Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake is a beautiful place with an intriguing history. Once it was the largest Jersey cattle farm in Ontario and three generations later, the legacy of excellence continues. In 1991 Southbrook Winery was launched and over the years have improved their environmental stewardship to become one of the leaders in ecological wine production. Certified Organic, Biodynamic and the first winery to achieve Gold Leed status, they have recognized the importance of nurturing the soil that sustains the business.
Linc Farm is situated at Southbrook Vineyards, where their own special mix of Rambouillet, Finn, Gotland, and Newfoundland sheep are pastured on Organic and Biodynamic fields, fertilizing the vineyard and adding to the biodiversity. Juliet Orazietti and her husband Martin Weber are the farmers, and are responsible for running the flock through the vineyard in the warmer months (among MANY other things). Juliet has a Masters in Animal Breeding and Genetics, and Marin has a Masters in Livestock Science. Juliet was kind enough to talk with us about her experience as Shepherdess at the farm.
Share with us a bit of your story. How did you get started in sheep farming? What interested you in fibre animals?
My “life plan” had always been to become a large animal vet. In the 2nd year of my Bachelor’s I was offered a job to establish, manage, and care for a small flock of sheep at Southbrook Vineyards. That sounded like a fun summer job so I jumped on it. I read “Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep,” went off to our local “rare breeds breeder,” loaded a bunch of sheep on the truck and brought them home. It was love at first sight really. After finally finishing my masters (vet school went by the wayside) Southbrook offered to rent my husband and I the farm – it was a dream come true as neither of us thought farming was possible for us. We are now busy making upgrades to the flock and farm.
What is the fibre from the sheep like? What do you use it for?
In the past all our fibre went to McAuslands Woolen Mill in PEI to be spun into blankets. Now that they have stopped doing custom weaving, we are looking for a new channel for our wool. While we would love to find someone else to make blankets for us, the wool is well suited to finer purposes so some will be sent for commercial spinning locally. It is very fine and comes in a rainbow of colours of black, grey, brown, and white.
What is important or special about your products?
One of the things that sets our farm apart is that we have a truly dual purpose flock. Most of the lambs each year are fathered by our Charollais ram. Only the best ewes are selected for breeding to our fibre ram (Gotland/Finn). We also raise our sheep as humanely as possible. We don’t tail dock or castrate any lambs. They are rotated on pasture as long as the weather cooperates and are provided with shade in the summer. We don’t feed grain either, only our home-grown hay from our certified organic pastures. The goal is to do things as sustainably as possible. We are very proud of our sheep and view each one as an individual. So each skein is made from one sheep (or two for a marled yarn), and labelled with that sheep’s name and breed. For the moment, all our products are available at the farm only, by appointment (and on the UCFS website soon I hope!). Starting in the spring we will be at the Niagara on the Lake Farmers Market (at Garrison Village) too! Everything is available “while quantities last” and at the rate that I can spin them – all our yarn is currently spun by yours truly. We also have washable lambskins in various colours (from the Old Mill/Atlas in Blyth)
Where is your fibre milled?
Right now I do all the processing by hand. BUT, we have a spot at the waiting list at Wellington Fibres for this year! Very excited.
What are some of the challenges you have experienced with fibre production?
Our biggest challenge is in keeping the sheep clean in the hay-feeding season. We have updated our feeders to help with this, but one experiment with our ewe lambs was a terrible failure and I suspect those fleeces will have to find alternate uses.
Why did you want to join the UCFS?
Half the fun of having a farm is in meeting new, like-minded people. The UCFS seemed like the perfect opportunity to get “out there” a bit more and get to learn more about the fibre community.
Thanks Juliet! For more information visit the Linc Farm @ Southbrook Website