By Andrew Campbell
Although lamb meat hasn’t been the most popular choice at the dinner table for many North Americans, the fact is that it is an incredibly important part of a diet for many other cultures, particularly ones that are immigrating to Canada. This means that demand for lamb continues to grow.
Jay and his family buy lambs from other farmers, particularly lambs that may not be ready to go to market and raise them to the weight that a meat processor wants. This is a called a feedlot, and Jay is proud of the work and care that goes into their lambs. In this article, we have a great discussion on how he cares for the lambs and uses byproducts of human foods like beer and apple juice to feed them. These byproducts are not only nutritious for the lambs but also take a product that would otherwise be food waste. Food waste is reduced, and the lamb turn it into an edible protein. So, come and see what it means to have a lot of hungry mouths that are constantly wanting your attention!
Hi Jay. Thanks for inviting us to your farm. How long have you been managing a feedlot for lambs?
We started this business of finishing lambs around 1996 and have grown from one barn to now feeding at eight facilities all within four or five kilometers of each other.
Is this a family farm? What makes it successful?
It’s all family or staff that feels like family. One of the keys to our business success is family. There’s always strength in family. No matter how mad you get at your dad or how mad you get at your brother, with our family anyways, we’re always able to go back to the dinner table and still be able to share and work together. Everyone has the best interest of the farm at heart and wants to grow our operation. I’m the fifth-generation farmer right now. The sixth generation is ready to go and they’re old enough now to take on more responsibility.
So, family is key to our farm and we also treat all our employees like they’re family. We expect them to work like family and if you can get the people around you to do that, it’s a stronger team. We’re a stronger organization which feels like family. When my employees talk to us, they talk about “we or us” and I know we have the right team.
Where and how do you buy lambs?
We have three people that buy lambs for us from several farmers. One is here in Ontario, another in Brandon, Manitoba and a third in Quebec. They’ll buy the lambs from anywhere between Alberta to New Brunswick, although the majority of them come from Manitoba.
When the lambs get here, what happens? What’s your step in this process?
When we started, we thought that there was an avenue for us to take lambs and focus our efforts on feeding and caring for them so that they are at their prime when they go to market. Other lamb farmers specialize in the actual lambing, which is the birthing process. But that isn’t our strength because of the number of ewes (adult, female sheep) we would need. We felt that feeding was our strength and we want to expand on it. Then we try to do a good job presenting our product to the consumer or to the packer.
There is some negative press around shearing lambs. Why do you shear the lambs?
If you look across the barn, we shear a lot of lambs. Shearing is really good for the comfort and health of the lambs. We shear those lambs to remove the extra weight of the fleece that they are carrying around. Some fleeces weigh up to 10 pounds.
There’s a lot of other reasons we shear lambs. Feed conversions, (the amount of feed it takes for a lamb to gain weight), health of the animal and animal density are some of the big ones. After the lambs are sheared, the animals seem to hit a growth spurt. We watch how much they eat and find the day after shearing; they are eating even more.
For a feedlot farm like ours, this really is about the lamb and its comfort, because there is no real value in the wool.
The lambs can be sheared in under a minute and yes, they do catch the lamb and put it in a space to hold onto it, but you can’t shear lambs without confining them. They do have to be confined for the lamb’s safety and ours. If that lamb isn’t confined when you shear, and he wiggles, he might get cut. The people who come to shear our lambs are professionals and are very good at their jobs, so the lambs are not under a lot of stress. It’s done quickly and then the lamb goes back to their pen and back to their routine.
What do you feed a lamb?
- We feed a variety of ingredients in our ration including:
apple pomace, which is a byproduct out of the apple industry. It’s the pulp left over after they make juice.
- dry corn distillers, which is a byproduct of ethanol production.
- barley brewer’s grain, a byproduct from the brewing industry.
- triticale and peas, which is a forage that is grown and chopped by a harvester.
- rolled dry corn, which is a source of energy.
- Straw, which is a byproduct from wheat production.
A lot of your feed is actually byproducts that we, as people, would never consume on its own. That brewers’ grain, I love the first product (beer), but that’s something that would just be thrown away. Why do you feed byproducts?
We are looking for economical protein sources as it is important for the growth of the lambs, but it also makes up a large part of the cost of the feed. One of the keys to being financially viable in the industry is that you’ve got to find an inexpensive protein source for your feed. When we started our business, we fed all dry high energy products, but they came at a high cost and we had to revisit it. We found that we could meet our protein requirements feeding a byproduct to save money, plus if it wasn’t for animal consuming these and turning them into an edible protein for humans, they’d simply be thrown away. It’s a win-win.
Are all the feed sources mixed up together? How do you know how much of each product to add into the feed ration?
We work with an animal nutritionist at our local feed mill and they balance our ration monthly. They know what a lamb needs nutritionally day to day and can prepare a balanced ration for us. We have experimented and found what works. There were some materials we were unsure of at first, but we found they worked once we tried them. For example, we feed a lot of apple pomace and find that it works well.
Thanks for the tour Jay!
Full video by FreshAirFarmer Andrew Campbell’s Dinner Starts here series