Author Archives: Sarah

About Sarah

Sarah Brien is a farm girl at heart. But when the farm work is done, she’s quick to trade in her rubber boots for heels and in an industry dominated by men, her stylish dress isn’t the only thing that makes Brien stand out – it’s her passion for sheep farming and desire to run her own farm that makes heads turn.

Welcome to the World, Baby!

Posted on Wednesday, April 1, 2015 by Sarah

Warning: I talk about bodily fluids in this post. It’s natural, but not necessarily pretty. You’ve been warned.

Who wouldn't love seeing these faces everyday?

Who wouldn’t love seeing these faces everyday?

 

Sunday afternoon I was at home, two hours away from Guelph. I had been out with my friends all weekend and I was tired and ready to get home and rest. My plan was to leave at 1:00pm. 12:45 rolls around and my car is packed. I was ready.

But as per usual on the farm, my plans changed.

Mom had just left to go away for a week and my dad and brother were planning on going to London for the afternoon to see a London Knights playoff game (Go Knights Go!). But March is the time when lambs are born, and as with any pregnancy – when its time its time. Dad had made a few trips to the barn already that morning, and it was time. We were about to get a new baby lamb. I was tasked with staying home for a little longer, and making sure everything went smoothly.

The signs were all there; she didn’t eat her breakfast, she was restless and she was keeping her distance from the rest of the sheep. Now usually, sheep have little to no problems when they lamb. You can leave for a half an hour and come back to a few fresh faces in the barn. We don’t often like to interfere, and I’m sure the sheep like to be left alone during this time (I wouldn’t want onlookers during this either!).

Welcome baby!

Welcome baby!

Unfortunately, this time an easy birth wasn’t in her cards. By 2:30pm the she was pawing, panting, lying down and getting up and generally looking more and more uncomfortable. This is when I decided it was time to lend a hand. And that’s exactly what I needed to do.

Normally, when a lamb is born, its two front feet will come out first with its head between its legs. This time the lamb was “supermanning” as I like to call it. One foot out straight, then a head, then a second foot tucked back. If a lamb is positioned like this inside the ewe, the chances of someone getting hurt during the lambing process is really high.

I’ve never been to vet school, the closest I have come is taking an “Animal Structures” course at school which I dropped after the first midterm because it would have been a guaranteed fail. But I’ve been in the barn hundreds of times during lambing, and I’ve learned how to help.

I had the barn supervisor there to help me!

I had the barn supervisor, Harley,  there to help me!

Helping a ewe lamb definitely isn’t pretty, as with any pregnancy there’s blood and a lot of “goo”. That’s a nice name for it. If the lamb is positioned incorrectly, as this one was, it has to be re positioned and that can’t be done from the outside. I had to find the other leg and pull it forward. Off came the rings, up went the sleeves and inside I go (yeah, in THERE).

I can’t tell you how many times I told the sheep “I’m sorry girl” or “We’ve almost got it”. It took me longer than I was planning on, but I couldn’t exactly see what I was reaching for. Not to mention the ewe was unable to stay still, which I can’t blame her for. Somebody poking around inside me wouldn’t be the most comfortable thing in the world. It was a tough, dirty, uncomfortable job. I almost had myself convinced that this lamb only had one leg, because I thought I searched everywhere. But then I felt those tiny little toes. I finally found the other leg, and was able to pull it forward. I was wet, shaking and almost in tears because I knew the ewe was in pain and I wanted it to be over for her.

It almost was. One more big push and out came the lamb, a little ram lamb. We were both ready for it. I picked up the lamb and cleaned off its face so it could breathe, then I put him at the moms nose. The ewe started to lick the lamb off (this is a bonding process for both the lamb and mom) and she hopped right up as if she just came in from outside.

Momma and babies are up and ready to go!

Momma and babies are up and ready to go!

Within 15 minutes, she had a second lamb (another boy!). This time there were no complications.

I’m happy to report that all are alive and well. See for yourself!

 

Winter, spring, summer or fall – its always the season to farm

Posted on Tuesday, February 10, 2015 by Sarah

Sheep in Barn DoorLike every other person in Canada right now, I am so unbelievably ready for summer, its almost painful. I’m ready to take a vacation, to sit back and relax, and to not need to wear 16 layers just to go outside and still freeze.

The thing about summer though is when you’re a farmer, it’s actually the busiest time of year. Starting in about April, farmers are getting antsy to get out in the fields to start planting their crops. But planting isn’t the only job, once the crops are in the ground you have to fertilize, spray for weeds, monitor for disease, maybe even spread manure on the field, and if you’re on my farm, drive by the field everyday just to make sure it didn’t disappear.

