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.
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. We 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.