A very dirty comb.

The delicate art of sheep shearing

Jennifer shearing a lamb whose wool was very "sticky" making it hard to get the shears through the wool.
Jennifer shearing a lamb whose wool was very “sticky” making it hard to get the shears through the wool.

Sheep shearing is without a doubt an VERY skilled profession that doesn’t get NEARLY enough credit. Shearers are a VERY skilled crew. How do I know? Well, I just finished an introductory sheep shearing class with PDK Shearing or better known as Peter Kedulka. His co-teachers were Randy Coulas, Doug Kennedy, and Tom Redpath all excellent shearers. I have to give them a HUGE thank you for dealing with this more than slightly bumbling lefty shearer:)

Unless you are a shepherd, wool buyer, or die-hard fibre fanatic, you probably haven’t considered how sheep are shorn. You may have come across a shearing demonstration at a fall fair, livestock show, fleece festival, or maybe even on you tube. Generally the sheep just sits there. it looks quite easy, besides, the sheep doesn’t seem to mind do they, most of the time they are just sitting there.

Shearing truly is a dance between sheep and shearer, but most of the dance is unseen. It is often a little movement of the toe, a half inch step to the right that really makes a difference. Shearing is truly knowing how to handle sheep like no other animal handler out there. Heck, most of us can’t even get our dog to sit up on it’s haunches if we want it to.


Hermione and lamb

Lambie, lambies, spring is springing

The MOST wonderful time of year for me is spring. Not only is the world waking up form a long winter dormancy, but it is the traditional time for lambs. I consider this one of the wonders of the farming world.

Few creatures truly embody spring the way lambs do. Up until recently, most of our sheep in Canada were based on mostly British, and some European breeds. The majority of these breeds bred once a year. Like their wild counterparts these sheep mate when the day begin getting shorter for a short time. After a 5 month winter gestation they all have lambs at roughly the same time (depending on the breed). Both here, The US, and the UK, thousands of farmers are all going through the same thing – watching and waiting for lambs to be born.

Lambing is not a passive activity. We are not at the point where it is a major disruption (although I do have daydreams about that sometimes), but lambing can be a really big deal.

Ideally every shepherd hopes every ewe to deliver healthy happy lambs with ease. We try and breed for it. But, even the best ewes can run into issues from a breech birth, to entangled twins. James Herriot managed to get across the challenges of lambing in his vet stories based in the Yorkshire Dales, it became visual in the amazing All Creatures Great and Small television series of the  70’s and 80’s.

Despite the potential heartache and pain of lambing, the joy outweighs it immensely. There is NOTHING like seeing lambs gambolling the spring sunshine and they falling in a heap fast asleep. The amazing thing is that each lamb has it’s own personality that can be evident from birth. SOme of our lambs are skittish, some are people friendly right away. We have found that the personality don’ts change much over time.

Lamb pecking order happens pretty quickly. Often we can tell which ones will be trouble, which ones follow, and which ones don’t want to leave Mum.

As we have so many more sheep this year, bough in with our friend Roger, we have already had more lamb than in the past. Hopefully when lambing is finished we will have a total of 14 lambs.Hopefully at least half will be ewes!


apple blossom

I will never plant another apple tree

photo credit: OMAFRA - cedar apple rust. http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/cedarap.htm
photo credit: OMAFRA – cedar apple rust. http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/cedarap.htm

That’s right folks. This permaculture designer, teacher, and farmer plans on NEVER planting another apple tree…unless I want to become an orchardist. Not likely in this lifetime.

So what do I have against apples trees? Well, nothing and everything. I love apples, I mean REALLY love them. I have been know to eat 3-5 during a day. I am SO grateful for apple orchardists for without them I wouldn’t be able to eat me favourite fruit. BUT, I will still never plant another tree.

