Let’s go 2017!

Time to check back in. October, November and December were quieter months on the farm. This was very appreciated. With milking and cheese making finished for the year it allowed us some time to catch our breath and re-focus for 2017. Oh yes, and it gave us a few minutes to welcome our newest edition, Maurice Major Mercier. We are after all babies n’ sheep.


In the last few months we participated in a few business start up competitions and workshops. These have taught a lot and have allowed us to meet some very helpful people in the food industry including other producers and chefs with whom we are excited to work with.

We were even lucky enough to be one of the recipients of an innovation award. What a great feeling; to have our work recognized and valued. It made us feel not-so-crazy for a short amount of time. It also wonderfully allowed us to purchase some cheese and yogourt making equipment that we needed to move forward.

We have learned, as I have said over and over again, that a start-up in agriculture can be extremely difficult. However if you can get yourself to the point of having a product to sell, doors will start to open. Prince Edward Island is currently branding itself as the ‘’Food Island’’ and thus it is a beautiful time to be in the local food startup scene here. There are so many wonderful people creating beautiful products. It is very inspiring and also a lot of fun to meet others with similar stories to ours.

We have come a long way and we are very proud of that. We also realize that we have a lot of work ahead of us. First things first, we need to get through this lambing season.


This year we split our lambing in two groups and tried to leave enough time between them in order to have a decent break; a few nights in a row where we wake only for our human-children. Last year we tried two groups but were unsuccessful with the timing; we did not leave enough time between them. The first group started lambing later than expected and the second started earlier. We ended up with a very long and exhausting lambing season. This year, we are trying to improve on that.

Welcome to Isle Saint Jean Farm’s family-friendly Red Light District!


We have 9 lambing jugs set up. When a ewe lambs, we put her and her lambs together to give them some bonding time and to ensure the lambs are all drinking well before putting them in the big pen with all the others.

A few lambs had a rough start in the cold temperatures this past week. Every sheep farmer should have a wood stove. It is the perfect thing to warm these little guys up!


And we’re off!

We’ve got cheese! I mean one that we CAN and ARE selling!

Cheese 2

1  1/2 years of an unexpected amount of hard work wrapped in a vacuum sealed bag with a sticker.

For us this represents:

  • many weeks of consecutive sleepless nights;
  • 24 hr/day on-call babysitters;
  • financial stress that melted pounds away;
  • 2 unbelievably supportive families who worked many long hours for nothing in return;
  • working through physical pain and illness;
  • having to work through really hard times such as the loss of family members ( yes…plural);
  • making due with what you have;
  • being creative; and
  • staying positive.

Hmm… worth it? We hope so! The roller coaster continues however I can say that we are getting used to the ride. My brother (who I mentioned before is a dairy cow farmer) told me after one of our very low and uncertain moments ” don’t worry, you will get used to it; this is not the only time you will feel this way’’. In a weird way, this was kind of comforting. I would say we are only starting to scratch the surface of what he really meant. We know we have a long way yet to go; we have a lot of wrinkles to iron out for the future of this product however, we are very proud of this accomplishment. We are sticking to our mind set; that no project is impossible (some are just really really hard).

We have been selling our cheese from our farm and several farmers markets. We are also very excited about the feedback we are getting. We have had lots of friends-of-family and friends-of-friends stopping in to pick some up because they heard of our product through the grapevine or have tried the cheese and wanted to buy more.

Then this happened….


The owners and chefs of a new local take-out restaurant in North Rustico, The Yellow House, were giving a cooking demonstration at Old Home Week and decided to feature our cheese in their recipe!! They did a delicious grilled cheese and tomato soup demonstration. We were very excited about this.

Perhaps some bias here, but it was a winner among the audience. *Pardon the crappy focus.

As for our barn, the milking parlour is coming along nicely. Oh how we are excited to be able to work out of our own farm. This is going to save a lot of Gab’s time that is now spent on driving between our farm and the farm where our milking sheep are located.  I will post pictures when it is finished.

We are anticipating another hard fall and winter, but can see through to the spring where things start rolling a lot smoother. We are almost there… Again, we hope!

For now, Good Night!

Moving Forward

We have experienced some great highs and great lows this month.

We are gaining momentum on the farm-front and the cheese-front. Today the plumbers arrived on site and the beginnings of our own milking parlour are officially started! Only 1 year late… not so bad.

