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Springtime on the Ranch – A Hopeful Tale

Spring feels like the first chapter of a new book that you hope becomes a favourite classic.  

At the start of a new growing season, you have an idea of the basic summary of the story. The familiar rhythms of the arrival of baby calves and planting crops are certain. However, you can never be sure what the overall theme of the story will be. Mother Nature, the unpredictable main character, will keep the other people in your series wondering what might happen next.  

Like most farmers across Canada, we make full use of the longer daylight to get some important jobs done that will set us up for the rest of the year. On our ranch, we will be almost all done calving our cow herd by the spring equinox, which means one of our top springtime tasks is processing calves and moving pairs out to pastures.

We refer to spring processing as “branding” even though branding calves is just one part of a flurry of many necessary practices. We also apply and record RFID tags, vaccinate calves, tattoo and collect DNA hair samples on our purebred Gelbvieh calves, and perform or record other management practices as needed.

Good or bad, processing calves has evolved on our ranch. Years ago, we hosted a large mounted branding in an outdoor pen where calves were roped, wrestled, and processed by a capable crew of neighbours. Now that our in-house home-grown labour force has developed into a helpful team, we harness that youthful energy and have a smaller-scale event. After sorting, our kids push calves up to a chute where we process them one at a time inside our barn. We brand commercial steer calves (banded at birth) in one group, commercial heifer calves in another, and our purebred calves in a separate group. We administer pre-breeding vaccines to our cows at the same time.

There are a lot of things I miss about having a big, efficient branding with a large crew of friends helping. Luckily, most of our neighbours still have a traditional style branding that we enjoy helping with. One thing I don’t miss is branding in the blustery snow and cold weather that inevitably hit on the early spring day we scheduled our workday for. One reason we moved toward working calves indoors is they can stay dry and clean and hopefully have less stress during and post-processing.

Seeding is another time-sensitive task that is a top priority. While our main focus is livestock production, we plant annual and winter annual cereal crops and polycrops that can be turned into feed, seed, grain, silage, straw, or grazing, depending on our needs as the season progresses.

In our corner of southwest Saskatchewan, we’ve experienced many successive years of drought, so if Mother Nature wanted to surprise us all with a precipitous plot twist for this year’s crop and pasture narrative, that would be welcome.

Being that crop farming isn’t our main enterprise and ranching is, we tend to get through the “franching” season with a lineup of equipment that may not be shiny or brand new but it gets the job done. Running used equipment cuts down on costs but it can add a little extra time for filling drills or repair work. On the plus side, I get a warm feeling of nostalgia every time I “grind ‘em ‘til I find ‘em” in the 3-tonne truck I’ve ridden in for literally my entire lifetime.

It’s hard to know how spring and the subsequent chapters of the year will play out on our farm or yours. Hopefully, the story of our growing season will unfold with lots of humour and little drama, perhaps a bit of mystery but no horror, and everyone will stay engaged in the plot but not become obsessed. We all deserve an easy read with a happy ending once in a while.

Originally appearing in the April 18, 2024 issue of Grainews.

Prairie crocus blooming on a southwest Saskatchewan ranch.
Beef & Business

Off Label

Some things need warning labels. Hopping onto a roller coaster, for example, warrants a cautionary tag, as does applying pesticides, or walking on unstable terrain too close to the edge of a cliff, smoking a cigarette (real or electronic), or driving your tractor near an overhead powerline. It could even be argued that perhaps some people should come with a warning label. We all know That Guy who can turn a quiet evening of drinks at the local tavern one minute into an international adventure that involves an airplane trip the next. Spending time with those folks can lead to lasting side effects, and unsuspecting people deserve to know.

Some things do not need warning labels. Ground beef and pork do not need warning labels.

The rationale behind Health Canada’s proposed front-of-package warning label for ground beef is simply not sound. It seems they want to help shoppers avoid consuming products high in saturated fat and are willing to slap a label on ground beef and pork. Meanwhile, other animal-derived products – and more alarmingly – other highly processed, high sugar/high sodium/high fat products such as chips, cookies, and pop, are not affixed with labels at all.

These labels concern me deeply as a consumer, as a mom trying to feed my family the most nutritious and economical meals I can, and also as a rancher who raises commodity beef and direct-to-freezer products.

Does beef contain saturated fat? Like all animal products, it sure does. However, did you know there are three types of fats including unsaturated, saturated, and fatty acids? Unsaturated fats, like poly- and monounsaturated fats, are considered “healthy fats” which provide your body energy and help metabolize fat-soluble vitamins including A, D, E, and K. More than half of the fat that beef contains is unsaturated. For people, including myself, who do want to reduce fat content during meal prep, I can simply drain my ground beef after browning it, like more than 90% of Canadians report doing. Or, I can grill my burgers, which again reduces fat content by up to a third.

You know what else beef contains? Heme iron. What’s that? It is the most bioavailable form of iron you can find in a food. This means your body can get ready-to-absorb iron in a smaller serving of beef with fewer calories than other iron-rich foods like spinach or legumes. This is a reason why Health Canada themselves suggests beef as a first food for babies.

Another nutritional nicety of beef is that fact that it can synergistically boost nutrients absorbed from other foods. For example, adding beef to a meal with plant-based proteins (think chili with beans) bumps up the absorption of iron from both the beans and the beef, compared to legume-only chili.

Here’s another fun fact: beef and other meats are considered complete proteins. That means they contain all the essential amino acids we require in our diets, unlike plant-based proteins which don’t contain a full set of amino acids and require mixing and matching in order to meet nutritional needs.

I also could continue to say that beef is an important source of zinc, Vitamin B12, selenium, magnesium, riboflavin, pantothenate, phosphorus, potassium, and so many more nutrients too numerous to mention. And let’s not forget that gram-for-gram, ground beef is the most economical, nutrient dense source of protein currently available in Canada.

Canadian consumers deserve economical, safe, highly nutritious, easy-to-prepare protein foods that are not processed. Ground beef checks those boxes.*

*beef also supports sustainable/functional ecosystems and provides habitat in a way that non-animal protein foods do not but there is not time to address that in this article, okay, thank you.

Worried about labels? Visit https://www.dontlabelmybeef.ca/

Looking for more science-based information on nutritional qualities of beef? Check out:


House & Homestead

Patio Lanterns

The shift of seasons always brings a lot of feelings to light. On one hand, it’s great to be done with winter. On the other hand, the growing season stretches long ahead of us, and this year, it seems especially uncertain.

After a few dry, dusty, windy spring days, I grew tired of being grumpy about the weather and decided to find the joy in spring. Unsure about the promise of green grass or growing crops or even flowers, I tried to focus on a sure thing – it will soon be patio and deck season! Beverages and burgers always taste better in the great outdoors.

To cheer myself up, I scrolled through my phone for inspiration, and even did some virtual window-shopping on Amazon. I found patio lights, tiki torches, outdoor rugs, planters, gazebos, pergolas, extensive collections of furniture, signs, umbrellas… I let my imagination really go to town and put all sorts of different items in my cart which I would delete later on. The sky was the limit and I refused to let the windswept practicalities of our homestead confine my lofty online patio ambitions, darn it!

Well, all good daydreams come to an end, so after a while, I deleted my cart and went back to life in the real ranch world. Of course, over the next few days, any phone app I opened made many purchase suggestions that fit in with my empty cart history. I avoided the clickbait with frugal determination. When the forage and fiscal future seem unclear, it is not in my nature to invest in deck décor that I most likely would have to retrieve from the neighbouring fence line at some point this summer.

I did, however, invest in children’s pain relief medicine, a common household item that we needed to stock up on.

“Your shipment of two bottles of Tylenol will arrive on Monday,” notified Amazon. “Sounds about right,” I thought. “And your 8’x 10’ patio carpet will arrive next Wednesday,” Amazon continued.

What’s that, now, Amazon?

It turns out my empty online cart was a little fuller than I thought. Looking back through the order, I was annoyed to find that yes, I had indeed just ordered 80 square feet of patio adornment. If there were any silver linings in this dusty cloud, at least the cost was in the two-digit price range, and not one of the fancier, three-figure priced rugs I had browsed. Still, I was irritated at my mistake.

True to their word, Amazon delivered my unplanned purchase to our local auto parts store, which accommodates such large, cumbersome, and incredibly obvious parcels. I hoisted the lightweight (i.e., wind-vulnerable) rug onto my shoulder and made my walk of online shopping shame out to my vehicle which was barely large enough to cram the ridiculous rug into.

I tend to be an avid supporter of local shopping, and found one more reason why local is better than virtual: I may not have realized I was buying this item online, but I darn sure would have thought twice before I stuffed a physical tapestry into a 3D shopping cart and wheeled it through the check out.

The carpet is still in the package, tucked away on my deck.

Cheers to a summer of good times on the deck… and if it applies, cheers to awkward, flimsy, unintentional impulse buys.

Critters & Kids House & Homestead Ranch & Real Life

Calendar Girl

When I was creating our holiday cards, I came across a slogan on a template that I couldn’t get out of my head: “What a year.” Like many three-word combinations, they said it all. When I look back on the past twelve months, these are some of the memories that make the highlight reel.

When we flip the calendar to January each year, we enjoy a bit of downtime before diving right in to preparing for calving and bull sale seasons. We had lots of fresh air, rosy cheeks, hot chocolate, and some calm before things hit the fan.

Once February arrived, it was darn cold for a long time, making calving a marathon and sprint. (There were no mosquitos, however). We celebrated the birthdays of a lot of baby calves and also half the members of our household, so in between dressing warm and tagging and chores, we carved out a little time to eat cake.

March brought warm spring winds, very little mud, music festival, and early clothesline weather (if you don’t know yet, you soon will realize – I’m obsessed). Between bull deliveries and outside work, the kids got creative feeding themselves and one another. Necessity (hunger?) is the motherhood of invention.

In April, we branded and paired off most of the herd to pasture, checked fence, picked crocuses, and decorated Easter cookies. I also ripped apart and reorganized the hardest-working room in the house – the porch/laundry room. I don’t function well with a discombobulated house, so I probably yelled a lot, but I believe the results were worth it.

There were baby kittens, optimistic trips to the greenhouse, sorting and hauling more pairs, and rounds around the field planting the crop in May. Branding season started and the kids kicked up their 4H work into the next gear.

In June, we said good bye to a faithful horse, and hello to a couple fresh ones. Achievement Day, baseball games, family milestones and birthdays, the end of school, lots of days in the saddle, and an early start to haying season rounded things out.

Like everyone else who’s been surviving weird pandemic times, in July we got a puppy! (Note, this is the first time we’ve had a pup when I haven’t had a baby to care for simultaneously so I had time to bond with this border collie and channel my inner annoying dog mom). We had family visits and birthdays, swimming lessons, and we put up canola silage for the first time ever. Because, 2021.

In August, we baked pies, took a quick trip to the Cypress Hills, moved cows, and kept our eyes to the skies. Oh, and we picked choke cherries, because that’s what you do. What you do with them after is up to your discretion and if you still have full bags in your freezer, who am I to judge?

September started with school. It was no one’s first “first day,” and no one’s last “first day,” so I got to enjoy an unsentimental return to routine. We weaned purebred calves, sowed a hopeful acreage of fall rye, got really good at hooking and unhooking the water hauling unit, and I snuck away to the mountains for a quick working vacation.

In October, we shipped steers, which is my favourite time of year. With one truck appearing an entire 36 hours ahead of schedule, it made for a memorable Thanksgiving. We got through fall run smoothly and it felt a bit like we got across the finish line, simply making it to this season. There was a lot to be thankful for.

In November, we moved the herd home (a good seven weeks earlier than normal) to optimize feed and water. Later in the month, we took our herd of humans (and a few cattle..and horses) to Agribition. During the day, we reconnected with friends and fellow cattle producers…By night, we would cozy up in our single hotel room and discuss the finer points of who’s turn it was to sleep on the chair.

December saw decorating and dugout skating, catching up at the Medicine Hat Pen Show, chores, little sis’ birthday, and a move to the “big boys’ room” for little brother. We had a quiet Christmas with time to reflect on what happened in the rear-view mirror and what may lie ahead.

