By Andrea Arnold

Angus Cows await their turn at the feed trough. /ANDREA ARNOLD

Local sheep and cattle farm The Robson Valley Sheep Company recently received certification from the American-based organization “A Greener World” for sustainable practices. The farm received status as Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World as well as Certified Grass Fed. With the certifications, owners Hani and Tessa Gasser join a small group of Canadian farms certified by the organization. Only 24 Canadian producers have applied and met the requirements needed for certification.

“I’m sure there are others out there that follow the same practices,” said Hani. “They just haven’t gone through the process to get certified.”

For Hani and Tessa Gasser, there is no such thing as a snow day. The animals must be cared for and checked on no matter what the temperature./ SUBMITTED

“We are growing quickly in the region–we’ve seen significant interest and expect this to grow even more with the recent discontinuation of the BC SPCA’s certification,” said a Greener World Director of Communications and Outreach, Emily Moose.

Hani and Tessa Gasser have been involved in raising animals since their arrival in Canada from Switzerland in 1988. Hani was raised in the city and attended training at a Swiss agricultural college, but had his eye on living in Canada and being a farmer. Tessa wanted to marry a farmer when she grew up. They settled in McBride in 2006 after choosing it based on proximity to family, and more importantly, the level of annual precipitation to avoid extra irrigation. The pair, along with 130 Texal sheep, 25 Angus cows, chickens, horses and dogs reside on 535 acres just outside of McBride.

A farm that is Animal Welfare Approved must abide by the regulations put forward by A Greener World. Animals must be pasture-based, only receive hay and grass (allowing for the “Grass-Fed Certification as well). They must always have access to outside. No cages, crates or feedlots. The Gassers had to apply for permission to have their sheep in lambing pens, and a separate request had to be made for permission to have a 40 Watt light in the lambing pens. The light allows the lambs to find their food source even in the dark, and it helps prevent the new babies from being laid on by their mothers.

Another big point of the certification is that the animals are slaughtered on site. Hani has received his “E” license allowing him to do his own slaughtering. “When animals are moved before slaughter it causes them stress,” he said. “The stress creates adrenaline causing ph levels to drop resulting in a change in the taste of the meat.” In the past, he actually herded his sheep across the Goat River to avoid the trauma that comes with transport. Now, slaughtering his own livestock, Hani keeps the animal’s routine familiar so they are calm.

The Gassers’ farm has held an organic certification for 10 years through the North Okanagan Organic Association. This helped them in their application to A Greener World. One of the big requirements of this classification is that there is no use of chemicals or fertilizer. The Gassers rotate their animals year-round. In the summer, sections are fenced off and the sheep graze for a maximum of 10 days. They are then moved, using sheep dogs, to another location. The cows are brought in to clean up what was left behind. This method helps prevent the sheep from having parasite problems. The Gassers have the rotation so well planned that the sheep will not graze the same plot of land within a 12-month time-frame. In the winter, the animals are fed hay. This year, due to the poor quality of hay available, Hani has noticed that they have had to increase the amount of hay they are feeding.

Some of the Gassers sheep forage through the hay and snow for their daily meals./ANDREA ARNOLD

The sheep will pick through the supply to get their nutrients.
The Gassers are able to provide the livestock with minerals, in addition to their roughage. The sheep have a “mineral bar” where they can access salt, kelp, sulphur, copper sulfate and dolomitic lime. The cows are given salt with small amounts of kelp. The kelp has been proven to reduce the amount of methane released by ruminants (cud chewing even-toed ungulates).

With sheep comes wool. When the wool is sheared it is sent to the Canadian Co-operative Wool Growers. Hani says it doesn’t make them any profit, but it is a part of being sustainable.

Before coming to the Valley, the Gassers had taken on several different farming endeavors. They have been firm on the methods they use for raising their animals. During an interview for the official press release, Hani said,

“Animal welfare is of the utmost importance to us. We believe that sheep and cows are born to live on pasture and hay, not grain, and have a right to a decent life outdoors. It’s our responsibility to give the animals that we depend on for meat, a life as close to nature as possible. Not only is a pasture-based system better for the animals, it’s also better for the environment. It’s the only way that truly works to benefit us all.”