds and they wanted to create a farm operation that would provide Sherry with a home-based job. The herd of 115 Boer/Kiko does was growing nicely when on July 4, 2017 they received a call from the CFIA asking about a scrapie suspect goat and wondering if it had originated on their farm. By the end of August, the goats were all gone. As devastating as it was to their farm and family there were a lot of excited scientists knocking on the backdoor. Sherry’s record keeping and attention to detail had provided the CFIA with an impressive database that has helped with genotyping for scrapie resistance in goats.

Producer Profile: Dusty Ridge Ranch Grunthal, Manitoba

The handling system set up in the repurposed dairy barn. Below: Genotyping information from the CFIA.

With fully disinfected and empty barns the family was at a bit of a crossroads and not sure what was next. It was the team from the CFIA that planted the seed with Sherry and Harold when they mentioned that it was possible to genotype sheep for resistance to scrapie. “They were impressed with how we managed both our animals and our records and encouraged us to keep going”, said Sherry. By December of 2017, with the research done and the decisions made, Dusty Ridge Ranch started their genotyped, scrapie resistant flock. Over the next five years the CFIA staff would come to collect samples from on-farm mortalities (12 months or older) as part of their surveillance program. “They were great, I got lots of encouragement and great vet advice during their visits. They even remembered what we took in our coffee and what kind of Timbits the kids liked.”

Click to enlarge. EweManage and Allflex used for data recording and management (left). Sherry scanning for open ewes (middle). Overflow claiming pens set up in the handling area (right). 

Breeding for scrapie resistance is paramount in their operation (see the sidebar for more information on genotyping for scrapie resistance). All of the ewes are either genotyped RR or QR and the breeding rams are all genotyped RR. To get started with the Tunis they sourced 40 ewes through Mark and Bev Comfort of Cardinal, Ontario. The registered Tunis came directly from the Comfort flock, the crossbreds from two flocks with Comfort Tunis genetics. All of the animals were genotyped for resistance.

The Canadian Arcott flock came from Gerrit and Ute Brinkman, Medicine Ridge Ovine in New Norway, Alberta. “We had to be patient with the Canadians,” said Sherry “because we were after genotyped, scrapie resistant ewe lambs, a group had to be specially bred for us.” The 50 ewe lambs were all eventually registered and along with three unrelated RR registered rams became the foundation of their Canadian Arcott flock.

My visit to Dusty Ridge Ranch started, as most visits do, with a chat at the kitchen table. Sherry, Harold and their daughter Faith filled me in on the details of the operation. Faith, 19 years old, took a rare afternoon off from her studies at the University of Manitoba where she is pursuing a degree in Ag. Business. The attention to detail that impressed the CFIA scientists was evident as Sherry flipped through GenOvis information, DNA test results, CSBA records and Tunis registration certificates. Harold proudly talked about their breeding programs, “We have seven distinct sire lines with the Tunis and six more with the Canadians, 16 registered rams of each breed.” One of the recent highlights for the Bosmas is the importation of two registered yearling Tunis rams from Wisconsin. There is no Canadian registration for the Tunis breed, so all of the records come through the National Tunis Sheep Registry in the United States.

Producer Profile: Dusty Ridge Ranch Grunthal, Manitoba

Harold making use of the turn-table to trim feet on a Tunis ram.

The current schedule has them lambing four times over the course of the year, between December and May. The goal is to eventually move to where each ewe will lamb three times every two years. It is all ‘natural’ breeding and they have had good success breeding ewes that are still lactating. They will breed one ram to groups of between 15 and 25 ewes, depending on the ram’s age. They lamb out a total of 60 ewes in each of the four lambings.

Sherry scans the ewes 40 to 45 days after the rams have been pulled. “Our scanning chute is quick and easy to set up, I have a 95% accuracy rate determining if the ewes are bred. Now I want to work on being able to count the number of fetuses each ewe is carrying.” Sherry has worked closely with their veterinarian, Dr. Earl Van Assen, to hone her skills with the scanner. The Canadian ewe lambs are bred to lamb at 12 months of age. Scanning and pulling out any open ewe lambs after breeding means those animals can still be shipped as market lambs. The Tunis ewe lambs are bred to lamb at 15 months.

The drop area for the lambs and claiming pens are all portable, so there is flexibility in how things are set up. The ewes are shorn a month prior to lambing and will be run through the handling system again three weeks before lambing for their Glanvac 6 vaccination booster. The rams and any of the ewes that were missed through the year are sheared in the spring. “The first fleece off of the Tunis ewe lambs is a beautiful colour and is popular with artisans,” said Harold. “We market some of those directly, the rest is commercial wool”.