In 2021, we may not have seen a lot of pasture and crop growth, but we grew in other ways – in our adaptability and capacity to solve problems. Here’s to a new calendar year, with 52 weeks’ worth of opportunities, challenges, and ideas. May we all enjoy growth in 2022 – both forage and personal.

Critters & Kids Ranch & Real Life

At the Corral – Then & Now

Part of what I love about ranch life is the rhythm of seasons. We start out with calving, then move to pairing out for pastures and breeding, and before you know it, fall arrives and we’re looking at weaning and spending a few days (or weeks?) in a corral somewhere.

Over the years, I’ve developed a list for all the bits and bobs necessary to make chute work a little easier. To help streamline prep, I start with an idea of all the supplies we normally need – such as ear tags, pliers, parasite products, vaccines, needles, syringes, and the all-important list of “who’s got a one-way ticket to town this fall.” It was during a review of this list that’s taped to my filing cabinet that I realized the cattle work doesn’t change a lot from year to year, however the humans that make up the work crew perhaps do.

I can now scratch diapers, babysitter, soother, and car seat off my list from yesteryear. Instead, I quickly poll our young students on what they’re working on at school and whether they feel like they understand it fairly well. This is handy information to have when we arbitrarily suspend book-learning and formal school attendance so we can channel our child work force toward the ranch, for a few days anyway, while staying somewhat within societal norms.

Of course, helpers – old and young – need to be fed and watered. There was a time not so long ago that beer and water were the important considerations. Fast forward a few years and I’ve got an entirely different idea of the sustenance required to get us through the day. Do I have Advil? Tums? Ice packs? Hot water bottles? Band-aids? What about the large band-aids? Tensor bandage? A5-35? Ok team, let’s do this!

As well, the ration requirements of people have changed. Our family, friends, and neighbours are pretty easy going when it comes to simple food, however the volume of food that our growing youth consume warrants special consideration. You can never pack enough snacks; this is a simple fact. You may have a full cooler when you leave one corral only to find it is completely empty by the time you arrive at the next. Of course, this all happens prior to 9:00am. For this reason, I like to hide snacks and/or ration them throughout the day. Rumen overload may be a livestock issue, but human overload is a thing too.

Another change from the good old days is that we now take a wiser look at how much we can pack into a day. We used to cram three or four long days into one or two, commenting “yeah, we got another hour or two of daylight.” Then at the end of a long, dark workday, we would go off to meet up with friends and stay out late. The next morning, the alarm would go off, we would jump out of bed without a care in the world, and do it all over again. Don’t get me wrong, we can still put a shift in, but now we spread things out a bit. We allow times for break-downs, unexpected snags, and dwindling daylight and if we happen to be back in the house by a decent time, we can tuck ourselves into bed and be asleep five minutes later.

Whether you are still footloose and fancy free, packing a diaper bag and wrangling little ones, or reaching for the anti-inflammatories, have a safe, productive fall and winter ahead.


Beef & Business Ranch & Real Life

When the Going Gets Tough….

It’s hard to think about much else right now other than the dry conditions that so many of us are faced with. Across much of the Prairie Provinces and the Northern Great Plains, farmers and ranchers are dealing with drought, water shortages, and pests. Years like ’61 and ’88 are often referenced at the coffee shop and around the kitchen tables of producers who are old enough to remember those times.

The summer is speeding by, yet somehow things also feel like they are at a standstill. One day stretches into the next, another pasture is checked, another scratchpad filled with numbers and figures and plans, another dozen phone calls are made. Tangible and timely solutions are hard to come by yet there is an abundance of questions. How will we get through the year? What about next year? What will the winter be like? Will there be any help?

I’m an (annoyingly) optimistic person and even I’ve become discouraged at times. I don’t have any answers to the hard problems everyone is faced with, but when things seem bleak, I try to shift my focus on what I can control. It’s not precious bales of hay, or tonnes of silage, or subsidies, or even rain that will pull us through (although sign me up for all of that, please and thanks). I’m learning that the most valuable resource we have and need is right in front of me – people.

When the going gets tough, find the helpers. Some people complain and some people figure things out, but now is the time to dip into your network, identify your problem-solvers and stick with them. It’s very easy to get sucked into a vortex of worry and “why me?” but for every fool out there, there’s actually a positive person lurking too, you sometimes just have to work a little harder to find them. There are many farmers and extension folks who are willing to share their experiences, provide insight or tips, ask a question you haven’t considered before, or provide simple reassurance. Putting my energy and time into talking to people who have fresh, innovative ideas or the wisdom that comes from decades of experience has been a good return on investment so far.

When the going gets tough, get a puppy! Okay, perhaps this is not sound advice. Perhaps you should consider visiting family and friends regularly as a feasible and intelligent alternative. But I’m not going to lie, our new border collie that arrived this month has been a welcome distraction. I’m almost at the point of being an obnoxious dog mom, which is highly unexpected behaviour for me. We have also been lucky to connect with some non-furry family members this month, allowing us to recharge our batteries and provide us with some much-needed grounding.

When the going gets tough, focus on what you do have. Low yields and dwindling water might pull our attention toward what we don’t have, but we should remember what really matters. Do we have our health? Are the people we care about safe and well? I’m keenly aware that we are fortunate to check those boxes, but not everyone is. Do we have enough food in our pantry to sustain ourselves? Past generations of farmers who dealt with harsher conditions had to make do with less. We are lucky to not have those worries.

Without a doubt, this year will leave a permanent mark on farmers’ memories and be a defining time for many. As the old saying goes, every drought ends with a rain, and someday, this one will be over too. But the people will endure.

Gelbvieh cattle grazing a pastures in southwest Saskatchewan that is limited by stock water.
Gelbvieh cattle grazing a pastures in southwest Saskatchewan that is limited by stock water.

Critters & Kids Ranch & Real Life

Greener Pastures

I recently posted a few photos of our kids and their horses roping, loping, and grinning. I included a caption about how horses bring another welcome set of eyes and another brain into a situation to help riders tackle whatever job they might be working on. I added that a good horse is more than just a tool. They are perceptive and observant, and teach patience and trust. I trust them to carry our kids, my most precious cargo of all.

Perhaps the only downside of having a good horse for a teammate is that you rely on them to always be there. Whether we go to ropings or brandings, or help neighbours move cattle, or play around in the front yard racing a brother or sister through mom’s carefully planted trees – those are all jobs for you and your horse.

Our kids have formed a strong bond with their horses, I’ve seen them grow together, learn what one another’s strengths and weaknesses are, and how to read their horses’ signals. I’ve observed them have a difference of opinion with their mares, but that gets sorted out quickly as only it can when your behind is in a saddle and there’s work to be done.

When we discovered our son Cameron’s young mare Willow dead in the corral one morning, it was a punch in the guts. His teammate, his teacher, his friend – was unexpectedly gone.

Our kids had just spent a fun few days in the saddle at some neighbourhood brandings, learning things better learned from other encouraging ranchers rather than their own mom and dad. They roped, gathered, scratched ears, combed and patted, performing the familiar rituals with their horses without realizing or noticing what they were doing. After the busy weekend, I was even convinced to let the kids stay home from school on Monday morning, so they could move one of our herds to summer pasture.

I’m sure glad I did.

Cameron took the hard news better than a grown up would. He was comforted knowing Willow didn’t suffer and he was happy that he spent four good years with her. Caring friends and family reached out to let him know they were sorry. His buddy, a fellow cowboy, even painted a good likeness of the grey mare and handed it to him after ball practice one night, which caused me to get a sudden case of “dust in my eyes.”

I will always be grateful to Willow for helping Cameron’s confidence grow. Willow taught him about pressure and release, where and how to get into the right place to turn a herd, how to pull a stubborn bull, treat a sick animal, or just let loose and play.

What’s next? There will be new horses to start and form bonds with, new teammates to learn alongside and the rhythm of ranching will keep going as it will and it should.

Thanks for being a part of our family, Willow. You earned our trust and respect, and you were a good horse and a true friend.

DSC_0239 Cam & Willow DSC_0506 Willow DSC_0668 Ash & Cam & horses DSC_0346 Willow & Cam

Pastures & Prairie Ranch & Real Life

Pasture Lost & Found

If you take care of the land, the land will take care of you. It’s a familiar sentiment that stirs feelings of pride and heritage in most farmers and ranchers. It takes an ironic twist though, when we discover – and subsequently have to deal with – the valuable, worthless, and downright weird artifacts and garbage that appear on our pastures and farmland.

Most of our fields are a couple hundred kilometres from the nearest Tim Horton’s, which helps filter out some riff-raff, yet even so we regularly end up dealing with other people’s junk. For others who live along busier corridors, they have found everything from abandoned camper trailers, tires and clothing, to actual people tenting in their pastures. Other unique findings reported include undetonated explosives, a bathtub full of cement, household remote controls, and a couple risqué items I don’t think can be printed in a newspaper.

After cleaning up after everyone else, it would be nice to find the long-lost phones, pocket knives, and fencing pliers we’ve deposited ourselves over the years but we’re still looking.

Balloons & Boots. Helium balloons are a classic pasture find. Where do they come from? How far have they travelled? Watching a balloon waft across a meadow is enough to create confusion among man and beast alike. Our most recent find was a balloon that said “You’re #1!” and while I appreciate the sentiment, the original possessor obviously wasn’t great at picking up after themselves. Another very common pasture find is assorted footwear, mostly in singles. I’ve recovered fairly new footwear in some remote and untraveled spots. These aren’t settler’s artifacts; these are modern day shoes and boots that warrant an explanation. Did a shoe get tossed out of someone’s saddle bag? Did it fall right off someone’s foot and they somehow didn’t notice? Did it come out of the sky? Or were people trespassing and littering?

Obscure trinkets and treasures. Some pasture finds appear to be potentially lucrative. One person found a safe that had been stolen from a small-town watering hole. Thieves apparently dumped it out and it tumbled to the bottom of a coulee. The landowners were left with a mess to clean up and a trail of six or seven loonies for their trouble. Another person came across a jewelry box wrapped in grocery bags, the owner and origin which remains a mystery. Yet another reported discovering “treasure” of a different sort, this time in some purchased bales. Imagine the farmers’ surprise when they found their cows munching on someone’s collection of R-rated magazines during winter feeding. What’s the relative feed value of Playboy magazine, anyway?

Trash. This is the final, largest, and most frustrating category. Farmers find everything from seemingly benign trash like pizza boxes and beer cases to truckloads of construction waste. It takes time, energy, and money to clear these items out. A broken bottle can start a fire, a pile of shingles or batteries can sicken cattle and cause death. I once found a mountain of moving boxes along our road allowance. It took me (plus two toddlers and an infant) a couple trips to pick and dispose of the garbage. Were the litterers too lazy to take it to the dump? Too cheap? Did they really not think about someone dealing with the consequences? Or did they drive three miles out of town, turn down a dirt road, dump out their trash and simply not care?

Our land is an investment, and something we take pride in. As a rancher, I feel like it’s an expensive but important responsibility to manage ecosystems, filter water, provide habitat, conserve biodiversity, and sequester carbon – all things that benefit society. Society can remember something too – our fields are not a garbage dump. Someone has to deal with your sh…belongings, when you won’t.

Critters & Kids

The Cat Came Back

Over the years, we have adopted many farm cats from several different sources. In spite of providing prime feline habitat, including a barn loft full of fresh straw bales, these cats never stuck around. That is, until Marmalade.

I typically enjoy animals, but I appreciate them even more so when they serve a higher purpose by, say, hunting varmints. Hunting unfortunately isn’t a skillset that seems to come naturally to our orange tomcat. A year into his tenure, we had yet to observe him attempt to catch something – anything – but Marmalade finally got his big break after a harsh, late spring blizzard. The kids noticed a weak, disoriented bird struggling in the unexpected snow. Even Marmalade picked up on the fairly obvious cues this ailing little bird was throwing and he was ready to pounce. Blame it on bad timing or poor aim, but somehow, he missed the bird and instead awkwardly fell off the deck and into a deep pile of wet snow. He did not land on his feet and maybe even used up one of his nine lives during the ordeal. The bird, on the other hand, regained its strength and fluttered away, perhaps to live a long and happy life.

