By Tom Collins
AMHERST ISLAND — An Amherst Island sheep farmer is so concerned about losing pasture land to wind turbine construction that he has significantly reduced the size of his flock.
Mark Ritchie, of Foot Flats Farm, used to have 1,600 mature ewes. He cut that back to 800 when turbine company Windlectric was scheduled to start construction. The farmers increased the number of mature ewes to 1,200 when the construction of 27 turbines was put on hold, thanks to an appeal.
Ritchie owns 300 acres and rents another 700 for his closed flock. Ritchie says about 500 of those rented acres belong to farmers who have lease agreements with Windlectric. With construction roads running through the middle of the fields, fencing the sheep would be too difficult, said Ritchie. There is also uncertainty about whether Ritchie will be able to rent land after the turbines are up and running.
“Rather than get caught with not being able to feed our sheep, we thought it would be better to cut back and wait and see how it all works out,” said Foot Flats partner Cherry Allen.
The two farmers have spent the past 25 years setting up their flock so the animals are dependent on grazing. The ewes lamb during the spring with the fresh growth of grass and lactate as the grass grows. By the end of July/start of August, the animals are weaned by putting the lambs on feed the farmers have saved while the ewes go to poorer pastures. Ritchie and Cherry supplement with corn at that point and then hay in the fall.
“Our whole system is designed around pasture,” said Ritchie. “We haven’t bred an ewe that would do well in confinement.”
Although Allen and Ritchie once signed up for turbines with a different developer — that lease has now expired — Allen now believes turbines aren’t a good fit for the island. She said there is frustration in not knowing how to plan for the future until construction starts but holds no ill will against farmers who are getting turbines.
“It’s their land,” she said. “They have that right to put turbines on it if they want. We’re kind of collateral damage. It’s unfortunate it would have a big impact on our business.”