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…

  

12 Signs: You Might Be A Farm Wife If…..

1. Your first date night post-baby is to a cattle auction.

2. When telemarketers/sales people/ government workers call and ask for the man of the house, then doubt you when you offer to answer questions, you wish for the superhuman ability to reach through the phone to strangle said person.

3. You automatically know what your friend is talking about when she complains she had to pull out the “I WILL walk to the house” line last week. You automatically respond with “I know, they’re such jerks” before you’ve even heard the story.

4. You have managed to cart supper for 8 to a field 8 miles away with 3 kids in tow, one of which is still in a bucket car seat, and another that is the devil itself in the form of a two year old. And  you kept it hot. And managed to remember (and cook accordingly) that 2 guys don’t eat cucumbers, one won’t eat onions and they all want 3 helpings of dessert. And did I mention you got it there hot?  And you celebrated with wine. Lots of wine.

5. You have been pulled over for speeding and got off (legitimately) for the excuse of “The combine is sitting, waiting for these parts.”

6. Your vet’s cell number is programmed into your phone.

7. With every summer wedding invitation you receive, you send back the RSVP with a special note: “attendance is weather dependant”.

8. The local grocery store has a mop handy for when you make a quick milk run on the way past town when hauling yearlings. They know the spring run means your boots are dropping more than mud.

9. In the spring you can identify all the other cow-farmer wives by the lingering stench of milk-replacer on their hands/clothing/hair.

10. You understand the true meaning of the phrase “I’ll be in in a few minutes” also known as “I’ll be there right away”, also known as “This will only take a few minutes”, also known as “Be right there”. True meaning of said phrases: “I have no idea how long I will be. Eat without me.”

11. You understand that your tightly managed schedule can be blown apart at any moment by weather, loose animals, emergency parts runs, or “I just need you for a couple minutes to move trucks”.

12. You love your life, and wouldn’t change it for all the money in the world!

Update: 

Seconds after publishing this post, I head out to drive to an arena I ride at, and find that out of 5 trucks on our farm, this one was the only truck left for me. Figures!!

 
 

Keeping my Cool with Vegans on Twitter

It is not new news that Vegan Activists are busy on social media these days. Months ago they made a huge group effort to take over the farmer driven #farm365 movement on Twitter. #farm365 was started by Andrew Campbell, an Ontario dairy farmer as a way for farmers to show (with pictures) what their daily life is like on the farm. What started as a great way to show consumers how their food is really produced in a completely open and transparent way, quickly spiralled down into offensive attacks from vegan groups trolling twitter. See more here: https://www.realagriculture.com/2015/01/farmers-speak-perspectives-farm365-activist-backlash/

Since the moment I started taking part in #farm365, I have had countless tweets attacking me, my family and my profession.

 So why do I continue to take part? It is really quite simple – I believe in the purpose of #farm365. I believe that people have forgotten what everyday farmers look like. They have forgotten that we are kind, caring, compassionate people that feed what we grow to our families with pride. We care about the land we are in charge of. We are not swayed by mega-corporations trying to sell us one seed/chemical or another. We make our own decisions, and stand by them. 

When the vegans come a-trolling, sometimes it is hard to keep my cool. I have no interest in trying to change their minds. I know they are set on their choices, just as I am set on mine. I know that the vast majority of people won’t be swayed by them either – especially when they are at their most hateful. I know it is best to walk away and probably hit the BLOCK button. That being said, some days it is really hard not to engage them. It is hard not to stand up for myself, my values and my morals. I want to shout from the rooftops that we care deeply for our animals, and ensure their eventual death is pain-free and respectful. But they don’t care. They only see death, and to them the death of an animal is possibly more important than the death of a human. It is certainly more important to them than the respect of a fellow human. 

So sometimes I crumble. Sometimes I engage. It never works. I have tried being respectful. I have tried being witty. It. Does. Not. Work. 

Today I crumbled. I engaged. Luckily they have learned to not threaten violence, or Twitter will suspend their accounts. This was a calm and respectful interaction with them. Believe me, they get much, much worse. Here is a little snapshot of today’s crumble:

   

       

So again, I have learned my lesson. Do not engage. But knowing that still doesn’t lessen the knife-like feeling in my gut everytime one of their brethren favorites or re-tweets one of these. 

So for all you eat meat-eaters out there – those of you that are watching on Twitter or Facebook or reading blogs like this one: thank you for every Like, Favorite, Share, or Re-Tweet. Thank you for every honest question you have asked of farmers like me. Thank you for wanting to know more. My engagement with you far out weighs days like today. Your support balances the hate. Some days we need it. 

