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.

#OurFoodHasAStory Post 13 A Day In My Ranch Life (Adrienne Ivey)

One of the most frequent questions I am asked as a rancher is, “What do you do in an average day?”. This is also the hardest question I am ever asked. You see, every day is sooooooo different for me! And I don’t just mean seasonally. Of course a normal day is different for every farmer in seeding vs harvest, or in calving vs weaning. But because I am the secondary rancher here, some days I do ranch work. Some days I am more of a stay at home mom. Some days I feel like I am a professional organizer of randomness.  Any given day is a total spin of the roulette wheel. So today I decided to track my day, and give each of you a real glimpse into my life.

(6:30am) Alarm goes off. I immediately grumble – no morning person here! I wake the kids and chat with hubby. Once they are fed and clean and off to school, I feel like my real day has begun. (9:00am) I spend some time on email and social media, concentrating on #OurFoodHasAStory posts.

(10:00am) Phone call with a reporter from the Tisdale Recorder. We chat about Ag Month, being an agvocate, and how Tisdale’s old slogan Land of Rape and Honey started me down the path of talking about agriculture.

 

img_5901

10:30am – I bundle up because we are moving one of the herds of cattle a few miles onto some rented stubble land (land that has been combined, but we send cattle out to graze the slough grass and fencelines. This is like upcycling, because it would otherwise be wasted.). As I head out, I peek at the weather. -3C. That is freaking cold with a bare face, going full speed down a road on a quad with no windshield.
img_5900

 

10:40 – I fill up my ranch pony with fuel. I’ve learned to never trust a fuel gauge on the farm… the hard way

 

 

 

 

11:00am – We head out down the back roads. It. Is. Freaking. Cold. Unlike the other guys on the ranch, who work outside everyday, I have not developed my winter skin yet. Ok, who am I kidding, I never do. -3 bombing down the road, I can only imagine what the wind chill is. Too much for a big wimp like me, this early in the year.

img_5905

11:10am – We stop and formulate a plan. “We” is a loose term. More accurately, I wait patiently to be told what the plan is. My memory (or lack thereof) for gate placement and paddock shape means I am more of a point and shoot type of helper. I’m the digital camera of ranch help.

 

 

​We move cattle a lot. A normal cattle move is like a well oiled machine… and then there are “Those” days. This was one of those days. After an hour of trying to get the cows and calves moving, we needed to stop, regroup, and start all over again. These experienced girls were convinced that they needed to go east. They were adamant. 600 head of stubborn bovines can be frustratingly hard to convince they are wrong. “The Plan” was to go west.

​Eventually those stubborn ladies got on board with the boys plan. In the end, I kind of thought they were right – we should have gone out the other gate, but shhhhh… don’t tell the guys!

(2:00pm) I got back into the house (even colder due to the fact I dropped a glove somewhere on the move. The throttle hand glove, of course), just in time to take another call from a reporter. This one from the Estevan Mercury. Again, we chatted Ag Month, agvocacy and blogging. I love taking the chance to brag that we are the only province that doesn’t just have a day dedicated to agriculture, not just a week, but an entire month to show just how much Ag means to Saskatchewan. (2:30pm) I then spent some time planning a minor hockey overnight weekend. Complete with the all important parent hospitality room, of course.

I spent some time digging in the fridge planning what to feed child #2 in between school and hockey, as I was going to be busy driving child #1 to her daily riding lesson (4:00pm). When we finally got home from the barn (6:30pm), I fed child #1, and finished planning the hockey weekend for child #2’s hockey team.

And now, as I sit here writing this post (9:30pm), with a GIANT glass of wine, I am realizing exactly why I find it so hard to explain to people just what it is I do. Am I a rancher? Am I a stay at home mom? Am I a blogger? A communicator? I am all of these things. In the same day.

I guess when it comes down to it, that IS my food story. Balance. My food story is cool and eccentric. It is varied and full. My food story includes raising beef, feeding it to my family, and speaking to the masses about it. My food story is so fulfilling. Thank you for sharing in it with me.

