Dog Tale Ranch utilizes holistic management, crossbred ewes and dogs
“Working with nature, not against her, has always been my motto,” says Arlette Seib, who runs a sheep farm in Saskatchewan alongside her husband.
They purchased the land in 2004, but at that time it was crops and native prairie.
“We started crop farming, and it only took a couple years to become buried in debt, with a work load that was overwhelming,” Seib says. “We began to wonder what we were doing this for. We had city jobs at the same time so we were working off the farm while also running the farm into the ground. We realized we needed to change something or we would not do well farming and probably not stay together as husband and wife. We were not enjoying what we were doing.”
Seib notes she has had dogs all her life and was eager to buy a few sheep to be able to work her border collie.
“I bought five sheep in the winter of 2005 and started thinking about getting a few more,” she says. By 2007, the Seibs began to turn some of the farmland into grass.
Seib was working in the College of Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan and found several holistic management books including Allan Savory’s textbook.
“I soaked up all of the information I could find. While finding the information and looking at the five wooly animals in front of me, I decided to give a grass-based approach a try,” says Seib.
She notes their farm is hilly with some native prairie that was too rough to break up for farming.
“Now our entire property is grass. We got rid of the machinery except one little, old tractor,” she explains.
The Seibs grow their own hay, harvested by a neighbor who cuts and bales it in exchange for half the hay crop for his cattle.
“This allows us to maintain minimal equipment and run our farm with very low input,” she says.
When Seib learned about holistic management she started reading more about it.
“There was not a lot of information about doing this with sheep, so it’s been a learning experience,” she notes. “Sheep are different to handle than cattle and prefer different forage plants. It was trial and error, learning as we went, but the basic principles are the same.”
Moving away from fencing
As the Seibs were growing their flock and establishing fences, they used a lot of temporary fence and netting.
“We had some strips set up to do strip grazing, and during lambing, I was doing a lot of rotations to keep the sheep moved to new, clean areas as they lambed. Today, however, we don’t use much fencing. We’ve changed to woven wire. We’re putting it up on the perimeter and using less of the temporary fence we have to haul around,” she says.
“Hauling around and setting up the temporary fencing needed to graze a large flock was labor intensive. We now have the place fenced into quarter sections and some are broken down into 80-acre parcels,” Seib explains. “This is much more manageable. If I wish, I can always put a temporary fence across the 80-acre pasture and cut it down to 40. We do some rotational grazing, but it’s not intensively managed.”
The flock has evolved along with the grazing management. The Seibs run a commercial wool breed.
“We started with North Country Cheviot/Clun Forest cross ewes and then added a few purebred Corriedale ewes. We kept the Clun influence but diminished the Cheviot influence,” Seib says. “Currently, we have Clun Forest Corriedale crossbreds and we really like them. The maternal instincts in the Clun Forest cross is a benefit because we are lambing on pasture.”
“We are hands off, so the sheep have to do it on their own. We do check them, and help a ewe in trouble, but they do not come into barns. There are no buildings here,” Seib states. “The flock we have now has really good maternal skills, and those skills are tested on pasture. There are no jug pens to keep them with their lambs or allow a shepherd to easily interfere. We are producing the kind of ewes we want to retain in our flock. We find out pretty quickly whether they have a good maternal instinct or not.”
She continues, “Our flock has developed into hardy, easy keepers. These ewes live on pasture year-round and raise their lambs on pasture. They lamb on pasture from mid-May through June, with the group moved frequently to new pasture.”
The Corriedale is a docile breed so the Seibs’ cross makes the sheep less flighty, while also producing nice wool fleeces.
“This breed also lends a bit more flocking instinct to the herd as Clun Forest sheep can be very independent. Because of predators, we need our sheep to stay together as a flock. They are also easier to manage,” says Seib.
“We do not feed grain, pelleted feed or creep feed. We graze the sheep as long as is suitable for grass health,” Seib explains. “We utilize stockpiled forage and swath grazing when grass begins to run out. As we go into our coldest winter months, we feed a grass/alfalfa hay, rolled out on the ground. We provide plenty of feed during cold months since we are not offering any other supplemental feed.”
Seib says she believes a good mineral program is important in helping keep the flock healthy.
“We follow the program laid out in Pat Coleby’s book, “Natural Sheep Care,” with adjustments made for our place and our sheep. Our deworming protocol is to selectively deworm the individual animals who need treatment,” she explains. “The last whole-flock deworming treatment we conducted was back in 2007, when we switched to our current mineral plan.”
She adds, “We are convinced focusing on the flock rather than on maximizing lamb production is why we have ewes that require very little in the way of routine treatments. If the ewes are well kept, the lamb crop will be good.”
Utilizing stock and guardian dogs
Seib has Australian Kelpie stock dogs and uses them on pasture moves, lambing checks, bringing the flock in for sorting and moving rams around. The dogs are also very useful at shearing time.
“The dogs are valuable for helping us, otherwise taking care of sheep would be a lot more time-consuming and probably cause a lot of anguish and upset,” she says. “The dogs are much better than a hired person.”
Seib continues, “I greatly enjoy the working dogs. The other dogs we rely on are guardian dogs because we are out on the prairie with predators. We don’t have many large predators like wolves or cougars, but we have plenty of coyotes.”
“The guardian dogs are remarkable. They taught us the concept of coexistence with wildlife and predators. Our goal is not for the dogs to kill coyotes. They just need to be here so the coyotes can be somewhere else. The dogs’ presence is enough deterrent and this allows for coexistence,” Seib says.
Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.