Gabriel had a little lamb

And it has started! Our first lambs arrived this week. So far we have four moms, three sets of twins and I set of triplets. All are doing well except for one. She is one of the triplets; she was breech; and we had to help the mom quite a bit to get her out. In fact I just got in from the barn and Gab is still out there keeping an eye on them.

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This lambing period is quite special for us. Although this is our second round of lambing, this is the first time the lambs are a result of our own breeding schedule. As I mentioned previously, we bought our sheep pregnant last year. This is the first full cycle for us.

We bought 2 new rams this year (we have 4 in total). We called them Smokey and Bandit. Smokey is from les fermes Solidar in Quebec. His dad is a purebred Lacaune from France and his mother is from Chicoutimi. He is big, handsome and a bully. He likes cheese and good wine. We have to be careful when we are in a pen with him. Well, Gab has to be careful; I won’t go in a pen with him. Bandit is from Wooldrift Farm. He has a large frame but a mild temper. . Wooldrift Farm is the first to have imported East Friesian embryo to the country and have a very good reputation. We are quite happy with these two fellas.

Although a lot of research and consulting went into our decision to purchase these rams, we were still nervous that perhaps they would not do their job. Our nightmare was that we have 120-some ewes to breed and none of them get pregnant! I guess this is the feeling of being a boss. Being responsible for the final decision, trusting you made the right one! We were quite relieved to see some nice growing bellies and udders; indication something good was happening. Pregnant ewes may seem like a small feat, however it is a quite significant accomplishment for us and we will definitely be celebrating it!

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On another high-note, we have a co-op student, Keegan, that just started working with Gab for a few hours a day for a couple months. We are extremely excited about this. We are excited to have this help in the barn but also Gab is excited to have the company. Going from his job as part of a dive unit with lots of co-worker interaction, to being mostly alone on the farm all day, is quite challenging sometimes for a him who likes to be social.

For new farmers, or any new business, a co-op student is a fantastic way to get some extra FREE help for a few hours a day. We encourage those who would benefit from it to approach your local high schools and see if they have any students that would be interested in your project.

Oh Alma

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”                    – T.S Elloit

Although we were run off our feet, there were many memorable and funny moments that made us forget about the life we could not keep up to. Some came in the form of encountering medical issues for the first time and learning how to deal with them. To the seasoned farmer, a prolapse is no surprise or a big issue. For the first time farmer, seeing it for the first time is like “aaaah….. what the heck is that?”

The loving family that we purchased our sheep from gave most of them names and wrote their names on their ear tags. This was so sweet and it made things easier when trying to identify one sheep from another. As we got to know the sheep better, we found that often their names matched their personalities. Like Madonna; she had black around her eyes that looked like mascara and she was a real diva, very bossy. Agusta was a good mom and lambed very nicely. But poor Alma… Alma needs to stop smoking; she has been wheezing since the day we got her and she looks like she had a hard paper run. The day I went out to the barn and saw a red organ hanging from her backside… Oh Lord… I thought to myself “oooh-kay… what do I do about this?” So I did what became a weekly event; I took a picture of it and sent it to my vet with a series of question marks as my text. He told me it was not a big deal, just a prolapsed vagina and that he was sending out some students to show me how to put it back in!!! – Oh my goodness…

The vet and her students were fantastic and showed me exactly what I had to do the next time it happened; because it would happen again! This was not something I was supposed to spend money on a vet for every time it happened.

Sure enough… the next day… guess what I had to deal with?? A text message conversation between my best friend Rebecca and I that day went something like this:

Becca: We (her and my old co-workers) are on our way to Quebec City for an ice dive. I wish you were here! I am just telling the guys about the time we took our road trip to Ontario!
Me: Agh… fun! I wish I was there too; instead I have to deal with this! * inserted the picture I took for the vet.
Becca: oh my god! WHAT IS THAT!???
Me: It’s her vagina…. pushed out… I have to put it back in…
Becca: omg omg omg… gross gross gross!! I just showed the guys… omg… why did that happen ???