 

 

 

Canadian Cattle Being Moved By A…… Beaver?!?

Here on the ranch, we are on the verge of calving season. We calve the heifers first, because they have no practice at being mothers yet, and often need more help than an experienced cow. 

On Good Friday, when Aaron and I headed out for a mid-afternoon check, we came over a hill on our ATVs and were surprised to see all 150 heifers crowded around in one tight group. 

We expected maybe a new calf, but what we actually found was possibly the most Canadian thing we have ever witnessed on our ranch. 

You see, the heifers were following none other than a beaver happily leading the herd around the pasture. 

It is not unusual to see wildlife on our ranch. We are proud of the fact that our cattle share the land with all sorts of wildlife and waterfowl. White tail and mule deer, moose, coyotes, wolf, badgers, skunks, geese, ducks and eagles are all usual pasture-mates. But this level of herd/wildlife interaction is not something we see everyday. 

Because heifers are young, they are very curious creatures. They were absolutely enthralled by this wayward beaver travelling across their stomping grounds. Enthralled, but wary enough to keep their distance. 

As for the beaver, we have many sloughs and wetlands on the ranch, so beavers are common place. This is the time of year that beavers may find themselves looking for a new wetland to build their home (beaver hut) in. This particular beaver was quietly minding his own business when he caught the attention of the herd. 

Have a peek at the most Canadian of all moments on our ranch. The time that a beaver took control of the herd for a day…


I’m sure this will make you smile as much as it did when we first witnessed it. Happy Easter from this Canadian Beef Ranch!! 

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.

Real Numbers for Beef’s Environtmental Footprint

Last year on Earth Day (April 22nd), my local paper published an article on how to be more “green”. In it, they suggested going meatless for some of the time because of beef’s poor environmental footprint. I wrote an article to counter this idea, as I see every day what beef’s actual footprint looks like. Read that post here

While doing some research for that post, I spoke with Tracy Herbert from the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC). She pointed out that while there has been quite a lot of research done in this area, there had not yet been an effort to pull the data from all those studies together to come up with one over-all consensus, but that they were working on it. 

I am happy to report that the results from phase one of that study are in, (see it here), and things are looking very positive for the beef industry! Over all they have found that we are producing significantly MORE beef (32% more), while using significantly LESS resources (24% less land and 29% less breeding stock), and creating a significantly SMALLER environmental footprint (15% less greenhouse gasses). 

  
While I only have to look out my front window to see first hand what beef does to (or for) our environment, this study that puts exact numbers on what we do is very exciting. We can only improve if we know where we started, and every farmer I know only wants to improve how they farm. I can’t wait to see where we are in 10, 20 and 50 years from now! 

For more info, visit the BCRC’s website, here. Or read Real Agriculture’s article on the study here

  
 

Our Thanksgiving Message: Thank You for Choosing Canadian Beef This Year. 

  
These is one absolute truth here on the ranch:

We love raising beef!!

We are incredibly fortunate to be able to make a living doing what we love every day of our lives. 

Canadian Thanksgiving is this weekend, so I though it more than appropriate to share our message  of giving thanks to all of you who chose Canadian beef. 

View our Thanksgiving message HERE

Thank you!!! 

  
  

IV Branding 2015

Every year on the ranch, calves are gathered up and “branded”. Because we do not catch and tag each calf when it is born like many cattle producers do, the first time we get a hand on our calves is in late July to early August. Each herd is individually brought into one of two yards, and sorted into cows, dry cows (cows that have no calves), and calves. The calves are then put through our farm-built sorting tub and chute. Each calf is caught in the small calf squeeze and headgate. They are each vaccinated, tagged, branded and castrated (if they are males). 

  
Branding is a family affair every year. The kids love working the calves, as they are just the right size. It’s a great chance to improve their livestock handling skills for when they are older, and working fully grown animals. 

 
 

Although branding days are hard work, they are everyone’s favourite days of the summer. They not only give us the chance to get a really good look at how well we have nurtured our cattle, branding days also give us a great look at how we have nurtured the inner farmer in each of our children. 

