Thursday, July 8, 2021

Summer on the farm


I rediscovered my blog today when I saw a post that I did nearly 10 years ago show up on a Facebook post.  I also found out that I could write in my blog again, having requested a new password when my old email didn't work anymore.

I am taking a moment from an extremely busy summer to reflect on what has been done and what needs to be done, as time marches on.

The picture was taken on our island from a spot near the farm, and I doubt I will see that spot anytime soon.  The only salt water I see these days are glimpses as I drive to South Pender, or when I am on the ferry which isn't very often.

Much of the work happens inland, within one of the narrow valleys.  This week it is haying, for the next few weeks we need to squeeze in sorting sheep and sending them away to market. Then there are the chickens to feed and protect from the predators, the eggs to gather and pack, and the orchard which needs irrigation which needs to be scheduled in zones, depending on which trees need water the most. The drip lines need checking, valves opened and closed.

The heat wave added something new.  I had never seen heat like that here, beating down so intensely all of a sudden, with little warning.  I checked the thermometers, was up at 4 to water, make sure the box fan was on for the chickens, that they had plenty of water.  The sheep adapted quickly, rising well before dawn to graze and hunkering down by mid morning in the coolest shade they could find.  On the hottest day the chickens stood in front of the fan, wings open, beaks open, panting.  Chickens can't sweat, they pant.  Some dusted, burying themselves with just their heads showing.   All survived, and by the next day they were back to normal even though it was still unseasonably warm.

The hazelnuts planted a few years ago did well, not showing any wilting.  The newer trees were thirsty and struggling, on the hottest day - some suddenly had many leaves wilt miserably.  Although they also seemed to recover once it cooled off a bit, the worst of the wilted leaves dropped off, sometimes leaving a single leaf.  New growth started at the base.

A mixed farm is a bit of a juggling act.  Add to that the two farmers' markets we are involved with - the regular Saturday one, and a new Wednesday afternoon food-only one that is really growing.

The heat wave was a definite wake-up call.  I delayed shipping sheep because of it, and will watch the forecast even closer than usual in case a heat dome is headed here again.

I had lived in the US for ten years, right in the sun belt, where nobody says it is hot unless it is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  And it can get hot here too, but not so quickly and so early in the season. And it was pretty intense.

Now it is time to check the livestock water again, get the corral ready for tomorrow's sheep round-up.

It is never boring here, that is for sure.

Monday, January 9, 2017

One Welfare: The next step in animal welfare by Barbara Johnstone Grimmer, P. Ag. in Sheep Canada (2016) Volume 31 Issue 4 pg 15-17

One Welfare: The next step in achieving good animal welfare

by Barbara Johnstone Grimmer, P. Ag.

from Sheep Canada (2016) Volume 31 Issue 4 pages 15-17/

Fifteen years ago, we had a photojournalist from Australia come to our farm.  She grew up on a large sheep station with thousands of wool-type sheep in the Outback.  She told us many stories of raising sheep in Australia, but one story had a long time impact on me.  She told us about a prolonged drought they experienced, how it impacted the feed and water supply for their sheep, and how devastating it was for her father who had to shoot and kill many of his sheep as instructed by the government. 

When we think about animal welfare, we may not consider how the health and welfare of our livestock may affect the mental health of the farmer or rancher, or conversely what impact human well-being may have on the welfare of our livestock.  A lack of information on this topic is part of it, but also privacy, the expectation to move ahead and shoulder the burden, and the stigma of showing weakness especially around mental health issues, have kept farmer stress hidden from view.  In fact human stress on the farm has significant effects on families, communities, future generations and on animal welfare.  It was in the 1980s while living in the US that I was exposed to severe farmer stress, as many farmers endured droughts, floods and staggering interest rates with resultant economic hardships.  Several international alarms of suicide in farmers and ranchers brought the issue of farmer stress into the spotlight.  In many countries, farming has been identified as high risk for stress, with a higher suicide rate than most other occupations.

In our modern world focused on providing good animal welfare, how is this to occur if we are not taking care of the well-being of livestock producers?  The well-being and mental health of farmers and ranchers has been linked to animal welfare with the term “One Welfare”.  Many public health agencies and animal health and welfare groups have embraced the concept of “One Welfare” as an adjunct to “One Health”.

The first International One Welfare Conference was held September 26-28 in Winnipeg, Manitoba to bring together the many groups interested in this topic.  The conference was organized by the government of Manitoba, funded by Growing Forward 2, with partnering sponsor the National Farm Animal Health and Welfare Council.  Other sponsors included the Public Health Agency of Canada, Manitoba Pork, the CFIA, Canadian Red Cross and various agricultural commodity and health organizations.  There were speakers from Ireland, Scotland, Australia, US and Canada providing research results and insights into this complex issue.  Topics included animal hoarding, animal abuse and neglect, psychosocial health and agriculture, education campaigns, industry initiatives, compassion fatigue by first responders and veterinarians, and how do we work in a collaborative way for the best possible outcomes for people and the animals in their care.

I attended the conference, and happened to sit next to Michael Rosmann, a farmer, clinical psychologist, professor and writer from Iowa.  His life’s work has been dedicated to promote services that protect the welfare of farmers and ranchers, particularly regarding their behavioural health.  He attributed his success in this field more to his farming background than anything else.  It is important to farmers that counsellors have a knowledge of agriculture and its challenges.  This observation was repeated in the conference, and in research around the world. According to the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association National Stress Survey in 2005, most mental health practitioners lack farm knowledge, while the triggers of farm stress are different from general public stress.  Farmers and ranchers in rural communities are hesitant to seek help because of the stigma attached and the tendency of people to know everyone’s business in small communities.