Marmalade has also proven to be unlucky in love. Our resident mother cat, creatively named Marmalade’s Girlfriend, has birthed a few litters of kittens since her arrival two years ago. Even though Marmalade has made numerous romantic advances toward her – hence her name – her offspring resemble a different, moody tomcat, leaving little doubt as to who the sire is and sparking many discussions among the children. While their relationship is complicated, Marmalade remains close with Marmalade’s Girlfriend, who is a skilled hunter, adept at bringing home the bacon for her family, and maybe a morsel for Marmalade too.

My relationship with the lazy feline is complicated in its own rite. A memorable low point came when I was hauling groceries in after a long day away from home. There was Marmalade, casually strolling around the corner of my kitchen, meowing an easy-going greeting to me. Did I mention he is NOT a house cat? How did he gain entry? How long had he been sauntering around, enjoying the comforts of my home? His stint as a house cat was abruptly cut short, and hasn’t been repeated again.

While hunting and romance may not be his forte, Marmalade is great at a few things. He is an expert at marking his territory. There isn’t a vehicle, flower pot, or other random object that doesn’t boast the telltale sign that this is Marmalade’s turf. He is also great at being everywhere, and is forever trotting down the lane, dutifully. When we run to the shop a half mile away, Marmalade is already there. When the kids are waiting to get on the school bus, he’s right there waiting too. Whether we are moving around from the barn to the back pasture or the corral, he beats us to these locations and welcomes us with a cool appraisal as if to say, “I wondered when you’d finally arrive.”

Marmalade is affectionate, he’s always grateful for a scratch behind the ears and is a regular topic of family conversation. We can’t help but cheer him on and celebrate his victories, even if they are few and far between. If a cat can be an underdog, then he is exactly that – Marmalade is our underdog.
Marmalade resized

House & Homestead Ranch & Real Life

Tune Up

March brings warmer weather, a little mud (if you’re lucky), an awakening of gophers (if you’re less lucky), and the piano tuner.

If you were playing a game of “one of these things is not like the other” and had to select a single item from our camp that fit that criteria, most would look to my beautiful grand piano. There is nothing about our home – not the lingering smell of manure, nor the multiple loads of laundry looking to be folded, nor the kids armed and ready with their BB guns – that says “I bet a classical pianist lives here.” Yet, here I am!

Growing up, my parents had a nice Baldwin piano where I plinked away over years of lessons, music festivals, piano exams, and even the disciplined drudgery of theory. Perhaps this inspired my dad who, rather than have the local music festival return the Yamaha back to its city habitat after that year’s event, diverted it to our farm. He had budgeted for a new hay bine for the upcoming season, but instead invested in this musical machine with the instruction that if (when) the old New Holland limped back to the shop for repair, I was to play the piano loud. Dad did upgrade the hay bine a year or two later and I got fairly experienced at operating that unit too.

Like any musical or mechanical implement, the piano needs a little maintenance every so often. I’m sure that piano tuners encounter all kinds of situations when they travel to different homes, and that is a great comfort when I consider some of their experiences here. One time I was expecting the knock at the door to be said tuner, but instead it was a surprising (and welcome) visit from friends. A long afternoon of swapping stories and daytime beverage consumption ensued. Our rowdy cowboy company joked that they could probably tune my piano and I assured them (insisted, really) that we should leave it to a qualified professional. When the expert did arrive to this redneck scene, he was greeted warmly and loudly by everyone on site.

During that session, he recovered numerous odd articles from within the piano, some of which I could blame on the kids. When he extracted a long-lost food item, I had to admit that probably fell under the realm of sketchy housekeeping. Finally, as the he was finishing up this particular appointment, my toddler daughter – who never coloured on the walls before or since – thought this was a great opportunity to make her mark. If this guy was writing a book, he could file this visit under the hillbilly chapter.

To be clear, this tuning service is incredibly professional and most diplomatic, something I appreciate greatly. Subsequent appointments have gone smoothly with delightful musical outcomes. Yet, the memories from that specific day are very motivating for me. I now do a pre-tuning sweep of the interior of the piano as well as a thorough living room clean. And I lock down the kids’ art supplies. And keep the liquor cabinet shut.

The general chaos around our ranch and home can make our life seem off key, but it’s nothing that some fine tuning can’t fix. That, and patience.



Calm, Cool and in Control(?)

Prairie folk love a weather story. We mark certain years, even decades, by memorable weather events, and use storms or extreme temperatures or even winds as a yardstick for recalling other important happenings like weddings or births.

It’s easy to understand our prairie preoccupation with the weather given that it is responsible for making our lives inconvenient, drastically changing our plans, and even putting us or our animals in downright dangerous conditions. Yet weather is one of the few things that is completely out of our hands. Perhaps the fact that we can’t do anything about current weather conditions irks us more than the weather itself.

We can collectively complain or post dozens of photos of our thermometers on social media, but these efforts won’t increase the temperature. More helpfully, people can share their water-bowl-thawing devices (and there are some good ones out there!) but even that isn’t enough to warm the atmosphere. We cannot stop power outages and in spite of our best efforts, we can’t always minimize equipment malfunctions because unfortunately, machines don’t run at their optimum potential when it’s ridiculously cold. In case anyone needs a reminder, patience levels and relationships also don’t function at their peak when a cold front moves in.

While we can’t will the weather to suit our needs, there are a few things that we can manage. For example, we can control our ability to find our block heater cord before we need it. I’ve had two years to source that cord on our family vehicle, yet I found myself fishing around under the hood on the coldest day of the year at the darkest time of night in order to locate it.

As per the old saying that there is no such as thing as poor weather, just poor clothing choices, another thing we can control in many cases is how warmly we outfit ourselves. In our household, the rule is function over fashion and as the temperature decreases, our layers and use of woollen accessories increases. My warm winter chore boots are a wardrobe staple from October through April. My choice of footwear not only keeps my feet warm and dry, but it has been scientifically proven to reduce my cold-feet-complaining by 73% which 100% of my family appreciates.

Controlling our expectations can be a little trickier. On one hand, if we are looking at that long range forecast and already mentally celebrating when temperatures appear to warm up in about ten days time, it’s hard not to be disappointed when – as we get closer – the temperatures not only remain chilly, they actually dip colder. On the other hand, during winter on the prairies, we can’t be generally shocked when we get long stretches of sub-zero temperatures.

One final thing we can control is our weather chit chat and that’s where things can get really complicated. If you say “cold enough for ya?” to someone who has cold-started that engine or searched for that heat gun or hooked up that generator or thawed that water line one too many times, you might find the conversation will heat up before you know it.

Ranch & Real Life

Back in the Saddle Again

Back in 2014, I started writing a column for a quality local newspaper over a three-year period. During that time, I shared a bit about life on our ranch and what it was like to raise our kids among the daily activities of breakdowns, calving cows, and lost dogs. I covered the challenges and triumphs around our newly established homestead including how to manage one mule’s emotions and my war on gophers. I shared anecdotes about that “one time” I got stuck (and that “other time” I got stuck), and the occasion when my twin four-year-old’s confidently rode away to gather pairs declaring they didn’t need me any longer. I answered the question no one actually asked – why does a woman from treeless southwest Saskatchewan self-identify as a tree hugger? Of course, no self-respecting ranch writer can avoid talking about the weather so that thread wound its way into several op-eds. Crocuses, gender equality in agriculture, love stories, and politics were a few of the completely arbitrary topics I unpacked over the years.

I enjoyed the literary exercise of writing things out and it became a diary of sorts that I like to look back on. I also think it’s important to engage audiences who may be unfamiliar with farm life to help create a connection between them and where their food comes from. And of course, I appreciated when fellow ranchers or parents could resonate with some of my experiences. It’s nice to be back in the saddle again.

The metaphor is also fitting for a new year and a fresh start. January always seems a bit familiar and routine for me, in a good way and it does remind me of saddling up once again after a long time grounded.

This last year has been full of confusion, chaos, and controversy for most everyone. However, I like to think that there were some opportunities too. If 2020 taught us one thing, it’s that we can adapt and switch gears when we need to. Things that seemed so important at one time, suddenly were not as significant as we thought. When society was unencumbered by commitments and schedules and hustle and bustle, the silence was deafening and a little uncomfortable. But sometimes discomfort is okay.

In our household it felt like we were given the gift of more time with our four kids who range in ages from three to ten. We ate every meal together, the kids spent more hours than ever with their animals, they used their imaginations, and learned plenty of real-life skills. As with anything, a little can go a long way though, and more quality time came with some struggles too. (Why is everyone hungry again? What is “new math” and why can’t I carry the one? What is the Zoom passcode? Why am I incapable of baking bread? How many hours until bedtime?).

For me, getting back in the saddle is maybe more about gaining a different perspective. Finding a change in scenery, getting outside of my own head and having a chance to see things from another hilltop, a different vantage point. It’s about being intentional with my time and energy (you have to catch the horse and get it saddled after all), but also staying calm and cool during unanticipated events (for example, when your saddle slides off when you lean too far over to identify a plant because you left your cinch too loose. Yes, this is a very specific example).

You never know what you’re going to encounter when you hop on your horse and head out, but part of the beauty is not knowing. Just remember to cinch up.


Beef & Business Critters & Kids House & Homestead Ranch & Real Life

WFH Woke

Well friends, these are some unexpected times, aren’t they? Life has changed with #COVID19 and recommendations for social distancing (although for ranchers, self-isolation is a normal and usually welcome practice). Schools and day-cares are closed and employers have transitioned to telework where possible, as society pulls together to minimize the spread of the disease that will potentially overburden our health care system.

I’ve been working from home (WFH) among a menagerie of children, cattle, and laundry for seven years. Most of my work is writing, analysis, and developing content, and I’m fortunate to work remotely although my approach is a bit unconventional. I’ve captured interviews in my truck from the Wal-Mart parking lot, simultaneously giving my kids the “mom eyes” to will them into silence. There is currently a soundtrack of Paw Patrol (“we’re on a roll!”) playing in the background of all my video and conference calls. I wear the abstract WFH wardrobe (hi there, ugly 17-year-old cardigan and Video Conference Head Band). And yes, I’m guilty of buying work time from my children for the sum of an unending supply of fruit snacks and the promise of binge-watching Dude Perfect on YouTube.

I’m not perfect. Nobody is, but working remotely for me is my everyday reality. Now that friends, family, and colleagues are unexpectedly riding the work-from-home wave, I’ve gotten a chuckle out of their experiences. Here are a few ideas and tips I’ve put into practice over the years:

Manage your expectations. And your guilt. At first, I was disappointed when I didn’t get a solid eight hours of “work” in each day, but I’ve grown to realize that it’s not realistic for me right now. I’ve also learned to cut myself some household slack because when I am in work mode, my house will be messy and other parts of my life will feel disorganized. Unfortunately, the mom guilt is real and I still struggle with explaining to my kids why I am distracted and not able to give them my full attention at certain times. There is also work guilt that creeps in when I ignore emails and undone projects in order to focus on other important things in my life.

There are no rules. I do have dedicated home office space that moonlights as a guest room but thanks to the nature of my live-in kinfolk co-workers, the boundaries are very porous. Sometimes my office works well, but I’ve also learned that perhaps I can get more done when I set up my laptop in a common area and become part of the general chaos. Plus, I can keep an eye on things (Put down the scissors! No more juice boxes! Why is there a cow herd in the front yard?!).  

Do not underestimate yourself. You will surprise yourself with how much work you can get done especially if you are under a little pressure. While I don’t advocate putting pressure on yourself, somehow the work that needs to get done, always does. (Why, yes, I am a procrastinator).

Prioritize. Each morning, I take a moment to mark down the essential family, ranch, or work duties that need to get done that day, plus a few nice-to-do tasks in another column. I also try to go with the flow, and work on creative tasks that require my full attention when the spirit moves me. I save perfunctory jobs for times when I don’t feel as focused.

