Memories of local sheep production

At one time sheep were an important part of agricultural production in Central Alberta with Hiram Flewwelling and Bill Puffer prominent

HOWARD FREDEEN

At one time sheep were an important part of agricultural production in Central Alberta with Hiram Flewwelling and Bill Puffer prominent among the sheep producers.

The latter bought one section of land from the CPR in 1901 and stocked it with sheep to provide mutton and lamb for his meat market in Lacombe. He sold this property in 1907 to the Seventh Day Adventists and today we know part of that former farm as the site of the Canadian Union College and Rosedale.

Sheep also had a prominent place in the livestock work at the Lacombe Experiment Station. Four hundred range ewes and several breeds of ram were purchased in 1913 for crossbreeding studies to identify superior breed combinations for wool production.

Flock size peaked in 1920 with over 800 ewe-lamb pairs trailed out to summer range at the north end of Gull Lake. Investigations involving sheep were terminated before 1930.

My first job following graduation from the University of Saskatchewan was as assistant farm foreman. My boss was Grant MacEwan, head of the Animal Science Department and boss of the University’s farming operation

That was also my first experience with sheep for the University had a flock of 1,500 ewes, a flock that swelled each spring when lambing produced 1,500 to 2,000 lambs.

Tom Brydon, the farm foreman assigned his two Border Collies to me and they took me with them as they patrolled the flock, running across the backs of the sheep to gather some distant strays. Tom had instructed me on the whistle, word and arm commands.

This was followed by castration of the male lambs, shearing the ewes, and trailing the flock to summer pasture some 25 miles downriver from Saskatoon.

Shearing was done by a crew of four. My role in the shearing process was that of ‘packer’, packing the fleeces in burlap bags that hung 8 ft. long from a sturdy frame. After the first fleeces were deposited therein I climbed the frame and dropped in after them. I pranced around in the sack while more fleeces — keds, ticks and all – were dropped on top of my head, hoping that the volume would rise quickly to bring my head back into fresh air. Not a job for the claustrophobic; but there was supposed to be a plus side.

That midsummer, one of the teamsters reported seeing a fox in the field he had been cultivating. That evening, on the chance that this might be the silver fox reported lost from a fox farm west of the City, Grant invited several of us to accompany him and the teamster back to the site. A burrow was located, the scent was declared ‘fox’ by the experts, digging commenced, and three feet down, at burrow’s end, stood a defiant skunk.

Here was a chance to test the theory that the skunk could not eject scent when the tail was horizontal.

I lifted the animal out by the tail, and proved the theory. Then came the question – how to release it. The consensus was to give the skunk a whirl and let gravity take charge.

An hour later, on Grant’s invitation, we trooped into Bell’s coffee counter at the corner of the campus. Only when all other patrons fled did we realize how seriously our sense of smell had been compromised.

My next experience with sheep came at the Lacombe Experiment Station in 1948. A new health issue, described by veterinarians as white muscle disease, had been identified with ruminants in western Canada and Lacombe was assigned responsibility for research on the problem.

With the assistance of Don Walker, soil specialist at the station, I enlisted flock owners in the area who agreed to allow me the use of their flocks for nutritional studies during the summer grazing season.

From this research came recognition of the essential role of cobalt in the diet of ruminants. Today this trace element is administered through the blue salt blocks familiar to all livestock producers.