Successful mental health programs are grassroots efforts that start with raising the awareness of family members, friends and farm organizations so that they can identify and support farmers and ranchers under stress early on, and build a cohesive network that has links to multiple partners and agencies who can take the support to the next level if needed. 

Stress to farm life is not new.  Sheep producers are impacted by economic and market fluctuations, prices and input costs, flock depopulations from disease outbreaks such as scrapie, emerging diseases such as bluetongue, the collateral damage of diseases such as BSE, resistance to medications, lack of farm labour, isolation, government regulations, lack of cohesion and support within the sheep industry, lack of veterinarians in isolated areas, climate extremes with impacts such as droughts, wildfires, floods,  and crop losses, an ageing farm population, consumer misconceptions and expectations, etc.

A recent study by Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton of the Ontario Veterinary College of the University of Guelph reinforces the findings of Canadian studies in 1993 and 2005, indicating a high percentage of farmers feel stress, anxiety and depression.  Results from the study are currently being analyzed further, with the expectation of establishing a provincial stress support program for Ontario.  Canada has no national stress phone line for farmers, but some provinces have farmer stress lines (i.e. Saskatchewan Farm Stress Line) and community stress or suicide lines.  Canada could take a page from other countries who are ahead of us in this area.  Examples are New York Farm Net, Scotland’s “How are Ewe?” program initiated by a young farmer group, Australia’s “R U OK Day”.  In the competitive business of farming, it is important to show compassion and work together as a supportive industry and be less self-absorbed.  Already there have been positive effects to these campaigns.  In recent years a critical drop in milk prices in Australia resulted in herd dispersals and farm foreclosures, but armed with an education program and some practical tools, farmers provided emotional support to each other and reached out, aware of the impact of the economic and psychosocial stress on their neighbours. 

It is disturbing that many efforts in Canada to study and deal with stress in agriculture are well-meaning and show promise, but fizzle out due to the short term nature of government funding.  PrioNet Canada is one example, where long term work was needed but the network was disbanded after a few years of good progress.  Part of its work was following community impacts of BSE, not just financial impacts but on the ground long term chronic stress.  Although it was thought to be primarily a cattle problem, BSE heavily impacted the sheep industry.  I remember taking sheep to auction shortly after BSE in Canada was announced, and receiving $10 per ewe.  Randy Eros, Canadian Sheep Federation chair in 2004, said the sheep industry was hit harder than beef.  About 140,000 lambs destined for US markets had to be sold domestically when the US border closed to all ruminants from Canada.  Prices plummeted. The CSF requested that a scrapie eradication plan be put in place with the assistance of the government.  It is fortunate that today we do have a scrapie eradication plan.  We need to be vigilant regarding emerging issues than can not only impact the viability and profitability of the sheep industry, but also the health and welfare of our sheep farmers and ranchers and their stock.

The Guelph Study shows that many Canadian farmers feel stress, indicating a vulnerability of farmers to the next crisis.  Although other countries have been building resources to improve resiliency in the farm community, Canada lacks committed resources to help farmers and ranchers, resulting in delays in getting help.  The One Welfare conference was a good first step to help Canada move forward into a One Welfare Initiative which can increase the awareness of stress in the farm community and its impacts on farm families, farm profitability and human and animal welfare and find ways to improve all-around wellness.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Weathering the Storm: Climate Smart Sheep Farming by Barbara Johnstone Grimmer, P. Ag. Sheep Canada Magazine Vol. 31 No. 1