Put your phone down. No, really. It’s a vortex, especially now with constant updates and alerts, and it can put a real damper on your productivity, not to mention your mood. Avoiding my phone is tricky because part of my work is to curate social media accounts like Twitter and Facebook. However, there is a fine line between uploading a disciplined professional work post and accidentally spending 45 minutes trying to identify desert range plants on a friend’s Facebook feed. I have adjusted the screen time settings on my phone to set a time limit on social media apps, which helps. I also place my phone out of reach. I can still hear it and respond as needed, but it’s a little more difficult to get distracted.

Back up yo’ files. Get to know your external hard drive. Appreciate it. Become one with it. While having things available on shared online folders or “the cloud” is a revolutionary way to share resources and collaborate virtually, make sure you download the files you really need to do your work. I’ve learned this the hard way thanks to rural internet challenges, but no one is immune to technical issues. It is frustrating when you get focused and ready to work, except you can’t because your material is inaccessible.

Budget your energy. Parents all have the grand scheme to maximize work during our kids’ naptime. This is a great strategy…if your kids get the memo. Which they never do. In order to enjoy the luxury of a quiet workplace, I used to pride myself on being able to stay up late and get lots of hours in. Then sometimes I would try and get up extra early to get a few hours in too. All this extra time did allow me to accomplish some work, however it came with a nasty side effect of me becoming a burnt-out crazy person, so I had to dial that back. I still occasionally will get up early OR stay up late, but then I try to budget my energy accordingly for the rest of the day.

While the COVID-19 situation is challenging everyone in an unprecedented way, it may also be an opportunity to show employers that working from home, even with kids around, is possible. Our families can learn more about the work we do while we spend less wasted time (and money) commuting. Plus, we can spend less time listening to Felicia from Human Resources drone on and on about her dog’s babysitter.

Now get off your phone, put on your office blanket-disguised-as-a-sweater and get at ’er. You can do this. We can do this. We truly are in this together.

Beef & Business Critters & Kids Pastures & Prairie Ranch & Real Life

Beyond Meat is Beyond Me

It’s hard to beat a beautiful Canadian summer! Fun in the sun, beach time, lake days, and of course, the sizzle of a grill as you barbecue a simple patty comprised of twenty-one ingredients, like bamboo cellulose, vegetable glycerin, gum arabic, and pea protein isolate…just no actual meat. Yeah, I’m talking about the Beyond Meat sensation that is on the news, in your Facebook feed, featured in advertisements, and speculated about on Wall Street.

When it comes to food preferences, I’m not opposed to options. While I enjoy serving and eating ranch-raised beef, I also eat other proteins, so long as they aren’t in disguise. I make a mean lentil chowder, serve baked beans at many large meals, and have been known to eat an entire container of hummus at one sitting (don’t judge me).

Diet diversity is important for what it is – diversity. However, some Beyond Meat proponents make false claims, saying it is “healthier” or more “environmentally friendly.” Well my friends, the devil is in the details, and when you look at the fine print, these claims are wrong.

Myth 1. Plants are always healthier… right?


I took a minute to compare nutritional parameters between beef and peanut butter, our other handy household protein source. A small serving of peanut butter (32 g) had less protein, more calories, more fat (including saturated fat) and zero iron, compared to 75 grams of cooked lean beef. I’m not going to cut back serving either to my kids but I’ll admit I was a bit surprised that when it comes to packing a nutritional punch, beef handily surpasses an old-fashioned PBJ.

What about looking at how the Beyond Meat burger compares with a beef burger? According to this article, a 113 gram Beyond Meat patty has 250 calories, 18 grams of fat, 390 mg of sodium and 20 grams of protein. Health Canada rates 113 grams of lean ground beef as having 292 calories, 16.5 grams of fat, 105 mg of sodium and 33 grams of protein. If consumers need a nutrient dense, high protein, low-sodium diet, real beef is the healthier option. If people are worried about consuming processed foods, a faux meat patty made from 18-21 ingredients is the much more highly processed option. A ranch-raised beef patty served here isn’t processed at all, unless you consider the four pairs of helping hands that went into forming it.

Myth 2. Plant-based protein is better for the environment.

No! NO! This is wildly inaccurate.

I’m not sure exactly what inputs are required to extract bamboo cellulose or derive pea protein isolate, but I do know that grasslands and beef cattle support natural wildlife habitat, preserve fragile land, and make use of marginal land incapable of producing other crops. No other agricultural enterprise in Canada supports natural biodiversity or maintains sensitive ecosystems as well as beef cattle. Grasslands provide habitat for thousands of species, including many species at risk such as loggerhead shrikes and short-eared owls. Grasslands also provide dozens of ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, groundwater recharge, soil protection, and nutrient cycling, to name just a few. Does gum arabic do that? What is gum arabic? Beef is truly the ultimate plant-based protein and the beef cattle sector continues to make positive strides to become more efficient with water and energy. Plus, innovation and research is enabling beef farmers to make use of human-inedible by-products like ethanol distillers grains, potato peels, and even leftover beer-making ingredients.

At the end of the day, I am just a mom, standing in front of her hungry kids, trying to feed them a well-balanced, healthy diet. If they want a healthy, environmentally-friendly juicy burger that looks like beef, tastes like beef, has the same texture as beef, and smells like beef – I’m going to serve beef!

Beyond meat is beyond me.

Additional reading:

Isn’t Beef Canada’s Ultimate Plant Based Protein? Beef cattle Research Council

Vegan Beyond Meat burgers are just ultra-processed patties that can be bad for our health National Post

Why Canadian beef? Canada Beef

DSC_0444 watermark
This short-eared owl, a species at risk, looks on as cattle graze at Lonesome Dove Ranch.

Beef & Business Critters & Kids Ranch & Real Life

Calving Certainties

People are pretty particular about how they raise their cattle. The breed, colour, size, temperament, horns or no horns, registered or commercial, roped or tabled.… The list of variations, and associated opinions about different methods, can go on for a country mile.

Calving season is one example of how different farms and ranches can be. Do you calve in winter? Or wait until spring? Are the cows out on grass, or in a pen? Do you have a short calving season, or does it have stages? Do you tag your calves or not bother?

When it comes to preferences around cattle, I’m more of a “you do you” sort of person unless you ask – then I will tell you! It’s easy to get caught up in the differences, but I’ve been thinking a little about some of the similarities too. Regardless of breed, season, or herd size, there are some calving facts that apply to every cow-calf operation.

They Move on Their Terms

It is remarkable to watch newborn calves stand up right after birth. At first they might wobble a bit, but with a nurturing mama and a belly full of milk, they are quickly bucking around. Until you want to move them into a different pen, that is. Sure, these calves were racing with their cohorts a minute ago, but now that you want to move them in a coordinated effort, perhaps even as part of a tiny gang, it’s a different story. You nudge them, poke them, and push them in the right direction, one at a time, then start again with the first calf who has already wandered off in the wrong direction. When you get everyone within a hair’s breadth of the gate (or whatever goal you’ve been doggedly working toward), those calves regain their energy and race their buddies…back in the opposite direction so you can repeat this process again.

Fecal Contamination

There is nothing stickier, smellier, or with a greater ability to coat all the surfaces you don’t want it to than fresh, yellow, baby calf poop. At best, you might get away with just a little on your boot or perhaps you kneel in some. At worst, you’ll get fresh poo on your glove, then transfer this fudgy, goldenrod sh*t to the tractor door handle, then gear shift, steering wheel, and finally your coffee cup before you smell its distinctive odour and realize your error. You will encounter this stinky substance both in a corral and in a large grass pasture. No rancher is immune – it will find you.

Flat as a Pancake

With longer daylight comes bright, warm sunshine that is most welcome however also responsible for the emotionally charged job of checking calves. Calves will stretch out flatter than a pancake out in the field to capture some rays. Honking the horn yields no movement, so you are compelled to walk or ride or drive over to check. You get closer and still nothing moves, other than your quickening heart. This was a healthy, live calf last night when you checked! You proceed to get a look at the tag and at the last moment, the calf springs to life, flashes you a “dude, what’s your deal?” look and bounces away, leaving you with a roller coaster of emotions that at least has a happy ending.

Whether you’re all done calving, right in the middle, or haven’t started yet, enjoy this season of birth and renewal…and all the manure that goes along with it.

Ranch & Real Life

Deep Freeze

I’m no weather forecaster, but I am a major weather stakeholder, and follow trends and temperatures regularly. As we enter our fifth (sixth?) winter, it’s hard to deny that this spring has been unseasonably cold. Scratch that, it’s cold as #$%*. However, being the optimist that I am, I’ve picked up a few tips to help even the most soured up folk get through this trying time.

Bird watch – spring is a special time for bird-watching as our feathered friends return from their warm winter vacays and prepare for breeding and nesting. This spring is no different. In fact, I’m actually taking more interest in bird-watching than normal because the birds seem confused and annoyed, and this sort of amuses me. I have no less than 200 Canada geese circling our home yard, and while geese usually seem grumpy, this year they are downright cantankerous and full of personality. I’ve seen some trumpet swans pass by looking for warmer climes and watched a small flock of meadowlarks doing their best to swing their sweet song. The hawks are the only bird group that seem to be dealing, and have an “I got this” attitude.

Change up your décor – up your game and decorate as though it really feels like spring. (Note, I am highly unqualified to dispense decorating advice – even though I do have a copy of the unauthorized biography of Martha Stewart). I bought more Easter flowers than what I normally budget and I even stuck a couple of spring-like wreaths on my gate. Since then, it warmed up to -14C and another pair of confused and bitter geese rolled in. I’m pretty sure this decorating thing really works.

Convert – for reasons unknown to generations of Canadians, Trudeau the First championed the metrification of Canada…and forever made us sound colder than necessary. When an unseasonably cold day time high is -18C, wouldn’t it be more fun to say it is zero degrees….Fahrenheit? When it seems too cold to bear, just mention the metric-imperial debate in your local coffee shop or in a social media discussion forum and things will automatically heat up – guaranteed.

We cannot do a thing about the weather, and that aggravates us humans. All we can do is be patient, cope as best we can, and take heart knowing that in a few short months we will get the warmth we deserve so we can complain about those 100 degree Fahrenheit days.

Beef & Business

Happy Canada Ag Day!

I’ve done the math (ok – I haven’t, but it sounds cool) and I’ve determined that February is arguably our busiest month of the year. It seems especially fitting to me then, that Canada’s Agriculture Day takes place when we are up to our Muck boots with calving and bull sale prep and the latest and greatest weather fluctuations.

The theme for this year’s Ag Day celebration is The Future is Bright. There are certainly challenges within the ag industry as a whole and there are obstacles specific to whichever sector you are a part of. But I see so many reasons for there to be a strong future ahead, especially for those willing to work hard.

The strength of Canada’s agriculture sector is its people. Agriculture is a multi-billion dollar economic force but for the thousands of farmers across Canada, agriculture isn’t exactly a get-rich-quick scheme. Rather than money, what motivates me on our ranch are people who are passionate about their farms and what they do. I’m inspired by people who are moving toward their goals, people who love to improve their environment, their cattle, and their businesses. Meeting people, learning from them and their stories — that is my ag currency.

When I see so many opportunities for young enthusiasts to become involved in agriculture, I know the future is bright. There are numerous initiatives, apprenticeships, and mentoring programs available to help transfer experience from one leader to another. I’ve had many mentors, both formal and informal, and am humbled to be a mentor for the Cattlemen’s Young Leader program. When I visit with my program partner Rachael, I am encouraged to hear how articulate, professional, and keen she is, and I can’t help but feel excitement for what lies ahead for the beef industry!

And of course, I can’t discuss the future without thinking of our children. Our young kids have responsibilities and are expected to help us on our ranch and it’s been enjoyable to see how their own interests are sprouting. One of our kids is a natural with animals, another has an aptitude for numbers, statistics, and pedigrees. Our daughter likes to understand the logic behind our production practices. I guess the baby is the only one that doesn’t show a real preference for chores yet, but so far he’s gotten in on fall run, cattle shows, and now his first calving season, so I suppose he’ll catch on too.

Whether or not our kids choose to pursue a future in agriculture is completely up to them. But I do know that their farm background will only support them with whatever path they take and they will be able to explain how and why their food is on the table.