Texting complete. I needed help. I got on the phone and called my cousin Carla. I managed to stop laughing long enough to ask her if she wanted to come help me. Within minutes she was down and changed into barn clothes. While I did what I had to do (trying to remember all the details the vet shared with me), Carla helped keep the sheep from moving around while singing it lullabies. Oh… how a camera would have been a good idea…

As a matter of fact, now that I think of it, our sheep were subject to a lot of serenading in the last year. During lambing, while I helped one that was having trouble, my mom put Marcel in the carrier on her back and came to the barn to help me; her method to relax the sheep was the same!

I guess now when people mock and ask “can we provide them with animals that were treated with kindness and who’s ears we rubbed while signing kumbaya ?”
hmmm… as a matter of fact we can!

Meet Fred. He’s our lack-there-of guard dog! He is 13 months old, has too much energy and we can’t keep him in any pen that does not have a roof because he can jump and climb over everything. We cannot wait to get our pasture fences up, more so for him then for the sheep!  If you come over and he happens to run and jump on you, we are very sorry! We are working on that and try to keep him in the barn and in the field to avoid this from happening. He’s kind of a pest that we just happen to love! Any advice on raising Great Pyrenees is welcomed! 

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The early stages

Trying to sort through my foggy memory of the last year, trying to decide what to share, is difficult. When I shared my entries I wrote so far with my parents, my mom asked me “ what about those first 6 months? All that work you did?” So I started reminiscing.
I really wish I had a camera mounted in that barn during the first few months because my writing is not good enough to paint an accurate picture of how that looked.
Our barn was really too small and we started out with 110 animals all together in one big pen. This looked so nice at first. The animals had lots of room to move around and they seemed quite comfortable. As we got into lambing, the temporary fences started flying! I would build a bunch of fences and nail them to whatever support beam was available to section off the barn into multiple pens. By the end of it, it was a maze of pens with no doors. I had to climb over all of them to get to the next. It was so much work! Every time I came into the house, I was soaked in sweat.
When it came time for feedings, it got dangerous! Since I was in the pen with the animals, I would get trampled. I had to be fast and strategic about how I fed as I had to race the animals around the barn. I often had my cousin’s kids around visiting the animals and they knew when it was food time, they had to get out of the pens. Usually they watched and laughed as I got my workout.
One time I actually had to call my dad on my cell phone from the barn for him to come help me because I was cornered by the animals and I could not get out! I really wish I had a picture of that. In those busy days, I certainly wasn’t stopping to take selfies! Also, if I was lucky to have help in the barn I wasn’t wasting any of that precious time asking my help to take pictures either.

Dad (Pépé) and Marcel checking everything out. 

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There were numerous times the sheep had escaped on me. Being woke up in the middle of the night by mom telling me my sheep were all over the front yard was not my idea of a good time. And I am sure if you asked my dad, who was out helping me get them back in, he would more than agree with me.
All this work, including learning to lamb was done with only a few hours of experience WATCHING Gab and Jean-Paul in the barn in Quebec. This was absolutely crazy. If I had expected that much work, I would never have agreed to it! But sometimes the unknown is a blessing. We were faced with challenges that we just had to overcome and we did it. We had to start somewhere and this was our starting point. If we wanted to move to P.E.I, this is what we had to do to get here.
My advice today: Whatever your project may be, make sure you put a lot of thought into the logistics of it. What help are you going to need? Are there people around you can call when you need a hand? This makes me think of yet another time our sheep escaped ( we had Marcel out with us in the stroller) and Gab (who was home for the weekend) asked me if I had a list of people I could call? I was so annoyed. I smart-assly responded “ Of course! My EMERGENCY SHEEP- ESCAPE RECALL LIST!” It was a joke at the time, but really….it would have been quite convenient! I did end up getting on the phone , dialing anyone I could think of who might be free at 1 o’clock in the afternoon on a weekday. If you don’t have these kinds of support systems, that’s ok too, just make sure your project size and details are appropriate for the 1 or 2 of you that are going to care for it.

