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Why is Rural Newfoundland & Labrador Not a Haven for a Thriving Sheep Industry?

Fields of Sheep, Northern Ireland

After exploring parts of Ireland during a vacation in November 2010, I was astounded by the resemblance to rural Newfoundland & Labrador. However, one key difference was all the lambs and sheep local in fields all throughout the island. This is a missed opportunity for our island that thrives in Ireland and New Zealand.

Fast facts

  1. 1. Meat is New Zealand’s second-largest food export and is worth $5.14 billion.
  2. 2.  Approximately 90 percent of sheep and lamb and 80 percent of beef meat producedeach year is exported. New Zealand’s key export markets for meat products are the United States and the European Union.
  3. 3. The main farmed species are sheep (34.2 million), cattle (9.6 million), deer (1.7 million) and goats (0.09 million).
  4. 4. New Zealand has the largest deer farming industry in the world – there are an estimated 4,000 farms with deer in New Zealand. It has around half the global farmed deer population (http://business.newzealand.com/common/files/Meat-industry-in-New-Zealand.pdf)

Sheep have been brought to our island since the 16th and 17th centuries. We have a climate that should enable sheep farms to thrive. However, local demand historically has been low and rural farms are in decline.  There were 341 sheep producers in Newfoundland and Labrador at the end of 1995, this represents a decline of 20% from 1977, according to the records of the Department of Forest Resources and Agrifoods and the Sheep Producers Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. Between 1977 and 1995 the sheep population fluctuated between 5,700 and 9,700. Therefore, it can be concluded that the average flock size per farm has been increasing, but the total number of sheep farms has been on a decline [Handbook of Selected Agricultural Statistics, Page 11]. www.nr.gov.nl.ca/nr/agrifoods/marketing/lamb_beef_pork.pdf

Sheep in Rural Northern Ireland

 I was unable to find sheep numbers more recent than 1995, but I would hope they have increased from 10,000. In comparison to New Zealand’s current 35 million sheep, we do not factor in the global marketplace. A visit to the Sheep Producer’s Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (http://www.nfld.net/spanl/had the following message:

Welcome to the home of SPANL’s new Web Site. The SPANL website will begin further development in the upcoming months. The membership apologizes for the delays in finishing the site. We are a non-profit organization attempting to utilize the resources of our membership. Today computers are as common in the household and business as the VCR, practically everyone has access to the Internet. Through the development of this Website it is felt that a larger audience can be reached to showcase the SPANL and its tireless efforts to rebuild an industry that is part of Newfoundland’s history and culture.

Sheep have been a focus of Newfoundland popular culture. One only has to listen to the late Dick Nolan’s song, “Aunt Martha’s Sheep” which describes a sheep being stolen in Carmanville, NL. He was a talented folk musician, born in Corner Brook, NL.

There is a great opportunity for Newfoundland & Labrador to further develop and grow this industry, especially in rural areas.  Escalating meat prices, growing local demand and limited farmers committed to the future of the industry has established an environment for growth in this market. Historically we have been great mariners of the sea – there is room to transfer these skills to ranching and better land-base utilization.

Live Rural NL –

Christopher C. Mitchelmore 

Live Rural NL retaliates against Ellen’s stance of “Stop Seal Hunting in Canada”

Dear Ellen Degeneres

I am deeply disappointed that you have chosen to become the latest  celebrity to advocate against the Canadian Seal Hunt, joining forces with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). You have joined a growing list of mis-informed celebrity predecessors, including Beatle Paul McCartney and Playmate, Pamela Anderson. We only need to remember then Premier Danny Williams taking on Paul McCartney and Heather Mills-McCartney on Larry King Live. Danny Williams not only illustrated how un-educated Paul and now former wife was on the matter of the seal hunt, he also embarrassed them in terms of knowing their Canadian geography. Mr. Williams invited them to come to Newfoundland & Labrador to see for himself. Paul remarked along the lines that he was already there when really he was in Prince Edward Island, another province.

PETA is an organizations that uses images of baby seals and presents mis-information to create a cash infusion.  Their website states: “PETA is drawing global attention to the annual slaughter of tens of thousands of baby harp seals”.

This statement is false! Myth: The Canadian government allows sealers to harvest white coat seals.

Reality: The harvesting of harp seal pups (white coats) and hooded seal pups (blueblack) is illegal in Canada and has been since 1987. The seals that are harvested are self-reliant, independent animals. (Source: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/seal-phoque/index-eng.htm)

Ellen your website states: Seal hunting is one of the most atrocious and inhumane acts against animals allowed by any government.