The future is bright for Canadian agriculture today. It was bright yesterday and it will be bright tomorrow too. Happy Agriculture Day, Canada!


Beef & Business Ranch & Real Life

Gender Bender

Recently there has been some discussion surrounding women-oriented agricultural events and groups. Organizations like Women in Ag, and national conferences such as Advancing Women in Agriculture, have sparked debate and even inspired a column in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix about this “dicey topic.” Questions have surfaced…Why aren’t there men-only agricultural events? Are women just creating their own barriers? Why don’t more women join agricultural boards? Should men encourage women to participate more? Or should women just step up to the plate?

I’m a rancher and an agricultural professional and I’ve thought a fair bit about my experiences as a woman in agriculture. I have a heritage of strong, rural women. My fore-mothers worked hard on their farms, raised large families on little, and in some cases, had to navigate new languages. My mother was one of just a few females Agros in her class and later became the first female extension agrologist in Saskatchewan. She overcame gender roadblocks that my generation fortunately never had to encounter. Compared to past  inequalities, I’ve got it made in the shade.

Yet, I still participate in female-focused agriculture events. I’ll never forget the first time I went to a women’s range workshop where I found kinship among women who shared my passion for grass and cattle. We also shared common struggles, discussing how to budget on one annual calf cheque, or how best to physically handle a roll of baler net wrap — these ladies spoke my language, I had found my tribe! I continue to attend women’s events, big and small, specific or general, because I find them useful on a personal and professional level.

When it comes to the old boys’ club rhetoric surrounding industry representation, I admit I’m not doing my demographic justice. I do not currently hold a role on an industry board, but it’s not because “many women just aren’t interested in rural municipal politics” as per the Star Phoenix piece. Noooooo. Ugh. God, no. I would do great things on a board, and perhaps someday I will. At the moment however, I have four kids aged zero to seven, and a board role would cause my family, my ranch, my household, and other community commitments to suffer. My lack of board participation is certainly NOT because I’m disinterested. In fact, I serve in other capacities, and maintain close contact with beef lobby groups, participate in formal mentorship programs, and attend industry meetings (with or without a baby on my hip).

As a rancher and a professional, I look to several leaders that represent both genders and span many generations. I value male and female perspectives, but I still think there are differences between men and women – good, bad or indifferent. If we can have women’s sports organizations, female religious groups, or business women networks, why shouldn’t we have women’s agricultural groups? Agriculture absolutely needs positive events and organizations that build capacity in women and men, in families, groups, and sectors.

Maybe it’s time people stop mansplaining how women’s ag events don’t work and start thinking about how they do.

Beef & Business Critters & Kids Pastures & Prairie Ranch & Real Life

#OurFoodHasAStory…what’s yours?

October is Agriculture Month in Saskatchewan, and friend and fellow rancHER Adrienne Ivey asked me to share my food story as a guest post on her blog VIEW FROM THE RANCH PORCH. Adrienne is sharing a variety of food stories from people across Saskatchewan as part of Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture’s #OurFoodHasAStory campaign. Head over to Adrienne’s blog to read my story and what food means to me… better yet, participate on social media and share your own story!

Beef & Business

Food and (Tax) Shelter

Apparently only two things are certain in life: death, and taxes. The newly proposed changes to federal taxation for small businesses is making the certainty of taxes a little more complicated.

I would like to preface this by saying I am not a tax specialist. I’m sure my accountant (hey, girl!) is wondering what I could possibly even offer on the topic, but my goal is to draw attention to this serious matter, provide information links below where people can read the facts and even sign a petition if they so choose. Official comments must be forwarded before October 2.

Thanks to my upbringing, I know just enough about taxes to be dangerous. That’s okay, because now I can spot danger when I see it, and the proposed federal tax legislation definitely sounds an alarm bell. Because of the way we are structured, the proposed changes won’t affect us in the short term, however these changes have major implications in the way we do business going forward. My gravest concern is these changes may potentially limit our ability to formally involve our children, in more than just a free labour capacity, in our business someday if they are interested.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of Canada and provide hundreds of thousands of jobs for Canadians. For business owners, they provide the opportunity to “follow their dream” and “be their own boss” which sounds all kinds of sweet. In the end, it really involves a major personal investment of money, long hours, no pay/pension/benefits/maternity leave (hey-o!), but lots of stress and big-time sacrifice for owners who are after a different type of currency.

For small business owners, regardless of whether you operate a ranch, a hair salon, or a medical practices, employees and expenses need to be paid first, often not leaving much left behind for the owners. The owners may either choose to pay themselves a wage (ha!) or save the money in a non-RRSP for a crop failure drought tractor blow-up fire flood rainy day. (*Side note: I would totally welcome a rainy day this year). Farmers have to be ready for whatever delight Mother Nature throws at us and we need accessible money that’s not locked into a traditional pension or long-term savings. And if there is extra money, maybe we will go ahead and get ourselves something fancy, like a water bowl that wasn’t fashioned out of five old ones, or a new-to-us set of tires for our fifteen-year-old pick-up. If we are feeling extra devious, we might even fertilize that “moo chew” crop of ours! What a tax shelter!

My concerns with the proposed tax changes are:

Succession planning – proposed changes will provide a greater tax incentive for farmers to sell land to a non-family member or business, rather than to a potentially interested family member (who does not meet the intergenerational rollover definition). This isn’t right. You can sell your land to whoever you want to, but you shouldn’t be penalized for selling it to a family member if there’s a willing buyer and a willing seller. And for farmers who have already started the complicated journey of succession planning and have used existing tax scenarios as a guide, these potential changes are a major hit.

Income sprinkling – around our place, there’s not a lot of income to sprinkle, but there’s a sh*t load of work dumped on anyone old enough to ride a horse, hold a shovel, or market cattle. (At this point, the new infant is getting a free ride, but I’m sure that will change). For small business corporations, proposed changes will limit compensation paid to partners or owners otherwise triggering a large increase in taxes for those people. Also, compensation will be limited to people based on division of labour, financial contribution to the business, or financial risk. I’m not sure how you quantify that…

Capital Gains Exemption – There are also proposed changes to the Capital Gains Exemption, including possibly limiting family members from using the exemption if they have outside jobs or are only on the farm part-time. Last time I checked, it takes money to buy a farm or ranch and having a job is a useful way to make money. If you’re penalized for having a job so you can afford to buy into an all-work-no-pay small business (oops, I meant “live the dream!”), what incentive is there at all?!

Family farms have always been sandwiched in that no-man’s-land between “operating as a business” and “doing it for the lifestyle.” These proposed changes satisfy neither philosophy, but if they do proceed, I’m worried there won’t be a future for family farming.

Sign a Petition to the Minister of Finance 

Review official document from Government of Canada – Department of Finance Tax Planning Using Private Corporations (Page 17 shows you where you can submit comments)

Contact information for Members of Parliament

Tips on writing a letter to your Member of Parliament

MNP Factsheet – Potential Impacts of Changing Tax Regulations on Ranching Operations

Thomsan Jaspar & Associates – Short Video About Proposed Changes- 


Ranch & Real Life

All You Need is Love

No matter who you talk to, most people will agree that sixty-five years is a long time. Depending on how, or perhaps who, you spend sixty-five years with, probably makes the time feel longer or shorter. My husband’s grandparents celebrated their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary last November. Even though that is a long time, I’m sure they would both agree that it’s been the best sixty-five (and a half) years of their lives.

The first time my husband took me to his grandparents’ farm to meet them, his grandpa Angus asked me if he could show me the prettiest girl he had ever seen. Curious, I complied, following him down the hall where he showed me a photo of Marlene, his bride, taken a couple of years before they were married. I hardly knew my Other Half at that time let alone his extended family, but it was pretty clear to me that theirs was a love story that had stood the test of time.

We’re so fortunate to raise our family near all of our remaining parents and grandparents. Over the years I’ve enjoyed visiting and learning from everyone and seeing them all in a new light as my own life evolved from a girlfriend to a wife, and now mother. With Marlene and Angus, it’s been most interesting to observe how they’ve stayed the course of commitment for several decades, in spite of challenges that one can only imagine would occur from the 1940’s to present day. They’ve been blessed with children and grandchildren, and still continue to welcome great grandchildren with enthusiasm and love. In fact, when my Other Half and I were off to the hospital to usher in one such great-grandchild, we unexpectedly dropped off our two-year-old twins at their farm in the middle of the night. Naturally, they took it in their (then) octogenarian stride.

They remain each other’s biggest supporters, although there is evidence of daily compromise. For example, I’m not exactly certain what happened, but I do know that Angus has been responsible for making his own porridge every morning for more than six decades. And I also recognize the patience Marlene has that can only come with being married to someone blessed with a strong sense of humour, a twinkle in his eye, and a penchant for teasing.  Angus’ brand of humour hits very close to home for me because my husband has inherited it as well. I’m going to go ahead and say it takes a special person to fully appreciate that Davidson comedy each and every day.

They enjoy hosting guests at their farm and appreciate a good visit. After even a quick stop, you’ll leave with your tank full of homemade baking, hot coffee (with cream and sugar), and at least one or two previously unheard stories to file away. If you’re lucky, you might get a quick peak at a new set of lambs from Angus’ flock, or Marlene might send you home with one (or twelve) jars of chokecherry jelly, just because.

Someone recently remarked to Marlene that sixty-five years was a long time to be with the same man. Without missing a beat, Marlene’s response was “it helps if you choose the right man in the first place.” That good choice not only changed her life, but created generations of family that I’m grateful for.

In a world that often seems topsy-turvy, their unwavering commitment to each other is inspiring. After more than sixty-five years, Angus and Marlene are an excellent example of what can be accomplished with love, faith, good humour, and of course, a sprinkling of compromise.

Marlene and Angus

Pastures & Prairie

What’s Up, Buttercup?

Pasque flower. Wind flower. Prairie anemone. Anemone patens. Does a crocus by any other name smell as sweet?

There is no rite of spring quite like the discovery of the first crocus. I’m sure at this moment sitting on many a table across southwest Saskatchewan, there are crocuses in teacups, tiny vases, or bowls. Excited children like to bring back fistfuls of the pretty purple flowers, and even the occasional thoughtful spouse will think to stoop down and grab a few while they are out fencing.

Every Saskatchewanite seems to have fond memories of hunting for crocuses across the grasslands. The enthusiasm and interest that these little flowers generate gives me hope that deep down, people still have a connection to the original natural resource in our part of the world – native prairie. Crocuses, while occasionally found elsewhere, usually live on prairie grassland, because they rely on special bacteria to help the plants acquire nutrients so they can survive. Of course, they can randomly pop up elsewhere, including in my parents’ farmyard, where they discovered a crocus sprouting by the shop. The land had been cropped for decades before my parents established a yard site there, so where and how this crocus came to be is still a bit of a mystery.

Like most people, I too have fond memories hunting for crocuses on the big rock pile hill in one of our fields. Other times, long walks during Easter gatherings with my cousins always yielded a bounty of crocuses, not to mention excellent conversations. Last year was probably my favourite great crocus hunt of all, because almost all of my nieces and nephews joined in on a lovely evening walk to pick the fuzzy forbs.

The prairie crocus isn’t actually a crocus at all, in fact it is part of the buttercup or Ranunculaceae family. The plant itself is considered to be mildly poisonous although I would like to state that pretty much every plant is poisonous, depending on the dose. Cattle or sheep or humans would have to eat so much of the plant that even if you were intentionally trying to poison yourself, you’d get fatigued before you even got close to accomplishing your goal. But still. Don’t eat things you see growing in the wild.

Indigenous people use to make a poultice of the crushed leaved to reduce skin irritation from wounds or burns. I also read that sometimes a special crocus recipe was ingested to induce vomiting or purging, and one count indicates that in small doses, apparently crocus functioned as an aphrodisiac of sorts. Yet another book indicated that holding a crocus flower to one’s nose will stop nosebleeds. I think I’ll just stick with enjoying their beauty.

I haven’t yet gone on my annual pilgrimage this spring, but I’ll soon take a walk to see what I can find. Crocuses won’t be around for long, and before I know it, all that will remain on the hillsides will be little fluffy seed heads, looking like puffs of smoke, just waiting for the wind to take this buttercup to a new potential home.


