Video: City overtakes Vancouver Island sheep farm

Biggest challenge is educating urban residents about how to conduct themselves around the farm’s livestock

The Wytincks were inside a crowded show barn on the edge of Winnipeg, but for them it was a far more agricultural setting than where they farm in British Columbia.

“We’re urban shepherds. The city of Nanaimo has grown around us,” said Don Wytinck, a sheep breeder who has been showing at the All Canadian Sheep Classic for more than 25 years.

“We’re totally surrounded by housing.”

The sheep sale brings together sheep breeders from across Canada, which is highly valued in an industry that only has a handful of farmers in each province and none of the easy access to hundreds or thousands of fellow producers that the hog or cattle industries offer.

Don and Deborah Wytinck have been attending the All Canada Sheep Classic for more than 25 years.   |  Ed White Photo

Don and Deborah Wytinck have been attending the All Canada Sheep Classic for more than 25 years. | Ed White Photo

This doesn’t seem to bother the Wytincks, who have always em-braced challenges.

Don grew up on a farm in Cypress River, Man., and was a full-time farmer at the age of 14. His father died when he was five.

He was working pigs, beef cattle, dairy cattle, horses and grain land with his slightly older brother until he left the farm to work in Ontario and Yukon in the 1970s.

However, he wanted to get back to farming, and he and his wife, Deborah, bought a bedraggled orchard in Nanaimo that had been set up during the war when “people became concerned about where their next meal might come from.”

So what does a livestock farmer do with an orchard? He looked for some animals to graze around the trees.

“This was a place where you wouldn’t want to have cattle or horses. They would break those old trees down,” said Don.

So they bought sheep, which did well grazing beneath the boughs.

Deborah also enjoyed working with the sheep. She’d grown up as the daughter of a butcher in North-amptonshire, England, and had been told she couldn’t be a farmer there because “we don’t own anything.”

Nanaimo offered the Wytincks a chance to be sheep farmers, and at one time they had more than 100 ewes and were substantial breeders. They’ve reduced their herd as they’ve aged, and Don said retirement is coming soon.

It’s probably why they don’t complain much about being hemmed in by the city.

Deborah said the main farm production challenge is “educating the public” about things such as not allowing pet dogs to chase their pregnant ewes and keeping their cats from peeing all over their hay. Toxoplasmosis can cause ewes to abort, as can being chased by a dog.

However, it’s also nice to give urban residents a chance to see the wholesomeness of farming. Residents of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation home near them often come by to look at the sheep, something that seems to give them a smile.

“It provides good therapy,” said Don. “We all need some good green earth.”

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