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Keeping Your Flock Healthy

in 2016/Grow Organic/Livestock/Spring 2016
Small Flock Chickens, Poultry

Caitlin Dorward, Caroline Chiu & Kent Mullinix (Institute for Sustainable Food Systems, Kwantlen Polytechnic University) and Clayton Botkin (BC Ministry of Agriculture)

BC’s Fraser Valley is recognized as a major centre for commercial and supply-managed poultry production including layers, broilers, and turkeys. Also prevalent in this area is a small-scale poultry sector; the BC Ministry of Agriculture estimates that there are as many as 10,000 small flocks in the Fraser Valley alone. Many are “backyard” flocks kept for personal egg production or for direct-market egg sales from the farm gate. Some are kept by poultry fanciers dedicated to breeding and showing. No longer solely a rural pursuit, small backyard flocks are now allowed (subject to bylaw stipulations such as lot size) in many BC municipalities including Victoria, Kelowna, Kamloops, Vancouver, City of North Vancouver, Delta, Port Coquitlam, Surrey, and Maple Ridge.

Although the Fraser Valley’s 10,000 small flocks, at an individual level, account for few birds compared to the numbers kept in commercial operations, they play an important role in the local food system – and their small scale does not exempt them from the same poultry health and biosecurity concerns faced by the commercial sector. During the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak in December 2014, for example, the disease was detected in two backyard flocks.

Recognizing that small lot poultry producers also benefit from training in biosecurity and health management best practices, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (Kwantlen Polytechnic University—KPU) recently partnered to host a four-part “Keeping Your Flock Healthy” course at KPU’s Langley campus. This free course held over four two-hour sessions was intended for owners of small flocks looking to learn more about poultry diseases and ways to prevent them. Course instructors included Clayton Botkin (Industry Specialist, Poultry and Regulated Marketing, BC Ministry of Agriculture) and Dr. Victoria Bowes (Avian Pathologist, BC Animal Health Centre, BC Ministry of Agriculture), both North American experts in their fields. Dr. Daniel Schwartz (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) was also a guest presenter.

Those who attended came from across Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley and were small flock poultry owners who kept chicken as a hobby, for business, or for home consumption. Attendees expressed interest in learning more about disease management, general flock health, required lab tests, application of organic practices, protection against predators, information sources, licensing, scaling up, and industry regulations.

Considerations in Caring for Your Small Flock

Food Safety

From a food safety perspective, the food-borne illness salmonella is one of the biggest concerns for egg producers of all scales. Currently, testing of eggs for direct-market sale is not required, but of course providing safe, healthy eggs is a goal for all small-scale farmers, and testing for Salmonella should be a consideration. As such, small-scale egg producers should be aware of the risks posed by salmonella and how to mitigate them. For example, cracked or soiled eggs including those laid outside of the nesting box should never be sold or consumed. Egg candling and proper egg washing routines should also be implemented.

Chicks & Fertile Eggs

When it comes to small flock health, the source of chicks or fertile eggs is an important starting point. Small lot producers should take time to get to know any hatchery or other source from which their chicks are purchased. Ask questions about the hatchery’s quality control program, salmonella monitoring, vaccinations, health programs and accountability process. Before choosing breeds for your flocks, do some research about what breeds are appropriate for your area’s climate and for the purpose of your operation (e.g., egg production, meat production, etc.).

Small Flock Housing

The session included an introduction to poultry production and small flock housing. Newcomers to small flocks were able to take advantage of an introduction to poultry production and small flock housing. If you have a small flock, it’s important to seek out the regulations pertaining to small flocks and direct marketing of eggs, including the supply management or “quota” system – and learn about keeping your flock, premises, and product healthy.

Poultry housing is also a critical factor for small flock health. As a rule of thumb, remember that proper housing for your birds is just as important to their health as your own home is to yours! A simple checklist that can be used to evaluating the quality of poultry housing for all breeds is: Feed, Litter, Air, Water, Sanitation, and Security (FLAWSS). Use this checklist as a starting point but also familiarize yourself with any specific needs or housing requirements of the breeds in your flock to ensure you can provide them.

