I farm 75 acres of organic land situated in the Tay Valley, Perth, Lanark County. The main income of the farm comes from five acres of vegetable production, supplying produce to Ottawa and the surrounding areas via CSA and Farmers Markets. I have a small beef herd and a small flock of sheep – approximately 25 ewes. All lamb and beef are grass fed and finished, with no grain supplement. They are pasture-raised in the summer and fed hay in the winter.

My first experience with sheep started 20 years ago when my daughter decided to buy two bred Horned Dorset ewes. These two ewes were purchased with money that she earned at the nearby dairy farm.  At that time, I operated an organic farm growing grain and beef in Iroquois, Ontario. I inherited my daughter’s small flock of sheep after she left for university.

To alleviate the yearly shearing and to combat worm issues, I bought a Katahdin ram. This breed of sheep is predominantly raised as meat animals. It is unique in that the sheep do not have woolen coats, but hair instead. They naturally shed their winter coats, making them far less maintenance intensive than woolen sheep breeds. They are also significantly tolerant of internal and external parasites. 

When I moved to Tay Valley, I purchased a small flock of Katahdin/Dorper crossbred yearling ewes. Dorper lambs have amazing growth rates when young. I have since bred my ewes with a British Milksheep ram and a Rideau ram, which results in bigger ewes and larger lambs for market. These bigger ewes typically produce up to two babies at each lambing. Since these are wool-bearing rams, it also means that I now shear the ewes every year. 

Internal parasites don’t seem to be a problem – the ewes and lambs don’t show any negative symptoms. As a result, I do not use any form of deworming. An occasional snack of a few garlic stalks and onions may help.

The sheep flock and cattle herd are pastured together with love and harmony. They both have access to the barn in the winter, each with their separate areas. They can go in and out as they please. Having sheep and cattle together has not caused any problem that I know of.

My fencing policy is minimalist, so I can only keep the sheep safe in certain fields. I use electric poly netting when I have to divide a pasture, but most of the fencing is 3 to 4 strands of plain electric wire.

Cattle are quite good at protecting the sheep from predators. They have proven themselves to be protective of the flock so far, but it is not a 100%. This year there has been a lot more pressure from coyotes and I have lost two full grown lambs and four newborn lambs this summer

I have considered acquiring a Livestock Guardian dog for the sheep but have decided against it. My two Blue Heeler dogs are generally quite good at keeping coyotes away. Since the sheep come back to the barn each evening, this also provides protection against predators. As added protection, I recently invested in a Fox Light, which gives the perception of someone walking around the area with a flashlight, thus (hopefully) keeping predators at bay.

The ewes mostly lamb in mid-winter when I have more time to monitor the sheep, but since I run the ram with the flock all year round, there is some lambing in the summertime as well. My current ram is a Cheviot breed and as with all my former rams, he hangs out with the cows rather than with the girls, but he is a ‘keen bean’ to do his job when needed.

My lamb is mostly marketed at the Farmers Market, either sold by cuts or whole lamb. I sold a few live lambs at the livestock sales barn but found it more profitable to sell directly to customers. I sell only frozen cuts at the Farmers market and occasionally larger volumes for a specific order. The lambs are processed at Desormeaux Meats in Crysler, southwest of Ottawa. I have to book at the beginning of the year to ensure the right dates for the rest of the year. 

I keep cattle and sheep for income, as well as a good source of nutrients for the fields. The animals are moved to different fields periodically throughout the year, which help fertilize the fields. I compost the manure from the barn and spread it on the vegetable fields in the fall.

There are lots of advantages to keeping a herd of sheep. The biggest challenges for me now are fencing and coyotes.

 

John Weatherhead

Waratah Downs Organic Farm                   

3444 Scotch Line, Perth ON

waratahdowns@gmail.com

 

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