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!!!

Farm Etiquette Quiz – how do your farm manners stack up? (funny)

Sometimes life on the farm puts you in delicate situations where you are unsure of the correct ways of responding. I have compiled a list of said scenarios – many of which (but not all) have transpired here on the ranch. Take this short quiz to see how your responses stack up against my suggestions.


1) You are a hired man/woman and your boss gets frustrated when fixing the tractor during seeding, or combine during harvest and throws the wrench (or whatever is in his hand) into the bush. Should you:

A) Quietly go search in the bushes for it.

B) Lecture him on proper tool usage and storage.

C) Say nothing.

Answer: C) Say Nothing

This is a perfect time to file this moment in your memory to bring up during your annual tool budget discussion. Looks like it’s time to replace that MasterCraft wrench set  with Snap-Ons!!


2) You are a grain farmer and you are at a public social function and a sales person for a seed company gets tipsy and says “Farmers in Canada don’t know how to grow corn. They don’t even know how to grow canola.”. Should you:

A) Drop your proverbial gloves, jersey the asshole and teach him what Canadian farmers know – with your fists.

B) Say nothing, walk away and never buy from that company again.

C) Smile nicely and walk away.

Answer: C) Smile nicely

Smile nicely and walk away. Wait patiently for the jackass to drink himself stupid, then snap some very un-becoming pics later on in the night. There is lots to smile about – looks like you are getting the deal of a lifetime on your seed next spring! I would share some pictures as examples, but then I would have to pay full price for seed next year…


3) You are a farm wife, and after working all day at your full-time job you take supper out to the harvest crew, and invite your mother-in-law along to see the grand-kids. After one bite of your casserole, dear MIL says “Oh. This is….. interesting. Let me know if you would like some of my field recipes”. Should you:

A) Slap her in the face and burst out into an emotional fit of laughter.

B) Smile nicely, take her recipes, and cook them ten times better than she ever has.

C) Avoid the entire situation. Let the bag eat at home.

Answer: B) Smile nicely

This is pretty self-explanatory, but please, if you ever choose A) let us know how it goes. This would be an epic story. Perhaps you are interested in a guest blog spot?


4) You are a conventional farmer and you go into the grocery store and see a sign that says “organic food is better for you”. Should you:

A) Rush out and grab the pickets signs you always carry with you and start an impromptu protest,

B) Furtively switch random packages of organic carrots and bananas with conventional ones, while giggling uncontrollably and cursing “those damn granola eating hippies trying to take over the world”.

C) Calmly talk to the produce manager about the danger of pushing one farming system over another, while commending them for offering a multitude of food options to their customers.

Answer: C) Calm discussion

Calm discussions with those in charge will get you farther ahead every time. Oh hell, who am I kidding. B) feels soooo darn good!!!


5) You are a farmer and are speaking on the phone with the Federal Government. They want to send you a tax refund\ag program kick-back asap. They ask for your mailing address. They do not accept post box addresses, it must be a physical address. They do not accept land locations. The person you are speaking to has never left Toronto and can’t comprehend that you live 10 miles south of nowhere. Should you:

A) Scream into the phone for her to get out a “God Damn Map”

B) Kiss the cheque goodbye. They were probably going to change the program before they sent it anyway.

C) Make-up an address using a combination of your Porn-Star name and your location

Answer: C) Made-up address

You know that even if you say your address is 666 Sassy Rugmuncher Way, the ladies at your local post office will make sure it ends up in your post box, and get a giggle or two at the same time.


6) You are a rancher and are sitting down to a family Christmas Eve dinner of beautiful prime rib. Your city slicker Sister in Law asks you if the beef is “Hormone and Antibiotic Free” because she doesn’t eat food “doused in chemicals”. Should you:

A) Flip the table and demand the witch leaves your house.

B) Tell her the beef is all-natural, the bread is gluten-free and you haven’t vaccinated any of your children.

C) Give same statement as in B), then pour a little glyphosate in her wine

Answer: B) or C)

Depends whether or not you have an open jug of Transorb handy…..


7) You are a ranch wife and you are sorting heifers and steers with your husband and your husband yells (for the third time) “I SAID F*€#ING HEIFER!!!”. Should you:

A) Go hunting for the electric cattle/husband prod.