As for the cheese making, we also have some good news. We have a delicious cheese that passed health inspections and safe to sell! We are just missing labels and packaging equipment. Yes, in retrospect we should have had this already lined up but this is the typical challenge we have been facing. We did not want to get too far ahead of ourselves; investing time and money into packaging and labelling a product that never existed. There are so many other unexpected costs popping up everywhere, we are very cautious as to where we spend our money (when we can control it). So now that the product exists, we are moving forth on the next steps.

I hope everyone reading gets to try our cheese. It is a sheep’s milk grilling cheese. It is a cross between a Haloumi and a Kefalotiry. We named it Alexis Doiron after my ancestor Alexis Doiron who was the first Doiron to settle in Rustico. It is a mild salty cheese with a buttery taste and a really nice texture. It is also delicious when grilled. We chose this cheese to start with for a few reasons; mostly because it is a mild cheese everyone will enjoy. We wanted to start with something mild to introduce sheep’s cheese to those who have never tried it. The more discussions we have about it, the more we find people expect it to taste like a goat cheese. This is absolutely not the case; it is completely different. We say it would be closer in taste to a cow’s milk cheese if you are looking for a comparison.

If I have not mentioned it before, many people who have difficulty digesting cow’s milk, do not have the same problem with sheep’s milk. After some digging, we found that there are a few possible reasons for this. Among others, the main protein in the two milks is different and also the size of fat globules are different (in sheep’s milk they are smaller, which for some is easier to digest). It is also higher in protein and other vitamins and minerals (nothing to do with digestion issues just some additional health benefits!) That’s about as connoisseur as I get. We are still learning! Now all there is left is for you to taste it.


How was that? Did my sales pitch work?

Now I said highs AND lows. This wonderful progress came just in time to meet our burn-out. Trying to do everything has been absolutely exhausting so we had to re-jig our schedule, re-assess how we were operating. I have been able to invest a lot less time into the farm than we originally thought I would be able to. As most things do, our initial plan looked good on paper. But what we actually found is that after a full day at work (I work off the farm) and trying to spend time with our son and get some stuff done around the house… there is not much time left for office administration and/or extra duties on the farm. The little bit of help I can give on the weekends is great but it is not significant; leaving the full load on Gab and outside help (we pay our wonderful help in coffee and food… we realize this cannot last forever)

So we decided that instead of milking the animals twice a day, Gab would drop that down to once a day until we get our own parlour up and operating. We did an analysis of what he could accomplish in the time it took do the second milking (remember, we are driving to another farm to do this) and compared it to the money we were actually loosing from not milking the second time and we are not far behind by cutting back. When our own milking parlour is set up, we will start the second milking again, it will be much more manageable.

We were extremely lucky and had beautiful weather for hay. Again, wonderful help to get it all in.


Our farm looks a lot different than it did a month ago thanks again to fantastic family and friends. We had Gab’s dad, 2 uncles and aunt that came to visit us for a full week (from Quebec) to work on the farm. They had a terrible week for weather. They worked every day, all day, in the rain and wind. But what an accomplishment.


One last note. It is a fun time on the farm right now, our lambs are hitting market weight which means we get to sell them! Money is finally starting to come in rather than the other way around. Yeah summer!

Inserted for pure-cuteness. Our baby is almost 2 years old!


Until next time…

Milking time!

It is officially over for another season; we had our last set up twins last evening. Stragglers. Our last two were born when our first 6 are ready for market! With lambing out of mind, we are now focused on milking. For those who don’t know, for several reasons, the construction of our milking parlor has been delayed… really delayed. In fact it is now almost a year and the clock is still ticking. Our problem solving skills were put to the test once again when trying to figure out what the heck we were suppose to do without a milking parlour with animals that are near impossible to dry off??

Question & Answer

Q:  What does “drying off” mean and why is this so difficult?

A:  These are dairy  sheep. They have been bred to produce lots of milk for a long period of time. Being such great producers, means their babies grow really fast when nursing and get too big to nurse before the milk runs out. Much of the time the lambs will damage the mom’s teats because they get too big and aggressive. Beautiful thought eh ladies? If we are not able to milk them and the babies are no longer with their mom’s we have to “dry them off”- get them to stop producing milk! However because of the breed this is a problem; they won’t stop. This leads to mastitis problems and other ailments. We were advised by our vet and other sheep farmers to cut back their food and water for a short period of time and this should help them dry off. We tried this however we found that some will starve to death before they stop producing milk!