         The summer of 2015 was the driest on record here, affecting our ability to bring in a decent hay crop and making it tough for the sheep to get enough grass.  Although dry seasons can happen, there is a growing consensus that we are in the midst of climate change, and unfortunately agriculture is viewed as both a villain and a victim of this shift in weather conditions.  Ranchers and farmers have always worked around changes in the weather, but the climate trends we are experiencing present new challenges and opportunities.  Increases in extreme and highly variable weather events such as droughts and floods, rising annual temperatures, and increasing winter precipitation over most of Canada, are expected to be the new normal. 
So what is behind our changing weather patterns? Climate change has been linked to the rise in “greenhouse gasses” carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4), trapping the heat from the sun. These gasses are linked to the use of fossil fuels and human activities, such as agriculture.  Besides the natural atmospheric conditions that help keep our planet comfortable, there is good scientific agreement that human activities have tipped the scale towards increasing levels of greenhouse gasses and their effects on the warming of the earth.
 To limit the global increase in warming and the ongoing impacts to agriculture requires a global effort.  Canada intends to reduce emissions across the economy by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.  “Climate-friendly” ranching and farming could help in this effort by reducing, removing or replacing greenhouse (GHG) emissions.   To take it a step further, farming could be “climate-smart” by improving production efficiencies and profitability, while at the same time adapting to climate change and reducing GHG.
Where do the agricultural GHG emissions come from?  Carbon dioxide can come from on-farm energy and machinery use, intensive tillage and overgrazing.  Methane primarily comes from the digestive processes of ruminants (enteric fermentation), as well as manure storage.  Nitrous oxide can come from fertilizers, manure applications to soil, nitrogen-fixing crops, and waterlogged soils.  These gases are found naturally in the atmosphere, but their levels rise significantly with human activities such as agriculture.  Carbon dioxide is the predominant greenhouse gas, but methane and nitrous oxide are more potent, at 25 and 298 times (respectively) the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. 
What can we expect to happen? Our northern latitude will give us some advantages over warmer regions.  There are indications that up until 2060, Canadian prairie grazing capacity will remain productive, with an increase in warm-season grasses. Earlier seeding dates, possibly improved soil moisture levels, warmer summers and earlier spring warming are predicted in most regions.  Although growing seasons will be extended, the hotter summers will shorten the season for cool season crops and grasses.    Extremes such as heat waves are expected to decrease productivity as evapotranspiration increases and soils become increasingly dry. The possibility of less snow, receding lakes, lower stream flows and retreating glaciers will have their effects.
Increased CO2 levels could result in more plant growth, but could also negatively impact plant distribution and type, forage quality and quantity.  Rising CO2 levels could favour weed growth and the general warming trend could expand the range of weeds, forbs and invasive species. 
Severe droughts are expected for many of the ranching ecoregions.  Forest fires are expected to increase with increased temperatures, summer droughts and insect infestations.
Coastal areas are likely to experience wetter winters, and with the warmer weather we will probably see greater problems with parasites. 
Besides changes to growing conditions and crops, livestock directly impacted by temperature extremes and heat stress can have reduced appetites, impaired reproduction, increases in stress hormones, decreases in thyroid hormones, water deprivation, nutrient imbalances and nutrient deficiencies.  Some of these effects arise from seeking shade during the heat of the day which reduces grazing time, and having insufficient water of quantity or quality necessary.  These changes reduce productivity and increase morbidity and mortality of livestock. 
Increased summer temperatures can also influence meat quality of livestock, with dehydration, weight loss, altered muscle metabolism and stress, especially during transport and handling to the abattoir or auction mart. 
Diseases such as Anthrax, haemonchosis, fascioliasis and Bluetongue are influenced by climate through changes in their range of distribution, timing of outbreaks or intensity of outbreaks. 
So what can we do? Adaptation to climate change can be short-term in reaction to observed changes, and long-term by planning for anticipated changes in climate.  Each farm will need to determine its own vulnerabilities and opportunities.  
Adaptation measures can include securing and enhancing water supplies, installing drainage and irrigation, diversifying the farm, altering planting and harvest dates or breeding and lambing times, improving livestock shelters and infrastructure.
Mitigation refers to efforts to reduce the net amount of heat trapping greenhouse gases (GHG) released into the atmosphere.  Mitigation strategies are frequently linked to adaptive strategies i.e. planting trees for shade and shelterbelts for the comfort of the livestock, also sequesters carbon and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.  Strategies include:
·         Improving whole-farm productivity and resource efficiency
·         Maintaining optimal animal health and productivity
·         Sequestering carbon in trees, grass and soils
·         Minimizing leakages of GHG emissions through efficient and minimal fertilizer and manure applications and using nutrient management planning
·         Reducing soil disturbances, tillage, summer fallow and overgrazing
·         Exploring carbon-replacing renewable energy technologies (wind, water, solar, biofuels)
To help with mitigation, Agriculture and Agrifood Canada has produced a whole-farm modelling program that estimates greenhouse gas emissions for farmers at no cost.  The “Holos” program allows the producer to test different farm scenarios to aid in reducing GHG emissions and it is continually being updated.
Each operation should conduct a climate audit.  The climate audit identifies each climate trend (precipitation, temperature, extremes) and determines the impact of each trend on farm inputs, animal production, logistics and farm exports.  Another useful activity would be to conduct an energy-use audit which could reduce energy use, and CO2 emissions.  An energy audit combined with a climate audit may reveal opportunities for replacement of greenhouse gas emissions with renewable energy resources, such as wind, solar, micro-hydro or biofuel production.  This could provide a cost savings, while also providing a new income stream through the sale of surplus energy and mitigating climate change. 
Producers should have an emergency drought plan.  This can include improving forage resources, modifying grazing strategy, improving water resources and/or diversifying.  If climate conditions lead to reduced forage resources over extended times, de-stocking might be necessary. 
            Pasture management strategies can also improve feed efficiency and reduce nitrous oxide and methane emissions by the incorporation of digestible grass and legume mixes.  The legumes fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, increasing crude protein of the grass mix and replacing some or all of the nitrogen requirement for grass growth.  This reduces the amount of fertilizer required, avoiding some greenhouse gas emissions.  Extended grazing seasons due to climate change, coupled with grazing systems like management intensive grazing that manage the grass and soil first, could provide some opportunities for improvements to productivity.  This could result in a lower requirement for stored winter feed, but unpredictability would require planning for the worst case scenario, like extended droughts or crop failures.
The number of lambs reared per ewe, lamb growth rates, percentage of bred ewes, and level of nutrition are all linked to improved resource efficiency (and reduced emissions) and increased productivity. Flock health management, good biosecurity measures and disease surveillance are especially important with climate change, based on the northern migration of disease vectors and the adaptability of disease-causing organisms.  Healthy stock is more productive and more feed efficient.
            Managing water resources is important due to the increased possibility of elevated temperatures heat waves during the growing season, increasing water demand while impacting supply.  Both quantity and quality of water are important for flock health and welfare.  Precipitation may be reduced in the growing season, critical for pasture and rangelands that are rain fed and not irrigated and increasing the incidence of droughts.  An adaptive strategy to limited water resources may be to reduce stocking density, for herd health and welfare and to reduce overgrazing and soil erosion.
            If sufficient feed has been stockpiled, and water resources are adequate for livestock needs, one strategy may be to establish “drought pens or paddocks”, supplementing with grain if possible.  This can be done through early weaning of lambs, feedlot feeding them until market size.  Adult stock may be fed separately to avoid overgrazing.  Australians often implement this strategy, and I found it to be very effective last summer.
            Canada has the advantage of having a climate known for its cold, ice and snow.  For some, a bit of warming would be a welcome change and give us more of an advantage globally.  At this point, the level of uncertainty and the projected extreme weather events for the future make it hard to be totally confident in that view.  Perhaps “hope for the best and plan for worst” might be some good advice for the future.

