Foot Flats Farm - Amherst Island, Ontario, Canada Foot Flats Farm Seasonal Newsletter

2010 in Review

Overall a very busy and successful year with lots of projects on the go and a good year for sheep and lamb prices.

The Market: Prices have stayed high for market lambs and demand for replacement ewe lambs has been strong. We sold all our available ewe lambs to both new and existing customers in 2010 and are taking bookings for the fall of 2011. There is no reason that we can see, why the prices shouldn't stay high. New Zealand's flock continues it's decline in numbers (because of a shift to dairy farming) and Australia has had it's run of droughts and now floods. Even more relevant is the continued strength of demand in the Toronto market from a wide range of ethnic groups for all types/weights of sheep and lambs.

Traceability Pilot Project: This was a federal project aimed at identifying benefits and/or problems that might be associated with moving to an electronic identification system. This will become compulsory in 2012 in Canada. We tested different brands of EID tags, some of the equipment needed to read the tags, and worked with a software package designed to store and track the information gathered in the field and barn. As part of this program we purchased a Prattley auto-sort which can automatically sort sheep/lambs 3 ways on the basis of 3 different weight ranges that we are able to pre-set each time we sort. We can also sort 3 ways visually using a remote control with a range of 30 feet which enables us to walk up and down the race to keep the sheep moving and thereby sort single handed. The next step is to install a portal reader (on it's way from NZ as we write) to read the electronic ear tags as the animals pass through the auto-sort.

Importation of Semen: Since the Coopworth flock in the Fraser Valley that we have sourced rams from in the past has been sold and the sheep dispersed and there are no other flocks in Canada we decided to import Coopworth semen from New Zealand. There are many flocks there that have been on a recording system for a number of years and you can select rams for range of different characteristics. We chose two unrelated rams that each had high scores for hardiness, easy care lambing with high lamb survivability and good mothering, good production criteria, and in particular, scored high in parasite resistance. The process of picking and booking the semen started in November 2009. The semen arrived in Canada in Summer 2010. We picked 120 of our "best" 3- and 4-year-olds and inseminated 100 of them by Laparoscopy in mid-November 2010. We put a ram out with them in mid December wearing a harness and it looks as though we have 78 ewes due to lamb with the NZ genetics in April .

Importance of Parasite Resistance: The warm, wet summers of the last two years have given us problems with Haemoncus Contorta (barbers pole worm) which can develop very quickly and cause serious losses in the right weather conditions if you don't catch it in time. Up until three years ago we had never seen a problem with Haemonchus in our flock but now along with many producers across Ontario we are seeing it when temperature and humidity levels are high and perfect for the parasite.

Shearing Record: September saw us shearing our lambs. Donny Metheral, our shearer, phoned the week before and said that he had 3 American shearing friends up for a visit and were we keen to try for a tally. Three shearers shore 1124 lambs in an 8 hour day and claimed the North American Record for a 3-stand shed. Thanks to all the people--Gerald Gemmill, Dan Simpson, Tagget Bonham-Carter and David Bonham-Carter that helped in the shed, the shearers Alex Moser, Nolan Abel and Don Metheral and Kevin Hickman who was our official time keeper and organizer for making it a day to remember.

Ontario Sheep Industry: Things are changing. We are starting to see larger flocks and there is a growing emphasis on profitability in the business. The Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency has started a financial benchmarking project and over 30 of us are involved. The study is attempting to identify Key Performance Indicators for the sheep industry in Ontario. We are not surprised to see that higher profitability seems to be positively linked to economies of scale, time spent on pasture management and the minimization of days spent on a full winter feeding program. It is impossible to have any discussion on the Economics and Management of sheep flocks in Eastern Ontario without the topic of Coyote Predation coming up.

Coyote Predation: Again in the grazing season of 2010 Coyote predation was one of our biggest challenges - we lost over 60 pieces (lambs, ewes and even rams). We now have over 300 acres fenced at home to keep the coyotes out and this continues to work. However once lambing is over and everything has been processed through the yards we move onto rented land where the sheep are behind electric fence and are vulnerable. The Guard dogs work hard and certainly make a big difference. The guard dogs vary a lot in temperament and we are constantly focusing on breeding a more effective guard dog. At present we are breeding from Tarzan and Venus, two of the best dogs we have ever had.

Footflats Cabin and the Goodman House: The waterfront cabin is almost fully booked for the summer - there is 1 week left in July. Family Week, the week we get together with all the kids and grandkids is July 1st-July 8th this year - we will have to be very organized to get a float ready for the parade!!

The Goodman House still has availability at this point and is increasingly popular for family reunions/ groups. We have had a number of repeat customers which is encouraging. Through the winter we have had various groups of birders staying and it is interesting to see the lists in the Journal of the birds they have seen.

Finally: Health and Happiness to all our friends and neighbours here and around the world and a huge THANK YOU to Jules Carter who put this website together in the beginning and has continued to update it for us every year, who is patient with us when we are late and a good friend.

Cherry and Mark