Critters & Kids House & Homestead

The Simple Life

Our household has remained relatively healthy all winter long, something that I am very grateful for. That changed this week however. For me, it started out with a major sinus cold, and ended on an equally strong note with a gastrointestinal virus that left no victim unscathed in our household. Looking back, much laundry was done, some or all kids made it to school on most days, cows had calves, phone calls were made, Lysol wipes were used with abandon, and lots of other things somehow seemed to take place too.

We certainly aren’t the first family to have illness run its course, and I am wise (or jaded) enough to know that this definitely won’t be the last week that we have like this. But when all was said and done, I found more than a few things that made me happy this week.

1. Running water: I’ll admit that doing load upon load of unplanned, revolting laundry at all hours of the night or day isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. And while I wasn’t exactly relishing the task, I had a functional washing machine and ample water to use which made the job almost painless. Hauling bedding to the creek to pound the filth out with a rock would have added unnecessary work onto an already full day.

2. Technology: I had a few commitments to follow through on this week, in spite of our contagion. I was fortunate to be able to make a virtual presentation to a very accommodating audience via webinar instead of having to travel to the event in person, which was most helpful! I also deposited a cheque, paid some bills, and completed some other work all without having to leave my house, thanks to modern convenience.

3. Ranch life: I was on cow-checking duty for a couple of days this week and I must say I really enjoyed the opportunity to escape…. Okay, maybe escape is a bit harsh, but I definitely relished every trip away from the house and out to the barn. A little fresh air, coupled with sweet baby calves that buck around the field, mixed with that earthy smell of wet, spring dirt was just what I needed to put me in a good mood.

4. We live in a good place: Both the provincial and federal budgets were tabled this past week, something I could follow closely thanks to the previously mentioned technology. While there were some tough choices that were made, and a few things that many people were less than excited to hear about, including myself, I can’t help but feel that we are fortunate to live where we do. We live in a safe country, free from persecution, and have access to many privileges like voting, education and healthcare, things that others around the world can only dream about. Politicians and budgets come and go, but it’s the people who make a place great.

While there were several less-than-pleasant moments this week, I’m still a sucker for the simple things in life. A new baby calf, a witty tweet, and water flowing out of the tap were sometimes the only things I needed to help me put one foot in front of the other.

House & Homestead Ranch & Real Life

Like a Lion

Ahhh, March. The thing about March is…well, there are a lot of things about March, really. It’s a month of transition as we move from winter to spring (in theory anyway). It’s a month of variability, due largely in part to the aforementioned seasonal shift. For some organizations or companies, March may mark the fiscal year end or the completion of the first quarter for others. For some, winter sports come to an end and time that was spent in a rink or gym is often diverted elsewhere. For all the things that March is, it often offers a promise of new beginnings. Farmers and ranchers start thinking towards seeding crops, planting gardens, or are preoccupied ushering sweet baby calves into the world. I’ve assembled a short list of what March means for us

Porch Pandemonium: I’ve waxed poetic before about the pivotal role that my porch plays in the running of our household and ranch. It is the place where clothes are laundered, the room where our drinking water is kept, and the main location for our garbage can. It is also a landing spot for school bags, boots, veterinary supplies, tools, tape, flashlights, automotive items, livestock show banners, left-over Valentine’s candy, mail, and so much more. There’s random tack that shows up, the odd time someone lets a dog in, and it’s the place where all of our transitional items end up before coming or going from the house. In spite of vacuuming and scrubbing this room more than any other in my house, by the time March rolls around, the porch is in a funk all of its own. Please pass the Scentsy.

Tax time: I’m a little odd, but I actually sort of enjoy book work. That being said, this year I am woefully behind tax preparation in general and have yet to meet a few specific deadlines in spite of some pleasant correspondence from the nice people from the government. While some keen folks may have already filed their returns or perhaps are already blowing their tax refunds on great things, tax prep hasn’t quite made my radar yet. Rather than actually prioritizing our taxes, I’m writing about how I should really get around to prioritizing my taxes. I think I might know what my problem is…

Laundry lament: March is all about being prepared for a variety of temperatures from -30C right up to +20C. If ever there is month where you need to be outfitted for cold, warm, muck, wind, snow, mud, slush, ice, dirt, manure, and afterbirth, March is it. I don’t mind laundry, but when I’m stuck in a time warp of washing the same coat thrice weekly, I don’t exactly feel like I’m moving forward with my life. Of course all of these operations take place in the porch (refer to point 1) meaning I’ve even had to re-launder certain items that were clean at one time but inadvertently became dirty simply by being present in the porch.

Day length delight: March brings the promise of spring in a tangible way with its noticeably longer days. Gone are the cold, dark mornings of shepherding kids onto the school bus, or returning home from an activity at 5:30pm to a dark yard. The days are longer! The sunshine is back! You have just a few extra minutes of daylight every day to get chores done, or go for a walk. We prairie folk finally get our just rewards in March for slogging it through yet another winter…and our precious reward is in the form of earlier sunrises and later sunsets. We will take it!

March offers it challenges with a few prizes thrown in there to keep us all going. Whether the rest of the month will be as gentle as a lamb or lion-fierce, at the very least we can take comfort in knowing that spring is on its way.

Ranch & Real Life

The Age of Aquarius

People seem to get a little worked up when their birthday approaches. Children hold their birthdays in high esteem, or at least they do in our household, counting down the days until they can officially proclaim they are such-and-such years old. Yet as adults get older, apparently nobody likes to talk about their age. Adults seem to prefer time to stand still, or even go in reverse if possible.

I keep waiting for the day when I have my age crisis but my recent 34th birthday wasn’t it. I think it probably helps that my birthday falls smack dab in the middle of February which is one of the busier months on our ranch. A birthday at this time of year tends to come and go, much like all the other days, filled with stuff that needs to be done thanks to our calving cows and an impending bull sale. There are newborn calves to tag, cows to feed, pairs to sort, and assorted promotional and administrative tasks that make their way to the top of our priority lists. Our twin boys also celebrate a birthday in February so when you factor that in, as well as Valentine’s Day festivities that also rate highly with the younger folk, celebrations become a little hectic and are always infused with a speck or two of manure.

My birthday also tends to fall in the middle of school break. When I was a kid, this meant many of my friends were away from home skiing or travelling. As I got older, my birthday fell during university Reading Week break, which was a little more fun. This was back in the “olden days,” when my college-aged friends and I were busy munching on KD to stretch our tuition dollars or build our businesses. Instead of jetting off to Mexico or some other expensive Spring Break destination, we tended to congregate in our Rural Municipality homeland, reconnecting at the local Windsor Hotel for a visit, celebrating birthdays and whatever else was going on in our lives.

Of course, during one spring break, my Other Half and I did embark on a special birthday trip…to North Central Saskatchewan where we were enrolled in a bovine artificial insemination course. We had the good fortune to stay with my college roommate’s family, who just happened to host annual AI courses. For anyone unfamiliar with artificial insemination, you spend a good amount of time sticking your arm (shoulder deep) where the sun, ahem, doesn’t shine. It’s a darn good idea to remove your watch and rings beforehand. Given the good company, great food, ample manure, and my favourite chocolate cake with brown sugar icing, it was a grand birthday. On a similar note, for many years after we would regularly spend my birthday administering breeding soundness exams on our bulls. Again, this is a job that involves lots of time at the…business end of a breeding bull, shall we say. It’s a very important day and in keeping with the theme of my birthday festivities, there is a lot of manure.

This year, my birthday had a little bit of everything. I ended up spending the day in the city running errands and attending appointments. There wasn’t a lot of manure in my day, but I most definitely would have preferred it if there was. However I did enjoy a nice lunch out with my mom and daughter, complete with a birthday dessert mercifully served to me without the lacklustre restaurant birthday song that typically accompanies said dessert. Earlier that morning, I filed a nice article on leafy spurge, a noxious weed that I passionately despise, so that was kind of a birthday high point. And I enjoyed many greetings from friends and family, near and far, in person and virtually throughout the day and into the night.

On the birthday celebration continuum, my 34th fell pretty much in the middle, not the best but definitely not the worst. There was a dreaded trip to the city, but there was no age crisis and lots of baby calves and greetings, which is a pretty good gift in itself.

House & Homestead

Trading Spaces

These days, it seems like our house is constantly in a state of transition. When my husband and I first moved into our two-bedroom house, we were the lone occupants. We didn’t have a lot of “stuff” yet, we weren’t physically in the house that often, and there seemed to be ample space for us and our things. Fast forward twelve years and we’ve found our occupancy has nearly tripled yet our house hasn’t increased in size, which means we’ve had to get creative…which causes some chaos.

There are few sacred spaces in our house that haven’t done double duty at one time or another. Our porch was deconstructed to be recombined with our laundry room. Our living room was a makeshift nursery when we initially brought our daughter home from the hospital. Our current master bedroom was formerly our kids’ room which was originally the room we used to dump everything that didn’t seem to have a place of its own yet. Even our bathroom once functioned as a makeshift kitchen when we were renovating.

Our office has probably been the most itinerant of all spaces. It started out strong with a room all to itself on the main floor. I could toss in a load of laundry, or start a meal, and still be able to complete a few tasks in the office just a quick walk down the short hall. When we had our twin boys, the room morphed into an office/baby’s room combo, which worked surprisingly well considering those two spaces make strange bedfellows. I do recall working away on our tax returns under the supervision of our sleeping infants. Twins can’t share a crib forever though, and after five months, we needed to set up our second crib which meant the office was on the move once again, this time downstairs. Having an office in the basement has a few benefits although I can’t think of any at the moment. I will admit that it is nice to have a dedicated space for an office and one that has a door on it that is regularly closed. It is a bit trickier to multitask with other household chores while I’m working downstairs, and I also worry that I will miss a visitor when I’m out of sight. However over the years, I have spent countless hours in this room. If the volume of material I can cram into an office were a measure of achievement, I would say the room has been wildly successful.

Our house is evolving once again and it’s time to move our three kids, who have been sharing one room quite magnificently, into two. The boys are anxiously looking forward to spreading their wings and getting their own space in our former guest room downstairs. Our daughter has the idea that having her own room will involve a lot more pink than was deemed appropriate earlier in her shared accommodations. What the move means to me is translocating the guest room into the office, which first needs to be cleared. It’s a process, and one that we are kind of in the middle of.

I also have to adjust to my kids growing up, which might be the biggest challenge of all. I’ve honestly enjoyed having all three of them in one room, learning to share, learning to work together and coexist. Forts have been built, stories have been read, siblings have collaborated to stack stools on top of chairs, on top of peanut butter jars (true story!) to reach contraband play-dough from the top shelf of the closet. What I will really miss is creeping into their room at night to watch them sleep, just like any self-respecting stalker mom does. I’m going to miss it all.

We will continue to trade spaces as our family grows in size and grows in personalities. I’d better stop dragging my heels and start moving furniture.

Beef & Business Ranch & Real Life

Land Down Under

I enjoy traveling. The whole idea of going to a faraway place, where the surroundings and customs are unfamiliar to you is exciting. Traveling pushes me out of my Type A comfort zone and into a place of adventure and fun. As a self-confessed organizer, going on a trip is one of my best reminders that some of the best experiences come from flying by the seat of my pants. In the past few years, our expanding herd of humans and bovines has made travel a bit trickier from a logistical standpoint. One might not necessarily realize my wanderlust because I typically keep my travel to within a radius of three rural municipalities, or so, but I know that will change too someday.

Ten years ago this month, my Other Half and I embarked on a better-late-than-never honeymoon to Australia for three weeks. This was before the era of smart phones or readily available internet access. I had to book our plane tickets using dial up, and while I did make quite a few travel arrangements via email, there was no Google Maps or iPhone to rely on, and no text messaging.  We boarded our flights with a little Australian cash, a list of phone numbers for people we might know and hope to run into, and a Lonely Planet guide book.

