Thursday, December 17, 2009

If you are not eating Hawk Hill lamb, you are just eating sheep.

We have had two meals based on our purebred Tunis lamb and personally we thought the meat was delectable. A delicate aroma and flavour with fine-grained tender meat. Exactly what we had been led to believe by Tunis boosters.

We decided to put the lamb to a taste test and compared four different breeds of sheep. We tested our pure Tunis, our cross-bred Tunis/Cheviot, another Ontario lamb of a different breed from an organic farm and commercially available lamb from New Zealand. All were loin chops and all were cooked the same with no flavour additions. The lambs originating from our farm were both raised under the same regime though the Tunis Cheviot cross was about one month younger than the pure Tunis. There were four of us testing flavour, texture, aroma and taste. While not a true blind taste test it was the best we could do in a social dinner setting.

Well there was a significant difference in all the lamb. The least difference was between the Tunis and the Tunis/Cheviot cross. All of us preferred the Tunis and or the Tunis Cheviot. The Ontario lamb from another farm was not liked by any of us and the New Zealand lamb was in between. The Tunis and the Tunis/Cheviot had a more pleasant aroma, texture and flavour. The meat was more tender and the flavour was rich without a "wooly" after taste.

At one point I was considering selling our Tunis ewes and just using the Tunis/Cheviot crossbreds. Welllll.... the taste test has made me reconsider and the Tunis ewes are going to remain as part of our lamb production flock.

We then had the balance of the New Zealand lamb for our meal the next night. I am totally spoiled. Tunis rocks.

We are trying to encourage a meat marketing agency here in Ontario to run a chef-judged taste challenge. Growth statistics, conformation, carcass structure etc are all important but in your breeding program you cannot forget the most important factor - taste.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hawk Hill Thanksgiving

We are well past the Canadian Thanksgiving and even that celebrated in the United States but tonight we are celebrating Hawk Hill Thanksgiving.

Our Thanksgiving is close to the original reason for the celebration. All our animals are in their winter shelters and they are set for snow and cold to come. The barn is full of hay. The rams are in with their ewes starting the whole new cycle of life. The snow blower is on the tractor and the wood is stacked in the shed. The last of the vegetables (frost and snow hardy brussel sprouts) have finally been harvested.

We also have a new crop of ewe lambs to be thankful for. I can't help but smile when I look at those beauties.

Tonight we sit down to a meal that has all been grown at Hawk Hill: roast lamb (even the rosemary and garlic flavourings are grown here), potatoes, beets and brussel sprouts.

We are thankful for another good year heading into a winter where we take as many courses as possible and read in front of the fire.

Let it snow.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hawk Hill Tribute to the 40th Anniversary of Sesame Street

We are finishing up the late fall chores: getting winter paddocks set up, shipping the last of the lambs, doing some fencing and spreading the manure pile. As Bob took out load after load the pile evolved into what looked amazingly like Sesame Street's Snuffleupagus. So in tribute to the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street we are posting our manure pile "art". Snuffy is now spread over the back hay field.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"To a Maus"

My favorite Robert Burns poem is "To a Mouse" that he wrote after ploughing up a mouse nest.Wee, sleekit, cow'rin', tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

That poem came to mind the other day as we found we had a mouse resident in our tractor. Every time we turned on the engine she scurried out of the engine compartment and onto either the loader or the central console by the gear shift. She is a deer mouse, Peromyscus maniculatus, with big Mickey Mouse ears and a dove white belly. All in all a lovely beast but not in my tractor where she can strip my wiring for bedding and generally cause havoc. So yesterday she was "relocated" to the back field. I hope she knows the back field dialect.

Mankind gripes about wildlife invading our space but it was us that invaded theirs. As much as possible we try to amicably coexist with wildlife but draw the line with the skunk in the garage... and the mouse in the tractor.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Royal Winter Fair Trip

We just returned from our annual trip to the Royal Winter Fair and tucked in a trip to the Stock Yards at Cookstown for the sheep sale. It is nice to get away from the farm for a few days and nice to get back home.

