Diversifying a Family Farm through Sustainability
Sometimes good business decisions stem from an experiment. For Carrie Woolley and her husband, Brett Schuyler, their experiment was not only a success, it led to an economically viable and sustainable commercial sheep operation – Woolleys’ Lambs.
Five years ago, Woolley and Schuyler wanted to see if sheep would be a good fit to add to their family’s farming operation which grows a variety of crops including apples, sour cherries, corn and soybeans.
The hypothesis was simple, Woolley explains. Could we fence the sheep in the sour cherry orchard and manage them without destroying the trees?
“At the time, there weren’t a lot of people in Ontario, Canada, who were grazing sheep on the commercial side,” Woolley said. “So we decided to start with 20 sheep and see what would happen.”
After the first year, Woolley says things turned out pretty well. “The sheep didn’t eat the cherry trees, the animals were healthy and the orchard turned out to be a really nice spot to raise the animals.”
“We thought we could be on to something,” Woolley recalls. “The animals are cleaning up the orchard floor and eating healthy in the process, and we are producing meat in a sustainable, animal-friendly way. It’s a win-win for us, the environment and the animals.”
Today, the couple runs 500 ewes, with 800 lambs born this spring.
Woolley and Schuyler are able to successfully contain and graze the flock in the sour cherry and apple orchards through a combination of permanent and temporary electric fencing as well as electric netting.
“We use Gallagher’s Electra-Lock product for all of our permanent fencing needs,” explains Woolley. “We also added offset wires for predator control. We have had good luck keeping predators out between the fencing and our guard dogs.”
“Perfect for sheep, or any variety of livestock, Electra-Lock fencing is versatile, easy to install and cost-effective,” says Lisa Brandenburg, Sales Specialist.
Within the perimeter fence that surrounds the orchard, Woolley says she uses internal dividers to create smaller grazing areas in a traditional rotational grazing system. Using temporary fencing and electric netting, Woolley is able to easily move the sheep every 4-5 days to new grazing paddocks.
“Electric netting is extremely easy to install and has become a very practical material for a variety of applications,” says Brandenburg. “With practice, a roll of netting takes approximately 15 minutes to install. No tools are required to set it up, and the plastic treadin posts are enough support for the corners and ends.”
Like the electric fencing, Woolley also relies on Gallagher products for her energizers.
She uses a Gallagher 110v Energizer System on all the permanent fencing and combines a mix of battery and solar portable energizers for her remaining power needs.
“That was actually how we first became familiar with Gallagher products,” explains Woolley. “We purchased a portable energizer for use in a far orchard. We needed the convenience and portability. We have stayed with Gallagher products because we were happy with our initial purchase and the customer service is also great.”
For strip grazing, temporary fencing or setting up electric fencing where there is unreliable or no 110V power, a Battery Energizer System is the best choice, says Brandenburg.
“All of Gallagher’s portable energizer units are easy to install, transportable for more efficient pasture management and durable to handle all weather conditions,” Brandenburg says. “Many of Gallagher’s solar energizers can also continue to work for up to three weeks without any sun.”
What may have originally started out as an experiment for Woolley and Schuyler, has successfully proven that sheep do in fact make a nice addition to their farm, and it is possible to graze sheep in an orchard without ruining the trees. Each year the couple continues to focus on growing their commercial operation and developing their brand. But most important, says Woolley, is the sustainability component of their business. “We are looking after the environment and farming as well,” she says.
Be sure to check out Woolleys’ Lambs on Twitter @CarrieWoolley1