Kim Lennox and his son Jay don’t really look much alike but there is a similarity in their thinking that bodes well for the transition in ownership at Lennox Lambs near Ayton.
Jay, in his early 20s, recently purchased the flock of purebred Canadian Arcotts from his father, Kim. He shared his story and his knowledge growing up on a sheep farm with sheep industry members at the Grey Bruce Farmers’ Week producer panel.
A few weeks later while we were sitting in the Lennox farm kitchen, it was clear Jay has picked up his understanding of farming, life and how to succeed from his father. Heartwarming, it was, to see the affection and respect they have for each other, even as Jay teases “you don’t want to get him started” when I ask Kim about how to choose the right breed.
This is a topic both are clearly excited about as they sell breeding stock from their herd of Canadian Arcotts. The Canadian Arcott is one of three breeds developed by the Agriculture Canada research station near Ottawa. Researchers created a medium-sized, short, thick sheep with strong meat characteristics and soft and lustrous wool. The ewes lamb easier, with a lower lamb ratio than some of the highly prolific breeds but they aren’t high maintenance. They adapt well to pasture or confinement.
Canadian Arcott rams make excellent terminal sires to improve the meat characteristics of many other breeds and this is a market Kim capitalized on when he returned to Ontario after working in New Zealand for a year. It was there, working with a mentor, that he learned how critical it is to match the right breed of sheep to your facilities and your management style.
After first starting with a mixture of breeds and struggling with disease issues, Kim decided to pursue a breeding flock suited to his style of farming. He bought a small flock of Canadian Arcotts and was taken with their versatility. The soft fleece keeps the lambs looking young which has been a huge selling point in the past. If, however, market conditions were looking for bigger animals, or prices weren’t right at sale time, the larger, compact animals with their excellent meat-to-bone ratio sell well at all stages of their development.
“From new crop to finish, they look excellent at all stages,” says Jay. “They are a very flexible breed.”
Twenty years ago, Kim made Lennox Lambs a closed flock bringing in new genetics by rams only.
In the old bank barn with more than a few additions, sheep fill every pen. Kim and Jay show off a pen of new-crop lambs to older lambs and even with an unpractised eye, it’s clear the animals are meaty and healthy.
“Even at 90 pounds, the lambs look young and that speaks in the sales ring,” says Jay.
Canadian Arcotts are not a breed of sheep for farmers who wish to show their animals. They don’t have the conformation of other “stylish” breeds. Nor are they a breed for farmers who wish to focus on accelerated breeding with ewes that are prolific breeders with high fecundity (lambing percentage) such as Dorset, Suffolk or Rideau Arcott (another breed developed by Agriculture Canada).
The Lennox family likes being able to depend on their ewes to raise their own lambs. Though Canadian Arcotts give birth to fewer lambs (1.8 per ewe), the lambs are heavier and command higher prices in the barn, says Kim.
However, given their facilities and feeding capabilities, Jay wonders if he might add a more maternal breed in the future.
“We feed well so we really could handle a more maternal breed,” says Jay. “But two breeds also require more management and more record keeping...” Here, his face shows the quandary because record keeping is not his favourite chore.
Also, he recognizes the foundation his dad has established for him as a reputable breeder and that is something to capitalize on.
Right now, Jay is focusing on growth. Renovations are ongoing at the farm to create more pens and streamline others so that the flock can grow from 220 ewes up to, potentially, 400. “I really can’t say the exact number. It will depend on my time and when I will be ready to quit my full-time job as an agronomist,” says Jay. He relies heavily on help from his dad, even after he bought the flock, while he works full-time.
For his part, Kim says he doesn’t mind the work at all. It’s the responsibility he was eager to pass on. “I’ve had sheep for 35 years,” he said.
Jay says his father has demonstrated a great balance between helping yet releasing control. “I see the problem on other farms where the father just doesn’t want to let go.” That isn’t the problem on this farm. The two seem to appreciate each other’s strengths and enjoy each other’s company.
For his part, Kim says “I hope I have impressed on my son that the best way to be successful is to stay the course.” Also, that his son will carve his own good reputation.
“I always say a reputation is hard to keep and a bad one is harder to lose,” says Kim.
Moving forward with the legacy his father started, Jay says he does hope to increase recognition of the breed. He wants to encourage large-scale commercial breeders to choose Canadian Arcott rams for their terminal traits.
“Canadian Arcotts are often mixed up with Rideau Arcotts and they are totally different breeds,” says Jay.
It’s much like honouring the similarities and differences in people which is why Kim and Jay seem to have found a good working balance. Passing the responsibility of the sheep over to his son gives Kim some freedom and more time to enjoy his cow herd. Meanwhile, Jay has his dad’s 35 years of experience to guide him as he works towards becoming a full-time farmer himself.
With four siblings eager for the farm to stay in the family (one son deceased) the whole clan will be watching and learning as Kim and Jay work through this transition. ◊