First we went to the stock yards at Cookstown for the sheep sale. Some of the lamb prices made sense and some didn't. There seemed to be an aversion to black fleeced lamb with their prices being lower than equivalent quality white fleeced lamb. The buyers also didn't like Katahdin sheep. Their prices were low compared to equivalent quality wool breeds. The buyers bidding price was established by the worst lamb in the lot. If there was a lot of 10 lambs, 9 of which were good and 1 which was poor, the poor lamb set the price for the whole lot. Definitely a reason for having consistent quality and type in your lots. Finally the buyers were more focused on length and quality of loin rather than the quality of the hind leg. That would make sense considering there was a number of buyers for restaurants. Restaurant cuts also focus mainly on the loin and the ribs.

We attended the Market Lamb classes at the Royal and the Market Lamb Auction. We wanted to see what both the judge and buyers were looking for. As we have always done at the Royal, we did a bit of ring-side judging to see how our placements of the class compared to the judge. We were pretty consistent in placing the top end of the class, sometimes not in exactly the same order as the judge but we had the top 5 in the top 5 and more often than not within one placement of the judge's. I have been doing this at the Royal and other shows since I was a kid and entered judging competitions when I was in 4 H so I have a pretty good eye for a good animal. Unlike the sale barn the judge was focusing equally on the leg and the loin with even a lean towards leg quality. The Grand Champion market lamb sold for close to what I expected - ~$10 per pound live weight for a total of about $1000. A nice price for the owner but it was an excellent market lamb.

The one thing that was obvious with the market lamb classes is how far the purebred breeding stock classes have strayed from that type wanted for market lamb. That is quite a head scratcher for me. Breeding lines especially in Suffolk and Dorset have focused on large, very leggy animals.

Because we want to focus on lamb quality rather than breeding stock, if we show it will be limited to market lamb and carcass classes... the sheep equivalent of performance classes.

We also got a chance to visit Pax in his new digs. Nice place and nice people. He looks great and is doing very well. It is such a relief to know that our horses are well loved and cared for once they leave Hawk Hill.

Time to finish trimming some horses,


Friday, November 6, 2009

First Snow at Hawk Hill

We have been working non-stop building fences so I have been outside all day every day this week. There has been the feel of snow in the air and in the sky. Last night at about 2 am, I looked outside to see everything covered in a blanket of snow. It probably will not last long but it is a stark reminder that fall is leaving and winter is about to start.

We still have to finish a fence line or two and then the horses move to their winter pasture and the ewe lambs and rams head into their winter pastures. The last of the market lambs leave at the end of this month. The word back from all our clients has been a unanimous "Yum"! Two lambs are already booked for 2010.

We are taking a much needed break and heading to the Royal Winter Fair and then on a farm tour in Quebec. I am looking forward to meeting other shepherds and viewing other farms. There is still so much to learn.

The one advantage of downsizing our horse herd is also downsizing (big time) our hay requirements. We now have the opportunity to experiment with other crops and forage management systems. I am really intrigued with "cocktail" cover crop planting for soil improvement and fall forages. Maybe it is the scientist in me but we are already planning for different plantings to test.

Coming soon are two more steers and then the rams go in with the ewes.... and it all starts over again.

So as winter comes our animals are settling in for the long haul. In total we will have 34 animal residents for the winter: 2 dogs, 3 cats, 6 horses, 4 steers, 17 ewes and 2 rams; that is more than enough to keep us busy.

Give me another couple of weeks of clear weather and then... let is snow, let it snow, let it snow.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Chores for a blustery day

The English language has some words that perfectly describe something and "blustery" is one of them. It is wet, windy and generally miserable. We are doing some repairs to the fire brick on our stove so the house is only marginally more comfortable without the drying heat of burning wood. So what do you do on a blustery day.... things that you have put off doing because it is too nice outside to miss an opportunity for outside chores. In this case it was vaccinate, hoof trim and weigh the ewe lambs and weigh the two remaining ram lambs.