The ewes and lambs are placed in the jugs after lambing and will spend one or two days there before moving into a step-down group. The lambing rate for the two breeds is the same. “The ewe lambs will give us 1.85 – 1.9 and the mature ewes run between 2 and 2.15.” said Harold. The ewes, ewe lambs included, are expected to raise twins. The average birth weight on the lambs is 10.8 lb. Triplets and the occasional quad are raised in a small nursery using a LacTeck milk replacer machine. They have had good success with the Cargill/Purina brand milk replacer.

The lambs are weighed, tagged and docked (rings) in the claiming pen, all of the males are left intact. Every lamb gets two tags. The registered Canadian Arcott lambs are tagged with the dual CSIP tags. Crossbred lambs receive a regular CSIP tag and a management tag. Because there is no Canadian registry for the Tunis, they cannot use the dual CSIP tags. The registered Tunis lambs get a regular CSIP tag and a different management tag identifying them as registered.

The view from one of the five barn cameras.

The barns are monitored with both hard-wired and wi-fi cameras. “One of the best investments we’ve made,” said Sherry. “We have five in use now with three more ready to install, they save an awful lot of time.”

The barns at Dusty Ridge Ranch are all interconnected, making it easy to move the sheep to where they need to be. The old milkhouse (20’ x 40’) has counters, sinks, fridge, microwave, storage and office space. The adjacent handling area (30’ x 50’) houses the small nursery and provides a handy, heated area for all of the hands-on sheep work like vaccinations, hoof trimming, shearing and scanning. When not in use the Lakeland tub and chute can be set aside to make room for extra lambing jugs. Once the flock lambs out, they are moved from the lambing barn (35’ x 100’) into the bigger barn (90’ x 165’) that houses the majority of the flock. At the time of my visit, there was one group just finishing lambing, two groups already lambed out and a fourth group ready for shearing.

Harold has a strong farm background. He grew up on a dairy operation near Aylmer, Ontario, and has a diploma in Agriculture from Ridgetown College. He works as a ruminant nutritionist for IKC feeds which he says gives him a real advantage when it comes to feeding the sheep. “We buy all of our feed, so having a close eye on what feeds are available really helps.” Their cost to feed dry and early gestation ewes is currently 35 cents/head/day. That ration is a medium quality grass hay with corn screenings and a mineral mix, it tests at 13% protein. The late gestation and lactation ewes are getting a very nice third cut grass hay with corn screenings. These ewes are a little more expensive to feed, 50 cents/head/day and is 16% protein. He adds a small amount of malt sprouts to the late gestation and lactation rations, “It drives up the intake of the other feeds.” The hay is hand fed off of round bales, strategically placed throughout the barn. The hay and feed mix are fed in alleyway bunk feeders. The flock is fed twice a day and it takes 40 minutes for each round of chores.

Producer Profile: Dusty Ridge Ranch Grunthal, Manitoba

A mix of Canadian Arcott and Tunis ewes lined up at the alleyway bunk feeders.

Lambs have early access to a 20% protein commercial pellet, medicated with monensin to prevent coccidiosis. The lambs receive their Glanvac 6 vaccine between 50 and 60 days of age, the same time as they are doing the 50-day weights. Two weeks prior to weaning the lambs will have been switched to a 17% on-farm mixed ration. The males and females are separated at weaning. Four weeks post weaning the ration is lowered again, this time to 15%.

The birth weights along with 50- and 100-day weights are sent to GenOvis, which then provides the farm with the genetic improvement information to help them select breeding stock. Last year they collected data on 529 lambs and that has helped them create some targets. “The first goal is to produce a healthy lamb; from there we want to see lambs that weigh one pound for every day they’ve been alive when they reach weaning.” The current average weaning weight is 52 lb, their target is 62 lb. The next goal is to reach 1 lb of gain/day between weaning and 100 days. Right now, they are a little short of that at .85 lb/day. The lambs that don’t go for breeding stock are sold as heavy feeder lambs to a local feed lot. They leave Dusty Ridge Ranch between 90 and 100 lb and the feedlot will finish them to 125 lb.

The flock is mostly in the barn, so internal parasites are not a big challenge. They have a 12-acre fenced pasture that includes a three-sided shelter. This is where they will keep groups of dry ewes. “This is more about property maintenance and having space to work the Border Collies,” said Harold. They run 3 Border Collies; Sherry and Faith are members of the Manitoba Stock Dog Association and have started participating in stock dog clinics and trials. The lambs never leave the barns. A single Pyrenees cross guardian dog and a llama keep the predators at bay.

Producer Profile: Dusty Ridge Ranch Grunthal, Manitoba

Faith with Sam, one of the farm’s three Border Collies.

Harold and I talked about the two sheep breeds and how they compare. There are some similarities: prolificacy, seasonality in breeding, lambing rates, plenty of milk and both breeds are docile and easy to handle. He sees a good ‘meat to bone’ ratio in the Tunis and the long loin makes a very attractive market animal. Future plans include some loin scanning on market lambs. “We also like the narrow skull on the Tunis, it makes for easier lambing” he said. The Canadian Arcott has, in Harold’s opinion, a real will to live and a drive to feed. He is pleasantly surprised that the ewes are quite maternal for what is really a terminal breed.

