Whispering Cedars Ranch
Food, Fibre, Environment and Energy
When nurse Janna Greir and her powerline-technician husband, Ryan, decided to farm a decade ago, they had no idea they’d be doing what they’re doing now.
“We always wanted to raise our kids on a farm,” says Ryan. “Originally, the intent – if I’m being honest – was just a few sheep and a few goats and maybe a horse or something.”
Now they’re selling lamb year-round from their Whispering Cedars Ranch, a 350-ewe herd of purebred Rideau Arcott on 93 acres near Strathmore. And they’ve jumped feet-first into the difficult conversation around preserving the environment while feeding the planet.
The Greirs are the first to admit it was a steep learning curve. Breeding programs. Animal health. Predator control. Biosecurity. To tackle it all, they found mentors and tapped information resources; took training programs from Olds College and Guelph University; sourced and integrated ag-technology; joined the board of the Alberta Lamb Producers. They built their farm business piece-by-piece while continuing to work off-farm. “We’ve just spent the years picking and pulling from things we’ve seen and experienced,” says Janna.
A major concern was regenerating the property they purchased four years ago. “When we took it over, we recognized we needed to find ways to bring it back to life,” says Ryan. “Part of that was creating a rotational grazing scheme.” With moveable paddocks of electric fencing, sheep are permitted to graze only one area at a time, while other paddocks regrow. “It’s really allowed us to improve our soil base.”
To supplement summer pasture, the sheep are fed alfalfa hay and whole barley. And for the past year, the ranch has participated in the Loop program, which sees unsaleable grocery store surplus diverted from the landfill to farmers for use as livestock feed.
“I go in every Wednesday with a truck and trailer and pick up from three stores,” says Janna. “And then I basically divvy that up to the sheep throughout the week… The sheep love it.”
But the Greirs are eager to take their environmental stewardship further. Starting this summer, their flocks will be grazing Capital Power’s new 320-acre, 41-megawatt Strathmore solar facility.
“Solar installations have historically been viewed as a loss of land. Why not utilize that land for food [and] fibre… and utilize sheep to give back carbon sequestration and fertilizer?” says Ryan.
Several studies, including one from Temple University published just this year, have demonstrated the carbon sink capabilities of rotational sheep-grazing on solar energy sites. And in a win/win scenario, ranchers get access to pasture they might not otherwise be able to afford, while sheep reduce the need for mechanical and chemical maintenance of the facility grounds.
“We all have a responsibility to contribute to the succession of our planet,” says Ryan. “We all have a responsibility to find ways within our own area – and ways to support each other – to make that transition.”
With Janna now full-time on the farm with the couple’s two toddlers, a growing dairy herd, and a newly-minted certificate in pasteurization, look for sheep milk products to appear on the market in 2023. A farm-stay program, spearheaded by Janna’s mother, Jennifer Franssen, is also in the works.
You can purchase lamb directly from Whispering Cedars Ranch or through Country Lane Farms (delivering to Calgary, Chestermere and Canmore.)