The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s manages the seal hunt, which is sustainable. One only has to look at the harp seal population growth. In the 1970’s there were less than 2 million seals, now in 2011 there is more than 9 million harp seals. The government allocates an annual harvest quota that is supported by scientific research. The Seal Hunt is HUMANE, STRICTLY REGULATED and ENFORCED. How is harvesting seals any more atrocious and inhumane than the fish that is caught, cows, chicken, pigs, moose and other animals that are killed for human consumption? What about cattle that are ranched and grown strictly for human consumption? They have no chance for anything but ending up as some form of beef, maybe a burger – unlike seals, who are self-reliant, independent and able to fend for themselves.

The seal hunt has been around in Newfoundland and Labrador for centuries. Without the seal meat, oil and skin for clothing many people of the rural communities would be burdened with economic hardships and other woes. The sealskin boot has provided the warmth and protection from the elements of surviving in a difficult winter climate. The seal skin is water-resistant, protecting the feet from getting damp when cutting firewood to heat one’s home. Seal skin provided necessary protection that may have saved human lives.

My father was a fisherman, his father and his father before him. They have all harvested seals to aid them in providing for their families. My father had prepared seal skin to be made into boots. I still proudly wear them, as winters in Northern Newfoundland tend to be very stormy. I walk knee-deep in snow, many days throughout winter to reach my car. I understand the deep-rooted tradition and the necessity of the seal hunt to ensure life in rural regions could continue. How dare you make such uninformed comments that continue to negatively impact the fishers in rural regions.

I ask that you do further research on this matter and re-consider your stance on the seal hunt. I invite you to come to Rural Newfoundland and Labrador to experience for yourself first-hand the seal hunt. You should use your celebrity status to do good instead of blatant abuse.

Live Rural NL –

Christopher Mitchelmore

Harvest Time – Big Spuds

The summer may be just about behind us, as tomorrow marks the first official day of Fall. A flurry of activity centers around the summer season for most parts of rural Newfoundland & Labrador. This included many early mornings and late evenings spent on  water – fishing, or on land – processing fish species or harvesting our forest products. Not to mention the fun and frolicking of summer vacations, festivals, Come Home Year Celebrations, weddings and other special activities that illuminate the liveliness of summer!

A "Viking Garden" - Norstead

 Well…Fall is a time not only for moose hunters, but for those who in late Spring planted seeds. Only to be rewarded with an array of fresh vegetables in their gardens. The mainstay crop has traditionally and still is the potato. However, the tastes of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have diversified to include turnip, carrot, cabbage, onion, radishes, beets, greens, pumpkins, squash, and peppers to name a few.

As I look into my backyard, I see two big plots of land that serve as gardens for subsistence living. I remember as a youth with my grandmother spending many hours tilling the land, marking the locations for potato beds, placing the small seeded potatoes (they had to be just so for my grandmother), adding kelp (seaweed) for natural fertilizer and then covering the bed with mud. I think I somehow always found an excuse never to help with the weeding of the garden. However, I would always enjoy pulling up a ripe carrot, brushing the mud away from it and eating it right there on the spot. It was so delicious, with no harmful pesticides. The food we grow always tasted good and nutritious!

Garden by Roadside

I loved digging up the potatoes in the fall of the year. I remember this one year, my grandmother and I were digging side-by-side. She had struck a marvellous, well-rounded potato. This started a competition to see if I was able to find one bigger. Well, I managed to get a very large potato. It was a little deformed. I would say now it was a mutated family of potatoes, but not then as I argued it was the bigger one! After holding each potato in our respective hands, we were unable to determine a winner. It is like those moments in a close curling match, when the teams call on a third-party to measure. Well we had to get my father to be that third-party in this scenario and weigh each potato. Well, “I was victorious by just an ounze, maybe two”, but it certainly would not have won a beauty pageant. That prize would have to go to grandmother.

For the traveller in the know, if you drive around rural Newfoundland & Labrador you will have the opportunity to see many gardens planted at roadside. They are basically planted there because of the good soil for growing crops, without as many pesky weeds. These gardens are planted on Crown land. Most of Newfoundland & Labrador’s land is considered Crown (more than 90%).
 

Garden near St. Anthony

The Government is now  instituting stricter regulations on road signage. I only hope they do not consider repatriating or expropriating our rights of residents to till the grounds our ancestors did as a means to subsist of the land!

 
These gardens are part of our heritage and culture that add to the uniqueness of our province. The curiosities it gives to tourists, is plentiful as many stop to pull out their Canon or Nikon‘s to take a snap or two and wonder for a while.  
 
There is opportunity in growing agri-culture and agri-foods on the peninsula on commercial scales. Where are our local Farmer’s Market?
 
Live Rural NL – Christopher Mitchelmore 
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