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Why we are not producing sheep anymore


The net return on investment for the average Canadian farm is in the order of three percent per year.  Of course, the net returns for individual farms vary.   However, each year more and more operators close down shop. 

Many people feel that farming is an easy job.  That is mainly because when they come into contact with or observe farming operations, urbanites generally see them under the best conditions, when they are in a good mood, on a holiday trip, visiting  or vacationing, during a good time of the year, when the weather is nice, and so on.

The reality is that, aside from the low average returns and the year-round work that seldom involves less than 100 hours of work per week in livestock operation, with seven days of work per week, all year round, farming is a risky business that is increasingly becoming more difficult to succeed in.  Many bureaucracies seem to conspire to make life for farmers difficult. More and more rules are being issued. More and more work needs to be done that is time-consuming and adds nothing to the productivity of a given farm.   For example, not only is it very labour-intensive to keep track of expenditures according to various tax categories, but the categories are becoming more complex and their structure increasingly less compatible with reasonable business practices.  Too boot, when the onerous Goods and Services Tax got introduced, that alone doubled the amount of time required to do accounting. In our operation it meant that to stay on top of things we had to spend a full man-day per week (roughly eight to 12 hours out of 90-100 hours of pressing work each week) in accounting work.  To be able to stay on top with the accounting work, weather permitting, we routinely spent between a half to three hours of accounting work each day, usually after having picked up the mail or after having made a sale, and then again when getting ready to send out the cheques for bills that needed to be paid and when making bank deposits.

Only someone not involved in farming or running a small business may wonder why accounting work should require that much time, but they don't understand that the amount of accounting work required varies little with the size of a farm.  There are certain fixed transactions that don't vary in number and frequency -- only in the size of the costs -- with the size of a farming operation.  Small farms have as many equipment repairs as large farms (largely it is only the size of the machinery and its cost that varies).  They buy fuel, fertilizer, seed and veterinarian supplies just as often, just not in the same quantities as the larger farms.  Therefore, the economy of scale dictates that for smaller farms the cost of the overhead per unit of production is greater than that on larger farms.

There are other considerations.  There are the rising fuel, fertilizer and chemical costs, all strongly related to the price of fuel in the world market.  There are marketing boards that meddle with the normal play of supply and demand.  There are environmental concerns, rules and regulations.  Farmers are far more conscious in maintaining their environment than urbanites are who consume prime farmland at ever increasing rates and simply pave it over, or who have no compunction about chewing up sensitive natural areas with their recreational vehicles.

There are rising machinery and repair cost, and with all of that the prices for farm products have generally remained unchanged from what they were in the sixties and seventies.  It was a little heart breaking for us to see us receive a gross return ranging from 60 cents to $1.20 per pound of live weight for our lambs, while the end product of what we delivered to the livestock sales was on display on the meat counters in the stores for more than $7.50 per pound.  Our net returns per hour of work never even came close to making minimum wages.  That is true of many farmers, and most have to work full-time off the farm to be able to keep their heads above water, financially.

Still it is farmers who get the bum rap of being the destroyers of the environment, and the views of urban environmentalist ideological organizations such as Greenpeace carry the day, their aim apparently being to wipe humanity off the face of Gaea, while in the process of doing that they happily pursue the implementation of the Communist Manifesto in the construction of the global socialist state, under which all land will be held by the state for the greater common good.

There is a wide disparity between what some people think about an environment in which man no longer plays a dominating role (farmers see themselves as stewards of their environment) and the reality of having to cope with the environment in which we must live.   Urbanites fashion their own environment with little regard or total disregard for nature.   Farmers must live with the environment or perish.

Urbanites feel that they can will into existence conditions whereby the lion will sleep with the lambs.

The ideal view of wolves being at peace with sheep

However, the realities of that erroneous environmentalist Utopia are driven increasingly home, even within the cities.  Nothing could illustrate that better than the cover photo and -story of the May 28, 2001 issue of the Report Newsmagazine.

The reality of why wild life and humans cannot coexist
May 28, 2001

Wild in the streets

Canada, it seems, is going wild. Because of the urban majority's belief that "nature" should be left to itself, vast numbers of ungulates--deer, moose and elk--are being reported in parts of the country in numbers not seen in a century, if, indeed, ever before. There are fewer hunters. And because the deer family is prey to most everything with teeth, along with these increases have come predators like wolves and cougars into places where, even 10 years ago, they were unheard of...by Alan North

However, even more to the point, with respect to the incompatibility of predators designed to kill and the intents of farmers to produce livestock without losses, is the reality depicted in the following picture from the Report Newsmagazine article.

