Shearing the Flock Story by Krista Conrad, Photos by Brent Calver

A flock of sheep had the wool removed from over its eyes on the weekend.

About 35 sheep were sheared at Diamond Valley Farms on May 6 in advance of warm summer weather. It's an annual event at the farm – though the animals don't necessarily look forward to it.

Warren Dreger said they bring in a sheep shearer to do the job, which is very physically demanding. This year, Jeff Fielding came out to the farm to shave the wool from the flock, which is smaller than usual — last year there were 90 sheep sheared in the spring.

“There's a technique to it,” said Dreger. “He puts them on their rump and he just starts shearing. Some of these guys can shear a sheep in less than five minutes.”

It's hard work and requires the shearer to stay in top shape. The ewes can weigh upwards of 180 pounds, especially if they're pregnant. Since lambing happens in the middle of June at Diamond Valley Farms, most of the female sheep are carrying the extra weight, said Dreger.

Before starting, a shearer usually goes through a series of stretches to warm up, he said. It takes a lot of muscle work to hold the sheep down on its rump while it's sheared – especially since the sheep don't tend to enjoy the process.

“They resist a bit, but once they're on their bum and he's got good control of them, then they pretty much settle down,” said Dreger.

There's not much value in the wool when it comes off the sheep, but they take it to an operation in Lethbridge where it can be used.

“We do get some money for it, but really we just don't want to take it to the landfill,” said Dreger. “If someone can make use of it, at least it's being used even if we're not getting a penny. At least it's not being wasted.”

Not all the sheep on the farm are sheared. This year, there are 17 lambs being prepared for processing at Foothills Custom Meat Processors Ltd., which is where Diamond Valley takes all of its lamb and beef. Chickens are processed at a Hutterite colony in Irricana, and their pigs are taken to a processor in Strathmore.

The flock of sheep used to number 123, but because the farm has so many animals they decided to keep fewer sheep. The work was too much for the two couples running the farm alone —Dreger and his wife Laurie, and his sister Marilyn Dentinger and her husband Rene.

“My sister and brother-in-law are retired and my sweetheart and I are at retirement age, but we're still working off the farm, too,” said Dreger. “But we still do this as well.”

Animal care is of the utmost concern — both to be humanitarian but also because the owners of Diamond Valley Farms believe food can be medicine and raising the animals right is part of that.

“It's as important what you're not putting in your body as what you are putting in your body,” said Dreger.

It takes a lot of work to raise the animals this way, but he said it's worth the time and money invested into the farm. All of the sheep, pigs, donkeys, cows and chickens are fed more than 600 pounds of garlic annually, fed kelp, and given unfiltered, unpasteurized organic apple cider. They're all preventative measures for better health for both the animals and the consumers, he said.

They will use antibiotics on an animal if they're in danger of losing it to illness, he said.

“We want to be responsible, too,” said Dreger. “But that's our last resort. We don't do it indiscriminately.”

Taking close care of all the animals means they develop pretty tight relationships with some of them. A few of the sheep have become family pets.

Two of the males, technically known as 66 and 67, were intended to be processed in 2016, but Laurie and Marilyn decided they were too friendly. They now lovingly refer to them as Pastor Steve and Pastor George, after the pastors of their church.

A female, named Tulip, has been kept as a pet because she's smaller than the average sheep and not ideal for processing or breeding. Now two years old, she's become a favourite friend in the flock.

Then there's the grandfather of the farm, Tetley, who's about 14 years old. When the couples took over the farm in 2005, he was sick and being isolated in a pen.

“Marilyn nursed him back to health, and then he had an eye infection so she used a tea bag to help draw it out,” said Dreger. “It was a Tetley bag, so that's how he got his name.”

Making friends with the flock can also present crises of conscience when it comes time for processing, he said. After caring for them like children for a year, it's difficult to hand the lambs over.

“Sometimes when you have them for a year and they come up to you all the time, you kind of have a check in your spirit when you process them,” said Dreger. “But we do have a following of people who want lamb, and that's why we're doing this, and trying to do it right.”

Created By
Krista Conrad and Brent Calver
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Brent Calver

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