This Is What Farm Stress Looks Like.

This is what farm stress looks like for us. An empty feedyard amidst a grass and forage production crisis.

This spring has been unlike any other in our decades of farming. Drought combined with late, hard frosts, has resulted in almost no grass and forage growth across the ranch.

We have had farming seasons before that turned us upside down. We have survived BSE – when a sick animal from a different farm in a difference province cause the bottom to fall out of the beef market – and the value of every animal on our farm dropped to pennies. We survived the early 2004 frost, when every acre of our grain farm froze in the fields. Those moments will be forever etched in our minds, as they will for many of our fellow farmers. We have survived floods, a lightning strike to our cattle herd, trade wars and more. We know and understand farm stress as well as anyone.

But this spring is different. Our ranch is built around forage production. Over the years, that has ranged from high to low, and everywhere in between, but we have NEVER experienced zero production, and it is weighing heavy on our shoulders.

More than the financial hit we are taking, more than the uncertainty of what the best course forward is, there is such a weight of responsibility on us. The responsibility of having living, breathing animals relying on our decisions is immense. Crushing. We need to know that we have enough feed to nourish the animals in our care for not only the summer, but also the looming winter months as well.

We are already selling off animals, so they can be shipped out of province to parts of the country that still have feed. While it hurts to sell at a financial loss, moving those animals off the farm will free up what little feed we have for the animals that are left.

So we will make the best decisions that we can. We will remind ourselves that the struggles of our past have made us better farmers. We will knuckle down and pray for rain. We will look for ways to manage our stress as best we can. But – that pit in our stomach, the strained smile on our faces, the sleepless nights and the grouchy attitudes – those will be with us for a while. This is what farm stress looks like.

A Mother Allows Her Children To Walk Into A GMO Field Sprayed With Glyphosate. You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next. 

It was a beautiful summer day, the perfect day for a family road trip to the lake cabin. A mother and her two children had packed the car, and hit the road for a weekend of fun. Along the way, they stopped on a quiet country road to picnic beside a field of beautiful yellow flowers. They snacked and frolicked without a care in the world. 

For those of you who know about Canadian agriculture, you will know that these yellow flowers are a crop called Canola, grown for it’s oil, much of which is GMO (Genetically Modified Organism), and sprayed with Glyphosate. 

So, as the children played, and smelled the beautiful flowers, and their mother looked on, what happened? 

Well, the simple answer is – absolutely nothing. 

You see, as a farmer herself, the mother understood that GMO plants held no risk to her children. Her university education and science background taught her that a field previously sprayed with Glyphosate held no more toxicity for her children than a field sprayed with salt water, which actually has a higher toxicity level. 

That mother knew that Glyphosate and GMO are scary sounding words, but science and research hold far more weight than any fearful scare tactic or headline she may see online. 

That mother, who loves her children more than anything on this planet, allowed them to smell those flowers with confidence in agriculture, confidence in science, and confidence in the farmer responsible for that particular field.

I am that mother. Those are my children. And I am thankful every single day for the science that allows farmers to grow bountiful, nutritious and delicious food that I can feed my children. 

Important Note: Never, ever enter a farmers field without permission. Not only are the crops in those fields their livelihoods, but only the farmer can tell you if it is safe to be in that particular field at that particular time. 

Learning About Advocating From An Unlikely Source

Last year I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join the EMF Nutrition (now Masterfeeds) team to attend their parent company, Alltech‘s ONE, their annual IDEAS conference.

One of the first speakers at the Alltech ONE conference in Lexington, Kentucky took me buy surprise. John Calipari, head coach of the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team was more than inspirational. I expected him to speak about how to lead people. I expected him to talk a lot of sports talk. I DID NOT expect just how relevant his talk would be to how I advocate for agriculture.  

His title was ONE and DONE: Teaching skills in a year that will last a lifetime. I certainty hope that his tips will stay with my for my lifetime. Here are a few of his nuggets that I found directly applicable to advocating for agriculture.

“Build strong relationships built on trust and respect.”

“We have to undersell and over deliver, because the minute one thing you say is not true, or doesn’t happen the way you said, the trust is lost.”

This caught my attention in a BIG way. He, of course, was talking about maintaining the relationship and trust with his players. To me, this was all about the trust between farmers and consumers. We have all felt the dissipation of the relationship between farmers and consumers, and I believe we have also struggled as an agriculture community to find ways to bring that trust back. This golden nugget speaks directly to how we must engage with consumers – with complete honesty, even if it isn’t always a pretty answer. Whether it is antibiotic use, pesticide rotations or the simple question of “Does it hurt a young calf to be branded?”, consumers MUST be told the truth. Trust is hard to develop, tough to maintain, but almost impossible to regain if lost altogether. Sugar coating with dishonesty may feel easier in the short term, and we all have done it at some point (I know I have), but it gets us nowhere. That’s not true, it doesn’t just get us nowhere, it actually gets us further back from where we started. I think we all knew this, it has been in the back of my mind for a very long time, but sometimes it takes an inspirational guy like John Calipari to remind us of just how important it is.

