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.

 

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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.
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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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…

  

All About The Beef

On our ranch Evergreen Cattle Company we literally eat, breathe and sleep beef.red cow and calf 3

The following is a brief run-down on what our ranch is all about, and how we make it work.

We run approximately 1100 mother cows that calve every spring in May\June. This is quite a bit later calving than what is traditional in Saskatchewan, but we feel that the warmer and (hopefully) drier weather gives our calves the best start in life possible. Other than the odd May snowstorm (which has happened way too often in recent years), we do not have to worry about calves freezing. As well, having the cows calve out on pasture, rather than in dense corrals in the yard, means better calf and cow health overall. Time in the spring can be tight, as we are simultaneously calving and seeding the spring crop, but the long days and sleepless nights are worth it in the end.

The cow\calf pairs are kept out on pasture for the summer/fall. They are split into grazing herds of a more manageable size – usually around 250 to 300 pairs each. We strongly believe in the plant and soil benefits of rotational grazing, so the herds are moved every 3-4 days onto fresh pasture. Our 9000 acres of farm and pastureland looks a little like an ill-fitting jigsaw puzzle with an impossible maze running through it of fence lines, paddocks, tree bluffs, sloughs (wetlands), and gates which never seem to be in the right place! Moving these pairs is sometimes an adventure of it’s own, with calves running helter skelter and cows running looking for calves

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Alongside these cow/calf pairs, we graze last years’ calves as yearlings. Yearlings are still growing and have different nutritional requirements than cows, so they must be grazed separately. Also, while all mature cows are bred during the summer, only the top “select” heifers are bred, and will stay in our breeding herd. These yearling herds are also moved every few days throughout the grazing season.

In late fall, the yearlings are rounded up and brought into the yard to be processed, which means being weighed, treated for parasites (like deworming a pet) and treated for any illnesses. They are then hauled to an off-farm feedlot to be finished, or fattened.

The calves stay with the cows until mid-winter, usually January to February. The timing of weaning depends on how high or low the quality of feed was for that year, as well as how severe of a winter it has been. This delayed weaning means the calves stay healthier living on pasture with the cows. When they are weaned, the calves go into our feedlot to be backgrounded. This mean they are given a ration of feed that allows them to grow, rather than fatten them up. They are then turned back out onto grass as soon as possible in the spring.

Throughout the winter months, the cows remain out on pasture – with or without their calves. They are moved through a series of hay fields that have the bales left on them. Once the cows have finished all the bales on a particular field, they are moved onto the next one. We love our system of taking the cattle to the feed, rather than the feed to the cattle. The cattle are healthier, and the manure stays out on the field where it can fertilize next year’s hay crop.

As you can see, there is really no “off season” for cattle ranchers. Our animals are looked after 365 days a year, but it is a lifestyle we love, and a finished product that we love to eat!