Coyote snack (the attack on the foal was more likely by one or more dogs)

The Report Newsmagazine article is very long, but it contains a number of references to damages to the agricultural industry, such as the possibility of transmitting diseases to livestock (the article didn't cover the possibility of specific ones, such as rabies, TB, foot and mouth, or brucellosis).  There was also mention of crop damage (no particulars) by coveys of wild turkey that number as high as 70 birds, by beaver, and by deer damaging orchards right next to government lots, with the proposed solution to put up a fence around the orchard (at a cost of often hundreds of thousands of dollars in an individual case.

It is great that the Report Newsmagazine provides good and frequent coverage about such problem-wildlife issues, but it is most likely too late to do any good.  Just as our society will take a long time to recover — if ever — from the depredation by federally-founded and -funded various special interest groups catering to feminism and spin-off interests,[1] so we will likely take a long time to recover — if ever — from the federally driven take-over of Canada's tamed wilderness — our farms, towns and suburbs of cities — by wild-life conditioned not to fear humans any longer.

We raised sheep until a few years ago.  It kept us busy, but we had a good thing going and our operation had become big and profitable enough to consider getting a full-time employee, with perhaps getting two more people to help us during lambing time.  That came to an end in 1995, when predation by coyotes became so serious that on the very first day we put our animals out to pasture that year — just adjacent to the house — we lost a dozen lambs and three kid goats. 

By that time it had become quite literally impossible to hold the coyotes at bay by beating them with a broom, as one of our neighbours found.  He had been a true animal lover who believed that humans can live in harmony with all creatures.   After he had had no success with chasing that coyote off with his broom, he became a little more practical.  He acquired a small-calibre rifle and a second, larger dog (the border collie he had lost part of his tail to a coyote).  That worked for him, so far. 

However, we had no more peace.  Even though we moved our sheep back to the yard and began feeding them there (not easy to do when the new hay crop hasn't been harvested yet), that didn't stop the coyotes from following them. We tried a number of things for protection and to scare the coyotes off, but none of them helped for more than a few days.  The coyotes smartened up to all of them.  Eventually it appeared that the easiest way to "hunt" our sheep was for the coyotes to wait at the water trough for the sheep to come to them.

We began to lose sheep at such a high rate (over 60 that last year of our operation) that we began to fear that perhaps we would have nothing left from our flock to sell at the next livestock sale, when we went through the heart-breaking process of disposing of all of our sheep and goats.  For many years, our animals had been selectively bred for productivity, ease of lambing and good mothering abilities (we kept a few goats for milk production to feed orphan lambs).

That was the end of our farming operation and the end of our prospects for setting up a small local industry.  We lost our constant battle with the predators.   The federal government and its coyotes are winning the war.   Our land is now leased out.  Miles of fences that had been built over the years have been torn down.  It is not likely that this land will ever be used for livestock production again, most certainly not by us, but we see increasing numbers of moose, deer and coyotes. 

On average, close to 30 people have jobs from the spin-offs of every farming operation.  Every time another farming operation shuts down, work for close to thirty people ceases to exist.  Our rural towns are dying.  Predation by wildlife of farm animals is one of the causes of that.  But, as identified in the article by the Report Newsmagazine, livestock being killed by coyotes is not the only problem. 

A friend of ours is involved with sheep production.   He thought that llamas would provide protection for his sheep, but it appears that he was wrong.  His losses, combined with the increasing costs of heating his home, escalating fuel prices and taxes, will most likely force him to shut down his operation.  He's thinking about it, but then, too, at 72 he is above the average age (62 years and rising) of the Canadian farmer.  I can't blame anyone, not even our own children, for not wanting to get into farming.  Who can successfully withstand predation on his livestock by fearless wildlife and, to boot, the depredations by a rapacious, apparently ruthless federal government that cares more about wild animals than it cares about Canadian people?

Last spring one of our neighbours shot a black bear right at his house, a little more than a mile east from our home. 

Bob and the bear he shot just behind his house
Robert Dach and the bear he shot April 2000, right behind his house

Another neighbour family that lives two miles north from here had a black bear look right into their living room window.  Fortunately their two small boys had not been playing outside at the time, otherwise their mother would most likely have been able to observe, right in front of their living room window, the federally sponsored blessing of a black bear feeding on at least one of her children.  The three-year old daughter of an acreage owner close to Fort Saskatchewan a few years ago was not quite so lucky.  She watched through the door to their patio how a pack of coyotes ripped apart and devoured their family dog. 

Where will all of this end?  Will it? Not if we let Greenpeace and the federal government have their way with their expensive but useless solutions for the non-existent problem of man-made global warming and other ideological issues based on superstitions, not science.

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1.) F.L. Morton & Rainer Knopff, The Charter Revolution & The Court Party, (2000, Broadview Press), p. 90; Review;   Full text of Chapter 1 

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Posted 2001 05 23