How WoolDrift brought East Friesian sheep to North America
Back around 1990, it dawned on Chris Buschbeck and Axel Meister that people in Ontario (and North America) were missing out on the delicious sheep dairy products they’d enjoyed, like many Europeans, in their native Germany. “We thought we might as well start,” says Axel with a laugh.
That idea, seemingly simple, led to a long, complex process, that quite simply, had never been done before. But by 1994, the couple was the first in Ontario, and possibly North America to begin to commercially raise sheep for milk.
Chris and Axel met at university in Germany, where she studied agriculture and he studied human nutrition and economics. After immigrating to Canada in the late 80s, they began to raise sheep for meat near Guelph, Ontario. “Cows are way too big, and they kick harder,” says Axel. “And we both liked sheep.”
They continued at this for a few years, learning early on the importance of rigorous health monitoring. After discovering the first flock they’d bought was infected with maedi visna, they had to cull the entire flock and start over.
Once they’d decided to branch into the sheep dairy business, the couple quickly realized an obstacle. There were no dairy sheep available in North America. Well, they decided, we’ll import East Friesians, the best milking sheep in the world, from Europe.
The costs and risks of shipping full-grown sheep across the ocean meant this wasn’t a viable method of introducing a new purebred breed to Ontario. The solution? They would import East Friesian embryos and implant them in Canadian Rideau Arcott sheep. (This breed, created as part of a Canadian government program years ago, are about 12 percent East Friesian.) One day in 1994, 67 frozen sheep embryos arrived in Guelph. These were successfully implanted in Rideau Arcott ewes, and by the end of gestation, 32 purebred East Friesians were grazing at WoolDrift Farm.
WoolDrift has since imported additional embryos and semen, and has continued to grow and diversify their flocks. Since moving to the Walter’s Falls area of Grey County in 2000, they have established WoolDrift farm as Ontario’s premier (literally) producer of purebred East Friesian breeding stock, East Friesian dairy milk, and artisanal East Friesian cheeses.