When we aren’t focused on the crops we could be cutting grass, fixing machinery, putting the sheep out to pasture, fixing electric fences, cutting more grass, cleaning manure out of the barns, cutting, raking or baling hay, picking stones or maybe cutting some MORE grass!

 

My dad out checking on the girls, just because it was hot out.

My dad out checking on the girls, just because it was hot out.

The point of all this is that farmers work every day and they don’t get vacation days. 365 days a year a farmer is on their feet. On the sunny, hot, hazy days when you want nothing more than to be laying on the beach, a farmer is out working. On those minus 40 degree nights that we saw last winter where you didn’t want to uncurl from under a blanket in front of a fire, we went to the barn to make sure our sheep were okay. And we are okay with that.

We don’t get sick days either. We can’t wake up and play hooky from work, or stay in bed when we have the flu. We feed our sheep twice a day, once in the morning, once at night. There’s no back up plan. Lucky for my parents they had two kids, I got suckered into doing some chores around the farm when I was younger if my parents were sick. But you know that saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself”? It is extremely relevant to farmers, especially the older ones! Even when you help them, they supervise, then double check your work to make sure its done right.

I think this commitment and responsibility gets forgotten a lot of the time.

Think about it.

On those cold February days, when you were inside eating your dinner, did you think about how lucky you were that you were inside and out of the cold? Probably. Did you think about the farmers, who are braving the cold to feed their livestock? The farmers who didn’t get to stay inside where it was warm? Probably not.

I hate the cold, but its never too cold to stop me from getting a selfie with these cuties.

I hate the cold, but its never too cold to stop me from getting a selfie with these cuties.

What about on those hot, humid summer days, when you can come home from work, crack a cold drink and take a dip in the pool? Did you think about the farmers who are riding the back of a wagon, stacking hay bales so that their sheep or cows or whatever it may be, can have their own dinner when winter comes around and they can’t get to the grass in the pasture?

Being a farmer can be relentless. It can seem like the work never ends, and your to-do list just keeps growing and growing. But its worth it. Providing food for families across the country, giving a safe home to our sheep, that feeling of accomplishment that is felt at the end of every single day makes it worth it.

There is no greater thing than being a farmer. I challenge you to find a happier or more grateful person than a farmer.

Stats Canada says there are over 200,000 farms in Canada, 97% of those are family owned. Over 195,000 farming families in Canada working everyday. 365 days a year.

Of course I love the saying “If you ate today, thank a farmer”, but what I think everyone needs to remember is not only to thank them, but also to appreciate them, because they appreciate you.

Show Time Part 2: Bath Time & Hair Cuts!

Posted on Monday, August 19, 2013 by Sarah

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Now that the sheep are halter trained and used to people working around them, we take some time to make them pretty! 

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Step one: Hair cuts.

We want our sheep to look their best since we’re traveling across the country to show them off. We start off with a haircut. To do this we use special shears that can cut through their wool. The wool is denser than human hair and also contains a special oil called “Lanolin”, so the shears are more heavy duty. Lanolin is actually used in almost all lotions and beauty products!

We like our sheep to have only a little bit of wool on them when they go to the fair. This makes it easier to wash and helps to keep them cleaner between when we wash them and when they are shown.

Step two: Bath time.

Now that all their wool is gone, its easy to wash them. We use a big tank that is filled with water and that allows us to dunk their bodies in and out of the water so we can soap them up.  This is usually done the week before the show so it doesn’t give them much time to get dirty. Once they’re washed, we do a few final touchups with hand shears and make sure that they are all clean with there still is a little bit of wool left. Different breeds can have more wool on their faces and legs than others do.

Some of the sheep even get blowouts!

Step 3: Keep them clean!

With all the work that has gone into making these guys pretty for the show, we want them to stay that way. We do that by putting blankets & hoods

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 on them. It definitely makes them look a little funny, but it keeps them much cleaner during the trip and before the show.

Show Time! Part 1: Prep

Posted on Tuesday, June 18, 2013 by Sarah

If you’ve ever talked to anyone in 4-H, it’s very likely they’ve mentioned one of their favourite times of year: Show Season! For farms kids like me, it’s like Christmas spread over a few months. It is those few months when you and your ‘cream of the crop’ animals get to travel around the countryside competing for those beautiful red ribbons.

