By Farrah Federau
When I first saw the advert on Facebook for the sheep clinic with Viki I knew right away I was going to attend along with a family member I could convince to come.
Although all of my family and friends are supportive of my new strange desires to spend wild amounts of money on my dogs and stand out in the blazing sun for hours on end at a trial, they aren’t sure about my need to spend time with the sheep without my dog present. My aspiration to own sheep some day is met with confused smiles, or exclamations of "livestock is hard work".
Except for my mother-in-law Susan who is a hobby farmer herself up in Sauble Beach area. Not yet a sheep owner but I'm working on it. She arrived at my place at 9am so we had plenty of time to chat about the day to follow, or so we thought. We got lost in our chat and ran out the door to arrive late at 10:07am. Viki’s talk was well under way. As a student of hers I did know a bit about how she got into sheep dogging, but she explained it this time from the sheep side. The struggle it was to be a Torontonian farmer but the rewards of owning the sheep continued to lure her deeper and deeper into farming.
As we are hearing the intro, in front of us is a ewe who had just given birth around 8am. The lambs are tiny and wet, being nuzzled by their mother as she makes her little lamb nickers. It makes for an adorable scene, however soon I'm distracted from Viki’s presentation by a long red gooey mass oozing from the sheep's vulva. I assume it's some part of the lambing process but still cannot wrap my head around it. Fortunately, someone else was with it enough to ask what was going on. Viki explained this was the passing of the placenta. This sheep in particular was actually quite quick in passing it, two hours after birth when it can take much longer. After it had passed Viki swept in with a handful of straw to dispose of the placenta to avoid slipping on it herself or one of the dogs getting an unexpected snack.
Next, we moved on to how Viki chose her particular breeds of sheep to serve her unique requirements. She needed something that was small enough to handle easily, athletic enough to be able to train dogs with daily, flighty enough to stay sharp for the dogs but not wild, and as low maintenance lambers as possible – all of this while still producing a good number of lambs so the sheep are balancing themselves out on the cheque book side.
Corey one of 2 faithful guardian dogs
The breed influences she has used to come up with this combo are Barbados, Rideau and Cheviot. This leads to a mix of hair and wool sheep that end up partially molting depending on the percentage of hair vs wool they have. Despite the molt the sheep have enough wool that they do need to be shorn every year so they don't get too hot but the wool hair combo has no value. We all passed around the wool and had a feel of coarse fibers.
Then we got a crash course on roughage. First cut hay, second cut, third cut and silage. Each had increasing levels of protein for the sheep to munch on all day depending on their workload, lambing or dog training sheep. We got to see feel and smell, especially in the case of silage, each type. Then the samples were distributed to the lucky ewes in the closest pen who jostled for the best bites of the unexpected windfall.
Lambs ignored at feeding time
After the hay demo we saw the extras, at this point of the day the sheep knew what was happening. All the sheep and lambs were put outside so we could fill the mangers. The sounds of bah-ing slowly increased in volume as Viki explained how the sheep got a mixture of corn, soybean meal, and minerals. After the feed was evenly distributed among the bins, she opened the barn door and the sheep thundered in. Not something you would want to be in the middle of. It really made me understand why Viki wants a smaller, easier to manage, sheep.
The sheep were chowing down so we were thinking of our own meal! Anne Wheatley, of the OBCC Learning and Development Committee, shepherded us inside for some delicious hot soup. A balm to our cold hands and feet from standing still in barn.
Back in the barn after lunch we saw the new much lauded lamb milk machine. Instead of having to make and fill buckets of milk replacement for the orphan lambs the machine kept milk available and warm 24 hours a day like it would be from the ewe.
Then the processing of a new set of lambs. Each lamb gets recorded and tagged in Viki’s lambing book noting the gender and lineage. It was also noted in the book if the sheep was exceptional. Then some shots to make up for deficiencies and boost the immune system.
Under the heat lamp in the orphan pen
An exceptional sheep is one that lambs easily, feeds her two lambs quickly and keeps her own weight on. Then they were given a family number, so they could easily be put back together if problems occurred.
The new little family is released from their lamb pen to be free in the barn for a few hours. Then will be added to the whole flock after the lambs have learned how to follow their mom around.
Last, but not least we had our lamb photo op! Everyone had an opportunity to hold a lamb and get a picture, for their grandchildren or themselves. In my case, definitely for myself!
Farrah (Author) and Susan
*photo credits to Farrah Federau