Being interested in agriculture, we planned to mix in visits to different cattle and stud stations with tours to vineyards, beaches, and cities. As we hopped off our long flight into the humid, Australian air on Boxing Day, we were excited to start our ambitious agenda. We holed up in those quaint little spots known as “phone booths” (millennials, please ask a grown-up what that is), and started calling friends, acquaintances, and even strangers before we hopped on trains, planes and buses on our whirlwind excursion.

It was as much fun as we had hoped. We bartered for an already cheap suitcase at China Town in Sydney. We enjoyed beverages in small town pubs, large downtown nightclubs, and small, medium and large family-owned vineyards. We navigated roundabouts and dodged kangaroos in our rental car. We toured the Great Ocean Road in a backpackers’ bus named “Pigeon” along with a Brazilian sugar cane famer, German fashionistas, wandering souls from Romania, ag journalists from Switzerland, and a pair of (very) avid photographers from Hong Kong, among others. I had a rather long conversation about spicy Asian food with a well-meaning tour guide before I realized she thought I said I was from Szechuan, not Saskatchewan. An unwelcome emu ate my sandwich right out of my hand. We unintentionally stumbled across Kent Saddlery, a renowned tack and saddle-building outfit that had an impressive shop and an even more impressive mobile following. We ate schnitzels the size of steering wheels, met up with good friends, and made new ones.

We toured eleven ranches in four different states, ranging from small mom-and-pop operations right up to some of the top purebred studs on the continent. We caught up with farm friends that we had hosted in Canada and have been fortunate to host many others since in return. We spent New Year’s Eve with a delightful Canadian/Australian farm family that treated us as their own, and spent the next day at another top notch farm that was most welcoming. Along the way we got to view one of the best, and dare I say, most efficient, mobile embryo transplant laboratories in action.

When I think back on the trip, the people were phenomenal. Everyone was friendly, welcoming, and totally stopped what they were doing to show us around during a busy time of year. The people you meet are what makes traveling so valuable to me. And while I can’t argue that it’s nice to enjoy a trip to a warm climate during a Saskatchewan winter, we’ve met some pretty great people on quick jaunts to Medicine Hat, AB, or Outlook, SK, or Havre, MT. And those trips don’t usually involve retrieving a suitcase thoroughly soaked in Bundaberg rum from an airport …

House & Homestead

Prickly as a Cactus

Over the years, I’ve come to grips with the fact that I’m not very good with houseplants. Possessing a degree in agriculture, it’s likely not best to broadcast that around, but the facts don’t lie. I’ve tried and have many empty pots to show for it tucked away in my storeroom. I’ve had little luck with African violets, I’ve killed many a generously donated Ficus seedling, and was tough on a peace lily to the point that it eventually rested in its own peace. I did have a little English ivy I named Thomas during college that did stay alive for four years…only to perish during my move to our ranch. I really do have much better luck growing things in the great outdoors in flowerbeds and pots, so I don’t entirely have a black thumb. But at this time of year, when the temperatures drop and the snow flies, I have but two green plants thriving in my house. My favourite is my Christmas cactus.

Not just an ordinary Christmas cactus, this particular one is a legend. It started out as a slip from the Kohlman Family Christmas Cactus, and I carefully rooted it in water before planting it in a pot. The mother plant is more than 70 years old, and originally belonged to my great grandmother Kohlman. When she passed away sometime in the 1940’s, it somehow made its way under the supervision of her daughter-in-law, my Grandma Kohlman. A busy farm wife with fifteen kids, no electricity or running water, I can’t imagine my Grandma put caring for this potted plant straight to the top of her priority list. Still, she made sure the plant was prominently placed on an oak table in the family’s small living room out of the draft. Once, when the oil burner went out overnight in winter time, it came very close to freezing. Surviving this brush with frost, the cactus also managed to withstand dozens of active kids who were cooped up during winter blizzards or summer storms. It likely missed out on the odd watering and I doubt it was overly fertilized. But the plant not only survived, it thrived. It bloomed without fail each November in the month leading up to Christmas, and sometimes, if the conditions were right, it would even bloom at Easter. My grandma took it with her when she moved into town almost thirty years later, again placing it in a bright spot in her living room picture window. It flourished there too.

While my specimen looks healthy, it rarely blooms. It actually has two blossoms on it as we speak and this is only the second time in eleven years that it has done so, making it a relatively noteworthy occasion in my life. I’ve researched strategies to achieve blooms. I’ve read that you can water the plant less frequently to induce blossoms, or move it around to different areas of your home at certain times of year or even lower the thermostat. One “how to” guide mentioned putting it in a closet for a specific period of time each day which seemed to me to be a lot of work, so I never explored this tactic. The only thing I really do is water it when I think of it, and make sure it has a healthy coating of house dust.

Many of my cousins and aunts and uncles have their own plant from the Kohlman Family Christmas Cactus. It’s a small, low maintenance yet beautiful living piece of heritage that we can share. To be perfectly honest caring for the plant is a bit of an afterthought to me, but I’m grateful that it wasn’t to my Grandma Kohlman. Thanks to her, I can enjoy these two rare blossoms (a month later than normal) and reflect on our unique family legacy.

Christmas Cactus in bloom

Beef & Business

Is it actually cheaper to buy beef from a farmer or a grocery store?

Depending on the type, age, and finish of the animal that you are buying meat from, the total amount will vary, but below is a recent example of actual cuts yielded from a heifer in January, 2017.

One yearling feeder heifer yielded 365lb meat/side or 182lb/quarter. This is the HANGING WEIGHT, and what the butcher bases their costs on and what farmers base their price on. Once the meat is cut and wrapped to a customer’s specific requests, the resulting meat will weigh less, about 60-65% less to be exact, after excess bones, fat and other trim has been removed. This is referred to as the DRESSED WEIGHT. When you buy meat in the grocery store, you pay by the pound of dressed weight. When you buy from a farmer, you pay by pound of hanging weight. But doesn’t that mean I pay for material we don’t even eat? Below are some calculations that demonstrate even by paying on a hanging weight, you save $280+ compared to purchasing your meat in individual packages in a store.

Each butcher is different, but a relatively consistent fee that we have seen from the butcher we use is approximately $250/quarter for cutting and wrapping… it will cost more for specific cuts like making patties or tenderizing cutlets.

You can choose to cut and wrap meat in any way, and below is just one example of how you can specify cuts.  You will see that there are few round roasts but lots of round steak, because that is how I chose to have it cut. I also didn’t choose any cutlets or stew meat, but you can. You’ll may also notice that I had steaks cut into rib steaks and tenderloin (because tenderloin is THE BEST!) instead of T-bone and porterhouse steaks, but you could choose differently.

In this example, this quarter (a split half of front and hind quarters) yielded the following:

Buy Individually from Superstore* Buy Split Side From a Farmer
70 lb ground beef @ $4.99/lb = $349.30 182 lb x $2.55/lb current rail price = $464.10

You get 70lb ground beef, 2 pks sirloin steak, 2 pk rib steak, 1 cross-rib roast, 2 round roasts, 1 tip roast, 1 sirloin cap, 3 pk round steak, 2pk striploin, 3 pk tenderloin

2 pk sirloin steak (4 per pk) = 9lb x $6.80/lb = $61.20
2 pk rib steak (4 per pk) = 9lb x $16.33/lb = $146.97
1 – 4 lb cross-rib roast = 4lb x $6.48/lb = $25.92
2 – 4 lb round roasts = 8lb x $7.99/lb = $63.92
1 – tip roast = 4lb x $4.26 = $17.04
1 – sirloin cap = 1.5lb x $11.34/lb = $17.01 Cut and wrap at butchers = $250
3 pk round steak (1.75 lb per pk) = 5.25lb x $6.80/lb = $35.70
2 pk striploin (2 lb each) = 4lb x $13.60/lb = $54.40
3 pk tenderloin (1.75lb each) = 5.25lb x $43.35 = $227.59

*Accessed prices January 14, 2017 from Superstore Canada

If you buy the beef piece by piece at the store, you will end up paying $999.05 for the same product, when you could save $284.95 by purchasing beef by the quarter from a local farmer! In addition to the savings, you will have the convenience of having a freezer full of beef for your entire family to enjoy for six months or even a year, depending on how much beef you consume.

Purchasing a quarter of beef at once is a large investment, but it is one that will save you a lot of money and time in a year!

Critters & Kids Ranch & Real Life

Sugar and Spice

This month our daughter Jaime turns four years old. In several ways she follows in the footsteps of her older twin brothers but in many other ways, she is blazing a trail all of her own. To me, she can be summed up neatly with Shakespeare’s famous quote: “and though she be but little, she is fierce.”

While many of our children’s milestones are typical to those of others, there is one milestone that is unique to some ranch kids. A kids’ first solo horse ride is the milestone that gets me in the feels every time. I don’t know if it’s because I’m not quite prepared to have my kids take on such a big responsibility or if it’s their enthusiasm to do “grown-up work” that makes me a bit teary-eyed. Perhaps it’s actually my subconscious understanding that I will now have to catch, saddle, pack around, and unsaddle yet one more horse that makes me misty-eyed, but probably not, that’s a small price to pay.

We were on the second leg of trailing cows home the other day, when Jaime’s golden opportunity to ride came along. Up until then, Jaime and I had been travelling with the herd in the truck and trailer, stopping cows from going in the odd gate, but mostly staying warm, visiting, and eating all the snacks. My Other Half stopped us part of the way home and asked Jaime if she wanted to switch her brother out. I made a few feeble protests, including mentioning the fact that she didn’t pack ski pants (“she can wear her brothers,” my husband reasoned) and my concern that it was too cold and snowing too hard for a three-year-old to be out riding. Those excuses fell on many pairs of deaf ears, however. After some horse trading between her brothers, and a mutual agreement that left one of them graciously stepping off so she could take their place, Jaime scrambled up onto Betsy and rode away before I could say too much more. Not that anyone was listening to me anyway.

It was cold and it started snowing even harder, but Jaime didn’t notice. She followed the herd, grinning, and learned to ride down into the ditch to bring up the odd slow cow. She would sneakily hold her horse back a bit so she could trot just a little ways in order to catch up. Sometimes she would hang back so she could talk to me but more often than not, she would stay several yards ahead, and wasn’t too worried about looking back at her old ma. Her dad and grandpa were paying close attention to how she was doing and her brother, with his advanced age and experience, gave her plenty of instructions to follow too.

Almost three hours later, the cows arrived home, and only then could I pry her off her horse. But I couldn’t pry the smile off her face.

This isn’t exactly an earth-shattering admission, but raising kids is not easy. As a parent, I worry that we’re not hard enough on our kids, or maybe we’re being too hard on them. Maybe they shouldn’t log as many hours with us as they do on the baler, or at the corral, or hauling bales and perhaps we should give them more time to play and have fun and be a kid. But when I see them tackle some “jobs” and have so much fun while they’re at it, maybe I should learn a thing or two from them.

Regardless, this month will see our daughter celebrate another birthday and gain a bit more independence. And our ranch gains another willing cow hand, one that is made of sugar and spice, with a shot of perseverance and some grit for good measure.


Beef & Business House & Homestead Pastures & Prairie Ranch & Real Life


Entering into the ranching business is not cheap. It takes work, planning, mostly lots of luck, and to be perfectly honest, capital. Without money, you can’t buy grass. Without grass, you can’t buy cows, and if you want to buy cows, guess what you need? For this reason, I have almost always worked off-farm in some capacity. Lucky for me, my off-farm employment revolves around prairie management, forage, beef, and communication, which is a pretty nice complement to my on-farm life too.

I used to drive to an office every day to work full-time. This was okay for a while, but three babies later, I decided to live the dream – ranch full-time…and work from home too. How hard could it be? Other people seemed to successfully work from home so why shouldn’t I? Blissfully ignorant, and I was looking forward to achieving the elusive (and annoyingly cliched) “work-life balance.” There were some myths that I quickly and systematically busted after just a few short weeks.

Myth: you will never again have to brave 105 kilometres (one way) of slippery roads, making the trek to the office in blizzard-like conditions. You’ll be safe and warm at home and weather will no longer impact your work like it once did.

Myth-buster: on beautiful, sunshiny days when you would love to be outside with your other ranching peers, you’re slaving away in your basement office tapping out your next report that is due in 47, wait… no… 46 minutes.