B) Yell back “F*€k YOU AND THE HEIFER YOU RODE IN ON” and pout in the corner.

C) Calmly walk to the house, opening every gate that you pass.

Answer: C) Walk to the house

If you have not yet trained your husband in proper cow sorting communications, this is the perfect opportunity. Opening every gate you pass is for his benefit. By the time he has rounded up a few hundred head and attempted to re-sort them by himself, he will have time to reflect on how integral you are to the operation. Someday he may even laugh about the experience. Someday.


I hope you enjoyed my suggestions. As you come across these kinds of situations, please let me know how they turn out for you.

* No in-laws were harmed in the writing of this post*

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

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. 

Is My Corporate Farm Evil? The New Era of Family Farms

Yes, I admit it. My farm is a corporate farm. It is complete with a detailed share structure, profit sharing agreement and board meetings. We have detailed budgets for separate product lines. We have payroll and employee benefits. We do not sell our products at local shops or farmers markets. It is a big business. 

 I bet right now you are forming a picture in your head, and it’s not an especially nice one. Anyone that has been following the Food Movement that has been happening over the past decade knows that corporate farming is bad business. Bad for the environment, bad for a healthy food supply, bad for you. 

But then there is this:

My farm is a family farm. It is 100% owned by myself, my husband and his two parents. Our board meetings alternate between our two kitchen tables, and budgets are prepared in between  hockey practices and after the kids go to bed. We have two full time hired men, and sometimes their greatest benefit is being able to bring their kids to work with them. We love everything about agriculture with a fierce passion. We have never, ever, sold a product that we wouldn’t happily serve to our children. Every decision on the farm takes more than just finances into consideration. Our number one goal is to leave a farm to our children that is both environmentally and economically viable. We are self-proclaimed “dirt nerds”, who routinely take measurements of the health of our soil. 

While it may be hard to reconcile the two, both descriptions are honest depictions of our farm. Although some may consider us “Big Agri”, and you can’t buy our beef or grain at farmers markets – we work with our hands in the dirt everyday, using only the technology that makes the most sense to us. We could not be more proud of the delicious fruits of our labour. 

Our farm (and most farms) are Incorporated for two simple reasons: 

  1. No one wants to pay more tax than they have to; and
  2. Passing the farm from generation to generation is difficult without such a structure. 

In Canada, even though many are considered corporations, 98% of farms are family owned and operated. If you want to talk about being big, 98% is a BIG number. One that I am proud that my corporate farm is part of. 

So next time you click “like” or “share” when you see that MonSatan and Corporate Farms are taking over agriculture and control of the food supply, please remember what corporate farming really looks like: My husband and I, buying some land, and trying to make a go at farming. 

 

 

What Easter Looks Like on the Ranch

Easter is always an exciting time on the ranch. Although we are not calving yet, it feels good knowing that it’s just around the corner. The snow is close to gone, and the weather looks really good for the next few weeks. 

Even though Easter is a holiday, it is still a busy time for us, as animals still need to be fed, and chores need to be taken care of. Here is a quick look at what Easter looks like for us. 

 

Aaron heads out first thing in the morning to feed the cows in the pasture, as well as the 1000 calves in the feedlot. This usually takes a good half a day this time of year. 

The kids went out to help, and finish up their own chores at the same time. They haul pails of grain to last years orphan calves as well as the horses every day. 

  

While Aaron is finishing up chores, the kids, Grandma W and I decorate Easter  eggs. It’s a messy job, but the results are worth it!

 After chores and eggs are done, Papa W spends time with Cole learning about firearm safety. He has brought a special gun down, and is teaching Cole the all important safety rules before he gets a chance to take his landmark first ever shot. 

Golden Rule #1 “Assume every firearm is ALWAYS loaded.”

 

Then off they go for some target practice. Cole is pumped to hit three out of three of his first shots. Even Noelle takes a turn. 

 

 While they guys are shooting, I take the opportunity to use Grandma W’s expertise and learn how to trim Fred the Pony’s hooves. 

 

 We head down to the Fort for groceries (about a 45 min drive), and stop in at the local pottery shop. Bowls anyone?

 

 After supper we gather around the table to play Farmopoly – the farmer’s version of Monopoly. Apparently I have zero skills at board games, but still managed to be farmer of the year. How suiting!

 

The Easter Bunny visited us overnight. At the sight of the hula hoops he left for the kids, someone yells “New seedling counters!!”.  

Cows, eggs, guns, ponies, bowls and games. Not bad for one day!