This is why it’s important to get them in a parlour and keep milking them. Thanks to the generosity of a friend farmer, Em Zember, who owns the The Great Canadian Soap Company we were able to bring some of our animals to her farm and use her milking parlour until ours is ready. Seriously… I cannot get over the generosity of some people… This happened right before Gab went to borrow a scale from another farmer and came home with the scale, feeders and a bulk tank!

Gab spent some time at the goat farm building a second parlour to accommodate our ewes. We started by bringing only 5 animals over to see how it was going to work and we now have 21 being milked on the parlour.


DSC_0092Now this traveling to another farm to milk is extremely labor intensive and time consuming. This is only a short term solution, however it really helps us out for the time being and more importantly helps us keep our animals healthy. The challenge now is training the ewes to climb up onto the milking parlor. They are not used to it yet however they are getting better after each milking. We figure they will just get used to their set up and what they are supposed to do when we will be moving them back home to be milked on our farm…Well this is our hope anyway!

This is just another simple example of how there is always a way. There is a solution to every problem you just may have to dig deep to find it. Some of the solutions may not be ideal, but they can be better then the alternative.


Glad that’s over and the sun came out

Wow, 1 month since our last post. Time is flying and so much has happened. The finish line is in sight. We are down to our last 3 ewes left to lamb and we have over 200 lambs. Our barn is at max capacity and we can no longer contained lambs to pens; they are excitedly running around everywhere. The entire barn is their play ground (we have some adjusting to do for next year).

We had a rough week a few weeks ago where we lost two pregnant ewes and the babies they were carrying due to lambing complications. There is no other way to describe the feeling of loosing animals you tirelessly care for than ” it just sucks”. We involved the vet and neighboring farmers to see what we could do to help the ewes in question and the outcome in both cases was that the ewes were not going to make it. To make the decision to put an animal down (to avoid suffering) is an extremely difficult; one that I hope we don’t have to make too often. We were left with the conflicting feelings of disappointment that we could not do anything more to help and the one of self doubt; was it our fault? Was there something we could have done to prevent this or was this simply nature taking it’s course? We were left with hoping the later and moving on because we still had a barn full of animals to care for.

Another side note. The times when you need to call the vet and have challenging situations to deal with never seem to happen in early afternoon during the week. They always happen in the middle of the night, on a weekend. My vet last year confirmed this for me, it is an unwritten-rule of sorts. The farmers “kick-him-while-he-is -down” phenomenon… Throw him a challenge but don’t make it easy. Make it at a time when resources are limited and sleep is a luxury! I would like to think this will get easier with time, but I very much doubt that. I think I could ask all farmers I know and my guess is they would all answer the same thing “this will always suck”.

We know this is inevitable, we will loose animals. The silver lining is that these are great learning experiences; ones we hope are rare. Besides, we figure we’ve reached our quota for the next few years so we should be good for a while right?? I am however happy to share that once we turned that awful page, life on the farm purked back up and lambing continued successfully.

A couple cool things that have been going on here lately:

  1. Our friends at Campbells Fiber Farm  shared with us some of the yarn made from our raw wool, that was pretty exciting! DSC_0015
  2. We have been getting some lamb sausages made and they are delicious and selling really well!
  3. We do not yet have a milking parlour set up (however stay tuned for this update, we are excited about what is happening!) so Gab decided to get crafty and build a small stand so he could milk a few ewes for ourselves. We get a lot of milk from just a couple sheep. It is really good to drink on it’s own and Gab made a small batch of cheese on the stove this weekend. DSC_0026.jpg

We have hit a lot of walls during this project, but I am going to brag for a second… This man is determined!… and needs a hair cut…and shave.

4. Our fortune cookie today told us “A surprise announcement will free you”. We are quite excited about what this week will bring!

Let it be known!