“Social Media is vital, but we must train our players. That’s our world now. Why? Transparency. We must inform but we also must react. But remember: It cannot replace face to face interaction. Face to Face is the ONLY way to judge the effect of your words.”

Wow. Yes. True true true. I LOVE the number of fellow farmers on social media. I LOVE the way we are engaging with consumers. But we could do so much more with some training. Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/ Snapchat are so very easy while simultaneously being so very hard. I want to learn more, be better, and engage more. I want to be transparent, even when it’s hard. But I also can’t forget the face to face. It is very easy to get comfortable behind a screen and forget how darn fun it is to meet people! I had 3 flights to get down to this conference, and I challenged myself to engage with each of my seat mates. Well, the first one slept (I think – it was 5:30am, my own eyes may or may not have been closed), the second one was VERY uninterested in a conversation, but the third was a great interaction! She was a very (very) well off housewife (I actually looked up Real Housewives of Atlanta’s cast to see if she was on it. Nope.). She wanted to talk mostly about eggs, but we had an awesome talk about what organic, natural, hormones and antibiotic labels all mean. She had no agenda, and neither did I. I picked her brain about what label she looks for at the grocery store vs what she actually wants. She picked my brain about what farm life is really like. Face to face is so much more powerful!

“Listen more, talk less. Show that you truly care.”

If there is one thing about the whole Earls beef fiasco, it is that as an industry, we need to listen better. I need to listen better. I find it very easy to lead with anger, and place a very strong defensive wall between myself and people who are asking for something I do not agree with. It helps no one. Not that person, not myself, and not the beef industry that I love so much. Just because I don’t agree doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take the time to listen. Every time.

“Kindness costs you nothing”

This can never be said enough. Kindness to consumers and kindness to each other. I costs me nothing to say that organic farming may not work for our farm, but there are some great farmers out there that it does work for. It costs me nothing to prep vegan dishes for a vegetarian friend. Leading with kindness will never, ever be a bad thing. 
As I read over my notes from this speaker, I was yet again amazed my just how applicable a basketball coach’s words were to my life. It took me a while to sort through it all in my head, but I was finally able to make sense of it. You see, he is the leader of a team, and that is just what all of agriculture is – A TEAM. We may all have different roles and skills, but when farmers work together we are unstoppable. Whether you are an organic farmer from Vancouver or a canola grower in Davidson or a dairy FarmHer outside Ottawa, we are all producing excellent high quality food. You are all on my team. A team that I count my blessings every day to be a part of. 

And now, as I am heading back down to Lexington, Kentucky for Alltech’s next conference, I cannot wait to see what nuggets I will bring back with me this time. Stay tuned for this Northern Girl’s Southern Adventures!! 

Check out info on this year’s ONE conference here

Why This Canadian Rancher is Thankful to A&W

That’s right. You read the title correctly. I am a Canadian Rancher, and I am thankful to A&W!

As most people from rural Western Canada know, in September of 2013 A&W, a fast food burger chain, came out with their “Better Beef” campaign. This campaign made claims that their “Better Beef” used no hormones or steroids. They claimed it was raised “sustainably” and “ethically”. Their campaign also meant a shift from the 100% Canadian Beef they were selling to importing the majority of it from South America and Australia. This sparked immediate outrage from the Canadian Beef Industry. These commercials were aimed to spark fear in consumer hearts about the safety of conventionally raised Canadian beef. This was a conscious decision to mislead consumers in order to sell more burgers. I personally was insulted by their in-direct portrayal of the beef that I raise. The beef I raise is neither unsustainable nor unethical. Fellow Canadian Agvocates Sarah Schultz and Andrew Campbell wrote excellent articles on the danger of this fear marketing. Sarah’s post on her Nurse Loves Farmer blog, Fear Marketing: I’ve Got a Beef with A&W, and Andrew Campbell’s piece for Real Agriculture, I’m Done with Fearing Food and Done with A&W do an excellent job of explaining why this is a huge issue for not only us Canadian beef producers, but for a grain grower and dairy producer as well.

