It was a grey and cool late summer day when Brian and I drove up to Shane and Brenda Forsyth’s farm on the Bruce Peninsula, just off the wind-swept west side of Georgian Bay. The land around this area is difficult to farm – the soil is rocky and not as rich for produce as the land around southern Ontario, where Shane grew up. As a young man, he decided to move north to start his farm; land was cheaper, and anyways, sheep and lamb didn’t need lush vegetation to thrive. This was back in the early eighties – Brenda found her way to the farm the following year, and they’ve been raising a family and their animals ever since.
Shane and Brenda have about 400 ewes on their farm; each one gives birth about three times every two years. One of the reasons I’ve been working with them for over a decade is because their lamb is consistently flavourful, with a lean finish and firm muscle. When asked what they do to maintain this consistency, Shane modestly shrugs and tells me it’s probably because they prefer to raise their lambs in a more traditional way. He explains:
“In modern lambing, lambs are weaned from their mothers at around 6 weeks, then fed a soy-based formula that quickens their development. I prefer to keep them with their mothers for at least 3 months. Then I’ll wean them off, having them eat as much grass as possible. When they get up to eighty pounds, we’ll finish them with lot of hay, and some dried peas, barley, and oats. This will get their weight up to about 110 lbs or so, that’s when they’re ready for market. Sometimes they’ll hit that weight at 5 months, sometimes at 10 months; it all depends on the animal.”
Whatever age Shane and Brenda’s lambs are, one thing is for certain. They produce some of the best tasting meat I’ve had. It may be the wild apples they munch on (wild apple trees are one of few trees that flourish around this part of Ontario). Or maybe it’s the damp cool air blowing off of Georgian Bay that forces the animals to eat a little more to bulk up. Or maybe it’s the care Shane and Brenda have and bring to these animals, day after day. I like to think it’s the latter, and after having spent the day with them, that care can be seen in how they treat guests as well. (I didn’t tell you about Brenda’s delicious cabbage borscht and fresh rolls – that might be for a different post).