The whole process of vaccinating, trimming and weighing the ewes was done in less than an hour and most of that was catching and moving them. Once we have all our chutes and tilt table set up we hope to cut that time down considerably. The ewes were all in good body condition and have gained at a reasonable rate. We don't want them to get fat so they are growing on mainly second cut hay and a small amount of grain.

The two remaining ram lambs were not able to compete with the bigger rams for feed and had not gained at the same rate which is why they had not been shipped yet. Now that they are alone and we have upped their grain and added a bit of soy meal their rate of gain as jumped with one gaining nearly a pound a day. They will both get shipped at the end of November.

Now into the house to add the data to the growth charts.

A blustery night is popcorn in front the TV.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sold Out- Hawk Hill Market Lambs

We are very satisfied with our first full year of lamb production at Hawk Hill. We had 8 ram lambs for sale and all are sold except for the one we are keeping for our own freezer (there has to be some perks to this job). One purebred, registered ram went for breeding stock and we hope he will throw as nice progeny as his father. The others have been shipped as market lamb and every one was pre- ordered before they were even weaned.

We already have some feedback (excuse the pun) from our clients and the consensus was "delicious". Even our butcher commented that ours were the best lambs that he had processed this year. It makes us very proud.

We have two more lambs to head to market, probably at the end of November. We also are preparing the hides to be tanned (two of those have already been booked as well.)

Our ewes are getting back into condition and will be rebred in December.... and then we start all over again.

We are taking this Indian summer break to catch up on winter preparations.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Steers are in their winter pasture

It is funny how we put things off because in our minds they are so much more difficult than they are in reality. Well getting our steers prepped for winter and in their winter pasture fell into that category. We have two yearling Angus/Ayrshire crossbred steers out on the back pasture. We want to get all the livestock in pastures close to the barn with good run in shelters to protect them from the winter storms. We have put it off for the last week but with heavy frosts for the last two nights we couldn't put it off any longer. So Bob, Kayleigh (a neighbor that works here on a part time basis) and I headed out to the pasture. We drove the "boys" into a stall in the barn. We dewormed and vaccinated them and drove them into their winter pasture. No muss, no fuss and everything was done in under an hour. They are in a pasture with water, electricity, a round bale feeder and a shelter. They are all set for the winter. Here they are in their shelter enjoying a spot of sun on a chilly fall day.

Next comes the winter move for the horses.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Don't clash with Titan

This is Titan, our Maremma livestock guardian dog. He is gentle and loving with us but I sure would not want to be a coyote that tangles with his sheep. The coyote problem in Ontario is increasing every year with more loses for sheep producers. This problem has a huge impact on your bottom line as a pack of coyotes can wipe out your yearly profits in one night of mayhem.
Enter Titan. He is a 2 year old purebred Maremma livestock guardian dog that we purchased as a pup with our first flock of NC Cheviots. While some suggest that the dog should not be socialized to humans, we have too many people visiting the farm to take the chance. Plus we needed him to come easily to our few basic commands. However Titan is not a pet. He is a working dog on duty 24 hours a day. He lives with his sheep and has developed an amazing communication with them. If he senses a threat, he lets the girls know and they all head back to the protection of their paddock and shelter at a dead run.

One night last month the gate to their shelter broke open. Titan rounded up the sheep, put them back into their shelter and guarded the door until we returned home. He certainly earned his chew bone treat that night.

While we have no experience with any of the other guardian animals we certainly can recommend a Maremma. And since we like him so much we will be adding another Maremma in a year or two to our staff.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fall is here with a vengence...winter is coming

The one advantage to the arrival of winter is that you can no longer kid yourself into believing that you can: paint the garage and the barn, build a new shed, build a new garden, plant some fall vegetables etc etc. With the cold weather is the realization that winter is here and you can no longer prepare.