Diagnosing Disease

According to Dr. Bowes, a basic understanding of poultry anatomy (parts) and physiology (purpose/ function) can help small and large flock owners diag- nose, or at the very least notice, potential health prob- lems in their flock so that they can be addressed on site or brought to the attention of your veterinarian. The most common poultry diseases can be caused by viruses, bacteria, and parasites, and include avian in- uenza, E. coli, and mites.

4 Strategies that Prevent Disease

Strategies to limit the spread of disease are another important aspect of small flock management. Small flock owners need to conduct a critical examination of the premises where their flock is kept in order to identify potential points of pathogen entry. Once you have identified these points, you can develop and implement strategies to minimize the chance that disease causing organisms will gain entrance. In general, developing such a biosecurity protocol entails the following steps:

  • Access management: reduce the risk of pathogens being carried into and out of the flock premises
  • Health management: ensure that the flock is in good health, from chick to slaughter
  • Operational management: assure all procedures of your operation enable management of the health and well being of the ock and premise; barn area is always clean
  • Know and understand the procedures: be up to date with any issues and ensure that everyone involved with managing the flock and premise know the procedures for proper management.

The workshop concluded with information about techniques for humane euthanasia and plenty of time for questions from participants to the workshop instructors.

A small poultry flock can be the perfect business model, or a great way to produce your own food. No matter your goal, understanding how to promote the health and wellness of your flock is in your best interest, as well as the birds!

Resources

The “Keeping Your Flock Healthy” course is presented annually by the Ministry of Agriculture. If you are interested in attending a future course, or would like to be added to a contact list for small flock poultry related information and events, contact Clayton Botkin at clayton.botkin@gov.bc.ca.

Copies of the Small Flock Manual distributed to course participants.

General information and resources about poultry in B.C.

Information on Avian influenza outbreaks in Canada, including the December 2014 outbreak in B.C., and advice from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, on how to prevent and detect disease in backyard flocks.


The Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at Kwantlen Polytechnic University supports regional food systems through applied research, extension, and community engagement. Reach out for more information about our work or if you are interested in partnering with us on an event or project.

Photo credit: Thomas Buchan

Integrating Livestock into Farm Rotations

in Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Livestock/Tools & Techniques/Winter 2016
Raising Livestock, Pig

Corine Singfield

A Perspective on Pigs and Chickens

I could not imagine farming without the help of animals again.

As a young urban farming city slicker, I longed to homestead somewhere in the woods far away. I moved to the Great Bear Rainforest to start a new farm. We had no money to buy a tractor. As it turns out, a small rototiller is not a suitable tool to break down a freshly de-stumped and compressed forest floor. In his milestone book The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It, John Seymour writes “experience shows that for bringing grassland into cultivation either the plough, or the pig’s snout, is essential.”

An enthusiastic neighbour with pigs who had jokingly put out a “Hog for Rent” sign on his barn was coaxed into lending us five of his pigs for the task of turning the field into seedable earth. After two months of intensive rotational grazing, the pigs had cleared 1.5 acres and turned it into the basis of our market garden. They pulverized the quack grass and their powerful snouts tore through cottonwood roots.

We learned that it is critical to run some tests as to determine the perfect size of the rotational moving pen and the optimum time between moves. Leave them for too long and they will dig craters; not enough time and they will not have turned enough dirt. If the area is too big they will get picky with where they are rooting so a smaller pen ensures a more uniform job. We ended up splitting the 1.5 acre area into eight zones, moving them every week.

Many things come into play when making that decision: size and number of pigs, palatability of the ground cover, quality of the soil and the quantity of feed that you are giving them. Some farmers insert grains in a deep hole on the side of stumps. Pigs will go to great lengths loosening the soil in an attempt to retrieve the golden sweet oats.

