London, Ont. –
Ask Paul Bilawski if he ever thought he would be a sheep farmer, and he’ll laugh and tell you no.
The retired construction worker moved from Innisfil to southwestern Ontario with his wife Darlene in 2016. She had worked in an office and had recently retired.
âWe just wanted to do more and have fun with it,â Darlene says.
The couple had always kept a garden in the summer, but decided to buy a property of a few acres and give the homestead a try.
âA homestead, you feed yourself first, then all you have left to sell is the concept of a homestead,â says Darlene.
The first thing they wanted to do was get sheep, eventually settling on dairy sheep from East Frisia, which the Bilawsks say gives them enough milk to drink and are perfect for making cheese.
âSo when you make cheese out of it, you get twice as much cheese per liter,â says Darlene.
Learning the ins and outs of running a homestead is a process made easy by the internet and a few good neighbors.
âIt was a big help, they come to tell us if we need to cut the hay,â Darlene said. âI go over there and help him with his hay, and I learned how to make my hay,â adds Paul.
They grow an assortment of crops, from corn to tomatoes, and even take risks: âI’ve tried growing peanuts, but we just don’t have the climate for it,â says Darlene.
It’s a trial and error approach, and they say they are learning every day.
The couple brought back chickens after much research, settling on a breed created in northern Quebec, “They are better adapted to the cold,” according to Darlene.
The eggs have colors ranging from brown to pink and even green.
Eggs from Bilawski Farm near London, Ontario.
The experience is not for everyone, but the Bilawsks say they are now more in tune with nature and enjoying it every minute.
Darlene says, âIt’s so different, you are outside, you know the weather, you know when the sunrise and sunset is now and you get to know the animals. “
She adds that she would like to add a miniature Jersey cow to the farm, but says they’re hard to find.