 Appendix 1. Sheep Farm, Canada
Climate trends
Farm inputs
Animal production
More precipitation in winter months,
Drier in summer
Hay crop would be affected unless there is irrigation , perhaps grain also since it is usually grown without irrigation in prairies; higher prices, may need to plant different crops
Production may be affected if there isn’t shelter for winter rain or summer sun, warm rain can exacerbate parasite problems in pasture systems, foot problems
May not get on field in spring early enough if still wet, may have trouble harvesting if weather is unstable, mud and rain makes it difficult to handle livestock, transport.  Drought can impact grazing operations, reduce carrying capacity of the land
May experience price crash if animals are shipped at same time to save feed, price may also rise in long drought with less supply, but costs will be higher too
Increasing temperatures year round, especially hotter in summer months, warm winter
Add to reduced crop yield in non-irrigated areas, may need to plant different crops
Higher prices

Heat stress impacting reproduction, feed intake, growth and production,   insect and parasites may over-winter and no longer have winter-kill effect, could have a hot summer kill effect on parasites (positive),  insects carrying disease could move north
Hot weather can’t ship livestock, may need to delay breeding later if too hot,  may need to feed animals if grass dries up and to prevent overgrazing, may need to ship livestock to save grass and hay for rest of year, hard to plan, shipping planned in advance but animals might not be ready or it may be too hot to ship
Hard to ship at peak of the market sometimes if there are heat waves,  may not sell as much hay if saving for own stock
More heat waves in summer, winter storms with wind and rain, perhaps heavy snow storms.   
Higher feed costs
Electrical disruptions, power outages, shelter requirement for livestock might be adjusted, generators needed
Less production in both low and high extremes, very hard on farmers and staff to work in extreme weather events
Stressful on stock, farmers and employees.  Hard to plan.  Focus on preparation for the worst,
Hard to predict best time to sell in advance or how to time the market


3.       USDA (2015) Animal Agriculture in a Changing Climate

Determining the Carbon Hoofprint of Canadian Lamb - by Barbara Johnstone Grimmer, P. Ag. Sheep Canada Magazine, Vol 31 No. 2 Summer 2016