Apple trees are very hard to grow and tend well. They require a lot of love, attention, pruning, observation, and work. They suffer from a whole list of pests from cedar rust (especially in urban areas), apple scab, leaf rollers, coddling moth, Glomerella Leaf Blotch, Bitter Rot, Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, San Jose Scale, Powdery Mildew, and of course the dreaded Fire Blight.The list seems almost endless.

To do it in an ecological fashion is even more work – removing infected leaves, fruit, selecting cultivars, different formulations of sprays, Integrated Pest Management, cover crops, companion planting, nutrition, etc. But it doesn’t stop there. Then there are effective harvesting techniques, storing techniques, selling, and of course the value added options that many permits site as an the panacea to our low input-high output systems. Being a food product, there is also all the rules and regulations around food safety, traceability, retailing, AND how to actually make the things to sell. That can include recipe development, costing of containers, and labour costs. I have barely scratched the surface here.

I need to learn how to be a horticulturist, orchardist, farmer, marketer, and sales person, not to mention the learning curves of how to do this in a permaculture fashion.

Did I mention that I still have at least 10 other things to maintain, harvest, store, process, and sell? Did I also mention that the price for apples is pretty low? DId I mention that there are a number of orchards in the area (even and organic one) that do this on a far larger scale?

If I don’t want to plant and tend apple trees, or any domestic fruit tree does that prevent me from being a permie? Is that all permaculture is – alternate ways to grow plants?

I don’t think so. I am still very much a permaculturist, but my focus is not fruit trees. My forest gardens feature many different trees, plants, and uses. They have a different purpose that to feed me and my family. Feeding people is only ONE aspect of permaculture.

Some of the lambs that I would far rather deal with than an apple tree.
Some of the lambs that I would far rather deal with than an apple tree.

My understanding of permaculture is that it is problem solving with a set of parameters. The only difference between permaculture problem solving and general problem solving is that the earth, sustainability, and equality are the overarching parameters. Some of the tools that can be used include principles 1-12, but that others will appear depending on the issue presenting itself. Good problem solving is flexible, open, and looks to all possibilities, even if good information is not readily apparent. GOOD problem solving doesn’t become dogmatic not full of itself, claim to KNOW the answer. Heck, no-one knows the answer.

Just because I don’t want to tend apples, pears, or tomatoes that does not mean I am not a true permaculturist. That aspect of permaclutre  just doesn’t fit me.

I don’t expect everyone to put their hand up a she’s back end and try and pull a lamb out, so why should I be expected to enjoy tending veg. I am SOOOO thankful for those fruit and veg farmers. I can buy the things from them I don’t want, or have time to do or grow. I will let someone else make my cheese, grow my grains, and tend my apples.I can be part of a larger community by providing them with meat, clothing, bedding, rugs, and blankets from local animals coloured with local plants that provide pollination and habitat plants for local insects that help those wonderful apple trees that I don’t want anything to do with. If we all learn the same skills are we not heading towards the same situation we are trying to change?

A big thanks to Chris at Small Farm Future and Vallis Veg for sparking the pluck to write this!



  • http://www.ofvc.ca/SessionDownloads_2103/Apples/Th_Apples_300_Grigg-McGuffin.pdf
  • http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/IPM/english/apples/index.html

Knee deep in ground water

It has been quite an intense winter so far. Yes, even I, who loves winter, am beginning to think we have had enough for the year. Saturday Tim and I navigated our way through the slush and blowing snow to get to the Woodbridge Agricultural Fair AGM, where we were the keynote speakers. We did get there, but we were late, and it was a white knuckle ride all the way.

We had a great time at the AGM, and are incredibly honoured to have been given the opportunity to speak to such a enthusiastic group. Luckily the drive was much better on the way back.

In an attempt to feel better about all this snow I keep thinning that this is spring and summer’s ground water. It will refill the aquifers, creeks, streams, and lakes.

So, when you are out shovelling the next few inches of snow so you can get to where you need to go, remember, that this is our future drinking water.

Permaculture Education & Demonstration Centre