Emily Rätsep, from the Animal Health Lab in Kemptville spoke about why sheep sometimes die. Her “to the point” approach in discussing the topic included much valuable information on what is an important, and expensive outcome for anyone in the sheep industry. Tinkess Photo

By Terry Tinkess
AgriNews Staff Writer

SOUTH MOUNTAIN – The South Mountain Agricultural Hall was the site of the 2024 Eastern Sheep Expo on Sat., April 13, and on a cold, gray day it was a pleasant and informative way to spend a few hours learning about Ontario’s Sheep industry and talking to some of the people who help it to grow.

It is difficult to schedule events like this as not everyone follows the same schedule, but this year things worked out pretty well.

Colleen Acres is secretary of Ontario Sheep Farmers District 10, and one of the organizers of the day’s events. She says she understands the difficulty in getting away from the farm. “it’s always challenging, right? Some people are lambing at this time of the year. We would love to see the hall full, but, you know, I’m, I’m happy with the group that’s here. Let’s hope they stick around for the day. We’ve got lots of great speakers yet this afternoon. And you know, it, it’s helpful to have a good group of peers that you can meet with and network with. We kind of say, we would like a minimum of 30 and I think we’re about 50 so that’s not a bad day.”

According to Acres, District 10 runs from the Brockville area right to the Quebec border. “We published and promoted this to anybody from kind of Napanee area, east and then up in the Upper Ottawa Valley. And I’m pleasantly surprised at the number of producers that have come from, you know, Foresters, Falls and Cobden and Beachburg area on down because it’s a bit of a hike for them. But at the same time, there’s also not very many opportunities in the sheep world in eastern Ontario. This is meant to fill that need and fill that niche. I was also happy to see Art Alblas, our chair of Ontario Sheep Farmers (OSF) here, making the effort to be with us and join with us on the agenda first thing this morning.

It was an interesting event. In addition to Art Alblas, the OSF Chair who kicked off the event, there were speakers on a range of topics, such as Dr. Emily Rätsep, from the Animal Health Lab in Kemptville who’s presentation was entitled “Why do sheep sometimes die?”, and France Lanthier, an OMAFRA Livestock Specialist, who spoke about cost share funding opportunities.

The afternoon session featured Corlena Patterson of the Canadian Sheep Federation who talked about how to be more sustainable with sheep and Laurie Maus, the No-Sheep Sherlock who spoke about the need to have a parasite management plan.

There was also a mini tradeshow with businesses that cater to sheep farmers and a large display from OMAFRA with information on all the programs they offer.

Speaking about lunch, 4-H were recruited to handle the kitchen. “We reached out to the 4-H group last year for the first time when we held this event to see if they’d help us manage the catering side, because we can’t do it all,” said Acres.  “And we thought it’d be a good fundraiser for them. It’s a good opportunity for them to practice their marketing skills and network with farmers, so it’s a win-win for everybody.”

The serious side of the event supported the idea that the sheep industry in Ontario and Canada in general needs to grow. “For as long as I can remember, we have never been able to fill the demand for lamb in this country, we’ve always relied on imports,” said Acres.  “It is one of the few protein commodities that isn’t in an export position; we are just too busy trying to fill our own domestic demand.”

“To me, imports are a good thing. It keeps people eating lamb. But at the same time, at some point we’d like to displace a little bit more of that. And as our cultural groups change, within this country, a lot of them are lamb eaters. They’re coming from countries where lamb is regularly on the menu. It’s up to this group as producers to fill some of that need.”