The Carbon Footprint of Lamb in Canada – More Research Needed
     Lamb doesn’t often make global headlines, but a few years ago the greenhouse gas emissions from lamb production were reported to be higher than any other meat.  Headlines like “Eating lamb is worst for the environment1” didn’t match with the image most people have of healthy lambs frolicking in healthy pastures.  Recent suggestions to tax red meat through a carbon food tax doesn’t help either2.  Higher reported emissions for lamb translate into a higher carbon footprint, the shorthand term for global warming impact, usually expressed per unit product.  The global warming impact for agriculture relies on three main greenhouse gases (GHG); methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide.  Rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have been associated with the burning of fossil fuels. Methane, from enteric fermentation in the rumen and from manure, is 25 times more potent than CO2, the main greenhouse gas.  Nitrous oxide from soil management and manure is 298 times more potent than CO2. The carbon footprint adjusts these impacts and expresses them in CO2 equivalents, or CO2e per functional unit.  A functional unit may be kg live weight (LW), for example.
     This may seem straightforward, but all carbon footprints are not created equal.  Methods and calculations differ, lack of reliable data results in generalizations and assumptions with lots of resultant variability and uncertainty.  Many calculations are within a specific “cradle to farm gate” boundary for a farm level assessment using a method called “life cycle assessment”, or LCA.  Then there are direct emissions, such as rumen emissions, versus the indirect emissions, which may arise from processes traced back to the production of the feed that the lamb eats (fertilizers, land clearing).  In general, it is not advised to compare carbon footprints using different methods, but that doesn’t stop researchers from doing that.  One paper, aware of this reality, compared the carbon footprint of New Zealand to Welsh lamb and clearly demonstrated that the variability between sheep farms undermined any attempts to generalize about the claims made for the carbon footprints of lamb for a region or country3.  The authors advised that more on-farm research was needed to collect sufficient data from similar farms within regions to aid in the understanding of the variation in carbon footprints.  Another Welsh study five years later compared 64 sheep farms, and found that carbon footprints can vary with local conditions and management choices4.  In particular, regardless of type of farm, the number of lambs reared per ewe, lamb growth rate, percentage of ewe and replacement ewe lambs not mated, and concentrate use had the greatest impact on the carbon footprint of lamb.  Although Welsh lamb carbon footprints varied by farm type with lowland 10.85, upland 12.85 and hill 17.86 kg CO2e/kg LW, the authors concluded that nationally, the carbon footprint of lamb could be reduced by improving the productivity of the poor producing farms and reducing the productivity gap between farms.
     Canada covers several ecoregions with varying climates and sheep production systems and breeds.  Cattle are the main ruminant species in Canada, producing over 95% of enteric fermentation emissions.  Cattle production systems are well-characterized and have been thoroughly studied regarding environmental impacts.  Sheep are a minor species in Canada, although consumer demand for lamb is growing and over half of the lamb consumed is an imported product.  There is little Canadian research regarding sheep production environmental impacts through tools such as LCA or carbon footprinting.  Estimation of greenhouse gas emission intensities from sheep are generally based on values from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). For sheep in Canada, IPCC Tier 1 emission factors are used for enteric fermentation, and IPCC Tier1/ 2 values are used for manure emissions.
     The IPCC methodology to determine GHG emissions is rated by its level of detail and accuracy.  Tier 1 is the lowest level, and emissions are obtained by multiplying by the population of animals in a livestock category by an emission factor (EF).  For Tier 2, climate and type of manure storage is taken into account, but a lot more data is needed for Tier 2, especially in a country like Canada with such a wide range of climates and farming types.
     The Canadian carbon footprint for sheep was recently reported to be significantly higher than the beef carbon footprint using national livestock population data and modelling using Tier 1/Tier 2 methodologies5.  However, the uncertainty of the IPCC Tier 2 Canadian livestock model has been determined to be especially high for lamb methane emissions, primarily when values are assigned at the national scale6.  Developing parameters that are country-specific with regional refinements, and using appropriate production stages for livestock, would reduce the uncertainties and produce more accurate greenhouse gas emission values and carbon footprints.  The Canadian enteric methane values for sheep are based on Tier 1, at 8 kg methane/head/year regardless of age.  In contrast, the UK enteric methane emission factors for sheep are age specific, at 8 kg methane/head/year for adult sheep, but 40% of that value for lambs less than one-year-old (3.2 kg methane/head/year), allowing for a further adjustment to the average age lamb is shipped.  As to why lamb would have higher emissions, there are suggestions that wool is not counted as a product in these calculations (GHG), and would contribute to lower dressing percentages.  The study also made broad management and feed assumptions which should be verified, and assumed a shorter reproductive lifespan for ewes than has been reported.  More on-farm research, industry collaboration with scientists, better regional data and better models for sheep are definitely needed.
      Based on the need for more production and regional-specific research, a carbon footprint project was conducted in the Gulf Islands of BC using my farm as an example.  My farm is typical for the region, with a mild temperate Mediterranean-type climate, home-grown feed, and an extended grazing season.  We supplement our pasture and grass hay with Sheep-Lyx nutrient block supplement according to the nutrient value of the forage and balanced with the nutrient needs of the sheep.  The carbon footprint calculated using the cradle to gate LCA method included most emissions related to the production of lamb. 
     Three modelling systems were used to estimate the carbon footprint of lamb.  Farm data was put into the models.  The results were as follows:
UK- All-Tech Sheep E-CO2 “What If?” Tool (2015): 9.4 kg CO2e/ kg LW lamb
UK/US- Cool Farm Tool (Excel version 2.0): 5.13 kg CO2e/ kg LW lamb
Canada-Holos (version 2.2): 7.53 kg CO2e/ kg LW lamb
    The variability in carbon footprint can be partly attributed to the different default values used for each model which can reduce the complexity and simplify the results.  In general, a UK model may be used as a proxy for the Gulf Islands because of similarities in sheep breeds and climate.  However, there are differences in feed sources, energy sources, management and resources such as soil.  Based on other studies, 90% or more of the carbon footprint was expected to be on-farm.  The other 10% was expected to come from upstream emissions (fertilizer, off-farm feed) and can inform the producer regarding sourcing of inputs to the farm and their impact. The majority of the emissions from this project were from methane, regardless of the tool or model used.  The primary source of methane was from enteric fermentation.
     The simplest system to use was the Alltech E-CO2 tool.  The tool models UK scenarios based on industry data. The Tool has three basic farm systems; rearing lambs to finishing, rearing to store sale, and stores purchased to finish.  Basic information from farm records are used, and “what-if” scenarios can help advise management decisions to improve the carbon footprint.  This tool is useful for exploring different scenarios for sheep management, but is not sensitive enough to provide an accurate carbon footprint.
     The Cool Farm Tool (CFT) has an online version as well as an Excel spreadsheet version.  The CFT is useful for farm level calculations to estimate GHG emissions.  The calculator is based on peer-reviewed data and goes beyond simple Tier 1 by including geographic locations.  However, Canada was a single region for this model, reducing the model’s reliability.
     Holos is a farm level GHG calculator developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and it includes a research version7. Holos is specific for Canada using ecodistricts to account for climatic, soil type, topography and precipitation differences.  Soil carbon factors are incorporated into the model.  Estimates of uncertainty are identified. Holos allows for the estimation of carbon accumulation and losses, by calculating the impact of land use change such as land-clearing or planting of trees. Looking at the entire farm, our farm is a carbon sink because of the amount of forest we have.   Holos is also being developed as a carbon footprinting tool and beyond carbon footprinting to include more environmental impacts8.

     All three tools are easily accessed and free on the Internet for producers to use.
     The carbon footprint results for my farm are being used to help determine hotspots for improvements in management, and to adjust future data collection so that a follow-up carbon footprint project can fine-tune the emission estimates.  The results are a first step in understanding the impact of our local sheep production systems on greenhouse gas emissions, and to identify the gaps in data and modelling methods for regional, provincial and national carbon footprint projects.

