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

ARCHIVED NEWSLETTER - 21st September 2007

Autumnal Equinox

We never got around to writing a newsletter for June 21st. We were in the middle of a family reunion and then got sucked into the vortex of hay-making, which of course is closely followed by weaning the lambs, moving the ewes to their summer pastures and hauling the hay home.

We are now into our September mode. A quick trip to Scotland to see family in the first half of the month and then back in time to get ready for lamb shearing. September has not been quite as relaxing as usual as we are experiencing the driest conditions we have had in the seventeen years on this farm. Every pond we have has completely dried up. The speed with which the pastures burned off in the first week of August was dramatic compared to the usual browning off that we would expect. We are having to haul water, feed out hay and come up with strategies as the prospect of any significant fall growth is less and less likely.

In April we had a new and very unfortunate experience. One group of ewes (out of three groups) in the barn showed depressed appetites and a few started to slip their lambs. As these were the only group that were being fed barley we suspected that the problem might be feed related. We immediately changed their ration but the problem lingered on for sometime with this group of ewes. They did poorly and continuing to abort their lambs. Samples from fetuses, placentas and later blood tests appeared to eliminate infectious agents as the cause of the problem. Samples of the barley however tested high for vomitoxin (which also tends to suggest that the conditions were probably right for the production of other mycotoxins as well). Apparently a lot of research has yet to be done on mycotoxins and how they work but they certainly cause ill-thrift, poor appetite and abortion. In future we intend to only feed grain that has been screened for mycotoxins.

After this initial poor start the actual lambing itself was the best we’ve ever had. Good weather, good grass and the ewes in good shape. Mind you, we would like to give ourselves some credit for this by believing that it is due, in some part, to our genetic selection and the fine-tuning of our management.

The family reunion on June 22nd marked the twins’ (Rupert and James) 40th birthday. Adam, Sue, Gayla, Natasha and Rebecca came from New Zealand. Jonas and Helga and their two boys came from Iceland and joined family and friends from across Canada. It was the first time ever that all the grandchildren had been together (see photo).We roasted a lamb at the cottage in perfect weather, swam , played games, visited and generally enjoyed ourselves for the week.

Haymaking had its usual challenges with machinery, but the weather conditions were good and we made some good quality hay with only a small amount getting rained on. The yield was surprisingly good considering the relatively dry spring and early summer. A new friend — Mike McKee was a huge help in making the hay. Mike is in the army but intends eventually to farm sheep. He gave up all his weekends and holidays to help us with haymaking and we finished in time for Mike to be home with his wife Anita when she gave birth to their third son Graham. Sadly (for us) the Army offered Mike a promotion and he has decided to stay on for another five years. He has been posted to Petawawa and the family has moved to the Ottawa valley. We wish them well and definitely plan to stay in touch.

Reflecting on the hot summer and the current drought it is certainly nice to live on the Island — not far to go for a swim and not far to draw water for thirsty livestock. If only the coyotes — yes, they’ve been a bad problem again this year — wouldn’t come over on the winter ice and then decide to stay for lamb and mutton feeds throughout the summer. Talking of holidays the cottage and farmhouse were fully booked this year. This season one of the main attractions noted in the visitor’s book is the peace and quiet and the absence of phone and internet!!!

Bye for now, Mark and Cherry