Many thanks goes out to the overwhelming amount of friends and family that have, and continue to, lend a hand when they are able. This is just one of many occasions when our friends from Nova Scotia came over to help on the farm.
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A little History

I will attempt to back up a little to give a little picture of how we got to where we are. We met as two military members who found ourselves working at the Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic in Shearwater, Nova Scotia. Gabriel is originally from Quebec and I, as I mentioned earlier am an islander. We loved our lives as divers. We had good, steady and secure incomes; a nice home and wonderful neighbours; and we both got to travel around the world. We had, what we miss most, a wonderful group of friends. As we moved forward in our relationship, and like many, started thinking about growing family, something was missing in our lives in Nova Scotia. We wanted to move back to the country and closer to family. The romantic thoughts of a little farm where our kids would have lots of animals to play with and always be outside consumed us. Then came the question, well what the heck are we going to do for income if we leave our jobs and move back to PEI?
So the brainstorming began. We went back to a previous idea of Gab’s that was to get into cheese making. This has been of interest to him from a young age which is something he picked up from his grandfather who was a master cheese-maker for many years and won many awards doing so. DSC_0193.jpg
We were not sure how to get started into this but there was a cheese making course that ran over a couple weekends in Quebec at L’Institut de Technologie Agro-Alimentaire. We didn’t know if he would ever apply the knowledge he was about to acquire but Gab just said “I`m going”. From there, the ball just started rolling and has yet to stop.
This leads me to our first piece of advice:
When you want something, and the project seems too big to comprehend; you just can’t seem to figure out all the steps; just take ONE. Just take ONE step. Do ONE thing that moves you a little closer to where you want to be and see what door will open because of it.
For us, it was this little 4 day cheese course. It felt like once he showed up on his first day of the course, the bricks just started falling and the road started forming ahead of us. Through this course he learned about sheep cheese; visited a few sheep dairy farms; asked a ton of questions to these farmers; and his mind was made up. He wanted to work with sheep’s milk.
So now we had our WHAT. He now knew WHAT he wanted to do; which left us with the HOW?
This was the spring of 2014; timing was on our side for the next step. Our son was born that summer and we split our parental leave and both took 6 months leave at the same time. On our time off we took an extended trip to Quebec where Gab’s parents lived; and where sheep dairy farming is a little more common than in the Maritime Provinces. To our surprise, Jean Paul and Marie Chantal Houde, owners of a Sheep Dairy Operation and Cheese House – La Bergerie et Fromagerie Nouvelle France were just down the road. We approached them and they accepted to let Gab hang around for the next couple months to see how their operation worked. Gab just wanted to learn as much as he could and the Houde’s had free labor for two months. It worked well for all involved. I tried to spend as much time as I could in the barn but mostly I just watched while carrying a baby. This time in Quebec just deepened our knowledge and desire to continue down this road.
When we got back home we started shopping for a flock of sheep to purchase. We didn’t know much about this but with the great friends and mentors we made in Quebec, they told us what to look for and what to be careful of.