Animals are central to operating a small closed loop farm where nutrients are produced and cycled on site to a level that does not exceed the carrying capacity of soil and thus prevents leaching into water sources. It is a cycle on which all food that we grow depends and it is a system that has fed humans for generations.

When managed properly, livestock can save farmers endless amounts of time by simplifying tasks like weed management, soil preparation, disease control, and post-harvest cleanup while being true portable composting machines.

After our success clearing the land with pigs, it felt like a natural next step to introduce pigs and chickens into our crop rotations. We started using the pigs to clean up after a potato harvest to ensure that there weren’t any volunteers carrying disease or insects for the following year. The pigs fertilize and till the soil making it ready for broadcasting a winter cover crop. A pig rotation can be used to break down and integrate plant biomass into the soil without compaction.

Harnessing the power of the pig’s snout or the scratching of chicken feet reduces the need for using a tractor and helps to preserve the soil’s structure, tilth and food web.

Harnessing the power of the pig’s snout or the scratching of chicken feet reduces the need for using a tractor and helps to preserve the soil’s structure, tilth and food web. Chickens can be used to mow the orchard, doing away with the tedious job of weed whacking around each tree. They can also be sent in right after the pigs to control flies or other insects. Moving your livestock around the farm increases your farm’s total herd carrying capacity.

Planning for Livestock

In order to integrate animals into your crop rotations you will need to move them. Try to imagine pathways for the moves. While chickens can be moved quite easily from one end of the farm to another with the help of a coop on wheels, pigs are much more easily moved on their own hooves. It helps to include your animal rotations right into your farm plan. If you wanted to use your pigs to clean up and prep the soil after harvest you could plan for the crops to ripen in succession from one end to the other of the field and have your pigs follow that direction. Pigs are not compatible with permanent raised bed so if that is your method of choice, you will want to go with chickens or ducks that have a lesser impact.

You also need to allow for enough time between the presence of livestock and harvest. Organic standards call for four months between soil’s contact with raw manure and harvest. If crops that accumulate nitrates are to be grown, the raw manure must be applied at least four months before these crops are planted. Nitrate-accumulators include brassicas, leafy greens, beets, and chard; raw manure must be applied in moderate amounts and the soil must be warm and moist.

Other things to consider are the type of soil, compaction levels, future crop plans, and the nutritional value of the crop. The perfect timing for your soil management plan might not be the same as for the maturity of forage.

Your end goal will determine which forage you will plant for your livestock. If it is to make the soil cultivable, you can choose deep root crops such as turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes, or fodder beets. If controlling weeds is a priority then less palatable grasses are best to encourage livestock to go for the weeds instead. To boost fertility, go with a mix that contains legumes.

Livestock Basics: Keeping Your Animals Happy and Healthy

Raising animals presents challenges that multiply the laws of unpredictability in farming by a few fold. They don’t always stay where you want them to stay. They can get sick or get into trouble. An emergency with livestock will always take precedence over a critical task in the veggie garden. They can save you time or cost you a lot. Make sure that you have contingency plans.

Raising animals presents challenges that multiply the laws of unpredictability in farming by a few fold.

Water

Livestock need fresh water at all time. Pigs are especially talented at flipping or destroying their watering apparatus. We like to use a bath tub with reinforced sides but even then you’ll end up finding one pig laying in it enjoying the remaining inch of muddy water from time to time. You’ll need to transport their water with each move.

Feed

Animals that have access to pasture are less prone to diseases and have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their meat, and more vitamin E than animals raised in confinement. They are also happy. A happy animal is one that gets to live according to its true nature: a pig loves rooting in fresh dirt, a chicken loves scratching and pecking.

