A component of sustainable stewardship, environmental stewardship is about using practices that have a positive impact on the land and its resources. This includes both efforts to reduce damage that has already occurred, as well as taking measures to prevent future damage.
Conservation and soil health practices on our farm include:
use of perennial pastures (no tilling)
use of cover crops on our garlic and flower beds
integrating crop and animal systems by having our sheep graze pasture that has been hayed
support of the natural riparian zones created by the Jarvis creek running through our property
planting of native tree and shrub species
controlling invasive plants
using manure in complement to synthetic fertilizers
All four of us are anomalies in the farming world as we did not grow up on farms. Beverly and Bryan began farming in the Haliburton area in the mid-2000s on a small 56-acre mixed farm. They raised lamb, pigs, chickens and cattle, and maintained a large market garden. They became regulars at the local farmer's markets and sold directly to restaurants. Brody and Gwen were introduced to farming through them and began raising chickens and growing their own garden on 42 acres outside of Fort Frances in the community of Devlin. All four of us are first generation farmers with the additional distinction of starting when we were in our 40's and 50's respectively.
The Polypay sheep breed is relatively young. It was developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States. "Poly" speaks to its lineage as the breed was developed from four other sheep breeds: Finsheep, Dorsets, Targhees and Rambouillets. Polypay sheep are a well-rounded breed as they both produce quality wool and quality lamb.
We are very focused on making sure our finished lamb is of the highest quality possible. In addition to the other measures detailed in this section, we ask for feedback from the abattoir, butchers and customers who purchase our lamb. We also regularly prepare our own lamb so that we have first-hand knowledge of our products.
Our lamb has never been given growth-promoting hormones. This is true for all farms in Canada as growth-promoting hormones are banned by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Our ewes have never been given any hormones to stimulate their cycle. We do not administer progesterone or any other hormone.
Polypay sheep can breed at different times of year naturally. When it is out of the standard breeding cycle it is called "out-of-season" breeding. We do not need to use any drugs to bring this about. We breed once a year, which means we do not have an accelerated lambing operation.
We are working towards making sure we are using the whole animal. There is a lot of opportunity for us to improve in this area, especially as we start producing more lamb, and therefore have the quantities necessary for further processing.
One significant way that we are growing in this area is the addition of a Wool Mill in the summer of 2023. This will allow us to process the wool from our Polypay sheep, as well as provide other fibre producers in Northern Ontario with a local processing option. The Polypay breed is known for its high quality fibre, so we look forward to create products from raw fleece to batts to yarn, as well as felted products.
We work with a nutritionist year-round to make sure our sheep have the diet they need for optimal health. It is unusual for a farm as small as ours to have the ability to work with a nutritionist. We are very grateful for the opportunity and have learned so much about sheep nutrition from her.
Our work with the nutritionist is on-going as the diet for the sheep changes throughout the year. Different factors such as cold weather or having a lamb impact the ewe’s nutritional needs. We have learned from the nutritionist and from our own research, that it is not possible to keep the sheep in good health on a completely grass-fed diet here in Northwestern Ontario. So, in addition to grass in the summer and hay year-round, we provide sheep feed (pellets) and barley as per the nutritionist’s directions. We also give the sheep free access to salt licks and mineral powders.
No Preventative Antibiotics
We only use antibiotics when they are recommended by our vet for an animal in need. As a result, antibiotics on our farm are administered rarely, and it is unusual for a lamb to have received antibiotics. We would not want any of our animals to suffer and as such, do not have a blanket "no antibiotics policy".
A lamb would never go to the abattoir with antibiotics still in their system. If you would prefer lamb that has never received antibiotics, just note that in the comment box when you order.
One way that we avoid antibiotics in the lambs is by providing lambs with a medicated feed for the first four months of life. This avoids coccidiosis.
We have made the following choices when it comes to our packaging to that it can either be recycled or composted
kraft paper wrapping, bags and boxes
burlap bags for our garlic and wool
jute twine for closures
When we work with our sheep, we try to do so in ways that minimize their stress. It is impossible to 100% eliminate their stress reaction, but by following the Code of Practice from Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Council we can do our best for our sheep.
Some specific decisions we have made that improve our sheep’s welfare include:
investing in a Ritchie Combi Clamp Sheep Handling System
keeping the flock in family groups
making sure they have ample space and clean facilities
To keep our flock as healthy as possible, we have instituted a semi-“closed flock” policy. We do not plan to purchase ewes from other farms but will instead keep a percentage of our best female lambs as future breeding ewes. Our standards for retainment include evaluation of their size, wool quality and overall health. We have a quarantine procedure for the introduction of a new breeding ram every few years. This approach significantly reduces the risk of accidentally bringing disease to the farm.
When we have people visit the farm we follow bio-security protocols such as providing boot covers, using hand sanitization stations and limiting direct access to pens.
Our flock health program also includes scheduled vaccinations, regular hoof trimming and annual shearing. We work with the local vet closely, and have completed a flock health check every year since we started.
as a Goal
A farm is a business, and as such one of our more immediate goals is that the farm provides full-time wages for three people. Sustainable agriculture and its tenets give us a way to balance that economic goal with our environmental stewardship objectives (detailed above) and social responsibilities.
Some examples of specific actions (in addition to the land stewardship actions noted above) include diversification of products (read about our garlic here), maximizing the use of our sheep, participation in the local community and partnerships with local businesses.
The future Wool Mill (anticipated Summer 2023) is a great example of many of these actions, as it helps us make better use of our own wool while also meeting a need in the community for local fibre processing.
Our ewes and lambs are grazed on pasture when the season allows, although there is limited opportunity in northern Ontario. We do use a rotational grazing system in that our animals move from pasture to pasture. This is an area in which we have plans for improvement.
We graze our animals on pasture during the day and bring them back into our open-air pens at night. Due to the number of potential predators in the area, we do not think it is safe for them to be in a field overnight. In the winter, our sheep stay in these pens full-time. We use our enclosed barn during the lambing periods as an extra measure of protection for vulnerable lambs. Our sheep have plenty of space in these pens.
To keep our sheep safe, we have two guardian livestock dogs that live with the sheep.
We do not add any colour, filler or additives to our lamb at any stage of production, including the packaging stage.
Currently, packaging of the lamb is handled by the abattoir or the butcher in Thunder Bay. The abattoir gives the choice between standard butcher freezer paper or vacuum-sealing, while the butcher offers the later.
If you have any questions about our farm, please don't hesitate to reach out!
We are always happy to answer questions, and we do provide farm tours for customers.
"Testimonials are a great way to showcase positive feedback from others."
Timberly Williams, Dryden