Today is a simple tip that will hopefully help a lot. Over the last year, and even still a little today, I was hesitant to let people know what we were up to. I was scared that people would look at us and say we were crazy (which I do think so myself sometimes) and crush our spirit; or the opposite. I didn’t want to “talk-the-talk” and not have it work out and have everyone know we couldn’t do it. Gab was making business cards and I was telling him not to pass them out; in my mind we were not ready for that.
This is the wrong attitude to have. Let your project be known. Talk about what you are working towards to anyone and everyone. There are so many good people in this world that want to see you succeed and will offer to help. We were only into farming one month when we had neighbours, some we didn’t even know, stopping in to see what we were up to. Our barn was probably the worst set up barn you can imagine but people didn’t care. They loved it.
When we would talk about having dairy sheep, some people would ask “ and what are you supposed to do with them?”…… hmmm… awkward silence. When we said we were going to milk them, they were surprised. “You can milk sheep!?” We all must remember that not everyone spends their spare time researching different aspects of farming, so it is a big deal for some to learn about our projects. From our experience, people have been extremely supportive and want to see us succeed.
There is also the other side of the coin. My dad was very worried for us, that starting new; we would be competing with, and be crushed by, those established farmers around us. To the contrary; those farmers who know a lot about the ins and outs of farming have also been extremely generous and willing to help and we will forever be grateful. The farmers we hired to cut our hay did their best to make sure they provided us with nice dry hay. They knew we didn’t have the experience we needed to make decisions to insure we didn’t mess up our crop. So they cut it; they came back to check on it to make sure it was drying nicely; and they made the decision on when to bale it themselves.
Just talking about our project saved us when it came time for our first shearing. Gab and I planned to hire a shearer and be the only two in the barn to help her. When a neighbouring farmer got wind of this he warned Gab to get on the phone and start recruiting help; we would not be able to do that on our own. He also offered us his chute knowing that we didn’t have one and that it would make our day go a lot smoother. We listened to him, we got on the phones and started to make some phone calls. However recruiting people on Thursday for Saturday, the last weekend before Christmas, was not an easy task…. actually impossible. Luckily, earlier in the month we were talking to a family friend who was part of a weaving group, telling her when we were planning to shear. She knew her fellow-weavers would be interested in buying some of the raw wool. What we didn’t expect was that these ladies would be so wonderful and that they would show up dressed in layers and ready to spend the whole day with us! They showed up and told us that when they went to a shearing, they stayed to help. They were much more knowledgeable on the subject than we were and knew exactly how to separate all the wool and how we should set up in the barn as to make this task more manageable. A day I was dreading and worried about turned out to be quite enjoyable; in good company; and resulted in new friendships. These women had small farms of their own and had great advice for us.

Amber Peterson- shearer extraordinaire-and Gab in the back clipping some hooves

So yes, “talk, talk, talk”. There will be some who say you are crazy, that what you are doing is just not possible, but there will be many who want to get involved and/or many you will learn great things from.

A lambing update

A quick update on the farm front. We are about one-third through lambing. We (mostly Gab) are tired but it is going pretty well.

This past weekend, was rock-and-roll for us. Friday night Gab did not sleep at all; he was in the barn all night. Saturday night, I took the midnight shift, one that also turned into an all nighter. In two days, our flock grew by 21 lambs. On top of not having slept ourselves, Marcel was sleeping opposite schedules to ours and my mom (who normally helps us full-time) was away on a trip. This was difficult. It was certainly a Grand-Maman appreciation weekend. I understood this week what she meant when, a while back, I asked her ‘’how did you manage to raise 6 children?’’ and she answered ‘’I certainly wasn’t writing blogs…’’. I don’t have 6 children, but this weekend I felt like I was 6-kid tired.


Grand-Maman and Marcel’s cousin Hélène.

We have had a few hiccups recently . One of our ewes was having trouble lambing and we could not seem to help her. We ended up calling the vet who came and extracted the lamb within minutes and gave us tips on how to do so for the next time this happens (the lamb was positioned sideways). We also had a significant prolapse to deal with. Although not as severe, luckily I had dealt with this before ( * See Post ‘’Oh Alma…’’) so we were able to take care of it on our own (after a phone call to a fellow sheep farmer of course). Thirdly, one of our lambs broke its leg and we are not sure how so. Lastly, just last night we had a ewe pushing out 2 babies at the same time. We tried to push one back, letting one come out first. No luck; both ended up coming out in piggy back formation. They are both fine, but that was kind of weird and had us questioning what we should do.



The feeders make a great observation point!

We currently have 80-some healthy babies ( we have lost 5 so far) from 40-some healthy mommas. Most ewes delivered twins however we have many sets of triplets as well. Fingers crossed, our success continues (and my mom’s flight home is not delayed… 1 more sleep…)


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.


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!


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! 


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. 

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.