This month, we asked some of Galiano’s sheep farmers to share a few words about their experience keeping sheep. Thanks very much to Mary Jean Elliott and Marcia DeVicque for their delightful and thoughtful submissions at the busiest (lambing) time of year!
The owners of the Page Farm raised sheep from 1905 to 1977, and Gerald and Mary Jean continued the tradition on the same acreage (Elliott Farm) from 1977 to now. There have been sheep raised on the property for 108 years. Sustainability is determined by the quality and size of the acreage and the number of sheep using the property.
Sheep can become great pets. One year we decided to castrate a ram because we heard that a two-year-old wether (castrated ram) is the best meat (what the Queen eats). After castrating, he became so tame that our children would not let us butcher him, so he ended up as a pet and died of old age on the farm.
Sheep love apples. Sheep will eat cedar and fir tree branches and leaves. They keep the grass cut and the trees trimmed. They also provide the best source of fertilizer for garlic, and wool and organic, delicious food, especially when their diet is supplemented with apples. We have lived with and enjoyed our sheep for many years. The only sad times occurred when out-of- control domestic dogs (usually belonging to visitors to the island) have trespassed on our property and chased or killed our sheep. ~ Mary Jean Elliott
Sheep are gentle and inquisitive and have distinct personalities and temperaments. They are generally good moms, usually birthing easily. (Or not!) They make me laugh and cry on a regular basis. My life is richer and way more unpredictable being a shepherd. But you don’t raise sheep thinking to make money.
We raise sheep for many reasons. We raise ethical meat for folks wishing to source their food. We raise a variety of breeds for fleece. They keep the pastures (and most everything else!) groomed.
The first thing to remember about sheep is that historically, shepherds have lived with their flocks. For good reason, as sheep have no means of defense apart from running from their predators. Therefore, one of the first considerations when pondering getting sheep is adequate fencing. Roaming dogs are a serious problem for sheep on Galiano. Also, start small, as there is a lot to learn. You need to be able to afford to feed and take care of them.
Sheep need to be sheared at least once a year. They need regular hoof attention, some breeds a lot more than others. Interestingly white hooves grow faster than black. They also require a shelter to get out of the elements. ~ Marcia DeVicque