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  • Writer's pictureBryan

Thunder Bay is not close to Cookstown: A Shipping Sheep Disaster

Updated: Mar 29

I think we have mentioned in earlier blogs that I had bought some additional sheep – four rams and five ewe lambs for breeding. They were all Polypay which is the breed we currently have – in fact, they were from the same flock I bought our original group from. The opportunity to get one or two Polypay rams was exciting – I didn’t really need four but that’s what the seller wanted. The deal was finalized last fall, however, due to the busy schedule of the seller and the lack of availability of ‘Trailer space’ for just nine sheep, it kept getting postponed. Finally, it happened the first week in January – these nine would make the same trip the original group made two years ago! Alas, it was not to be!!

For those not familiar with the livestock transport process and the regulations involved, let me elaborate slightly. First, there are rules governing how long a driver can drive in a 24 hour period, and then there are rules as to how long livestock can be on a trailer – they have to be unloaded, given food and water and a 24 hour rest period. In this case since they were starting from Alberta, they would be off-loaded for a rest stop in Brandon, Manitoba. It isn’t unusual for it not to be the same rig loading them up and continuing their trip east. As I found out later, the rig transporting them east had delivered a load of cattle into Minnesota , crossed the American/Canadian border empty, and loaded in Brandon. I was told to expect a call from the driver, probably some time on Sunday (January 8th). For any truck hauling east out of Brandon, they have to go through Thunder Bay. West of Thunder Bay on Hwy 17 are two off-loading (rest) spots for livestock and I would find out which one he was stopping at and I would transfer the sheep to my trailer there.

I got the call late in the afternoon on the 8th. The driver first introduced himself and told me where he was. I didn’t recognize the name of the place and he told me later that that’s when he started to think something was wrong! He then asked me where exactly I was and I said, “on my farm SW of Thunder Bay”. I won’t repeat the next several words I heard. He then said something is terribly wrong (or words to that effect), “I’m 40 minutes away from Cookstown!” For those of you not familiar with where Cookstown is, first it is nowhere near Thunder Bay. It is northwest of Toronto. It is the largest (I believe) stockyards/livestock auction barn in Ontario. The driver said, “I have been instructed to take them to OSI (Ontario Stockyards – aka Cookstown) and phone you when I’m about ½ hour away”. He then said he had to make some calls and would be back to me shortly. He did get back to me, but he hadn’t been able to get in touch with everyone he hoped to (understandable, as it was late Sunday afternoon). The bottom line: he was taking them to Cookstown and would make sure the people there knew they weren’t supposed to be there and were to be penned separately i.e., they weren’t there for auction!

I then got in touch with the farmer from Alberta who owned them and shipped them. He certainly wasn’t happy and said he would get in touch with his shipper. I then got a call from the shipper who said he was told to ship them to OSI by the seller and this wasn’t his problem. I phoned the seller back, relayed the message and told him that this was between him and his shipper. He said, “well, you could go get them”. I said, “do you realize how far away I am? It’s about a 16 – 18 hour trip from my place one way and I’m not set up to make that kind of trip with livestock on board for that length of time. You need to get in touch with Cookstown, make arrangements and then work on getting them back here ASAP”. I said I would try from my end as well. He phoned me back Monday morning saying that he had talked to Cookstown and they would be fine for a couple of days and he was looking into truckers coming west. I repeated that I would do what I could but this was not an area I had much experience with.

Over the next week, I got a crash course in the world of shipping far less than a full load of livestock west while staying on the Canadian side of the border. It wasn’t fun! I found out about new legislation that now required drivers to enter/send their trip activities electronically. It is apparently dumb/stupid (according to the shippers) and is throwing off all their trip times so right now they don’t know exactly when their trucks will be where they are supposed to be. This meant that no one would guarantee “when” they might be able to turn around to head west and whether they could fit nine sheep on board. The “9 sheep part” was a big problem – either they wanted to head out full or they just weren’t setup to take nine sheep. I had potential transport Wednesday – no, then maybe Thursday – no, then maybe the weekend – no and then a “high” probability for Monday.

So, Monday came and things went from bad to way worse. The seller phoned me to tell me he had just got a call from Cookstown informing him that one off the rams couldn’t get up and they were arranging for it to be euthanized that afternoon. This can happen due to the stress of shipping, but also many other things. Needless to say, he was very, very upset and told me if I couldn’t get them out of Cookstown that day, he was going to put them up for auction. I said that I would check into the “high possibility Monday” option that was to supposed to arrive at Cookstown around noon to load. Well, guess what: that truck was delayed and probably wouldn’t go until the end of the week. I then contacted Ontario Sheep, an organization I am a member of, to see if they had any ideas. They didn’t, so I phoned the seller back and informed him – no luck. He said he was phoning to have them auctioned off and that’s the last I have heard from him.

The whole experience was pretty depressing. We went from being excited at welcoming the nine sheep to finding out they were probably all in less than good health and certainly not coming here. It doesn’t help that every day I get reminded of it when I walk by the empty pens that were readied for them. We still need rams, which means I am going to be searching elsewhere. If I don’t go and get them, I can assure you I will be triple checking the shipping address!

Bryan beside the pen set up for the new arrivals.

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