But wait a minute…

I just explained why I am furious with A&W for their fear mongering ways. Why I have not eaten a teen burger in three years. Why I continue to be outraged with every product line that they mislead consumers about. Their eggs are from vegetarian hens (even though chickens are omnivores), their coffee is organic (even though organic in many coffee growing areas means slash and burning of the rainforest). I believe in every fibre of my being that this organization has chosen a path of dishonesty and sensationalism as a marketing strategy, and that is something I can never get behind. So how could the title possible state that I am THANKFUL to A&W?

So here it is..

A&W and their misleading advertising has been a call to action for all Canadian farmers and ranchers.

The growing movement of food myths, smear campaigns and out-right marketing lies was sneaking up on Canadian farmers at such a slow pace that it was easy to ignore it. It was easy to tell ourselves that only the granola crunchies were actually buying the crazy stories that were out there. Only the downtown hipsters were ready to believe that us normal, everyday, hardworking farmers would knowingly grow and raise something other than delicious and SAFE food. A&W’s Better Beef campaign showed us just how wrong we were. This huge eye opening moment is something that I am extremely thankful for. Suddenly all of Canadian Ag took a step back to see how badly we need to tell OUR story.

tell your story pic

The hard truth is that people, everyday people, are talking about where their food comes from. They have questions and we can let organizations like A&W tell them their version of the answers, or we can tell them the TRUTH. The truth is that my Canadian raised beef is GOOD! The truth is that knowing, inside and out, exactly how Canadian beef is raised, I will serve it to my own children daily. That is much more than can be said of the South American beef that A&W is importing for their “better beef”. This very blog was born from that campaign, as I had A LOT to say, and needed more space to say it than regular social media would allow.

At a Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan conference I attended this winter, Sarah Shultz was asked what her extended family thought about how much of their farming operation that she shares online. She explained that the A&W Better Beef campaign was an eye opener for her farmer Father-in-law. He, as a grain farmer, could see where this was heading and did not like it at all. It gave him, and thousands of other farmers, the pause needed to fully get behind those of us willing and able to tell the Canadian Agriculture story. The unvarnished farming truth.

So I still will not eat a teen burger. Their vegetarian eggs have gone untasted by me and my family. But as a bigger person, I can give credit where credit is due. Thank you A&W for making yourself the greater enemy that Canadian Ag needed in order to rally our troops, see the bigger picture, and start standing up for ourselves.

every story is complicated pic

Update: I have been told that A&W does not buy beef from South America at this point. I have not been able to get a response back from them directly to confirm or deny that. I want to be completely truthful in anything I write, so will gladly take back the statement about their beef coming from South America. There website does specifically mention three suppliers from Canada (Spring Creek), USA and Australia. Wherever the source their beef from does not change the issue I have with how they are interacting with consumers. I do not like it.

Also, I am always willing to give credit where credit is due. A&W has chosen to take part in, and be very supportive of, the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. I wish they had chosen to go through with this before claiming their beef is sustainable, but I applaud them in this great endeavor.

This Morning I Jinxed Myself…. Ranch Wife Style

This morning I woke up in a GREAT mood. I got the kids off to school, managed to remember to send them both with lunch, books, backpacks, and skates, helmets and hockey gloves for school skating. I was looking forward to a day of straightening up the house, tackling the mountain of laundry, and having uninterrupted time to tackle some computer/office needs. Apparently I was looking a little TOO forward to it, because I did that thing us ranch wives should NEVER DO – I not only said it out loud, I proclaimed it.

I am NOT leaving my yard today!

And wouldn’t you just know it, not 30 minutes later, isn’t Jake (our main Shop Man Extraordinaire) at the door with those dreaded words.

“What are you doing today?”

Followed by:

“Parts Run”

The worst part was that I had no one to blame but myself. I had irreversibly jinxed myself. Before I knew it, I went from looking at my shrinking “to-do” list to staring at this:

Followed by this:


Lesson of the day: You are 100% more likely to be given a speeding ticket when pulled over in a brand new Honda Pilot than an old junky craptacular Dodge Mini-Van.

To add injury to insult, once home, we realized half the parts they sent me home with were ones we had ordered 4 months ago. I am sure the parts guy will be shocked to learn that we have no need for swather parts in January.

Cattlemen’s Young Leaders 

This summer I was contacted by the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders (CYL) committee asking if I would be interested in acting as a mentor in their program. This is an amazing program that aims to create leaders in our top young cattle producers through training, experiences and mentorship.

Although I did not know who my Mentee would be, I was given a list of her goals and objectives to get out of the program, and I was struck by how closely they followed the issues and obstacles that Aaron and I had overcome over the past 15 years on the ranch. Grazing plans, agvocacy, succession planning, and the process of building a cow herd from the ground up were all topics we have spent the past decade focusing the better part of our brains on.

