Young Alberta Family Takes On Sheep Farming

Salute To Agriculture Special Issue April 23rd, 2015

Duane O'Brien uses support to assist him in a day of shearing sheep.

Duane O'Brien uses support to assist him in a day of shearing sheep.

Despite the economic indicators telling a different story (in the past ten years lamb consumption has grown by 32% in Alberta), sheep farming, like most agricultural industries has declined in recent years as younger generations have made choices to seek easier or more lucrative ways to generate an income. It is refreshing then to find a young family who has moved towards this endeavor despite having little prior involvement or experience.

Despite the fact Josh and Kim Bishop had around 26 acres of unused pasture on their property, the question begged to be asked, “Why sheep?” In answer to that question, here is their story that weaves an interesting tale of how a young Alberta family took on sheep farming.

The Bishop family, including their children Lucas and Alexa, live on an acreage just outside of Wetaskiwin, Alberta. Having grown up in town, Josh had always wanted to live in the country. When married life and children came along, with it came the perspective of wanting to provide a way of teaching their children work ethic and responsibility, not to mention as Josh puts it, “time away from ipods.” They began by obtaining a few animals, a handful of goats and some donkeys.

The surprising idea of sheep came about by a few sources. Josh’s ‘other’ business is Acryltek Homes, which regularely exposes him to a variety of buisness and industry. This has included working on farm buildings including sheep producers. Establishing relationships with these producers and asking a multitude of questions got Josh considering the potential of sheep as another source of income. It also did not hurt knowing that they had 26 acres that needed a way of keeping the grass down.

Sheep seemed to be an easier animal to start with for someone wanting to get into the hobby farm market, so in 2013, the Bishop family became the proud parents of 35 ewes.

Having the aptitude of educating himself thoroughly before embarking on something, Josh spent many hours researching all things sheep. This proved to be a valuable exercise as he (expectedly) encountered initial difficulties and hurdles. A significant one emerged in the first batch of lambs… coccidiosis, a parasitic disease of the intestinal tract. Josh had to learn quickly how to treat the young ones while gaining valuable information for future prevention.

The Bishops have also learned the importance of seeking out the best stock from a source that you can trust. He highly recommends purchasing lambs at the farm of their origin. “There are many operations out there that you do not want to buy from,” says Josh.

One of the only regrets Josh has had is not planning far ahead from the start. He wanted to, “try it out before committing,” so he ended up purchasing some lower quality equipment that already requires replacing as a result.

At the end of the day, it has been a rewarding experience. Though lambing season requires quite a bit of sacrifice with nightly rounds every two hours, making sure lambs are not born in the cold and wind, the majority of the year is not consuming. It has allowed Josh to continue working at his construction business alongside his brother Joel.

The kids have learned the responsibility and rewards of hard work, and the family and extended family has enjoyed the continued presence of lambs and sheep. They have been an ongoing source of entertainment as well, such as the time one wandering ewe decided the best escape route was ‘through’ Josh, so proceeded to charge full speed and try to ‘jump’ over Josh, smashing him in the nose. You can’t buy that kind of entertainment!

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