   
Needless to say, I was bursting with pride!!

 
And the calves looked great too…

  

Adventures in Calf-Checking (and why we need a bigger Gator!)

I have been spending the majority of my ranch work time in the heifer field. Heifers (young cows that have not yet had a calf) are considerably more difficult to calve than mature cows. They are smaller, and often need a little help getting that first calf out. They are also inexperienced mothers. They sometimes need a little coaxing to accept that their new calf does indeed belong to them, and help figuring out just what they are going to do with the slimy looking little thing. This is why we calve the heifers first, and in their own separate field – so they get a little more TLC. 

Our cows have now started calving as well, so today I headed out with Dear Husband to check on their progress. Today seemed to be one of THOSE days. 

  

DH and I jumped on the gator to head out. Our old dog Benson wanted to come too. He loves to go everywhere with Aaron, and is the most faithful family pet anyone could ask for. But there are very specific reasons why I have dubbed him “Useless Cowdog”. The most specific being that he is completely and utterly useless. Lovable. But useless. Unfortunately, he is completely oblivious to his uselessness, so leaving him behind wasn’t an option. One thing is certain, he really doesn’t care if I am comfortable, or even if there is room for me at all, as long as there is room for him in “Ben’s Spot”.  No Ben – this is not comfortable for me. In any way. 

  

We checked out the freshly fed cows. Aaron had brought along a bottle of powdered colostrum to give to a calf that appeared to be deserted by its mother. Aaron had already grabbed the calf once. When he was out feeding the cows he scooped it up and was in the process of bringing it back to the yard when it let loose a full stream of calf pee all over the one and only clean tractor cab that we have. The calf was promptly set back outside to find its mother on its own. We hoped that some warm milk in it’s stomach would give it the energy it needed to go track her down.  That didn’t quite go as planned either. After getting perhaps a quarter of the milk into it, the calf decided to resist and managed to pop the top off the bottle. The remaining milk ended up on the ground, along with Aaron’s patience. 

  

While all this was going on, I complained about the “snot-cicle” weather in May. It was COLD!!!

While checking the rest of that group of 600 cows, Aaron stopped and asked me to guard a gate (stop the cows from leaving while he left it open). I paused, looked at him, looked at the dog taking up 78% of my gator space, looked at him again. I happily hopped out to guard the gate – after he admitted that yes, the dog is useless. 🙂

We left the pasture, then decided that the poor motherless calf probably wasn’t going to find someone to love her (or feed her) out there anytime soon. We headed back to grab her and haul her back to the yard.  

  

Somehow, both Aaron and Ben couldn’t seem to give up their space, so I went from having a dog under my feet – to having a dog under my feet and a calf on my lap. 

  

To add insult to injury – no wait….. To add injury to insult, when I lifted my hand to snap the picture, calf decided to struggle, kicking me squarely in the face in the process. I can now tell you a sure fire way to get Kendall Jenner lips without the filler. 

The moral of the story – we need a bigger Gator!!!

Is Eating Beef Bad for the Earth? The Ups and Downs of the Beef on Your Plate

Earth Day is a wonderful thing. We can all use a day dedicated to reflection on each of our own individual impacts on the earth’s health. That being said, it can be difficult to wade through the conflicting advice of what is (in actual fact) good for the environment. Searching online can lead to what I call “Google Diving – The New Era of Dumpster Diving”, because you have to sort through a lot of garbage before you can find those golden nuggets of fact.

Last week’s Earth Day brought about numerous articles, blog posts and media stories with lots of advice. Some suggested that going meatless was one way each of us could reduce our environmental footprint. Seeing beef production from my side made me automatically question the validity of that statement, so I decided to do a little digging, and find out what beef’s impact really looks like to dear Mother Earth. What I found did not surprise me. Beef production does have an impact – of course, everything does!! But here is the kicker – beef has both NEGATIVE and POSITIVE environmental impacts, and both must be taken into consideration when looking at the whole.

