Test­ing for par­a­sites, a ‘sheep­ish’ story

The Glengarry News - - Front Page - BY TARA MACDONALD News Staff

Al­though Laurie Maus was not raised on a farm, her de­sire to be­come a farmer started when she was very young. "I've wanted to live on a farm since I was a teenager," said Ms. Maus, whose fa­ther’s fam­ily were all beef farm­ers. “My brother had a dairy farm for a few years which is when I started farm­ing on his farm,” she said. “When I was show­ing dairy cat­tle as a teenager, I used to com­pete at the Maxville Fair.”

With a Mas­ter’s de­gree in an­i­mal bio­chem­istry from York Uni­ver­sity, Ms. Maus went on to per­form a num­ber of roles re­lated to health, the en­vi­ron­ment, and pol­icy de­vel­op­ment. How­ever, her dream of one day own­ing and liv­ing on her own farm never went away.

Af­ter mar­ry­ing her hus­band, Bob Garner, Laurie Maus’ dreams fi­nally came true. “We bought Hawk Hill Farm in 1997 just af­ter we got mar­ried,” said Ms. Maus. “At that point we both worked off- farm: Bob in Mon­treal and me in Ot­tawa. Stick a pin in the mid­dle and you end up in Dun­ve­gan.”

Her­itage Breeds at risk

Her­itage breeds are tra­di­tional live­stock breeds that were raised by farm­ers in the past, be­fore in­dus­trial agri­cul­ture be­came main­stream prac­tice. De­fined as a breed that has been used in Canada for at least 50 years, they form the ba­sis from which many of to­day's com­mer­cial breeds evolved.

Un­like com­mer­cial breeds – which are most of­ten used in the egg, dairy and meat in­dus­tries – her­itage breeds take longer to come to mar­ket. They also have dif­fer­ent re­quire­ments. One ex­am­ple, ac­cord­ing to Peggi Holtz of the Her­itage Live­stock Club of East­ern On­tario, is that they don’t al­ways do well in con­fine­ment and of­ten need to be out on pas­ture which makes them un­suit­able for large-scale com­mer­cial farm­ing.

As a re­sult of pres­sure from in­dus­tri­al­ized farm pro­duc­tion and chang­ing con­sumer tastes, her­itage breeds are in­creas­ingly at risk. Ac­cord­ing to the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion of the United Na­tions, the world loses two breeds of its valu­able do­mes­tic an­i­mal di­ver­sity ev­ery week. In 2000, the Watch List for Do­mes­tic An­i­mal Di­ver­sity iden­ti­fied more than 6,300 breeds of do­mes­ti­cated live­stock. To­day, more than 1,300 are now ex­tinct or con­sid­ered to be in dan­ger of ex­tinc­tion.

“Her­itage an­i­mals have much to of­fer our mod­ern way of life," said Ms. Holtz, point­ing to the im­por­tance of ge­netic di­ver­sity for sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture de­vel­op­ment and their im­por­tance to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Ms. Maus agrees, ” Canada’s live­stock in­dus­try is dom­i­nated by just a hand­ful of breeds," she says. "Many her­itage breeds are be­ing lost and with them the ge­netic di­ver­sity and abil­ity to adapt to chang­ing cli­mate, con­di­tions and dis­eases as well as chang­ing con­sumer de­mand."

"A lot of the com­mer­cial breeds are de­vel­oped from her­itage breeds," Mr. Garner chipped in. "So if you lose a her­itage breed you will po­ten­tially lose the ba­sic stock that a lot of your other an­i­mals that you com­monly have to­day are de­vel­oped from."

While her­itage breeds may not be the most prac­ti­cal choice of live­stock for fac­tory-style farm­ing, they of­fer a num­ber of dis­tinct ad­van­tages to small- scale farms and hobby farms. Of­ten stur­dier, more adapt­able to lo­cal con­di­tions, and more dis­ease re­sis­tant, her­itage breeds don’t have the high vet bills that other breeds do. In ad­di­tion, pas­tur­eraised an­i­mals help to con­trol in­va­sive plant species and have richer, more com­plex and ro­bust flavours than their com­mer­cial coun­ter­parts.