Purebred and commercial breeding stock sales are a significant market for the farm. “Filling orders for custom breeding packages is working well”, said Harold. “One of our goals is to have satisfied, repeat customers, and we’re getting that.” The flock records are all tracked using Ewe Manage software and an Allflex reader. The Canadian Arcott, Tunis and commercial flocks are all enrolled on the GenOvis evaluation program. (

Producer Profile: Dusty Ridge Ranch Grunthal, Manitoba

A pen of Canadian Arcott, Tunis and crossbreds.

Genetic testing for scrapie resistance has helped the breeding stock sales. All rams that are retained for breeding or sold to breeders are RR. All of the ewes are either RR or QR. They have been using Gene Check out of Greely, Colorado for this work.

Even with all that goes on at home, the Bosma family is involved in lots of off-farm activities. Harold, Sherry and all of the children are involved in the local 4-H programs and community agricultural fairs. They worked with Agriculture in the Classroom-Manitoba to create a great 10-minute YouTube video on sheep farming ( – search for Bosma). Harold sits on the board of directors of the Manitoba Sheep Association and the Manitoba Forage and Grasslands Association.

The current operation achieves two goals the Bosma family had when they started raising livestock: to use all the buildings on the farm, and to provide stimulating home based jobs for the whole family. The four younger children Ciarra (16), Taquayla (14), Cruz (13) and Toby (12) are also involved in running the farm. Harold and Sherry laughed when they talked about all of the work that gets done. “They all have slightly different skill sets, one has a memory like a steel trap, another a real insight into what the sheep are going to do, they all bring something different to the barn.”

Scrapie Genotyping in Sheep

The genetic makeup of sheep is a significant factor in their susceptibility to infection with classical scrapie. As a result, sheep genotyping is a disease control measure used in Canada’s National Scrapie Eradication Program (NSEP).

A genotype is an individual’s collection of genes. Like all mammals, sheep receive 1 allele for each gene from their dam (ewe) and 1 allele from their sire (ram). Alleles are the different versions of a gene. Scrapie genotyping refers to testing that reveals the specific alleles inherited for the animals’ prion gene that makes an animal more or less susceptible to scrapie.

The different alleles inherited for a sheep’s prion gene determine which particular amino acids will be included at particular locations of the sheep’s prion protein. Current scientific literature indicates that the presence of certain combinations of amino acids at 3 specific locations (known as codons) on the sheep’s prion gene influence a sheep’s relative susceptibility to scrapie.

In North America codons at positions 136 and 171 are of primary importance in association with classical scrapie.

  • Codon 136 codes for either the amino acid valine (V) or alanine (A).
  • Codon 171 codes for the amino acid glutamine (Q) or arginine (R).

1 common way to write genotypes for sheep is by the codon number followed by the corresponding amino acid: at 136 V for valine or A for alanine, at 171 R for arginine and Q for glutamine. The possible amino acid combinations at these 2 locations on the sheep prion gene and their impact on susceptibility to scrapie are listed here.


Susceptibility to classical scrapie based on genotype

It is important to understand that scrapie genotyping is not disease testing. A 171QQ sheep does not automatically have scrapie, just as it is not an absolute guarantee that a 171RR sheep cannot get scrapie.

  • Scrapie genotyping is a tool used by the CFIA during disease control actions. All mature exposed sheep in a scrapie infected flock are subject to a blood test to determine their susceptibility to scrapie infection. Typically, only the intermediate and highly susceptible sheep are ordered destroyed and this minimizes the number of sheep ordered destroyed on the scrapie infected premises.
  • Scrapie genotyping is a tool that can be used by a producer in an overall plan to manage the risk of scrapie on their farm. Whether or not a particular producer should use scrapie genotyping is a decision based on individual factors.


Who might consider selective breeding for genetic resistance to scrapie

A producer who provides a large number of breeding ewes to other producers

  • A producer who purchases breeding ewes from multiple sources of unknown scrapie status
  • A producer who has a significant number of 171 RR breeding animals in their flock, thus breeding for resistance would be easy, achieved relatively quick and would not have a significant impact on breeding for other production traits


A very effective way to breed for genetic resistance for scrapie is to select only rams that are 171RR genotype. All lambs from 171RR rams will inherit at least one R and will be more resistant to scrapie.


Who might not consider selective breeding for genetic resistance to scrapie

  • A producer with a flock that has been closed for a long time and has no evidence of scrapie.
  • A producer that has a breed of sheep or a flock with few or no animals with a 171QR or 171RR genotypes.
  • A producer that does not want to deviate from their breeding plan for selection of other production traits.