Sheep farming with OIB in Vernon BC early 90’s.

Working as Economic Development Officer with the Okanagan Indian Band in Vernon, BC, in the early 90’s, we had to look at new business opportunities. One was complicated, we, purchased a large private, ranch in their Pinaus Lake watershed, and paid it by logging timber on the ranch. This Ranch had the water rights, handle and key to the small dam at Pinaus Lake, controlling a large amount of clean water in the Okanagan. Priceless for the future.

Barry, the manager, with a large Guard Dog imported from Poland, and some sheep

Now the challenge was to find the best use of this former milk producing farm with no milk quota. We looked at many options, from a cowboy tourist ranch, camping and health ranch, an estrogen producing farm from pregnant mares, fox and fur ranch, and including a sheep ranch for forestry contracts to clear weeds from newly re planted forest areas. This turned out to be the better proposal at that time. The forestry contract was ok, but a lot of hard work, before , during and after the actual summer season clearing weeds.

I had 100’s of pictures, of all aspect of the operation, and thought they were all gone, but found these. On the farm we had about 1500 ewes, and about 50 prime rams. In the work season we leased another 3.500 sheep from the large sheep farms in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. We had locally trained shepherds, and a few professional from New Zealand. The portable fencing systems were also from New Zealand.

The big trucks carried up to 600 sheep each, we had to move them in smaller trailers. The big trucks could not get close to the actual working sites, sometimes resulting in a day or two walking 12 to 15 hundred on steep and narrow logging roads.

Following rules and recommendations, every flock of 1200 to 1500 sheep had 2 shepherds on duty any time 24 hours. Each shepherd had 2 working sheep dogs, mostly Border Collies. In addition at lest 4 dogs in training. Each flock had 2 guard dogs on duty at any time, 24 hours. At least 4 per unit, and the same amount of guard dogs in training. The guard dogs were Karabash, Turkish Mountain Sheep Dogs, Great Pyrenees, and Polish Tamarack Guard dogs imported from Poland.

 

Koci on duty

 

 

Working in the Okanagan mountains, some quite remote logging operations, there were many challenges. Wildlife predators was only one, but we never lost one single sheep to any predators. There were plenty, some areas had grizzly, all had black bears, cougars, coyotes, wolverine, and wolves. The sheep that got a broken leg, or died, mostly from fall or jumps in very rough terrain, we collected and disposed back in the valley at proper sites.

I will at one time tell much more about this venture. Homepage Oddvin Vedo

“Wolfie” with a moose leg bone

My dog “Lita” was not fully trained, but helped as good as she could, one could see that she lowed it. She newer learned to run on the backs of the sheep, like the working sheepdogs.

But, I must tell about one single incident I was witness to.  Visiting one of the sites one day, the shepherds mentioned that a black bear was hanging around. Later I found out the wildlife branch had indeed released a problem bear in that same area, not knowing that we and forestry had a sheep weed clearing operation going on there. At lunch time we had tea at the camper, and we could hear the one guard dog barking a certain way over at the sheep pens a few hundred feet away. The one shepherd sipped his tea and said , it is just the black bear.

I got curious, and asked if it was a problem; no, no, the dog will look after it. I took my camera, and walked carefully over to the barking dog. He was furious, jerking forward with every bark, did not even look at me. At the end of a large log, there was the black bear, standing his line, trying to intimidate the dog, and getting one of the 1500 sheep laying down in the pen chewing their curd. Not a chance, the dog held him at bay, I took my pictures and walked back to the resting shepherds.

After an hours or so, there was a different bark, I asked them what was going on, and they explained, a new guard dog had taken over, and the first one was resting. I had to see this, and walked over there, the first guard dog had just finished his food, and laid down resting, not even looking at me. With the sheep, the other guard dog held his territory on the large fallen log, I was more than amazed. The dogs switched work duties and carried on with no help or interference from the shepherds, they were resting in their camper, waiting for the next shift.

A typical 24 hour was to get the sheep out of the pens about 4 AM, at daylight, let them graze until about 10 AM, mowing all the time, newer laying down. The shepherds would at this time also move the pens to the next site. Their dogs, would run around the flock and move the sheep. The guard dogs at this time would rest on a view-point, and not be part of mowing the sheep at all, they would walk around the flock and make sure there were no predators . After the rest in the middle of the day, there would be another working, feeding period, from about 3 PM to 7 PM, and then back in the pens again.

On these jobs there were no Rams, and no Lambs under 65 lb. In total we had about 45 dogs the day the vet came to check them out certify and vaccinate. The pens came from New Zealand, folding up onto a trailer, light aluminum, one pen could hold 1500 and more sheep, and one or two persons could move them easily. Most locations was a gravel logging road. In most cases water had to be supplied.

I had a very good time working with OIB, and we did many different ventures, sheep farming just one. Getting to know the shepherds and their dogs was an experience I would never be without.

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