Hawk Hill Farms

“If we don’t pre­serve these breeds, we’ll lose them,” said Ms. Maus.

Ms. Maus and her hus­band have ded­i­cated the past two decades to keep­ing the vi­a­bil­ity of her­itage breeds alive. They have bred a range of her­itage live­stock in­clud­ing Cana­dian horses, Kobe and Ayr­shire cat­tle, Par­tridge Chante­cler, and Sil­ver Grey Dork­ing Chick­ens. How­ever, what they are per­haps best known for are their ef­forts to pre­serve and pro­mote her­itage sheep, such as the Tu­nis.

“The Tu­nis is one of the old­est North Amer­i­can breed of sheep,” said Mr. Garner, “Orig­i­nat­ing from the Tu­nisian moun­tain sheep, they came over to the United States in the mid 1700s ei­ther as a gift from the Bay of Tu­nisia or repa­ra­tions for the war.”

A type of ‘fat-tailed’ sheep, the Tu­nis was par­tic­u­larly welladapte­d to hot and hu­mid cli­mates mak­ing them an ideal choice for farm­ers in the mid At­lantic and south­east­ern United States. Much like a camel would draw re­serves from its hump, the Tu­nis de­posits fat in the tail head as op­posed to all over its body.

In­ter- bred with the lo­cal sheep, the Tu­nis soon be­came one of the most com­mon meat breeds up un­til the Amer­i­can Civil War when they be­came al­most ex­tinct. “They were al­most wiped out dur­ing the war,” explained Mr. Garner “when they were used to feed the armies.”

Tu­nis – a very ten­der and fine­tex­tured meat - is well- known among culi­nary en­thu­si­asts. “It wins a lot of awards and is listed on the Ark of Taste,” said Mr. Garner. (The Ark of Taste is an in­ter­na­tional cat­a­logue of en­dan­gered and de­li­cious her­itage foods that is main­tained by the global Slow Food move­ment.)

Tu­nis fleece - suit­able for a wide va­ri­ety of knit­ted and wo­ven fab­rics - is also highly prized. "The spin­ners and weavers need qual­ity fleeces," said Ms. Maus. "Most com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion is not fo­cussed on fleeces so if we - as a her­itage live­stock club - don't pre­serve them, then the fleeces that they need to do their crafts will be gone."

In ad­di­tion to farm­ing, Ms. Maus and Mr. Garner are in­volved in a num­ber of events ded­i­cated to rais­ing aware­ness, con­nect­ing pro­duc­ers to con­sumers, and pro­mot­ing the ad­vance­ment of rais­ing her­itage breeds for niche mar­kets.

“It's im­por­tant to talk to peo-

ple and build­ing aware­ness about her­itage breeds of live­stock,” said Mr. Garner who at­tended the Glen­garry Pioneer Mu­seum's re­cent ' Stitch in Time' event. “The her­itage breeds have a place and we need to main­tain the stock."

Ms. Maus is also heav­ily in­volved in sheep farm­ing as­so­ci­a­tions and her­itage clubs. Cur­rently the Chair of On­tario Sheep Farm­ers as­so­ci­a­tion's District 10 chap­ter, she is also a board mem­ber of the Her­itage Live­stock Club of East­ern On­tario.

Over the years, Ms. Maus has writ­ten ex­ten­sively about her ex­pe­ri­ences on the farm, pre­sented a num­ber of talks across On­tario and of­fers a se­ries of workshops to new and ex­pe­ri­enced farm­ers. "If you want to see change to al­low our in­dus­try to thrive, the best way is to get in­volved," said Ms. Maus. "We to share what we have learned with other pro­duc­ers."

Worm con­trol in live­stock

Par­a­sites can prove costly, time con­sum­ing and frus­trat­ing for farm­ers to deal with. They can also be deadly to live­stock.

