Sheep farmers step up sustainability with help from ALUS, RVCA
Cait and Kyle White may be sheep farmers, but they're taking a lion's approach when it comes to sustainability.
Earlier this year, the owners of Milkhouse Farm & Dairy in Smiths Falls not only kicked off construction on two acres' worth of new wetlands, but also installed new livestock exclusion fencing, completed a Nutrient Management Plan, began work on a manure storage facility, are replacing their aging well and plan to decommission their existing well.
Next year, they'll add some native shoreline plants around the new wetlands and continue the manure storage project.
All of these projects will help protect and improve local water quality near their Rosedale Road property, where they graze about 75 sheep and 160 lambs for their sheeps' milk cheese business.
It's a lot to take on – and it wouldn't have happened without financial and technical support from the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA) and ALUS Lanark. With their help, the Whites are barely out of pocket: the wetland construction was completely covered by ALUS Lanark, and RVCA has covered other project costs up to 90 per cent.
The Whites also received critical technical expertise and logistical support on the ground. And the best part? ALUS will provide the Whites annual compensation for managing the marginal farmland they converted into ecosystem service production — i.e. for the cleaner water and habitat created by the new wetlands.
"It's been great for us," said Kyle. "We always wanted to create these ponds, but we needed this support to get it done."
Several areas of their grazing fields were too low-lying and wet to be very productive. Some years they were impossible to cut and even in dry years the sheep tended to avoid them. So, when ALUS Lanark launched earlier in January 2022, it was the perfect chance to convert the wet spots into wetlands.
The Whites were some of the first local farmers to come on board. They received advice and support from RVCA's ALUS co-ordinator Derek Matheson, while Mikayla Stinson with Ducks Unlimited Canada designed the new ponds to suit the property's unique soil and landscape.
The new wetlands were built in September and October. They'll give stormwater a place to go while creating critical habitat for many species and filtering excess nutrients out of the local water system.
Matheson said partnering with farmers is win-win.
"By working directly with the agricultural community, we can ensure we get great best management practices on the ground. And we have funds and expertise to help them complete their projects," Matheson said.
Going further with grants
Kyle said he and Cait have always embraced sustainable practices on their farm. They've actively kept their sheep out of the property's creek, and they've welcomed forest cover around their pasture lands to protect their sheep and fields from the sun.
"Leaving more of the farm in a wilderness state is actually helping our farm survive some of these hot, dry summers," White said.
But accessing stewardship funds helped them do more, faster.
White encouraged farmers to check their eligibility, because they might be surprised at the support available for their projects.
"It's absolutely worth sending the email, making the phone call," White said. "(RVCA and ALUS) have been extremely co-operative in terms of coming up with a plan that works for us. They really do just want what's best for your farm and what's best for the species that you share your farm with."
Check out all the stewardship grants Milkhouse is receiving to fund their sustainability projects:
- Wetland Creation: Grants for construction costs covered by ALUS Lanark, plus annual compensation payments
- Fencing: 90% covered by RVCA's Rural Clean Water Grant Program and ALUS Lanark
- Buffer planting: Grants provided by RVCA's Shoreline Naturalization Program and Rural Clean Water Program
- Nutrient Management Plan: 50% covered by RVCA's Rural Clean Water Grant Program
- Manure storage facility: Up to $15,000 available through RVCA's Rural Clean Water Grant Program
- Well replacement: 50% covered by RVCA's Rural Clean Water Grant Program
- Well decommissioning: 90% covered by RVCA's Rural Clean Water Grant Program
To learn more about ALUS Lanark and other stewardship grants visit www.rvca.ca/stewardship-grants.
ALUS is a national non-profit organization that works with local farmers to help them undertake environmental stewardship projects on their farms. This includes creating windbreaks, riparian buffers, wetlands, pollinator habitat and more. Local ALUS communities across the country are overseen by local partnership advisory committees and administered by local organizations. Lanark County launched ALUS Lanark in January 2022, with the RVCA and Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA) administering programs on the ground.
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