Vegetables, sheep drive Vancouver Island farm

On the Farm British Columbia woman finds a way to farm on her own while her husband works as a carpenter

SAANICHTON, B.C. — Silverwood Farm is a serene place hidden in a grove of trees beside the busy urban community of Saanichton.

Owned by Eva Jaycox, the farm is home to Icelandic sheep, chickens and a vegetable operation.

Farming in the urban shadow is common for many living on Vancouver Island, where the agriculture land reserve is respected and allows small holdings like Jaycox’s to continue.

She is married to carpenter Kevin Radawetz, and the couple came to the area hoping to find a place where Eva could farm on her own and raise their three children.

After four years of looking they found the farm in 2010 where vegetables and sheep could be raised on a small acreage.

“We figured a nice little mix would be good and then have a closed circuit so you have the animals feeding the plants,” she said.

Originally from northern British Columbia where her family had a small commercial flock, adjusting to the Mediterranean climate of Vancouver Island was a new experience.

The lowest temperature in winter is usually -10C and heavy snow may arrive around Christmas but it does not last long.

She can plant vegetables in greenhouses in January and continue harvesting until late October, growing a variety of crops, including 20 varieties of tomatoes, carrots, melons, peppers and strawberries that are sold to local customers, including some restaurants, every week.

Local people also stop by to get vegetables but stay to watch the sheep and chickens.

Jaycox planned to be an organic farm but found the expense and challenges too much.

“We have to be practical and we have to make money,” she said.

There are more parasites in this area compared to Smithers and feed costs are high.

“It was something we knew right out of the gate that we weren’t going to be able to do the sheep organic,” she said.

The chickens were organic but the cost of feed was exorbitant and she could not recover her costs.

“The customers are not going to pay $9 a dozen (for eggs) so we switched,” she said.

To her surprise, people said they didn’t care if the products were organic so she promotes her items as naturally grown instead.

Although she is just off a busy main street, the local farms are protected under the provincial agriculture land reserve.

“There is a lot of respect for the ALR here. There is a lot of debate here before they let anything go,” she said.

The farm is also far enough off the beaten track that she doesn’t fear condominiums springing up next door to overshadow the peacefulness of her farm.

“Farming is a good business here,” she said, noting some of the neighbouring farms are about 100 years old.

Predators are an ongoing problem that she controls with two Pyrennes guard dogs and fencing.

The area is riddled with coyotes, cougars, mink, rats, raccoons, deer and ravens that will attack her lambs.

Her purebred Icelandic sheep are an important part of the farm. She selected the breed because she found them fascinating and regularly sells breeding stock and some go for meat.

“They are small and something that I could handle,” she said.

While the grass grows thigh high, she is always looking for grazing spots for her sheep that includes moving them to her mother’s nearby property. They keep the fast-growing weeds and shrub encroachment under control.

Icelandic sheep are a heritage breed known for their meat, milk and fibre.

The fleece is dual-coated with a fine, soft undercoat called thel and a longer, coarser outer coat called tog. The two fibres can be separated or spun together. They yield between four and seven pounds of fleece and many producers including Jaycox have them shorn twice a year.

She is a hand spinner and there are neighbourhood crafters looking for the fine wool that ranges in colour from white to brown tones to black.

Icelandic sheep have an 1,100 year history. Originally brought to Iceland by the Vikings, they helped the early settlers survive. The breed has adapted and thrived with the ability to withstand cold and harsh conditions. A feed-efficient breed, they finish well on grass.

The rams are noted for large curving horns that encircle their faces while the ewes have smaller horns. They generally produce one, two or three lambs every spring.

The sheep can be registered through the Canadian Livestock Records Corp. The Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America formed in 1996.

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