"When we were breed­ing horses, the vet rec­om­mended par­a­site test­ing the horses prior to treat­ment. Then we would treat the horses for par­a­sites and then re- test them to see if the drug worked" said Ms. Maus. "While that was best prac­tice, but all of the sud­den a $20 treat-

ment was nearly $100 per horse and we had 17 horses. So, I fig­ured it was time I learned how to do my own fe­cal tests."

With no train­ing op­tions avail­able at the time, Ms. Maus took to the in­ter­net to learn on her own. "The sci­ence back­ground helped with that," she ac­knowl­edged.

Be­ing able to per­form her own par­a­site test­ing proved even more help­ful af­ter the cou­ple be­gan rais­ing sheep. In­ter­nal par­a­sites can lead to re­duced wool yield, re­duced lamb pro­duc­tion and even death.

There are a num­ber of ways a farmer can iden­tify in­fec­tion in their flock. Warn­ing signs in­clude weight loss, di­ar­rhoea, and lethargy. Sadly, the im­pact of par­a­sites on sheep aren't al­ways easy to spot for the in­ex­pe­ri­enced eye un­til it is too late. Ms. Maus says that the time lag be­tween sam­pling, ship­ping to the vet, and get­ting re­sults can re­sult in life- threat­en­ing lev­els of par­a­sites for the sheep.

Wide­spread re­sis­tance of these par­a­sites to the most com­mon an­thelmintic­s ( de­worm­ers) makes man­ag­ing par­a­sites even more dif­fi­cult.

By learn­ing how to test their flock, Ms. Maus and Mr. Garner were able to iden­tify in­di­vid­ual car­ri­ers, de­ter­mine whether or not treat­ment was war­ranted, and choose the right de­wormer for the spe­cific sit­u­a­tion.

"The stats are only 20 per cent

of your sheep carry 80 per cent of your par­a­sites," explained Ms. Maus. Be­ing able to tar­get which sheep are most in need of treat­ment helps re­duce overuse of drugs and the po­ten­tial for de­vel­op­ing a re­sis­tance.

Their ef­forts are pay­ing off. Af­ter more than a decade of breed­ing and rais­ing sheep, Ms. Maus and Mr. Garner have been able to ship all their lambs to slaugh­ter for the last two years without the need of an­thelmintic­s.

Flock­ing to Dun­ve­gan

Keen to ex­pand her knowl­edge and as­sist other farm­ers in prop­erly man­ag­ing par­a­site in­fes­ta­tions, Ms. Maus be­gan test­ing sam­ples for other sheep and horse pro­duc­ers. "They started ask­ing if I would train them," she said. "So I started train­ing pro­duc­ers on an ad hoc ba­sis and re­al­ized the de­mand was so great I needed to de­velop a course."

"I started of­fer­ing the course three years ago," said Ms. Maus who has trained more than 65 pro­duc­ers through her on-farm work­shop. The work­shop - suit­able for a range of live­stock - has brought in horse, cat­tle, goat, llama and sheep pro­duc­ers from across On­tario.

Lim­ited to five par­tic­i­pants per ses­sion, this three- hour work­shop pro­vides a com­bi­na­tion of lec­tur­ing, ques­tion peri- ods, videos, and hands-on train­ing on how to iden­tify spe­cific par­a­sites and do a Mod­i­fied Mc­Mas­ter Fe­cal Egg Count (FEC).

A fe­cal egg count ( FEC) is a sim­ple pro­ce­dure that farm­ers can per­form at home to get a rough idea of the par­a­site load their live­stock is car­ry­ing. FEC tests also en­able farm­ers to find out whether or not a de­wormer is still ef­fec­tive or if the gas­troin­testi­nal par­a­sites have be­come re­sis­tant to it.

Know­ing what par­a­sites are, be­ing able to de­tect which type of par­a­sites your flock is car­ry­ing, when they pose a risk to your stock, and how you can con­trol them is vi­tal for min­i­miz­ing pro­duc­tion losses.

