Monthly Archives: January 2019

Try Hards

In my time as a school teacher I’ve come across many catch phrases, sayings, colloquialisms, buzz words, and derogatory labels.  Students and people in general lay hold to certain terms for one reason or another in their efforts to categorize and make sense of the world around them.   The term, try hard, has been the most perplexing and honestly, the most agitating that I have encountered.

Having been raised by two hard-working parents who were both raised on family farms, I was instilled with the values of trying your best at everything you did, regardless of the activity, simply for the purpose of doing your best.  My parents lived by their principles and I appreciate the power of  principled life now more than ever.  As I grew into a young man, I quickly equated enjoyment with my level of success in a task.  In other words, I didn’t shy away from a tough task but motivated myself to tackle and conquer it.   It was a resolute stickwithitness and it has stuck with me to this day.  If I was mucking out the gutter in the beef barn, then the quicker I did it the more capable I felt.  I was trying hard and no voice of criticism stood in my way.  No voice made me question why I was working so hard.  I lived with the belief that a person was meant to try or work hard at everything they did.  Today, that message seems to have changed.  Voices of criticism have intensified in volume.  Enter the easy button generation.

Recently, I overheard my son and his group of friends using the term try hard.  The term carried a negative connotation with it’s apparent application in their conversation so I couldn’t help but wonder why?  Naturally, within groups leaders and followers form.  Evidently, in my son’s group of friends parity is highly valued.  Maybe his group doesn’t have a clear leader per se or the group values sameness across all areas of life more than difference.  I found myself wondering about the long term effects of a term intended to diminish one’s level of effort in an activity.

It seems that kids today are just trying to survive by doing the bare minimum.  They aren’t striving to become better and as a result they aren’t thriving in their endeavours.  This was always my experience in my group of friends as well.  Within my group of friends there were always peers who took others down a peg, and rightly so sometimes.  However, there are costs and benefits to this approach to friendship.  When ambition is replaced with complacency, people let go of their dreams and live for acceptance of the group.

We have been fortunate with our hired help on the farm.  For the most part, the local area high school students who we employ from time to time, really put their noses to the grindstone when it comes to doing their paid tasks.  There are only voices of encouragement, saying. “You’re doing a great job! Pace yourself.”  Their effort responds to positive encouragement and they can try as hard as they need to finish the humdrum tasks of cleaning out stalls, piling hay, digging fence post holes, etc.

From time to time, I share my life experience with my son and daughter.  I think it is parental duty that helps children prepare for the unknown paths in life.  I try to impart valuable advice to them to help them build skills to thrive in life.  For example, whenever you are doing business with someone find time to talk with them, don’t rush away, but don’t overstay your welcome.  Friendships can be forged, respect deepened, and shared interests opened.  My grandfather and father taught me this valuable lesson.  Don’t be so busy with your life that you disregard your kind and caring nature.  I also teach them to hold doors open, even if you’re in a rush, for anyone and everyone.  This simple act of kindness helps you to find acceptance in putting others before yourself.  After completing university, a friend sent an email to me.  In the email, he shared how the one mark of kindness left an indelible impression upon him: I always held the door open for people coming behind me.  I had no idea that this had such an impact on his life.  I wasn’t trying hard to impress anyone, I simply had an innate desire to show kindness to others.

Farming, and life in general, has ups and downs and all arounds.  Learning to navigate the tumultuous ebbs and flows of life can be a challenging task.  Finding time away from hard work is important to live a balanced life on a family farm.  Thankfully, farms abound with opportunity for a moment of rest.  In fact, these moments are always available to us.  I found and still find myself sitting down to listen to the repetitive cud chewing of the cattle in the barn.  During hay season, I’ll take a moment between loads to lay down and stare into the expansive blue sky to ponder life.  At the farm dinner table, I’ll turn off the busy button to listen to my grandmother narrate tales from her past.  There is always an occasion to turn off the mind and find rest.

My son and daughter both try hard at those pieces of their life that they are passionate about.  Shouldn’t they? Shouldn’t they strive to rise above normalcy? The etymology of the word pursuit means to follow and persevere.  A follower can follow the group or follow their heart and passions.  We persevere or try hard, not to set ourselves apart but to bring our own unique talents and skills to the group.  All sheep need a shepherd, but we can be sheep and shepherds in life where we can help others to achieve and still find achievement ourselves.

In my walk with Christ, I am a follower who tries to continually have a servant’s heart.  Farming is a service? Isn’t it?   I try hard, every day, to improve our family farm.  Sometimes, I tried too hard at the expense of my physical and mental health.  I should have listened to my parents when they said, “Go home and rest,” but my pursuit of a dream to have a self-sufficient family farm trumped my better judgement and the voices of concern and wisdom, went unheeded.  We can try too hard.  Lately, I am learning to let go of negative thinking, grudges, and other unhealthy habits.  Instead, I am trusting God’s will and His promises that I am discovering in His word.  It’s hard not to try hard.

