Weather Extremes Impact Farming

Increasing weather extremes are having a major impact on our sheep farm, and farms world-wide.

This era of increasing mono-culture, single crop production makes farmers more vulnerable to weather extremes. In the past, farms were more diversified so that each year, some of what they produced was more likely to succeed. Ian says “Crop insurance and other government programs are now just one more tool in the tool box. Some years on the old farms you were poor and other years you were really poor”.

For quite a while, we’ve had relatively stable weather patterns.

Now we are having more weather extremes – rain, drought, winds, and wildfires.

It makes it very hard to plan. Our sheep and dogs live on pasture year-round. It is a healthier, more ethical farming practise we believe. Our lamb, yearling, and mutton is in high demand. However…

Pasture farming makes us more vulnerable to weather extremes.

Despite having more next-generation labour and working  long hours, we all seem to be scrambling mightily just to get done what is needed. (Building our Wool Shed last year from scratch in late summer/fall added another element of pressure.)

At Topsy Farms during 2016’s severe drought:

  • We had less hay, but of higher quality.
  • We spent less time haying
  • Thank goodness we were saved from selling sheep with good regrowth in hay fields from ‘just in the nick of time’ early fall rains
  • The sheep had fewer hoof problems; fewer parasites
  • Our ponds were very dry so we spent more time and fuel hauling water
  • Our grazing burned up early, causing anxiety about the necessity of having to sell good breeding sheep.
  • we managed to fit in the major task of building our new Wool Shed; saving the old one
  • Grain costs were unaffected

At Topsy during this year’s wet spring and summer:

  • We had twice the quantity of hay, but much was rained on and most was over mature so quality was much lower
  • About 2 extra months went into the disrupted hay time then hauling the quantity home until mid-Oct. This badly postponed other farm priorities. We hauled over 200 bales, 19 at a time.
  • We had to treat the sheep for more hoof problems and parasites
  • Our ponds were full to overflowing, so we only had to haul water at end of season and to fields with no ponds
  • We had excellent grazing; almost too much grass earlier. Then it over matured before it could be cut or eaten. The dry fall caused a lack of pasture, so we had to supplement with hay.
  • The price of grain was unaffected

The weather extremes also affected our 5 gardens.

Different vegetables, herbs and fruits reacting differently to hot dry, then cooler, wet years. We still managed to put food by.

From early May through August we rarely had 2 sequential days dry. Lake Ontario water was very high, but that affected us less than many others.  Our fields were soaked. We made bad ruts when feeding sheep and when trying to cut and bale hay. In some we couldn’t make bales. There were many more than usual machine breakdowns as they were working harder in wet conditions.

Increasingly, the only ‘normal’ is abnormality. Just like our ancestors, we simply have to learn to adapt to weather extremes in order to survive.