Tangled Ridge Ranch was one of dozens of farming operations across that province that opened its doors to the curious public on Aug. 22 and 23 for Alberta’s annual Open Farm Days.
Open Farm Days allows visitors to gain first hand knowledge of the farms they stop at, and increase their education of how their food travels from the farms to their tables.
“I hope they get an appreciation of the ecosystems and the thought process,” said Vicky Horn, who owns and works the farm, along with her husband Shayne.
“I think people are questioning now where their food comes from. I think it is so important to people to have that understanding,” she added.
Located in the County of Leduc, just south of Thorsby, Tangled Ridge Ranch is primarily a sheep farm.
For their Alberta Open Farm Days open house the Horns led visitors on a wagon ride field tour as well as a tour of the farm’s sheep handling mechanical system.
Vicky and Shayne are first generation farmers who started Tangled Ridge Ranch from scratch eight years ago.
By land-size standards Tangled Ridge Ranch is considered a small farm and when they started Vicky told the visitors the family wanted corresponding small animals.
On the farm the Horn’s raise two breeds of hair sheep, which shed their coats similar to dogs rather than growing the more traditional wool.
Vicky says at the time they started the farm the sheep industry was relatively easy to get into and the concept of buying and eating local was just beginning to trend.
Canada also imports approximately 50 per cent of its sheep products from New Zealand and Australia, says Vicky. “So we saw this as a huge opportunity.”
Tangled Ridge Ranch currently has approximately 60 ewes and 80 to 90 lambs. In the past the farm had handled as many as 140 ewes. “We’re trying to grow ourselves back up,” said Vicky.
“We always keep the ewes,” she added. “We always keep about 10 lambs, kind of the best of the best.”
Once seven or eight months old the lambs not kept are sold to customers or restaurants. Orders can be made online or direct.
In the handling yard Vicky led the onlookers on a tour of the equipment used, which is a similar, miniature version of a cattle run and squeeze.
Vicky says the whole system, which was shipped from the United States, cost approximately $5,000. The low cost of the equipment was another incentive to get into the sheep business.
The sheep are run through the handling system twice per year. Once in the spring and again in the fall.
After being run through the chute the animals are weighed and then sent to the “tippy table.” Vicky says when sheep are tipped on their sides or backs they freeze and relax. At this time the sheep are vaccinated, their feet are trimmed and if needed they are given ear tags.
“It’s really important to us to always treat our animals with respect and with care,” said Vicky.
Vicky’s husband also works full time in the oilfield and to help her care for the herd and protect it from coyotes she uses three guard dogs. “His entire mission in life is to protect his sheep.”
Vicky is also quite interested in the environment and the plant life that grows on her farm. She told the visitors she knows there is only so much earth and soil available and people need to ensure it stays healthy.
Using adjustable electric fencing the Horn’s can control where and what plants the sheep eat, besides hay. On a rotation Vicky lets her pastures go to seed. She then lets the animals into the field to trample the seeds back into the earth and rejuvenate the field.
The Horn’s also own a herd of longhorns but they are being sold in the near future. With the drought and hay conditions Vicky says the cattle are too expensive to feed. However, once the situation improves she hopes to buy them back.
“It’s been a stressful situation to find hay . . . and then the hay that is available is very expensive,” said Vicky.