Sometimes it feels as though we are learning a language within a language.  This can be especially troublesome for us as we go through life.  I explained to my son that being called a try hard or calling someone else a try hard can be taken one way or another.  The term carries negative and positive connotations.  Negatively, a person tries to hard that they forget to enjoy the activity that they are doing.  That’s a win at all cost attitude.  Positively, a person tries hard to be the best that they can be in order to improve themselves or better contribute to their group.  We have the ability, as parents, to guide our children through the rapidly changing landscape around them and positively try hard.  My hope is that my son and daughter will continue to try hard in every avenue of life.



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The Inevitable First

Today marked the first day in my three years as a shepherd of Shetland sheep that we had a lamb killed to meet local culinary interests.  The growing demand for lamb in our local area, the expense of feeding the animals, and the ever present debt warranted the right of passage that mostly every sheep farmer must go through.  It isn’t easy; butchering is an emotional experience.

I spent a week mentally preparing for the date, which I left off the calendar but at the forefront of my mind.  Shetland sheep have a way of working their way into your heart and some, more than others, nestle right into our good graces and affections.  Those lambs/sheep will live out their days on the farm as fibre pets, while others ultimately go to the table.  One has to remember that a farmer spends countless hours, around the clock, toiling away at tasks that provide protection for his animals, healthy nutrition for their diets, and safety within their free movement pens only to have the journey with his animals culminate in harvesting the animal.

There are no jokes to be made (bbq this and stove top that) but there is an immense amount of respect that one must show to the animal before and after the task is done.  I sit here writing this next to the wood stove, with the sheepskin I am tawing drying beside me on a rack, thankful that the lamb will provide meat for hungry families and a sheepskin for a lovely throw or carpet.  Every part of the animal has to be used, even the entrails.  Agrarian societies have made use of every part of harvested animals since time immemorial.  Although we now wear mass produced clothing that we buy in clothing stores and animal skin clothing items seldomly find their way onto our backs, we feel it is important to honor the animal that gave his/her life.  I think this sentiment is echoed across many cultures and especially farming communities.

Given that I wouldn’t be killing the animal but helping to dress it and prepare it for the meat-cutter, I contacted a friend of the family who agreed to ethically kill the ram lamb.  I didn’t want to hire anyone with a bloodthirst or inexperience as I wanted it to be swift.  I am thankful to have had the help of this individual who was very calm and collected throughout the whole process.  I believe this is a must.  The animal must be calm before it meets it’s fate.

Culling is a big concern for a sheep farmer.  In the event that sheep can’t be rehomed as fiber pets or sold as breeding stock, the sheep with less desirable traits find their way to the freezer in small farm flocks.  Bad horns, bad feet, bad mouths, and slow gains make for tough decisions.  This year, I made every effort to sell my ram lambs from the past two years into breeding programs in other Shetland flocks.  Out of 7 rams, two were sold to breeders with Shetland sheep flocks, two will be wethered (castrated) and remain in the flock as fiber pets, one has gone to the freezer, and the fate of the last two is undetermined.

Make no mistake, our Shetland sheep are bred primarily for the purpose of meeting the growing demand for wool, either raw or cleaned and scoured.  However, Shetland sheep are also known for very tasty meat.  Although they are small-boned and a primitive breed, they have a high meat to bone ratio even though they dress out smaller than commercial breeds.  Case in point, the quizzical look on the meat-cutters face assured me he hadn’t cut the smaller bodied Shetland lamb before.  Some other Shetland shepherds/shepherdesses have suggested that 12 months is not enough time for the slower growing Shetland sheep.  It remains to be seen.   If we end up harvesting our lambs after a year old, they will technically be called hogget up until 2 years old when the sheep becomes mutton if harvested.

Our plan is to provide the following individual cuts: lamb chops, rack of lamb, leg, shoulder, and ground lamb for the time being until we have more volume to sell a half or full lamb.  With increasing demand, we will be increasing our supply for next year when we introduce a cross-breeding program.


Shoulder, neck, ground lamb, racks, and chops.

Cuts are priced as follows for the time being until we have more readily available lamb and more quantity to sell:

  1. Chops – $10/lb
  2.  Rack of lamb – $10/lb
  3. Ground lamb –  $8/lb
  4.  leg – $10/lb
  5. Neck/shoulder – $8/lb

Our sheep and lambs are fed hay and grass primarily.  They do not receive oats or grain of any type.  They do receive produce in season such as apples, pumpkins, lettuces, kale, and balsam fir trees as anti-helmintics to help with any worm load.  Currently, we only de-worm in the Spring before the sheep go to pasture, which is a year ahead of butchering.  They also receive sheep mineral blocks throughout the year as well to make up for any missing micronutrients.

Due to the relatively small size of Shetland lambs many Shetland sheep shepherds crossbreed to improve carcass yield.  Supply of market lamb is limited until we start a cross-breeding program.  We will most likely introduce a terminal sire to breed our Shetland ewes or a few commercial ewes to breed to one of our Shetland rams.  At this point, we will be able to produce a faster-maturing lamb for meat purposes.  We are considering the North Country Cheviot for our crossbreeding program.

Click, for more information on Shetland meat.




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