Tuesday, August 9, 2011

August Friday AM article, My trip to Drake Saskatchewan

Sheep sale and food deserts
I took a break from the homestead during the last week in July thanks to my wife, son and daughter who manned the place while I was gone. We needed new ram power (four legged not four wheeled) so I went to the National sheep show and sale at Drake Saskatchewan. My old friend Nev was going as he was showing some of his sheep there, so I rode with him and helped him at the show and sale. We arrived on Friday, washed the sheep and blow-dried them so they looked their best. We are “old school” and showed them “in the wool” as opposed to clipping them to make them look more chunky. “In the wool” shows the true picture of the animal and is less of a disappointment when it gets back to the new owners ranch than a clipped and preened beauty queen. As Nev placed second in the ram class and then reserve champion it proved our point. It also allowed us more time to visit and catch up with old friends.
Friday night was a wine and cheese evening, a chance to say hello to the other competitors and catch up on all the national shepherds gossip. The cheese was some of the best I have ever eaten. It was made with raw sheep’s milk and left to age it made a nice hard cheese that had some bite. We held off on the wine though as we needed to be at our best the next day.
The show had over a dozen different breeds and 270 entries. With two judges and two rings it took about six hours and was a great way to spend a day, if you like sheep that is! All animals at the show have to be sold the following day at the sale so I spent much of my spare time talking to breeders and eying up potential new mates for our flock.
I settled on a possible six rams and listed them in order; if prices went to high for me I had second and third choices, but hoped I would not need them.
Saturday night we all sat down to a lamb banquet. I guessed there were close to 280 people there and our numbers were slowly growing as many folks come for the evening get together and sale the following day. Commercial shepherds such as myself often go to these sales and buy purebred rams to improve our flocks. Several Hutterite Colonies were in attendance much to the pleasure of the breeder’s, as they tend to buy larger numbers of rams because many have flocks numbering in the thousands.
Sale day brought higher prices than have been seen for several years. This is a reflection of the higher lamb prices and a smaller national flock, due mainly to older shepherds retiring and several years of narrow margins. I needed two types of rams, one to produce more ewes for the flock and one to put more meat on our market lambs. I bought the flock sire of my choice, a Dorset yearling, oddly enough from a young shepherd who went to Ag College with my daughter. Judging by his sheep he paid attention to his lessons. The meat ram or ‘Terminal Sire’ as he is called was my second choice and he is a Texal coming from Vancouver Island, so he went along way to get to Salmon Arm via Saskatchewan.
Next year the event will be in Nova Scotia but I think I will give that a miss, as that would take too much time out of my summer schedule. The year after may well be in Chilliwack so I will mark that one on the calendar. We had a great few days away from work and got to see other farms and farmers. The rams are now safely back and for some reason the weeds grew bigger than the rest of the plants in my garden, though I understand from other holiday takers this is not at all unusual.
One thing I noticed on our journey was how blessed we are here with so much local food of all kinds. In the Prairies you are surrounded by crops and yet are in a virtual ‘Food Desert’. One comment I read recently in the Western Producer from a Saskatchewan Agricultural ministry chap was, “we don’t grow food here, we grow ingredients”. He was right, there were very little fresh fruit and vegetables and not much healthy food on offer. Yes there were exceptions but compared to here in BC it was quit a challenge. I had read of food deserts and that most were found in urban and less wealthy areas. Yet there amongst all the crops and livestock, because of a low population it was not profitable to ship fresh quality food in, hence the food desert. With the combination of harsh climate and sparse population few are willing to take on the risk of local food production. Although I miss the big prairie sky, the sunrise’s and sunsets, the wind in my face which ever way I turn and the sheer vast emptiness of it all I was glad to be home. Especially now the summer seems to be here and the fruit is arriving. So count your blessings and remember to support your local Farmers Markets and producers. If you need to talk sheep, food or farming in general, or some local food for supper I will be at the Saturday Farmers Market at Hannah’s or at the Homestead pulling weeds!

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