The Canadian beef industry does produce greenhouse gasses. Our cattle use water and use up land base, take food (such as barley) out of the human food system, and can pollute water with ammonia, phosphorous, manure and bacteria. These are facts that no one will dispute. But what is missing is the other half of our “hoofprint” – the good half. Luckily, we are not all just feedlots and burping cattle.

Did you know that in Canada, one in three acres of agricultural land is not suitable for growing crops but is suitable for raising cattle? Beef cattle also use feed that would otherwise be wasted, as it is not suitable for human consumption. Eighty percent of feed eaten by Canadian cattle are grasses that are inedible to people, and another 10 percent are grains that are deemed too poor of quality to enter the human food chain. Cattle producers are an opportunistic bunch – we will take whatever grains people do not want to eat and make a lovely, nutritious feed ration for our cattle. It is a great environmental impact to be able to take low quality forages and convert them to high quality protein for humans. Consider us the original recyclers; taking frozen, ugly and unwanted barley and turning it into steak!

Beef cattle management has changed dramatically in the past few decades. Improved management practices have not only allowed Canada to become an international beef production leader, but has also had enormous environmental benefits. These management practices have increased the amount of beef produced per acre, reduced the amount of feed and water required to raise each animal, reduced days to slaughter, which in turn reduces manure and greenhouse gasses produced.

Please excuse the American graphic, but it is just as applicable to my ranch here in Canada. Management decisions that make sense financially also must make sense environmentally. Recent cattle management evolutions, such as bale grazing, not only reduce labour requirements, but also dramatically improve soil quality and allow us a method of rejuvenating at risk soils. Spreading manure from our feedlot on hill tops not only improves those degraded soils, but also keeps manure and bacteria away from wetlands and waterways. Beef cattle management is getting better everyday, and that is great for the environment!

COWS EQUAL GRASS

Grazing cattle are an integral part of both the beef industry as well as the natural grassland ecosystem. On our ranch, breeding cows spend 99% of their lives out on pasture. These vast rolling acres of perennial forages (grasses and alfalfa) are a huge benefit to dear Mother Earth. As well as what I can see from my ranch porch, I found some very interesting Canadian facts from the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC).

Our grasslands provide needed habitat for displaced wildlife and birds. Since seeding the majority of our farm down to perennial forages, we have seen a huge increase in not only populations of wildlife, but a huge increase in diversity of species as well. Some, like moose, are neat to see, but seeing endangered or threatened species that make their home on your land is downright heartwarming. We have seen burrowing owls, whooping cranes, prairie chickens and swift fox. Local deer are very much confused. They do not believe we operate a cattle ranch. If you have ever driven past the feed yard from December to March you will clearly see that they believe it is a white tail deer ranch, and we live to serve them breakfast, lunch and dinner. From salamanders to coyotes to moose – our grasslands provide a safe home.

Forage and grasslands are good for the air and the soil. Alfalfa is perhaps the most common and favorite forage feed for cattle. Alfalfa not only produces its own nitrogen, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers, it also has an amazing tap-root system that can grow as deep as 20 feet to find water in dry years. This amazing tap-root can force its way through hardpan soil, loosening the layers for future plants. Many grain producers use alfalfa in their annual crop rotation as a way of improving the soil health. All this, and cows think it’s delicious!

Did you know that Canadian grasslands sequester (capture, hold and store) carbon emissions of 3.62 million cars per year? Yes, you’re welcome Urbanites! The grasses that my cattle need are taking the pollution from your mini-van and storing it away from where it could destroy the ozone. I think I may have a big juicy steak tonight to celebrate that!

Over-all, it is clear to me that beef producers still must consider their environmental impacts when making management decisions. In any food system there is capacity to cause either great harm or great good to the environment. I feel one hundred percent confident stating that with the use of cattle and forages, the land we are in care of is in better health today than that which we purchased it in, and it will be in even better health tomorrow. When looking at the Canadian beef cattle industry as a whole, I feel confident in eating my beef guilt-free. So pass the steak!

For more info go to where I got my facts:
beefresearch.ca
farmfoodcare.org