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

ARCHIVED NEWSLETTER - 21st March 2007

Vernal Equinox

The weather continued to be incredibly warm without any significant frosts until mid-January. Winter really started the day we left , in freezing rain, for our New Zealand holiday. Bill and Judy had to cope with some very cold and snowy weather right up to the end of February. Despite the predictable problems associated with bad weather, they managed well, and at shearing time in mid-March the ewes were in as good condition as we’ve ever had them at that time of year.

This was the first time back to N.Z. for Mark in 17 years – some things were very familiar and some quite different-it was a strange time warp. Of course neither he or his friends looked any older!!

The sheep have been pushed off any flat land with good rainfall or irrigation potential by the boom in dairy farming, dairy support (calf rearing, the grazing of heifers and dry cows), and the tremendous growth of the wine industry. There has been more than a little “irrational exuberance” in the agricultural sector – producers have been very optimistic and rural lending has been very aggressive – and farmland prices are such that returns to capital are now very low.

Although sheep farming has retreated to the hill country and ewe numbers are down, lamb production is being maintained by the use of prolific composite ewes, farm development and higher fertilizer usage. The performance of our composite ewes at home at Footflats appears to be as good as any composites we saw in N.Z.– mature ewes raising 1.75 lambs per ewe and the hoggets raising a lamb apiece.

The use of higher levels of fertilizer and the intensification of dairy farming have led to concerns about water quality that could potentially back-fire on N.Z.’s clean green image. There are areas now where livestock numbers and fertilizer use may be capped – sounds familiar!

The major meat processing companies appear to be manipulating their weekly price schedules. Good prices at off season to maintain throughput, but sharply lowered schedules from Christmas to March when the main run of lambs come through enabling them to make up their profits. Larger carcasses are penalized which seems odd to us as a lot of them must be ideal for the growing Islamic market. This price drop after Xmas to $50/head or less is hard on some younger farmers whose cost of production is $60/head. A friend told us “we had to farm through $15/head lambs 15 years ago but there is a whole generation of younger farmers who have grown up with better prices and for whom $50 is too low.”

One of the significant factors on the successful sheepfarms is the continued use of less and less labour – something that is partly achieved by better handling technology. On this note we visited the Prattley factory in Temuka where they make the portable sheep and cattle yards and other handling equipment. We were given a full tour of the factory and were very impressed with the efficiency and care taken to produce their product. Now that subsidy levels in Europe have dipped and farms have to become more efficient Prattley is enjoying a surge in exports. Prattley yards were particularly useful in the U.K. when they were fighting the foot and mouth epidemic. We ordered a set of Prattleys for Footflats and have agreed to become the Canadian Distributors for the company – we will shortly be posting information on the website.

It was nice to be reminded of the positive attitude to Agriculture in N.Z. and the willingness to “have a go” and take risks. Some farming ventures will fail because of being too aggressive and having too high debt levels – but there is life after farming and people we know who left farming in the 80’s are now happy in other walks of life.

Whilst we were in N.Z. we were interviewed by a monthly farming paper (Country-Wide Journal) about sheep farming in Ontario and hopefully we’ll have a copy of this on the website in the News section.

The six weeks flew by as we traveled around the country seeing friends and family – covered 4500km in an old Ford station wagon that son Adam, who lives in Nelson with his family purchased for us. We saw some spectacular and very varied country, drove on some very scary roads (for Cherry), learned a lot and Mark did as much fishing as possible.

Back home we had only just caught our breath and we were shearing and so it goes on.

Local Islander, Andrew MacDonald, who has worked for us for the last six summers through high school and university is now moving on and we wish him all the best. Now we are looking for someone to take his place and work for us from May through to September.

Best Wishes to you all for Easter and hope you have a great spring.

Mark and Cherry