1Brown, L. (2011). Eating lamb is worst for the environment, 19 July 2011. Earth Times.
2Ong, S. (2016). Taxing red meat to fight climate change, 24 May 2016. Science Line.
3Edwards-Jones, G., Plassmann, K., Harris, I. (2008). The carbon footprint of sheep farming in Wales. Bangor University, Wales. Available to download at
4Jones, A., Jones, D., Cross, P.  (2013).  The carbon footprint of lamb: Sources of variation and opportunities for mitigation.  Agricultural Systems 123, 97-107. Doi: 10.1016/j.agsy.2013.09.006.
5Dyer, J., Verge, X., Desjardins, R., Worth, D. (2014). A comparison of greenhouse gas emissions from the sheep industry with beef production in Canada. Sustainable Agriculture Research 3,65-75.
6 Karimi-Zindashty, Y., MacDonald, J., Desjardins, R. Worth, D., Hutchinson, J., Verge, X. (2011). Climate Change and Agriculture Paper: Sources of uncertainty in the IPCC Tier 2 Canadian Livestock Model.  Journal of Agricultural Science.  1-14.  doi: 10.1017/S002185961100092X.
7Little, S.M., J. Lindeman, K. Maclean and H.H. Janzen (2008). Holos - A tool to estimate and reduce GHGs from farms. Methodology and algorithms for Version 1.1.x. Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.

8 Krobel, R., Janzen, H., Beauchemin, K., Bonesmo, H., Little, S., McAllister, T. (2013). A proposed approach to estimate and reduce the environmental impact from whole farms.  Acta Agriculturae Scand Section A  

Monday, March 7, 2016

Local lamb thriving on BC islands by Barbara Johnstone Grimmer, from Vol 30 No 3 Sheep Canada magazine