Yvonne Marot, a sheep and cat­tle farmer from Mis­sis­sauga On­tario, learned first-hand how dev­as­tat­ing an­thelmintic­s re­sis­tance can be.

"I’ve got 80 sheep graz­ing now,” she said. “Ini­tially we had a few prob­lems, we got some new sheep and we think they had been dosed with an­thelmintic­s. They were very re­sis­tant to par­a­sites, so a lot of sheep died.

"You can’t af­ford to get the vet in all of the time but you want to be on top of what’s hap­pen­ing with your flock, so if you can catch some­thing early that re­ally helps."

By learn­ing how to test for par­a­sites, iden­tify the dif­fer­ent species, and get a rough idea of the par­a­site load her sheep were car­ry­ing, farm­ers can take steps to pre­serve their flock health while sav­ing them­selves a lot of time, money and heartache.

"I’m su­per-ex­cited to be able to ac­cess this kind of course," said work­shop par­tic­i­pant Lyn­d­sey Smith. Ms. Smith, a sheep farmer from Kin­burn, On­tario, cur­rently runs about 250 ewes and is plan­ning to ex­pand. "Our flock health is one of those things you can al­ways im­prove on but there isn’t ac­tu­ally a tonne of in­for­ma­tion out there that’s co­he­sive and com­plete for par­a­site man­age­ment for our sheep. Be­ing able to look at each an­i­mal and as­sess what we have in re­gards to par­a­sites is pretty pow­er­ful be­cause one of the ma­jor chal­lenges of sheep pro­duc­tion is try­ing to keep them alive and so the more ways we can un­der­stand their health and how we can keep them healthy, the bet­ter."

News of Ms.Maus and Mr. Garner's workshops spread quickly through­out the in­dus­try. "I re­ally don’t need to do much ad­ver­tis­ing at this point. All the workshops were fully booked by late spring," said Ms. Maus.

In­deed, she says that de­mand was so great that On­tario Sheep Farm­ers has hired two vets to run her course through­out the prov­ince.

"This is a niche that we needed and Laurie filled it," agreed Ms. Marot. "The hand­son ex­pe­ri­ence is what we need be­cause we’re go­ing to have to learn how to do it on our own."

While sim­i­lar cour­ses in the United States and Aus­tralia can cost as much as $350, Ms. Maus and Mr. Garner wanted to en- sure that small pro­duc­ers had ac­cess to the in­for­ma­tion and skills they needed to pro­tect their an­i­mals.

"Bob and I have de­cided to sub­si­dize this course as we saw the need," explained Ms. Maus. "We're do­ing this for the agri­cul­ture in­dus­try and es­pe­cially for the live­stock."

Rather than pay­ing a mon­e­tary fee, par­tic­i­pants are asked to bring a bot­tle of wine or other pay­ment- in- kind from their own farms. "It brings a laugh and ac­tu­ally we have re­ceived some wines I would not have bought. We have quite a de­cent wine cel­lar now," ex­claimed Ms. Maus who has also re­ceived hand­made socks, honey, and home­made lasanga. "We had to bring some­thing from our farm," Ms. Marot chimed in. "I’ve got nice grass-fed Gal­loway cat­tle so I brought a roast.

Those in­ter­ested in at­tend­ing a work­shop at Hawk Hill Farms are ad­vised to book early to avoid dis­ap­point­ment. For more in­for­ma­tion or reg­is­ter for a work­shop, call (613) 527-1897.


HER­ITAGE BREEDS: “If we don’t pre­serve these breeds, we’ll lose them,” says Laurie Maus, who, along with her hus­band, Bob Garner, has ded­i­cated the past two decades to help­ing to keep the vi­a­bil­ity of her­itage breeds -- such as the Tu­nis sheep -- alive.


LAB WORK: Mis­sis­sauga sheep farmer Yvonne Marot par­tic­i­pates in one of the workshops run by Laurie Maus.

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