Feed requirements depend on the animal. In the case of grain eating omnivores – poultry and hogs primarily – they will need unlimited access to a species specific, balanced ration that includes minerals. You can supplement the rations with pasture, crop residues, and weeds while keeping in mind that no one type of pasture will consist of a complete diet. Pigs are monogastric, meaning that they don’t derive protein from eating grass like ruminants. They can’t survive on a diet of grass and greenery and still need to be fed grains even if they are cleaning up the veggie patch after harvest.

Pigs are naturally attracted to higher protein crops such as clover, alfalfa or field peas. Planting a few acres of peas for them allows to cut feeding costs significantly. For every 4 kg of alternative feed (weeds, beets, potatoes, etc.) that you give your pigs, you can reduce their ration by a 1 kg. If you want your pigs and chickens to thoroughly mow or clean up an area that is less palatable you can temporarily reduce their ration to induce a feeding frenzy. We like to mix oats and field peas as forage for the pigs. For a quicker turn around we use a few dense buckwheat plantings in a row and send the animals more often.

Shelter, Fencing

You will become an expert in all things electric fence related. E-fences are extremely simple to use when done properly, but you have to make sure that they are clear of obstructions, such as vegetation that can “ground” the power and weaken your fence. An overlooked detail with an electric fence can cost you a crop at the hands of pigs or an attack by predators. Almost every morning we find new traces of a coyote visit around the chicken pen. The electric fence works very well…when connected correctly.

You will need a few moveable electric mesh fences, a deep cycle battery, a fence charger, and a power source such as a small solar panel. A sense of humor and the willingness to wrangle the odd escapee from time to time can also come in handy.

Light and durable pens must be transported everywhere. A chicken tractor is perfect for hens that return to their roost at night, so they  can be transported to a new location before they awaken the next day. We use a small and simple slanted roof shelter made of recycled materials for the pigs. It can be moved small distances with 2 people or lifted with the tractor. Pigs don’t have sweat glands and cannot cool themselves so they must always have access to moist soil and shade.

Learning and Growing with Livestock

At the Tsawwassen First Nation Farm School where I currently dabble in the joys of farming, we plan on acquiring two flocks of chickens, some ducks, and about 30 pigs next spring. We are very excited to conduct experiments using chickens to mow the orchard, determining stocking rates, suitable feeding regimens, and optimal pen size. Similar experiments will be conducted with the pigs. I look forward to streamlining and simplifying my work as a farmer with the integration of livestock. Tune in next year – I’ll be eager to report on what we have learned!


Corine Singfield is the Farm Manager and Farm School Coordinator of the Tsawwassen First Nation Farm School, a collaboration project with the Institute of Sustainable Food Systems at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. The TFN Farm School is a 10 month practical program to learn how to farm and start a farm business. www.kpu.ca/tfnfarm.ca

Promoting Productive Pastures

in Crop Production/Land Stewardship/Livestock/Tools & Techniques/Winter 2016
Well managed pastures

Andrea Lawseth, B.Sc., M.Sc., P.Ag. AEL Agroecological Consulting

Pasture management is one of the main challenges for organic livestock producers throughout the province. In the lower mainland and on Vancouver Island, we struggle with wet climates and waterlogged grazing areas, while in the interior of the province the hot and arid climate poses other challenges that can be equally difficult to manage. Despite these difficulties, there are some techniques and tricks that you can follow to maximize the pasture that you have available and utilize your land more effectively.

Rotational and Limited Grazing

In order to maintain sales and productivity, livestock producers want to have as many animals on their land as the land can support. Sometimes we increase the numbers too much, which can result in overgrazing of pastures. Overgrazing occurs when 50% or more of the grass plant is grazed all at once. This can completely stop root growth and severely reduce grass production. Table 1 shows how grazing can affect root growth of grasses.

As the saying goes, “build your fence horse high, pig tight, and bull strong.” Fencing for rotational and limited grazing is often the best tool for reducing grazing pressure and overgrazing on your pastures. Rotational grazing involves breaking larger pastures up into smaller sections and only grazing one section at a time to allow the others to regenerate. This encourages even grazing of pastures as well as many other benefits such as: increased amount and quality of forage, increased growth of desired grass species, reduced weeds, better parasite control, better manure distribution, and more frequent animal-human contact.

