Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sheep Field Day on Saturna Island

Field day participants enjoying view at Taylor Point, Saturna
On Saturday, July 24th the Inter Island Sheep Breeders had a terrific sheep field day at Campbell Farm on Saturna Island. The field day was open to anyone who wanted to know more about sheep in the Gulf Islands, historically famous for its lamb and the Saturna Island Canada Day Lamb Barbeque. The Campbell family were wonderful hosts, greeting us with coffee and home baked goodies after 20 producers and visitors arrived by water taxi and ferry. It was great to see NDP Agriculture critic Lana Popham there, and Eric and Sue Boulton from Gabriola - and a boat full of Salt Spring farmers. Others came from Vancouver Island, Pender Island, Mayne Island, and Saturna Island.
Anita O'Brien showing Psion RFID tag reader
Anita O'Brien, a sheep specialist and traceability expert from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture working with the Canadian Sheep Federation (CSF), described the CSF national radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag trial that the Campbell Farm is part of, and she demonstrated the specialized equipment and software used to read the tags and store data on each animal. Jacques Campbell is testing two or three electronic tag types, a Psion tag reader, a bluetooth enabled scale head, and Farmworks software. This was a good opportunity to see the potential (and problems) with RFID tags, which are to be mandatory in Canada by Dec 31, 2012. The current mandatory system uses an inexpensive “pink” tag that must be manually read and recorded and must be on every animal that leaves the home farm. The federal government will go to mandatory traceability by December 31, 2011 and the Canadian Sheep Federation is keeping pace with this timeline by phasing out the current non-RFID tags and going to mandatory RFID tags. Traceability is often emphasized as something needed to improve food safety, but it's real value is as a system designed to shorten the time to trace livestock in the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak, such as foot and mouth disease. This would greatly reduce the amount of animals needlessly destroyed in a disease outbreak. However, this has not been without controversy since the RFID tags are more expensive, and the equipment is extremely expensive, so the purpose of this national trial, and a recently completed study in Alberta, is to determine management benefits to the RFID tags and equipment, and to determine how useful the tags and equipment are in field conditions. Other questions that producers have about “full traceability” have to do with the tracking of individual animals that must be done by producers who are moving animals beyond a 10 km radius from the home farm. If producers can't afford the RFID readers, they will still have to manually read and record each tag and record animal movements.
Campbell Farm Abattoir - Class A facility license
The second part of the field day was a demonstration of lamb processing in the Campbell's facility. Campbell Farm Abattoir is a small building with a walk in cooler, a cut and wrap area, and a processing floor that is lower to give greater height in processing beef. A newer building close by contains the inspector's office and washroom, the walk-in freezer, a workshop, office, and guest space with a good sized meeting room where we had a productive lunch time discussion after the demonstrations. The Campbell's operate one day per week during most of the summer, fall and into the winter. They use a cooperative model where people in the community help out, and they process up to 3 beef or 15 lambs per day. In one season they usually process 9 beef and 120 lambs, both for themselves and for the community. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspector arrives by ferry at 6:30 am, and is done and on the 10:30 am ferry on Fridays. An inspector came out on a Saturday just for this field day. The plant was upgraded so that it could be licensed as a class A plant capable of both slaughtering and cutting and wrapping meat, thus meeting requirements for the meat regulations which now require meat for sale in the southern Gulf Islands to be government inspected. This was critical for the annual Saturna Island Canada Day Lamb Barbeque, a long time fundraiser for the community of Saturna Island. Having a licensed plant has allowed producers to sell to grocery stores, restaurants and to keep their regular customers. Communities lacking inspected facilities have experienced large declines in livestock numbers.
Some participants had never witnessed a lamb being slaughtered, and commented on how humane and quiet it was, very efficient and respectful to the animals. It is reassuring to know that livestock can serve their purpose without distress to them. Jacques always makes sure that there are extra animals in the holding pen so that a single lamb or cow isn't left alone to be the last caught, which can be stressful to them. They are quite content when in a larger group, and taken out one by one.
Participants watching a lamb being processed
A boat load of Salt Spring Island producers came especially to see the abattoir, since they do not have an inspected facility on Salt Spring Island and are currently working hard to get a licensed mobile abattoir for their local production. Eric and Sue Boulton came all the way from Gabriola Island to see the upgraded abattoir. The Boulton's also upgraded their facility on Gabriola, where they process 80 of their own beef and about 100 lambs each year for the surrounding community. Eric stated that having a licensed facility saved his farm. It would be ideal if each island had its own licensed facility for the community to share, either privately or community owned and operated.
Vancouver Island and Outer Gulf Island participants
Salt Spring participants heading back to their boat on the Saturna version of rapid transit.
The field day ended with a tour of Campbell Farm, through their forest of incredible old growth trees and a visit to the most beautiful beach at Taylor Point . Taylor Point is part of the Gulf Island National Park Reserve, but was originally part of the farm. Thank you to the Campbells - Jacques, Nan, Tom and Jim for their hospitality and the time they took to not only give us a tour, but to show us how their farm and community work cooperatively together for everyone's benefit.

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