Local lamb thriving on BC islands

Saturna1Story & photos by Barbara Johnstone Grimmer, P.Ag.
The BC sheep industry is relatively small and very diverse, with an average flock size of 30–40 ewes and a total of 55,000 head. There are no federally inspected plants that kill lambs in BC.
According to Statistics Canada (2011), 26% of BC sheep are located on Vancouver Island and the southern Gulf Islands (between the mainland and Vancouver Island). Sheep production is spread throughout the islands with 14,000–15,000 sheep on nearly 500 farms. The Gulf Islands are unique in that large predators are either absent or rare, with only flying predators such as eagles and ravens to worry about. Vancouver Island has cougars and bears, but no coyotes. Livestock is transported on and off the islands by ferry or, for those islands without ferry service, by barge. The mild coastal climate allows sheep to remain outdoors most of the year.
Up until a few years ago, most lamb was processed on the farm and sold to the community and visitors to the islands. Direct marketing increased following the BSE border closure in 2003, enhanced by the demand for local food. In 2004, the BC government changed its meat regulations to require licensing of all facilities slaughtering livestock and the inspection of all meat in the province. After a rocky period of farmer protests and consultations, the regulations became law in 2007. All over the province, local abattoirs shut down. Required plant upgrades were costly for many operators, especially in isolated rural areas where direct sales of uninspected meat had previously been allowed. With no inspection on the small islands, animals had to be transported off the islands for slaughter. Off-island abattoirs were often over-booked, creating long waits.
The Gulf Islands have no four-legged predators.
Sheep numbers fell across BC by 33%. Island numbers fell even farther. A 2010 study of livestock on Salt Spring Island determined that, although sheep comprised 90% of livestock raised on the island, sheep numbers had fallen by 44% in just five years.
Implementation of the new regulations was delayed initially because few plants upgraded to the new standards; most of them closed down. The government scrambled for solutions and offered funding to assist with upgrades, and slowly plants began to apply for funds. Some communities had to start from scratch.
One of the few plants licensed to process lamb before the regulatory changes is located on a farm in Metchosin, a half hour from the city of Victoria. The small plant services southern Vancouver Island and the southern Gulf Islands, providing custom slaughter services and lamb for local butcher shops, grocery stores and restaurants. John and Lorraine Buchanan and their family started out as regular customers and suppliers of lamb to the plant, and over 30 years became one of the biggest sheep producers on Vancouver Island. They have since taken over operation of the plant to preserve access to the local market. The workers remained; without that smooth transition the business would not have survived.
John Buchanan unloads a group of lambs for slaughter at the abattoir built by Bernie Nikkels at Metchosin, Vancouver Island. Lambs come down the ramp and through the chute that runs behind the back of the abattoir, into the holding pens on the left. The design is a good one and the animals move readily through it.
John says the challenges have included training new workers in case someone leaves, finding people who are willing to slaughter, and finding work for them the rest of the week, such as making deliveries, as the plant only operates about one-and-a-half days a week and does not do cutting and wrapping. The plant can kill 60 lambs a week; this number is limited by how many can be cut and wrapped (about 35 per week) at three local butcher shops. The rest are wholesale carcass sales. John feels that they are succeeding in all of these areas. They are also succeeding with the buy-in of independent butchers and the many restaurants that really value having a good local supply of lamb.
Slaughter waste is taken to the local landfill, at an average cost of $5 per lamb, including trucking. John looked into composting, but his plant is just a bit too big to be exempt from composting regulations, and it can be difficult to make composting on a large scale economically viable.
The Buchanan family’s Parry Bay Sheep Farm is well known locally and in the larger sheep community. They are good farmers and good business people, and have expanded their 300+ ewe operation by leasing farmland and smaller pastures, while owning little land themselves. The ewes are on pasture for nine months, and grazed rotationally to optimize grass growth. They also grow some grain, including wheat for local bakeries.
John and Lorraine are generous with their time and knowledge, hosting field days for the Inter-Island Sheep Breeders Association, teaching new sheep producers the finer points of raising good lamb, and inviting the general public and school groups to visit at lambing time. At a BC Sheep Federation (BCSF) seminar last year, the Buchanans heard about the Premium BC Lamb Program being developed by the BC Association of Abattoirs (BCAA), in partnership with BCSF. They hosted a field day a few months later, which introduced the BC Meats Quality Information System (BCMQIS), a carcass scoring system for grading lamb. The Buchanans provided lambs, and producers were taught how to select for quality and finish. The next day the lambs were processed and the carcasses graded and compared to the live evaluations.
Producers who are members of the BC Abattoir Association can sign up for the Premium BC Lamb program and receive feedback on their lambs from participating abattoirs. The association is a unique organization that has developed the Premium BC Lamb brand, bringing together chefs, retailers, processors and lamb producers, working for a strong, effective value chain. The BCAA was formed in 2009 by the licensed BC meat industry, and has partnered with the BCSF to develop standards and ensure high-quality lamb production and a powerful marketing scheme for the industry.
BCLambLogo_CProducers receive guidance and training on nutrition and selection of lambs, and abattoir operators are trained in the unique grading system.
The weight and grade of each lamb is recorded with its RFID tag number, and the results are available to the producers. Lambs grading high are stamped, and can be marketed using the Premium BC Lamb label. Boxes of lamb are identified with the RFID tag number, ensuring traceability.
Marketing materials for restaurants state ‘Proudly Serving BC Lamb’, using a distinctive logo that is on all materials used by producers, stores and restaurants. The production, selection and grading system has been introduced at workshops around the province and more are scheduled for this fall.
Jacques (pronounced Jackie) Campbell operates Campbell Sheep Farm and Campbell Farm Abattoir on Saturna Island, BC.
One of the early adopters of the BCMQIS grading system is also a director of the BC Association of Abattoirs. Jacques Campbell (with brother Tom and sister Nan) raises sheep and beef cattle and operates a small abattoir on beautiful Saturna Island, a 31-sq. km island with a population of 300. Jacques’ parents, Jim and Lorraine, started Campbell Farm in 1945. The Campbells currently run about 100 commercial ewes, with Cheviot, Charollais and Suffolk breeding, and ten cows. The ewes lamb in February under the trees, and the lambs are primarily grass-fed and finished.
Campbell Farm Abattoir, BC #32, was built in the 1950’s, designed with advice from the UBC Faculty of Agriculture, which both of Jacques’ parents attended in the 1940’s. There are two levels in the plant. A drop floor allows for beef to be hung. The walk-in cooler on the upper level has an overhead track to move carcasses. The change in meat regulations imposed only minimal upgrades on the plant, such as improved surfaces and a closed-in ceiling. Other items were added, such as a bolt gun and sanitizers for the knives. Wooden cutting boards had to go, but knives with wooden handles were allowed to wear out. Additional considerations, such as an office and bathroom for the inspector, were accommodated by facilities in an adjacent building.
Campbell Farm Abattoir, BC #32., Saturna Island, BC.
Waste is under the jurisdiction of the BC Ministry of Environment, and the Campbells have a fenced and covered burial pit, with a separate pit for specified risk materials.
The holding pen outside the Campbell Farm Abattoir always has at least one additional animal, so that the last lamb to be slaughtered does not have to wait in the pen by itself.
Slaughter is seasonal, from June to December, three days a week, with one day for slaughter and two for cutting and wrapping. The inspector comes on an early ferry from Victoria, arriving around 6:30 am. Work ends when he has to catch the ferry back around 10 am. About 15-20 lambs can be done in a day on this schedule.