As the saying goes, “build your fence horse high, pig tight, and bull strong.”

If you decide to implement rotational grazing then it is best to start by dividing a large pasture in two and grazing each of these separately. You can then divide further later on. Ideally it is best to have 4 pastures that provide enough grazing for 7 to 10 days as this gives each pasture a rest for 3 to 5 weeks. To divide pastures you can use electric fencing or tape at a height of approximately 90 cm (3 feet) or chest height of your livestock. This is a relatively inexpensive method that has proven to be highly successful. It is important to remember that you will need to monitor pasture growth at different times of the year and rotate accordingly.

Limited grazing involves turning your animals out for limited periods of time (once or twice a day, before or after work, for a few hours at a time). More supplemental feeding will be required and grass height will need to be monitored, but it provides the same benefits as rotational grazing.

IMGP2911

Pasture Renovation

Most pastures in BC are in need of some repair due to overgrazing, wet winters, alkaline or acidic soil types, or dry summers. Grass that is lacking density with 50% weed growth or more will need to be renovated to some degree. Management strategies could include a combination of improved pasture drainage, fertilizing, harrowing, liming, and re-seeding depending on budget constraints.

The first step in dealing with an overgrazed or mismanaged pasture is to evaluate what you have to work with. Find a good weed guide to help you identify which weeds exist on your property and take some samples of your pasture soils to send them to a lab for analysis. Your lab of choice will be able to guide you on their most desired sampling technique and will be able to determine the full composition of your soil and nutrient needs.

Improving drainage through the use of surface or subsurface methods such as French drain tiles can eliminate standing water and ideal conditions for weed growth. Aerating the soil will also help water to penetrate below surface soil layers. Additionally, fertilizing with well composted manure will greatly improve soil structure and drainage. Spreading a thin layer of compost will help soil to increase its water holding capacity and will provide a great medium for spreading grass seed. It is recommended to spread once in the spring and again in the fall. Furthermore, harrowing with either a chain harrow or a tractor will also help to improve drainage and break up any clumps of manure compost you have spread.

Liming is an excellent technique for areas with very acidic soil. Weeds such as buttercup (Ranunculus spp.) or field horsetail (Equisetum arvense) are good indicators of acidic soil as they are well-adapted to these conditions. Liming should be carried out in the spring and fall and more often if needed. Again, a soil test will help to determine the pH of your soil.

Finally, re-seeding with an appropriate seed mixture for your property will help to out-compete weeds and maintain good forage production. The key to choosing a mixture is diversity. The varying grass species in a mix will grow in their respective microclimates within your pastures, which will lead to lower vulnerability to disease and pest outbreaks. However, it is still important to tailor your grass mix to the type of soil on your property and the expected use of the pasture (i.e. grazing, sacrifice area, or hay).

Make sure you mention the topography of your pastures and soil characteristics (gained from a soil analysis) to your seed retailer so that they can help identify the right mix for you. The best time to broadcast overseed your pastures is in late September to early October after you have spread your manure compost. Seeding rates will vary with grass species so check with your retailer before seeding.

Before allowing livestock onto the pasture to graze you should allow newly seeded pasture grass to reach a height of 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 in) and remove your animals when they have grazed the grass down to 8 to 10 cm (3 to 4 in). This will ensure that the grasses have enough food reserves to permit rapid re-growth. Re-growth can take up to 2 to 6 weeks, depending on the time of year, so it is important to keep animals off wet, overgrazed pastures. Wet pastures can also lead to health problems such as foot rot and parasite infestation.

Keeping pastures mowed to a uniform height of 3 inches will help to stimulate equal growth of your grass plants. This will also help to control perennial weeds that do not respond well to mechanical control methods.

