Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Importing Ewes from the US: It is Possible!

Yes, I Imported Ewes.

Picking up our sheep
from Kind Horn Farm in Vermont.
Now that our sheep are official and legal residents of Canada, I can better understand why few sheep farms attempt to import ewes. Importing is certainly a challenge, but it is possible.

In our case, we decided to import because there are not very many farms raising Icelandic sheep in our region. Even fewer of those raise purebred, registered Icelandics, and none of them are Certified Organic.  With our production goals and plans in mind, importing was the only logical choice. We had found a Certified Organic farm raising top-quality Icelandic sheep with superb genetics and it was only 5 hours away. The one problem: the border.

Though the border was apparently closed for the importation of ewes not too long ago, the CFIA’s policy for small ruminants does now permit it, however there are many conditions. If both the importer and the exporter meets these conditions, then importing is permitted.

A long wait at the border.
In short, these are the steps from my perspective:

  • Make sure your farm qualifies to import, and that your producer that you’re buying from also qualifies. The main thing is your farms’ and their farms’ status in each country’s respective Scrapie program.

  • Apply for your import permit from the CFIA: you need to know all of the details about the individual sheep that you are planning to buy – age, sex, Tattoo, Ear Tag, colour, breed, and registered name - and you need to get documentation of Scrapie status from both farms before you apply for the permit.
  • Once you get your import permit, a US Department of Agriculture veterinarian performs a health check on the sheep and issues a zoosanitary certificate which is then confirmed and stamped by the USDA. This documents the health of the animals. It needs to be a USDA veterinarian – the farm that you’re buying from will work with their local USDA office.
  • You send all of your paperwork to your planned border crossing and they confirm it. You CANNOT just show up anytime – you need to make sure that the border office is going to be open with CFIA vets on duty. Don’t be late.
  • You take your sheep to the border and cross your fingers that all goes well!
  • First you clear the CFIA: The CFIA performs an inspection of your sheep – I think they’re just verifying the paperwork. In my case they were very friendly and very gentle and calm with the sheep (thank goodness), but they did have a hard time verifying the tattoos (green ink is tough to see on black skin!) and they were extremely thorough, verifying every single tattoo and ear tag.
  • Once you’ve cleared the CFIA, you still need to clear Customs. I was surprised at the border to find out I needed an Importer number. This is linked to your business number. Good news for me, I was able to call and get one on the spot.  At Customs you fill out more import paperwork, YOU PAY GST (this was a big bill), as well as inspection fees, and if you clear it all, you’re on your way home.
  • Because we live in Quebec, when we got home we also had to swap out their ear tags for ATQ tags and inform the CFIA that we did this (ATQ is Quebec's livestock identification program, in other provinces it would probably be the Canadian Sheep Identification Program tag numbers). AND, the CFIA, keeping with their thoroughness, sent over an agent a few weeks after they arrived to “verify” that I had indeed applied their new tags. (Yeah, I did, but thanks for checking up on me…)
  • There are also limitations and conditions on future movement of the sheep that we’ve imported – although there are no restrictions on transporting their offspring. Since we plan to keep these sheep and slaughter or sell their offspring only that’s not a big deal for us.

Now, here are some reflections:
We were so fortunate that the farm we were buying from, Kathy Boyden at Kind Horn Farm, was committed to helping us import our sheep and worked with her veterinarian and her USDA office to make sure that everything was exactly as it needed to be for us to import. If the farm that you’re buying from isn’t willing to jump through a few hoops, it’s probably not possible.

I found the staff at my regional CFIA office to be super helpful, as well as the staff at the main CFIA office. Though, I did have to ask lots of questions to understand the process.

It takes a LOOOOONNNNNNNGGGG time at the border. Plan for this. Plan to travel in cool weather if you can.  Plan to be able to offer your animals water, if they’ll take it, and plan for them to have extra space in the trailer because it’s going to take longer than you think.  Our overall time clearing the CFIA inspection and Customs was well over 3 hours.

Try to arrive at the border at a time when there are not too many people there. This is tricky to coordinate with planning for a time that is good to travel with animals (if you’re avoiding daytime heat for example), and, in our case, travelling with a one-year-old baby that understandably gets fed up after several hours in her carseat. Do yourself a favour and go when the CFIA office is just opening for the day, maybe early in the week when few others are travelling.

I didn’t realize that you needed an “Importer Number” in order to import. Save time and do this in advance, you can do it online or over the phone by contacting the Canada Revenue Agency, it’s basically a business number that the CRA assigns to your business/farm.

If you are nice to the Customs staff they will be nice to you. Although I got a prickly welcome, by the time I was finished in the Customs office they were wishing me well, asking questions about my sheep, and joking about how I would need to start importing more often and then I would get much faster at it. I probably would. 

All in all it was  a bit more costly and more effort for us to import our sheep, but with our farm plans it was the best fit. I’m glad I did it and I would do it again. Though, I would have been happy to talk to somebody that had imported ewes before.

And now, many months later, I’m still happy with our decision – I have a healthy and happy flock of sheep, and a crop of lambs due in a few weeks. They are amazing, and the hurdles were definitely worth it!

Kaygirl and the ewes.

Our two rams, Roscoe and Freddy,
looking longingly towards the ewe pen.


  1. Nice, Erin! I am going to ask you permission to reprint on my website. This will be so helpful to others to the North who are looking to import Icelandics.

    1. Thanks Kathy! Yes, no problem to reprint.