Jacques says that when the changes to the regulations were announced, they were told there was no room for small slaughterhouses like hers, but that attitude has changed with the assistance of the BC Food Processors, whom the government enlisted to help with the transition. Jacques feels that the advantages of the license and the inspection process outweigh the expense and extra oversight, providing opportunity. They now have scheduled slaughter days, and the farm can sell their lamb in the local store and to local restaurants. They can also continue to supply lamb for the annual Saturna Island Lamb Barbeque held each Canada Day. The Argentine-style barbeque has been an annual community fundraiser since 1950, bringing tourists by boat and ferry from all over BC and the world.
Being inspected also means they can provide custom cutting and wrapping for islands that do not have an abattoir. Campbell Farm has a growing customer base of sheep and beef producers from neighbouring islands, who bring animals by truck on the ferries, or from smaller islands by barge.
Argentinian-style barbecue at the annual Saturna Island Lamb Barbecue.
Jacques was one of the first lamb abattoir operators trained on the BCQMIS system, which uses a tablet to photograph carcasses, which are then graded against a standard. She also has a Psion RFID reader, FarmWorks software and an electronic scale head to monitor her own flock’s progress. In 2010, Campbell Farm hosted a producer workshop to show how the abattoir works, and to demonstrate the benefits of RIFD.
Jacques gets help from friends and members of the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms Program (WWOOFERs), shown here holding their favourite lambs.
One group of sheep producers who came to the field day had a specific purpose: to learn about small-scale abattoirs so they could build one for Salt Spring Island. They watched a lamb being processed, from start to finish. They saw how the sheep were handled, how the bolt gun quickly stunned the animal, how many people it took to process the lamb and how the facilities were laid out, as well as the role of the inspector. Two years later, the newest abattoir in the Gulf Islands is the community-owned and operated Salt Spring Abattoir.
Salt Spring is the largest Gulf Island, at 183 sq. km, and over 10,000 people. The abattoir was built because of the difficulty of transporting animals off-island for processing, and the decline in livestock and poultry on the island after the new meat regulations came into effect. Before it was built, there had been no slaughter service on Salt Spring for five years.
SSISheep have been central to the character of many Gulf Islands since the first European settlers found the island more suited to grazing livestock than growing crops. The animal has become a mascot for Salt Spring, featured on souvenirs and signage, and Salt Spring lamb has been proudly served to the Queen on her visits to British Columbia. It is said that the lamb’s famous flavour comes from the salt air, the island grasses and the apples that fall in old orchards every fall. All of this contributed to the ‘Save Salt Spring Lamb’ campaign, which spurred development of the new abattoir.
A feasibility study determined that the only way an abattoir could be built to government standards would be through fundraising in the community, as the income from such a small plant would not pay to build it. An Agriculture Area Plan followed, which reinforced the idea that more infrastructure was needed on the island. The non-profit Salt Spring Island Agricultural Alliance was formed in 2008, and fundraised for the abattoir using crowd funding, farm dinners, chef’s dinners, restaurant fundraisers and musical events to bring the community together on the project. The original cost estimate was $500,000 for a permanent building (not including land) versus $300,000 for a simple mobile abattoir, a solution other communities had settled on.
SSI-signIt was decided to build a multi-species abattoir on site, to process lamb, goats, poultry and (eventually) pigs and beef, with moveable modular components (in case another site is chosen in the future) for cutting and wrapping, cooling and freezing, offal and hides, plus a custom-built slaughter trailer. It was estimated that the society would need $350,000 to build this customized style of abattoir, with $200,000 from fundraising and $150,000 from a government grant. But costs went up as local and provincial governments added requirements and plans were changed, resulting in a final cost of $470,000, with another $25,000 still being raised for upgrades for beef and pig slaughtering.
The Salt Spring Abattoir Society is the not-for-profit that was formed to manage the abattoir business. The business model is unique in that the abattoir is owned and run by the community. David Astill is the president of the society. The one thing that David would suggest to someone thinking of following their model would be to go with a permanent building rather than a mobile abattoir. Mobile abattoirs are expensive and tight on space, as well as hard to keep cool on hot days. The government’s requirements for docking stations are so high for a mobile abattoir in BC that it adds to the cost of construction and takes away the advantages of a mobile unit.
The Salt Spring Island Abattoir has moveable, modular components.
The abattoir owes its success to the organizational skills and knowledge base of the fundraisers and volunteers, the incredible support of the community, and the attention paid to the labour component. A central goal was to achieve sustainability through high animal welfare standards, and fair wages and working conditions. The plant has retained good employees, critical for success in any business but even more so for slaughter plants. David emphasized that it is important to hire employees who work well for the business, work well together and are flexible, and to appreciate them for the hard work they do. An added benefit of good working conditions for employees has been the positive contribution to animal welfare, product quality, and a good working relationship with the producers and the abattoir society.
Building a community business has led David to develop a value chain for the Salt Spring Abattoir and its stakeholders, working with retailers like Thrifty Foods who are considering taking Salt Spring lamb back to Vancouver Island Thrifty stores instead of sending trucks back empty after delivering groceries to Salt Spring. That is a big win, supported by the Premium BC Lamb brand, which ensures quality and provides branded marketing materials for retailers. National chain stores often do not accept provincially inspected meat as a matter of policy, given that provincially inspected meat cannot be sold across provincial or federal borders. Thrifty Foods is a Victoria-based brand that values local food and, although it was sold to the national Sobey’s retail chain in 2007, has retained a lot of its character.
The Salt Spring plant was designed to process 750 lambs per year at 20 per day. Last year the abattoir was able to process 25 lambs per day and did a total of 450 lambs. A local farmer composts slaughter waste from the plant, by mixing it with old hay in a feed mixer mounted on the PTO of his tractor. The mixture is turned for a half hour a few times a day and composting is complete in a week.
Now that the growing pains of the new plant have eased and its potential is being realized, the larger sheep producers on Salt Spring are starting to use it as well, and there is hope that as it becomes available to beef and pork producers livestock numbers will rebound and the viability of agriculture on Salt Spring Island will improve. The ‘Save Salt Spring Lamb’ campaign that started this project seems to have achieved its goals.
Barbara Johnstone Grimmer is a commercial sheep producer and professional agrologist who lives on Pender Island, BC.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Drought in the Gulf Islands - Summer 2015.

Today marks the last day of summer vacation for the school kids.  Tomorrow it is back to school for my son, who will be taking a water taxi to and from the high school on Salt Spring Island. 

Although not officially the last day of summer it really feels like it. 

The drought on our farm this summer was most severe we have ever seen.  Usually it is dry and hot for July and August, but this year it was dry in May and June as well.  

This photo is from one of our hayfields in July.  We put the sheep in when it was apparent that the grass was too short and too dried out to harvest.  

For the past week or so we have had rain off and on - enough to make up for the drought, and now we are seeing green grass coming through.  In a few days I will deworm the ewes and put them into the pastures, once the grass height is sufficient to support them.

In the meantime, they graze what they can in this field and get supplemental hay that we were able to harvest earlier in the season.  Some ewes were sent to be made into burger and roasts, some will likely go to auction this weekend.  There is just not enough hay to last through the winter, and the price for hay has gone up too much.