let's talk farm animals

Sheep shearing in the spring

by Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

When people think about careers in agriculture, they normally think of farmers. It is much more than that, though. There are many jobs within agriculture which you may not think about.

A great example is the sheep shearer. Sheep must be shorn in the late winter or early spring so they will be comfortable during the warm weather. Shearing a sheep a few weeks before it gives birth also makes it easier for lambs to find their mother’s udders to nurse.

Karen shears an alpaca

Sheep shearing is very labour intensive – so many sheep farmers will hire someone who specializes in shearing to visit each year.

My sister, a sheep farmer, hires an old friend named Karen for the job. Karen had been shearing sheep since she was 12 years old, and decided she could shear while in university as a spring and summer job. She even began shearing alpacas in 2002.

Karen works full time as a pedorthist (foot care specialist). However, on weekends Karen still travels to farms shearing sheep and alpacas. “I’m not in a place where I can have a farm of my own, and I think I would miss it too much if I didn’t get out,” says Karen.

Shearing a sheep

Sheep shearing season for Karen begins in February, and carries through to the end of June. Work with alpacas begins in April, and the season ends in June. Karen also shears a few flocks of sheep in the fall. The size of sheep flocks that she is responsible for range from two to 150 sheep.

Because there are not many professional alpaca shearers, Karen travels long distances to shear them, and herds range in size from two to just under 100 animals.

In the course of an hour, Karen can shear between 12 and 14 sheep, or four alpacas. Alpacas take a lot longer because of the difference in technique. They have to be held on their side on a table, and several people are involved in holding them down. Once the alpacas are shorn, they also have their hooves trimmed.

Karen enjoys the shearing. For her, it is like coming home when she gets out on the farm again, working alongside the farmers and helping them care for their animals. “I can’t imagine giving it up. I like being able to get away from the office, and back on the farm” says Karen.

Karen’s love for the animals is what brings her back to farms year after year, working in a job which is very physically demanding. “I really feel blessed to be able to travel around the province and work with so many different people. In the spring I work seven days a week, from the beginning of April until the end of June - but because it is two different jobs, so completely different, it doesn’t usually feel like real work,” says Karen.

Having someone like Karen, who specializes in shearing, come out to the farm, it allows the shearing process to be done quickly and efficiently. With the job being completed faster, there is less stress on the animals.

Shearing is a necessity for the well-being of sheep and alpacas, and people like Karen make it easier for farmers to complete the task.

To watch a video of another sheep shearer at work, visit www.virtualfarmtours.ca and click on the Sheep Farm Tour. In the third video box at the top, you can watch Farmer Bill shear one of his sheep – a process that only takes a few minutes.

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Posted by FFC on April 26th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Farm life,Sheep,spring
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Food prices are up - but what’s to blame?

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by Patricia Grotenhuis, lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

Food prices are drawing a lot of media attention lately. It seems everything is increasing in price, both at grocery stores and at restaurants. Many different factors have been blamed for these price increases, but regardless of the reason, the outcome is the same. In some cases, food prices rise at the store without any increase for the farmer.

A Manitoba study showed the cost of a week’s worth of groceries for a family of four rose by $6.01 from 2008 to 2009, but farmers received $0.86 less. In 2009, beef farmers received $2.05 for the 600 grams of sirloin tip beef that cost you $9.15 in the store. In 2008, by comparison, the farmer also received $2.05 for the same cut of beef, but you only paid $4.61.

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Posted by FFC on April 19th, 2011 :: Filed under Economics,Farm life,Feeding the world,Misconceptions,Sustainability,Sustainability of the family farm
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Studying is regular routine for farmers

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by Patricia Grotenhuis, lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

There is a lot of studying which goes into farming. 

Many farmers today have a college diploma or university degree.  Some even have graduate degrees.  Even after school, though, farmers have to constantly update their knowledge to stay on top of the latest research findings and newest technology.

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Posted by FFC on April 12th, 2011 :: Filed under Dairy cattle,Education and public awareness,Environmental Farm Plan,Farm life,Innovation and technology
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Annual “Friend of OFAC” award presented to well-loved agricultural advocate

By Patricia Grotenhuis, lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

A great man in agricultural education was given a much-deserved recognition by the Ontario Farm Animal Council at its annual general meeting on April 5.

Fred Cahill, owner of the Texas Longhorn Ranch and known to countless people simply as “Cowboy Fred” has joined an elite group of agricultural enthusiasts who have received the “Friend of OFAC” award over the last 12 years. 

Cowboy Fred talks to some young visitors at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair during a show in its education ring.

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Posted by FFC on April 6th, 2011 :: Filed under Beef cattle,Canada,Education and public awareness,Farm life,Horses
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A different kind of spring on the farm

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Guest Blog by Jeanine Moyer Jeanine was raised on a pig, beef cattle and crop farm in Ontario

Spring comes to our farm early. We don’t wait for the green grass or baby calves, the annual spring bull sale is enough for us. Each year a catalogue of potential sires is mailed out to our farm marking the onset of the spring season. Dad and Uncle spend hours pouring over the pictures, details and genetic makeup of each animal before settling on their select few they would like to purchase at the upcoming sale.

Sale day often dawns on a chilly Saturday and once chores are finished we pile into the farm pickup and head for Listowel, ON with trailer in tow. You’re never guaranteed to bring anything home but Dad always hitches up the trailer just in case. Any farm gathering, whether it be a local auction sale, farm tour or in this case, a bull sale offers donuts and coffee and as kids this was a great opportunity to eat our fill.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on April 4th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Auction sales,Beef cattle,Canada,Farm life,Transportation
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A different kind of spring on the farm

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Guest Blog by Jeanine Moyer Jeanine was raised on a pig, beef cattle and crop farm in Ontario

Spring comes to our farm early. We don’t wait for the green grass or baby calves, the annual spring bull sale is enough for us. Each year a catalogue of potential sires is mailed out to our farm marking the onset of the spring season. Dad and Uncle spend hours pouring over the pictures, details and genetic makeup of each animal before settling on their select few they would like to purchase at the upcoming sale.

Sale day often dawns on a chilly Saturday and once chores are finished we pile into the farm pickup and head for Listowel, ON with trailer in tow. You’re never guaranteed to bring anything home but Dad always hitches up the trailer just in case. Any farm gathering, whether it be a local auction sale, farm tour or in this case, a bull sale offers donuts and coffee and as kids this was a great opportunity to eat our fill.

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Posted by FFC on April 4th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Auction sales,Beef cattle,Canada,Farm life,Transportation
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