The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson
Nothing says spring like a lamb. Its little bleat declares: “I’m alive so let’s go!” A Swiss family in the Cove has a whole barn full of sheep, so I thought I’d visit them and get fully charged with a dose of spring lamb.
The Mäders’ new barn has a domed plastic roof and plenty of room inside. Fredy and Elsbeth and son Levi cut trees from their woods, milled their own lumber, put in the posts (we all admired how perfectly straight they were), boarded in the barn, purchased sheep…and now their 30 ewes have given birth to 50 butting, bleating, prancing lambs.
I ask, “Are you happy with your barn?” Fredy: “The sheep need Vitamin D and the plastic roof gives lots of light so that’s good. But it’s humid inside and the roof drips on a day like this. We leave both ends open for ventilation. Those old wooden barns were drier and warmer but this one is cheaper. It’s a work in progress. We brace something different with every strong wind!”
“Will the sheep go outside in summer?” Elsbeth: “The ewes go out, but not the lambs. There are parasites in the soil and the lambs might die. We tried medications but the worms are resistant to them. After two years the ewes get along okay.”
Fredy: “Also there are coyotes. Their footprints were all around the barn—”
Mirya (daughter, in shocked voice): “They took our big orange cat!”
Fredy: “—but the worst is the bald eagles. They’ll pick up a lamb and that will be the end of it. Maybe they kill bigger sheep too. I don’t want to find out.”
“What kind of sheep are they?” Elsbeth: “The ram is a purebred Dorper. [A South African breed, the name being a combination of Dorset and Persian.] They’re supposed to shed their hair and they don’t need so much grain.”
Fredy: “In Canada farmers feed a lot of grain to their animals but in Switzerland grain is expensive. Here we buy about 8 tonnes of mixed barley and supplements a year.”
Elsbeth: “The ewes are Rideau Arcott, a Canadian breed that has lots of babies. All of our lambs were twins or triplets. We keep them until they weigh 50 kg and then they go to the slaughterhouse at Truro. I think Sobey’s buys them.”
Fredy: “We shear the flock in July. We hire a lady with big muscles who can shear 30 sheep in an hour and a half!”
I notice a pen with pregnant ewes. I ask: “How do you know when a ewe is about to give birth?” Elsbeth smiles: “When you see a head at the front and the back!” We both laugh. As I’m leaving, the ewes have finished their breakfast and as if on cue they all lie down and start chewing their cud. No more nursing for now, so the lambs do what babies do: they take naps too.