Properly managing pastures generally requires a shift in thinking from viewing the crop as a way to feed the animals to viewing the animals as a way of managing the pasture. As a grass farmer, your main goal is to ensure that the grass on your pasture is healthy enough to outcompete the weeds. Through rotational grazing and prevention of overstocking pastures, you will create the right environment to allow your grass to thrive and the soil to remain healthy and productive.


Andrea is the Principal/Owner of AEL Agroecological Consulting and a Professional Agrologist with over 11 years of experience in food system and agricultural land use planning, sustainable agricultural promtion, organic certification, and food security. AEL Agroecological Consulting provides agri-environmental consulting services to all levels of government, non-profit organizations and individuals.

Wild & Woolly at Robson Valley Sheep Farm

in Farmer Focus/Livestock/Organic Stories
Hani Grasser looks out over his sheep at Robson Valley Sheep Farm

Marjorie Harris

Raising Sheep Demands Constant Vigilance

Not far from McBride, BC, nestled in the beautiful Robson Valley bottom land that frames the Fraser River, is a wilderness paradise known as the Robson Valley Sheep Farm. Owned and operated by Theres and Hani Gasser, the certified organic farm is dedicated to raising high quality meat sheep, who share the land with a few dozen Angus beef cows, a few riding horses and some poultry for home use. Like most paradises, the Robson Valley Sheep Farm’s idyllic appearance is the result of careful planning, good management, and lots of hard work.

The Swiss Family Robson

Hani and Theres, along with their three little children, came to BC from Switzerland in 1988. Hani was fresh out of a four-year training program from a Swiss agricultural college, which included two years of hands–on apprenticeship and two years of classroom study. Hani had taken extra courses in organic farming, and was eager to put his knowledge to work in his new country.

After spending their first four years in Canada managing a biodynamic beef operation near Chase, BC, in 1992 the Gassers were ready to take the leap into farming for themselves. They bought land in Chase and for the next 14 years they very successfully ran the well known certified organic Mountain Meadow Sheep Dairy, producing sheep milk cheeses and yogurt.

Then, in the fall of 2006, the Gasser took an even bigger leap: they moved north to McBride, onto 535 acres of beautifully forested wilderness in the Robson Valley. Situated on a big bend of the Fraser River, their new domain came complete with an oxbow lake, a full mile of river frontage and a large acreage of fertile wetland full of local and migrating birds, which the Gassers now maintain as a bird sanctuary.

What the property did not include was livable space for the Gassers. The farm hadn’t been occupied for over a quarter of a century, and Hani and Theres’ first project was to change the large equipment shop into a dual service timberframe home and shop. Using their own pine beetle killed timber, the couple spent several years doing all of the renovations themselves.

A Hardy Herd for a Northern Climate

The sheep on the Robson Valley farm are a variety of mixed breeds, resulting in a robust and healthy herd that can tolerate the cold winters and thrive in the wilderness environment. The Gassers brought their original dairy herd north with them, and since then have crossed the sheep with breeds that can lamb out at one year old, successfully mother the first time with a single lamb and then mature into an ewe that gives twins, while living on grass and hay alone. The Robson Valley sheep do not receive any grain. The size of the flock each year varies from about 100 to 300 mother sheep depending on the amount of hay produced by the start of winterfeeding. The sheep live outdoors all year round except during lambing, when the ewes are moved close to the house into the lambing barns where they can be checked every three hours.

Lamb at Robson Valley Sheep Farm

Since sheep and parasites love each other, parasite prevention dictates the rotational grazing schedule for the Robson Valley flock. The Gassers are careful to rotate their sheep out of a pasture ahead of the parasites’ maturation cycle. This means moving the sheep every week, or at the very longest, before 14 days. Thanks to electric fencing, the paddocks are kept small enough so that the sheep can be moved easily.

This rotational grazing pattern mimics natural ruminant behaviour of grazing the valley bottoms in the spring and winter and moving up to fresh mountain pastures during summer and autumn.