Some of their advice to us was:
-Buy a closed flock. This is one that did not have animals from different farms mixed together. This minimizes the risk of disease within your flock.
-Have a vet inspect the flock before you buy. We found our flock in Ontario and found the name of a vet that was trusted by our fellow sheep farmers and had her check them out for us.
So we found our flock and after much debate of “do we do it, or do we not” we took a leap of faith. It was a calculated leap, but a big leap never-the-less. We knew it would take Gab at least six months before he would be released from the military (at this point, my contract was already over). If we had the sheep delivered to my parent’s farm on PEI February 1st 2015 and I moved home to care for them at that time, we would have six months where we would still be earning a salary and also have that time to sell our house. The thought was that while I was on PEI caring for the animals, I would keep my eyes open and try to line up a job for myself outside the farm for when Gab come home to take over. This plan to always have an income outside the farm was advice from a friend entrepreneur who basically threatened me to make sure we did it this way. She knew the financial stress that comes with business start-ups. Good advice!
So that’s just what we did! February 1st, the sheep were dropped off, I stayed home on PEI and Gab traveled back and forth almost every weekend from Halifax to help me get caught up in the barn, allow me to take a breather and help me get ahead a little for the week to come.
Next we were tossed a couple horse-shoes. Gab’s contract at work finished July 17th and our house sale closed on the same day. Gab moved home right away and I started working off the farm, August 31st. This may all seem like pure luck. You may be telling yourself “what are the chances things would line up like that for me?”. This is when I say, a lot of hard work made for things to happen like they did. When these good things happened, believe me it was like “phew!! Finally, we caught a break!” That feeling has not yet subsided; we are always working and hoping for our next break.
The last year was extremely difficult, but we did it! We have had seasoned farmers, multi-generation farmers, ask us how we were doing it? How did we know what to do when we were starting from nothing? Most farmers these days have grown up doing what they do, someone was there to show them what had to be done. What seems like the obvious to many farmers is not obvious to us that are just starting. However, my brother (who has been farming since he was a young boy) once told me “everything can be learned”. We should not be scared of what we don’t know, we just have to learn it. This has stuck with me and this is what we are doing. An answer you too-commonly hear from us when asked “ how are you going to do ______?” is “ we will figure it out”. We are just learning what we need to do and doing it. That’s how you start from nothing.
Here is a picture of the day our sheep were dropped off. DSC_0057.jpgWe were nervous because they came from living in a closed in barn to an open barn in a terribly cold winter and they had just been sheared. But they jumped off the truck; ran to the fresh hay; and adapted to cold wonderfully. It was such a proud moment for us and we shared it with my parents, sisters, brother-in-law, aunt, uncle and the babies.
Oh, and by the way, we bought 108 ewes and 2 rams and all ewes were pregnant. My last advice for today: Don’t start that big… with a new born… by yourself…in the middle of a record breaking winter…in a barn that is not properly set up…and is too small…I could go on.
I did try to start a blog last year but could not keep my eyes open long enough to write 2 words.

Babies n’ Sheep and Baby Sheep

Well, here we are! “We” are Deirdre and Gabriel Mercier with our 18 month old son, Marcel. Today, February 1st, 2016, marks the 1 year anniversary of our big move. To make a very long story (which we will divulge over time) short, on February 1st 2015, a livestock truck dropped off 110 sheep onto my parents small farm where I grew up; the beginning of a sheep dairy project with a final goal of cheese and yoghurt making.

The rest is history.

By “history”, I mean “now”. The rest is the now. And the now is the constant up and down’s of a new business venture; the continuously evolving and revolving daily challenges of beginner farmers; and the overwhelming feeling of pride and satisfaction of building a life and a future we are extremely passionate about.
Through this blog we hope to engage our readers in our journey; a journey from the eyes of brand new farmers.
We will share our thoughts about the transition from secure incomes to the un-predictable. We will share what we have learned and what we have yet to learn with regards to purchasing and/or investing in a farm. We hope to provide insight to others who are thinking they may want to create a similar path to ours. We speak to many people who love the idea of a lifestyle transition such as we are undertaking but cannot wrap their head around how to actually go about doing it. Where do you start when you don’t have a starting point?
We believe there are many ways to tackle life’s challenges and what works for one may not necessarily work for another. By following our journey we hope to help some of you navigate potential obstacles that await you. We hope to both answer some of your questions and to generate thoughts you may not have considered in order to develop your own path. Mostly we want to learn from you. We are excited about creating a network of like –minded friends that we can help but that are also full of wisdom and ready to share with us.
Through our entries we will be real. We will talk about our achievements but also our lessons learned. Notice I did not say our “failures”. We will not acknowledge our down-points as failures. We have agreed that through this journey we will only learn and get stronger. This may sound ushy-gushy, but let’s face it; it is certainly more motivating to tell yourself that you have learned a lot rather than saying you have failed a lot. We can easily say that in the last year we learned A LOT and looking forward… unfortunately… or fortunately… we know that we still have a LOT more to learn. By reaching out to our readers, we also hope you will reach out to us and keep pushing us to continue our dream so we can turn around and do the same for others.
We will try to keep providing interesting insight and hopefully a few laughs; giving you a reason for another refill of java and adding us to your morning reads.
Thank you in advance for checking in with us and we hope to provide you (and us) with a smooth rather than bumpy road ahead.
Deirdre, Gabriel & Marcel