Connected To The Land 04-2018-Fall-718-PM96 - Page 28

SHEEP MOMS THE FLEXIBLE SCHEDULE THAT MAKES FOR A PERFECT FIT Story and photos by Karen Dallimore. Top photo (left to right): Dianne Orr, Heather Little, Romy Schill, and Sandi Brock. B rianna Little delivered her first lamb when she was eight years old. “It was so cute. She was so excited she was terrified,” remembered her mother, Heather. Luckily the lamb was alive, so Brianna could experience a little bit of that ‘feel good feeling’ that comes along with raising livestock. It’s that feel good feeling that keeps you going when things get tough, said Heather, who also has two boys, age five and ten. Being a mom and a farmer can sometimes be overwhelming but she knows she’s not alone. She’s one of four mothers who told us their story, choosing to become first-generation sheep farmers, allowing the women to bring something of their own to the farm while raising their kids. For them, sheep farming has been a perfect fit. “We saw a huge opportunity in the industry,” said Heather. She started in 2012 with 25 ewes and has since expanded to 300. One of the largest challenges was getting the banks to take them seriously when sheep were typically regarded as a hobby. Sandi Brock started into sheep in 2012. It hasn’t been easy but she has found strength in networking with other ‘sheep moms’. Now, with 430 ewes, she’s amazed at the similarity of their experiences as they learn together. Her children aren’t children anymore. At 16 and 17 years old they are now old enough to drive her places but she laughs when she says now she’s too tired to go. Neither of her kids wants to raise sheep but at least they have seen the effort that goes into building a new business and building equity, a lesson that will serve them well. Romy Schill’s kids are much younger. Her three-year-old daughter Addie shows us around a barn littered with tricycles and Tonka trucks – the perfect place to be a kid. “She weighs 30 pounds,” said Romy, as she playfully herded her daughter through the scales while we chatted. Her sons, Cameron, 7, and Emerson, 5, are now in school. Both Heather and husband Kevin worked full time off the farm but when they started a family they wondered what she could do that would allow her to have the flexible schedule needed to look after the kids yet provide a good business opportunity. Sheep fit well alongside their beef operation at the time, with barns and facilities already in place, but the sheep were much easier to handle than cattle. 28 Dianne Orr started out in 2007 with 50 ewes in a new barn when her son, Simon, was only a year old. Her and husband David had some acreage and a cash crop operation already set up, eventually fixing up their old barn to accomodate sheep, an industry that was still largely regarded at the time as a hobby. “They’re all going,” she remembers declaring one night during a stretch of low markets and high mortality. It has been a steep learning curve but she’s glad she stayed the course, building to a flock of 300 ewes. With the help of her husband and in-laws she manages to shuffle lambing, vet visits, meeting the school bus, dance practice, and still manages to have a family holiday every year. Her advice? “Don’t name the sheep.” W Karen Dallimore has been freelance writing for agriculture and equiculture since 2002, at Sweet Grass Farm near Hillsburgh, Ontario, where she raises Paint horses to show at halter and extreme cowboy racing. “Your day has to be planned well,” said Romy. Her husband, Ryan, works off the farm but they are just starting on an expansion that will double their flock size to roughly 800 ewes. Together they come from a mixed farming background that includes dairy, beef, pigs, and chickens, taking lessons from those industries and applying them to sheep. Connected to the Land