This rotational grazing pattern mimics natural ruminant behaviour of grazing the valley bottoms in the spring and winter and moving up to fresh mountain pastures during summer and autumn. The Gassers also practice multi-species grazing, keeping cows and horses in the pasture along with the sheep. Combined with regular haying, the practices help to prevent the sheep from grazing in the same paddock more than once a year.

Inevitably though, occasionally a parasite appears. Whenever the Gassers detect evidence of parasites in one of the sheep, they are quick to administer their custom-order herbal de-wormer. The de-wormer, developed by the Gassers themselves with assistance from the staff at Urban Spice in Vancouver, contains wormwood, fennel seed and gentian. The Gassers’ have now started growing their own wormwood to ensure a ready supply of this key ingredient.

A Machine-Free Farming Lifestyle

Since neither Hani nor Theres enjoy doing mechanical repairs, they have reduced their reliance on farming equipment down to haying and fencing machines. When the pastures are in need of reseeding with red and white clover, timothy and orchard grasses, the Gassers simply hand broadcast the seed into a pasture just before the sheep flock is moved in, and rely on the sheep to trample the seed into the earth.

Alternatively, in the summer they add seeds to the cattle salts and let the cows do the work of spreading them — with organic fertilizer included for free! While these methods are slower than working the soil with equipment, the Gassers find them simpler, much less expensive, and less work-intensive. Currently their biggest problem in pasture maintenance is the encroaching advance of hawkweed and foxtail barley. Hani and Theres would love to hear from other farmers with suggestions for combating these weeds.

Because sheep require a diet much higher in protein than beef cattle do, growing, growing high-quality hay is crucial to sheep herd health, Hani explains. This is partly due to the fact that a cow weans a calf when it only about half the weight of its mother and a ewe weaning twin lambs has to raise nearly double her own weight.

That need for protein can make sheep fussy eaters, and very talented at nibbling off all the leaves and discarding the rough stems of the hay. And that can lead to a lot of wastage, so the Gassers have solved the problem with winterfeed by allowing only their sheep into a pasture to feed on a new hay bale first. When the sheep have finished picking over the bale, the following day the cows are brought in to clean up the leftovers. This method leaves very little waste and helps keep the Gassers’ collies busy herding all winter long too.

Doggy Defenders

Because of intense predator pressures in this neck of the woods, very good livestock guard dogs are required to be on duty at all times. Two or three Akbash or Akbash-crossed dogs (preferably Comondor) live with the flock all year long. The dogs are with the flock 24/7 — except when a female is in a ‘standing heat’ and needs to be temporarily kenneled.

The critical trick to developing a excellent sheep guard is that between its 6th and 10th week of age, the puppy must bond with livestock.

Thanks to the watchfulness of their guard dogs the Gassers lose very few animals. In fact, in the last nine years they report they have lost only 5 ewes — to an attack by a pack of wolves. The secret to their success? According to the Gassers, the critical trick to developing a excellent sheep guard is that between its 6th and 10th week of age, the puppy must bond with livestock. And they’re careful not to make pets of the dogs. As Hani says, “A livestock guard dog has no business in your yard, in a kennel, or on your porch. And it should only be fed and receive affectionate petting when by the flock. We are the Alpha dog to our guard dog pack and they come when called.”

Where the Akbash specialize in guarding the sheep flock, the Gassers use Border Collies and one New Zealand Huntaway to herd the sheep from pasture to pasture. Theres and Hani love to train and work with their guard and herding dogs and occasionally sell puppies.


If you would like more information on sheep farming, Hani and Theres are happy to share their ideas, opinions, and their years of experience and wisdom on shepherding. You can reach them through their website: www.sheephappens.ca

Marjorie Harris, BSc, IOIA V.O., P. Ag. Email: marjorieharris@telus.net 

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – attributed to Hippocrates

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