Aaron and I already spend a significant amount of time volunteering for both local organizations and provincial Ag associations, so our first reaction to the mentor request was, “how can we possibly fit this in as well?” But we saw the value in passing along not only our successes, but maybe more importantly, our failures. Although we had a strong network of peers, and were extremely fortunate in coming from incredible farming families whom we learnt a lot from, we never had formal mentors. We see the value in mentorship to the Canadian Beef Industry. In our eyes, the communication of knowledge is one of the greatest barriers within our industry. So without knowing a lot about the program, we took the plunge and took on the challenge.

Our Mentee, Angela Kumlin, has impressed us with her intelligence and drive. Our time spent with her has been extremely productive and rewarding. I won’t give away too much of her journey, as I have asked her to write a guest post for this blog. Read about her experience here.

For more info on the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders program look here, or follow them on Twitter at @CYLProgram

If McDonalds and A&W, Costco and Walmart can work together, why can’t we as farmers?

This week I had the amazing experience of acting as tour guide for the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef AGM Tour. The CRSB is an unprecedented initiative where stakeholders from the entire food chain have come together to define and improve beef sustainability in Canada. Stakeholders that have dedicated their time, effort and funds to this include Costco and Walmart, McDonalds and A&W, Producer Groups (Canadian Cattlemen’s Assn), wildlife groups (World Wildlife Federation) and packers (Cargill). It is an incredibly diverse group of people with diverse, and sometimes even divergent goals. 


             A common thread
As I chatted amongst these high level thinkers within competing industries I was struck by one overwhelming common thread. Each person there, each organization, was there for the sole purpose of making the beef industry (from the beginning, middle to end) not perfect, but BETTER. With so many opinions, and so many end goals, reaching each groups perfect goal is impossible. They each understand this fact, but it does not stop them from working together to make things BETTER. BETTER is not perfect, and it may never be, but it IS with working for. 

  What farmers can learn from this

My time recently spent on social media has been disparaging to the point of causing me to actively avoid Twitter. Agricultural in-fighting feels like it is at an all time high. Organic vs conventional, supply management vs export markets, big farms vs the little guy. It feels as though every sector of agriculture has backed itself into a protectionist corner, spitting mad and firing uncalled for shots at anyone that dares question them. 

So what would happen if we chose instead to put down the word cannons and focus on making things BETTER? Instead of ripping each other apart, we asked questions? What if we chose to stop the strive for perfection in our own section, and switched our focus to making all of Ag BETTER? Surely if McDonalds can work with A&W, then beef and dairy, organic and conventional, large and small can chose the same path. BETTER sounds good to me. Is BETTER enough for you? 



Earth Day on the Ranch

At first, I thought Earth Day here on the ranch was just like every other day. After all, every day we provide habitat for misplaced wildlife, everyday we sequester carbon in our vast acres of grassland, everyday we aim to improve the soil structure and health. 

But when I thought a little harder, and looked a little deeper, I realized that although we have the earth’s health in the back of our mind all year round, Earth Day is a reminder of so much more. 

A Time Of New Beginnings 

April is when our heifers calve.  By Earth Day (April 22nd) we are just into calving. This year we have 12 calves on the ground (1088 to go!). The birth of new calves is always a wonderful thing, but the first few born each year are extra special. 


When these calves are born from the heifers that were raised in our own herd, it is a full circle moment to see them start out so healthy and strong. 

Beyond the obvious new beginnings of calving, spring is full of new beginnings all over the ranch, you just need to look a little closer to see them. 


Delicate new shoots of grass are bursting up from amid the old dead leaves. The sound of croaking frogs is a constant song in the background of every cow-checking trip. Pussy Willows have erupted their incredibly soft buds, begging to be picked and displayed in the house.  In spring, even the most old things seem new again. 

A Moment of Reflection 

Earth Day reminds us to take the time to have a closer look at our impact on the world around us. As much as we believe we are doing a great job at being Stewards of the Earth, there is always more to be done. Can we tweek our grazing plan to improve the longevity of our grassland, reducing the need for rejuvenation (and all the fossil fuel and chemical use that goes with it)? Can we change our herd health program to better keep the animals in our care in the best health possible? Can we manage and reduce the drainage on our land to have minimal impact on the land down the road? 

Earth Day is a reminder that of all the answers we have found over the years, sometimes you still need to ask some hard questions. If I have ever learned one hard final answer in Agriculture, it is that no one has all the answers. So we will takes these new beginnings, and be grateful for them. After all, I hope that someday our great-great grandchildren have the opportunity to ask hard questions of themselves on Earth Day.