Welcome to the first Sow and Tell of 2018, featuring Woolley’s Lamb from Norfolk County!
To quickly recap, this series features a different farm partner or producer we work with to share some of the history and the story to help you know where your food comes from.
In 2018, we’re going to be changing it up a little bit. For this feature, we have a variety of samples available from Woolley’s Lamb. Please contact your sales rep to have a sample added on to your order. Woolley’s have lots of leg of lamb – just in time for Easter! Their lamb (for reasons we’ll get into below) is much leaner and milder tasting than typical Ontario or imported lamb, so get those samples on your order so you too can discover the delicious high quality of Woolley’s Lamb.
Woolley’s Lamb: A History
Woolley’s Lamb is not just a lamb farm. Originally, it was (and still is) a very large apple and sour cherry orchard, an orchard that is one of the ten farm partners that works with Norfolk’s Fruit Grower’s Association! There’s a good chance if you’ve purchased an apple from NFGA, you’ve purchased apples grown from Brett Shuyler and Carrie Woolley’s family farm.
It’s Brett’s family – The Shuylers – who have owned the orchards for decades. Carrie Woolley (yes, her last name IS Woolley, it really was meant to be for her to be a modern day shepherdess!) is a sixth-generation farmer who studied animal sciences at Guelph University. It is Carrie who wanted to diversify the family farm by lamb farming. Carrie explained that her goal was to create their version of a vertical farm. In this case, it doesn’t mean stacking crops vertically to make use of smaller space, but rather to find ways to carry the farm through the off-season. Initiatives such as these are just one of the many strategies farmers use to make their operation more financially and environmentally sustainable.
What makes Woolley’s Lamb a special lamb farm?
Woolley’s Lamb is only five years old but is already unique when it comes to the world of lamb. The ewes and lambs graze in the orchards year-round (including winter – their thick coats mean they can withstand lots of snow and cold temperatures!). There’s two major benefits to this approach. First, the lambs and ewes are grass fed (and fed hay and other roughage in winter) which means the lambs have leaner, milder meat. Second, this cuts down on costs for the orchard operation – grasses don’t need to be mowed and cover crops aren’t as necessary, as the lambs fertilize and restore soil quality through their grazing habits. Also, since their lamb is frozen, the shelf like is extended, meaning Carrie and Brett can set costs and keep it consistently priced, which we know is a huge boon for chefs when it comes to menu planning!
Right now, the ewes are pregnant. This year, Carrie opted to have some ewes artificially inseminated, but most of the ewes will have been naturally impregnated in the fields. Soon, the ewes will begin lambing! Carrie takes the health and quality of life for the flock very seriously. Each day, she goes from orchard to orchard, checking on the flocks. In the warmer months, she checks on them multiple times a day, specifically looking for any signs of illness or injury. Carrie impressed upon us the importance of taking quick action, should any of the lambs fall ill, to maintain the health of the entire flock. Carrie also makes sure that her ewes get extended breaks from being pregnant and nursing lambs – which is not always standard in lamb farming. Carrie also makes sure to shear the sheep to sell the wool, and has just started working with a smaller independent Canadian business that makes high quality wool clothing as a buyer!
The Rewards and Challenges of Local Food
When I asked Carrie and Brett about some of the challenges and rewards of farming this way, they told us that they derive lots of joy and satisfaction from innovating in a way to improve their farms environmental sustainability. They also highlighted that one of their biggest challenges is connecting to the consumer – running an orchard and a lamb farm, as well as raising their newborn daughter Emma – can take up a lot of their time. Through 100km Foods, they can connect more with chefs and consumers who purchase their lamb, especially because we source identify by every farm. In fact, it is only through partnering with us that they are able to get their lamb products to the Toronto market!
If you want to learn more about Woolley’s Lamb, we recommend following Carrie on both Twitter and Instagram @CarrieWoolley1. We love reading her funny and informative posts!
So – if you’d like to get ahold of some great lamb samples in the lead up to Easter – we’re your people! Let your sales rep know if you’d like them tacked on to your next order, and they’ll be more than happy to facilitate!
Special thanks to Brett & Carrie for the information and some of the pictures in this post.
By: Genrys Goodchild