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This time of year is dominated by two activities on a sheep farm: keeping track of the readiness of each lamb to go to market, and preparing the breeding cycle to start again.
All species yearn to procreate.
Shepherds just learn to manage that urge. We want each lamb to be born in spring on greening pastures, so we have to count back to decide when the boys go in with the girls.
Ours live outdoors with the dogs year-round, but of course their food must be supplemented with hay, baleage and sometimes grain and soy beans in the late fall and winter months.
Each week or so the market lambs move through the chutes in the barn where Christopher checks whether each lamb is ‘finished’. He feels along the backbone by the loin to find the ridge not too boney(not ready yet) just perceptible (meat has filled in) but not disappeared (oops, too fatty).
We sell yummy lamb to about 300 to private customers from Toronto to Ottawa and to local butchers. Most of our lamb-lovers come from the Kingston area, and they pick up their order of lamb at the Pig and Olive, where ‘Aussi Al’ knows how to cut. A phone call to the farm (613 389-3444/888 287-3157) can get a person all the details.
The rest of the 1000 lambs chosen for market will travel the high seas (across the ferry) by truck and will travel to The Ontario Stockyards north of Toronto where they attract the gourmet butchers and the top prices.
Meanwhile, the cycle must continue. The ewes must be on a steadily improving diet, so their systems decide it’s ok to ovulate more – ‘this is going to be a good year’. The rams (32 of them for about 1300 ewes) must be in top condition, especially their feet which get very tired during breeding. The teaser rams (those with a vasectomy) are now at the starting gate.
Since we also market our wool products, we scramble to prepare booths for pre-Christmas shows, keep track of inventory, knit more items, and try to keep our books organized.
It isn’t a dull time of the year, down on the farm.