Luckily for me – my show season is starting a bit earlier than usual this year, and is a bit more western than we’re used to. It begins June 27th, in Barriere, British Columbia, the home of the 2013 All Canada Sheep Classic (from here on out, I will refer to it as “The Classic”). I plan on chronicling the processes that are involved with getting the sheep (and our family) ready to go, so hopefully it feels like you’re coming too!

Part 1: Halter Breaking

So the first thing you have to know is, our sheep, while not completely wild, are not usually tamed. They know when we come to the barn that we are going feed them but that process doesn’t involve us catching them, touching them, and even in some cases getting into the pens with them. So getting them used to human contact is a fairly important and time-consuming job.

No one likes to be scared, so we try to get the sheep as accustomes to human contact as we can while they are comfortable in their own pens. One of the ways we do this is called “halter breaking”, which is essentially the same thing as getting a dog used to walking on a leash. If a sheep is halter-broke it is a lot easier to manage when moving and once we get them to the fair.

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Brien Sheep will be exhibiting 10 sheep at The Classic. That’s 10 sheep that need to be worked with and trained and requires a lot of hours on my part to do it. To begin, we simply put the halter on and tie them up. This way they get used to the feeling of the rope on their face. Once they are used to that, then we begin walking them around, which doesn’t often start well. But always improves. Throughout all of the training we are continuously touching their backs, feet, legs, stomach, standing up and crouching beside them to get them used to what will be happening in the show ring.

While they usually start off scared and trying to get away, they learn that we aren’t hurting them and they get used to being touched and having people move around them. They get so used to me being around them that I can literally walk circles around them by the end of it without them moving. Those silly sheep.

But that’s halter breaking – keep your eyes open for my next post. WASHING!

A Clean Room Makes a Happy Mom….In All Species

Posted on Friday, April 26, 2013 by Sarah

Remember all those times when you were younger (and probably even some of you who are older) When your mom would walk into your messy room and ask “Were you raised in a barn?” when referring to the mess? In my case, most of my childhood I probably WAS found in the barn,  though I think most people are ill-informed.

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As farmers its our job to make sure our animals stay healthy. This job entails making sure they have the proper diet, aka no junk food! It also means they need clean water, the rule of thumb on my farm is if you wouldn’t drink the water available to the sheep, why should they? Lastly, it means making sure they have a clean ‘room’! This doesn’t mean you pick up their toys and clothes, it means giving them fresh straw so they aren’t eating and sleeping in dirty conditions.

It only takes a few hours a few times a month to “bed the barn” (which means putting down the straw in all of their pens), but you can tell everyone enjoys having a clean ‘room’.

Here is a frequent reaction we get:

 

 

New Lambs on the Ground

Posted on Friday, April 12, 2013 by Sarah

When lambing season comes on our farm, it is all hands on deck.  Lambing season is a month-long period when all are ewes are having their lambs. It can be a hectic time on the farm, filled with late nights, early mornings and many, many trips to the barn.

A typical day starts with someone (and I’ll admit it’s usually my dad) getting up at 6a.m to go to the barn and make sure that if any lambs had been born through the night, that they are content in their surroundings and healthy.

We take the lambs and their mothers and put them in a pen by themselves so they can bond and have their own space so the lamb can learn to eat, walk and get to know what their mother smells like.

Knowing their mother’s smell is important because when they are turned in with other lambs and ewes they need to know who their mother is. Lastly we give them a shot of Nutri-Drench or “Wonder Juice” as we call it on our farm. It’s a liquid molasses mixture filled with all sorts of vitamins and minerals, it really works wonders on the lambs, hence the name! The lamb should be up and trying to drink within ten minutes.

  

Their first steps are always a bit shaky, but they get the hang of it in no time. This picture was taken about 10 minutes after he was born.

We also check that there are no ewes giving birth then, if they are then we’ll usually help with the birth (called “pulling”). Pulling a lamb doesn’t hurt the mother; it just speeds up the process. This also allows us to check and make sure there are no complications with the birthing process. Just like in humans, lambs can be positioned incorrectly inside the mother, which means they need a little bit of help.

Lastly, you take a look for and ewes that look like they will lamb soon, there are a few signs we look for when doing this. If she stop eating, or is off in a corner by herself, or even her skin colour can get brighter pink. These animals are the ones that we watch when we come to the barn in the future.

Once everyone is content we go on with our day but be sure to check the barn every few hours even in the middle of the night. It means long days on the farm when the lambs come, but completely worth it, especially when you see how cute they are! J