Our lambs are now weaned and slowly are heading out to either new homes (or new freezers). We sold one purebred Tunis as a breeding ram and while are still open to sell the other Tunis ewe lambs we have no problem keeping them ourselves.

We just purchased a new Terminal ram - Winston is a purebred Hampshire ram that is long as a freight train and promises to add a lot of meat on our market lambs.

Our horses are content being pasture potatoes and we have not had time to do much other than that. Two are heading out for retraining this winter.

We have been trying to declutter and every trip to the dump, scrap metal, recycling plant makes me happy.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fall is coming fast

Time is flying fast...just like the geese that are showing up in our pastures and the swallows that are starting to flock to migrate for the winter. The overnight temperature was in the single digits and it was definitely sweatshirt weather this morning. I better get my tomatoes harvested soon and hope there is time for my melons to ripen.

The lambs are growing well and field by field we are switching our pastures from "horse-safe" fencing to "sheep-safe" fencing and are establishing a system that will allow us to rotate pastures on a weekly basis. That and spot tile drainage and reseeding our pastures will really set us up well for next summer. We will be able to rely more on pasture for nutrition and less on hay and grains. We also will be able to improve our parasite control. As planned the sheep might be as long as two to three months before they return to the first pasture. Our cattle will rotate behind the sheep cleaning up the pasture before the sheep return.

We finally have harvested our first cut hay and have it under cover. The second cut will come in next month and like squirrels preparing for the winter, I will give a big sigh of relief.

Our two steers are doing well on pasture and have just been rotated into another field. Our horses will be moving onto their winter pasture soon and the summer pasture they are currently on will be never ends.

Until later in the fall,

Laurie from Hawk Hill

Sunday, July 19, 2009

July at Hawk Hill

Well there has been quite a bit happening at Hawk Hill since my last post. All our lambs were born. We had 14 live births who now are nearing two months of age and are growing like weeds. Three of the purebred lambs are available for breeding stock and we are keeping 4 of the crossbred ewes for our own commercial flock. The balance are to be sold as market lamb. We absolutely love the Tunis/Cheviot cross lamb. They are hardy, fast growing and beautiful. There looks like a lot of nice legs in this picture.
Our cattle plans have changed radically since my last post. We took delivery of the two cows early in May and the first of the cows calved out in the middle of June. After she calved, she became extraordinarily aggressive and put me in the hospital. I have been out of commission for the balance of June and July healing.The cows are gone and we will just raise up our steers. After they get shipped next summer, we will change our focus to poultry and raise some guinea fowl.

We also made a really difficult decision and sold privately and by auction 10 of our horses in June. We now have 4 horses (Three Canadians and one Arab Canadian cross) for our own use. Lucan and Lilac are heading out for refresher training this fall. We are going to focus on getting ourselves and our horses out riding and driving.

Now we are hoping for the weather to improve so we can finish the hay.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Welcome to Hawk Hill's Blog

Well I guess Hawk Hill Farm is being pulled into the 21st century. We have had a web site for the last 6 years (check us out at and have had videos on Youtube for the last year so what is next.... A BLOG.

As you can see by our description we are a small farm that is more than hobby but less than allowing us to pay all the bills. We started 8 years ago breeding and raising Canadian Horses (we have some lovely mares and geldings for sale by the way) and the last 2 years we have been raising sheep (North Country Cheviots and Tunis) and this year we have started into beef.BTW that handsome boy to the left is Hawk Hill Bandit Lucan, the first Canadian born on our farm.

We are lambing late this year so lambing will be beginning in about a month. We are so excited. We are expecting both purebred Tunis and Tunis/ Cheviot cross.

Our cattle will be delivered at about the same time we are lambing and they are due in June and July. Keep posted because we are planning to breed for Canadian Kobe.

I will try to pop in on a regular basis to keep you up to date on Hawk Hill Farm Happenings.