Myth: working from one’s home, you’ll surely be able to pop a quick load of laundry in the dryer while you run upstairs to grab a home-brewed cup of java, after which you can throw some supper in the slow-cooker. You’ll have well-planned meals and the cleanest home ever, all the time.

Myth-buster: your ice-cold coffee sits untouched until your alarm rings to go pick up the kids for music. You realize you haven’t yet brushed your teeth, so you do and run out the door, ignoring the mess in your house that accumulates because you are now in your house all the time. But hey, you got that last project submitted 3 hours before it was due!

Myth: you’ll get so much extra work done without the hassle of extended water cooler breaks and random chit chat. You won’t ever have to deal with office politics. Also, the flexibility of working from home means you can take off a bit early to get the kids to those music lessons, as long as you make the time up somewhere along the line.

Myth-buster: When you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, you realize you’re looking at the craziest woman you’ll ever share an office with. Wish you had someone to run a concept or idea by? Want a second opinion? Good luck finding a colleague that’s willing to chat at 11:52pm on a Friday evening when you’re making up for lost time.

Myth: with careful organization, you will at time create large blocks of time (during the daylight) to get a jump on work deadlines. Free from distractions, there is no reason you can’t put a good dent into your project.

Myth-buster: You’re focused. Wait…is that a knock at the door? It’s a traveling salesman, wanting to show you his wares. You send him on his way and just as he drives out, you hear the mooing of an errant bovine (or several) rambling through your yard. Once you put them back where they belong and return to your desk, the phone rings and it’s your long lost friend you haven’t chatted with since 2013. Then it rings again and you are needed out in the field. A quick four and a half hours later, you are back at your computer, smelling like diesel, but more focused than ever. Time to get some work done, people!

As the saying goes, if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I’m lucky to love my ranch work and “home/work” and enjoy the privilege of doing both. However, I can definitely say that I continue to learn a lot about that work-ranch-life balance. Some days the grass may seem greener on the other side, and sometimes it’s greenest right under your feet.

House & Homestead Ranch & Real Life

Paradise City

There has been a lot of upheaval and uncertainty around this world and indeed in our own province this last week. Rather than dwell on the unknown, I’m going to cover a topic that is as certain as death and taxes – the rancHER’s trip to the city.

Let me preface this by stating that I love to shop locally every chance I get. Groceries, parts, fuel, hardware, herbicide, prescriptions; the list of purchases I make in our two nearby small towns goes on. Prices are usually competitive, and I appreciate not having to drive an hour to buy the things we need. Plus, it’s usually friendly service with a smile with the exception of one local business that insists on addressing me as Old Lady Davidson…. but I digress.

Alas, operating a ranch inevitably requires taking a trip to the big city 100km away. Whether it’s for specific parts, banking, dental appointments, new chore clothes, or wine-making supplies (don’t judge me), eventually you have to hop into the pick-up and head off for the bright lights.

My love for lists is well known, and no list is more complex, organized, and edited, than my list for the city. The list is a “living” document if you will, continually evolving with new additions as time passes between trips. I like to categorize the list according to stops and priority. I usually aim high, and try to get everything done on my list, but as my caffeinated motivation, time, and spirits flag throughout the day, realistically there will be places that I don’t get to. I organize my list of stops made throughout the city so that the route makes sense, taking into account any closed overpasses, any Trans Canada highways that bisect my route, and of course, any stores that have potential restroom stops for my three passengers (or as every retailer predictably refers to them as, “mommy’s little helpers”).

My husband’s approach to a day in town is completely different. We rarely travel together to the city except for important business transactions, family funerals, or say, the birth of our children, so I always marvel at his cavalier method of shopping. As I’m furiously categorizing my list en route (basically taking all of the fun out of a family trip to town) my Other Half casually grabs a livestock manifest and randomly scribbles a few places to stop on the back of the book. When he accompanies me, I guarantee the kids and I spend way more time waiting in the truck, we spend way more money than I anticipated, and we come home with at least one item that my Other Half deemed 100% essential to the operation of our ranch, even though up until he buys it, I had no idea it even existed.

A few weeks had passed between my required urban journeys when we ended up making a recent unscheduled trip to the dentist. I was trying my best to get organized, get one child on his way to school, and the other two packed up for a big day of adventures in town. I quickly reviewed my quintessential list, set out things that I needed by the door, and got everyone dressed and ready to go. As I left, I looked for my list and realized it had disappeared. I looked in my usual places, I looked in odd places, upstairs and down, and I looked in the truck, in case I had set it in there earlier. I had just had it!

The clock was ticking. You really only have a few brief moments between having the kids ready to load in the truck and having them decide they should have one last drink of water or wear a different outfit. What could I remember from my list? Did I have an old manifest book in the truck that I could scrawl on?

I found the list. In the deep freeze.

A bit confused, we set off for another expensive day in the city so we could come back home and keep living the dream.

Critters & Kids

It’s a Zoo Out There

Most summers we try to take a short trip somewhere as a family, or at the very least have an epic staycation where we set up the tent and camp out on the prairie. This year, for whatever reason, one week melted into another and before we knew it, school started and the five of us hadn’t travelled anywhere together. Over Thanksgiving, we knew it was now or never, and we embarked on our family summer vacation.

We already knew it was a little peculiar to take a “summer” holiday in October, but the weirdness was only compounded when it started to snow for almost the entire duration of our trip. While the snow left me checking the road reports and dutifully marking several outdoor activities off my carefully planned itinerary, the kids were completely unfazed as they twirled around, trying to catch the fat flakes of snow on their tongues. (Hey, this wasn’t my first family vacation rodeo, I was prepared with winter coats and toques).

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to a zoo. The timing really couldn’t have been better, as the heavy snow not only made the zoo animals perky and engaging, it kept scores of potential visitors away.  As a rule, farmers of all ages don’t like crowds, so a nearly empty zoo that was ours to explore was perfect! We walked and discovered and walked and ate snacks, and when that was done, we walked some more. We watched the penguins munch on fish and revel in the snow and we saw the majestic tigers and snow leopards gracefully meander through their spaces. The cougars and the bears were a hit, and I couldn’t help but laugh as we viewed the flamingoes chilling out (literally) in the fresh snow alongside the mallard ducks that came and went.

My husband and I would point out interesting things here and there to the kids but they made observations of their own. As farm kids, they have a pretty good idea of how the Animal Kingdom works from a biological standpoint, and they had lots of good questions. They noted the giraffes eating hay from their elevated hay bags and the tiny Asian pigs obtain water from a spigot. The kids noticed several enclosures that featured stock water bowls, excitedly saying “they have the same waterbowls as we do!” We walked near an elaborate set of corrals and chutes set up for handling larger animals. I suspect the zoo was trying to conceal this infrastructure, or at the very least not draw attention to it, but there our kids were, peering through the bushes, commenting on the height and function of the animal handling system. The omnipresent electric fencing throughout the zoo also caught their attention. Electric fence wires, insulators, and the fencers themselves were discussed at length and one pointed out that a particular fencer wasn’t holding a charge. I guess he’s spent a few days checking fencers back at our ranch, this wasn’t his first rodeo, either.

The entire trip was good. We stayed in hotels, enjoyed water sliding, ate lots of good food, visited with friends and family, and there was plenty of hot coffee consumed by mom and dad. And, although we already knew this, we were reminded that you can take the kids off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the kids.

Beef & Business

The Struggle is Real

I purposefully try not to use my channels of communication to complain, because the world already has enough negativity in it. I am also apprehensive to say anything bad about living in rural Saskatchewan. The opportunity to operate an agricultural business and raise our family on a farm in the southwest is something I’m thankful for every day.

But…I have to get something off my chest.

Rural internet sucks.

For thousands of people across the province, this is hardly a secret. Rural internet has been a challenge since the advent of the internet itself. To set the record straight, I’m not annoyed because I’m missing out on some apparent thing called “NetFlix.” Nor do I have to referee internet battles among our kids because they don’t use the internet yet. My frustration is borne out something simple: I just want to operate my business.

When I first left the bright lights of high speed and moved to our ranch after university, we didn’t have internet service at all. I would head to a library or “borrow” the internet at work during lunch or coffee breaks. It wasn’t handy but our fledgling business was young and the internet was still pretty fresh too. Eventually we signed up for a little air stick device that promised to bring high speed internet right to my ranch office….sort of. It was inconsistent, slow, and I often couldn’t get a signal in spite of having a cell tower directly out my front window. If the internet Gods were with me, I could manage to pay a few bills online, check emails, and research cattle, equipment, or market information. This temperamental little unit soon quit working. We upgraded to a similar device and that thing quit working (and not because I chucked it at the wall in frustration, I promise). I investigated satellite internet options to find that we only qualified for one brand which garnered poor reviews from neighbours so we decided not to invest in the infrastructure. Fast forward to the present day where I alternate between four (ahem, not cheap) data-capped cell phone “hot spots” to operate our business.

The Canadian beef industry is renowned for its cutting edge technologies, innovative marketing and decision tools, and a highly advanced traceability system. Without internet access, it is tough to operate a modern-day cattle ranch. On our farm I spend more time in cyberspace than I do in the saddle, although obtaining that elusive connection feels a bit like a lottery most days. I file government paperwork, register cattle records, obtain forms, and look everything up because apparently “all the information you’re phoning about, ma’am, can be found on our website!” I use social media and our website to promote our cattle, acquire new customers and maintain contact with existing ones. We purchase and sell cattle through online auctions. We edit and upload hours of video footage to promote our livestock and tell the story of our ranch. All of these legitimate business practices burn through precious, sweet gigabytes of rationed data faster than a fence-crawling cow can detect a broken wire.

I understand providing high speed internet to rural and remote locations is hard and expensive. I realize I made a conscious decision to live in a rural location and that we are just one of thousands of rural entrepreneurs struggling with sub-par internet. But I do know that Saskatchewan’s economy is built on sectors like agriculture, mining, and energy development, and these businesses don’t operate in places where you can enjoy free Wi-Fi and a vente latte. Our lack of consistent high speed internet is holding us back.

Our province is home to hard-working, smart, talented and resourceful people. City or country, Saskatchewan is the best place in Canada to operate a business. Now is it too much to ask that we all have fair access to the World Wide Web?

Ranch & Real Life

The Write Stuff

I don’t typically consider myself to be a writer. If asked to describe myself, I usually stick with wife, mom, rancher, Gelbvieh breeder, and sometimes range ninja (or in other words, a prairie plant geek). I even still refer to myself as a piano player before a writer, although based on my behavior, I’ve pretty much retired from tinkling the ivories.

I do not possess an English degree and I haven’t taken any classes in journalism or communication. In fact, I only took one required English class in university where my biggest victory was the fact that we covered Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the very same play that I studied a few years earlier in Grade 10. Having kept all of my old high school notes, they came in very handy that semester and I didn’t overexert myself in that class.

These characteristics do not a writer make. In fact, these are the very characteristics that annoy actual, legitimate writers. I recently discovered, however, that I do have a voluminous lifelong portfolio of mediocre writing to my credit.

In a recent fit of productive procrastination, I decided to clean out numerous boxes of childhood mementos and made some interesting discoveries.  These boxes, which I had “accidentally” left behind at my parents’ when I moved, and were now taking up prime real estate in my basement, needed to go. Opening them up, I found the usual doodles and school pictures, comic books, and science fair projects. I discovered binders full of class notes from university that seemed much more relevant in the olden days before smart phones and Google. Among these time capsules were extensive archives of written stories. They were all in my hand writing and they looked somewhat familiar, but I didn’t remember writing so many.

There was one story I recall pitching to a well-known author who happened to be a family friend. While that particular venture didn’t go as my eight-year-old-self had imagined it would, apparently it didn’t dampen my spirit because I continued to write volumes. As I got older, I moved past writing fiction (where the main character was inevitably name Sarah) and delved into the non-fiction that defined my teenage years. Somehow I had also forgotten that I wrote page after page in journals, documenting the angst and drama that apparently permeated my teenage rural Saskatchewan existence. There were also never ending dramatic letters that friends and I wrote to each other about our perceived teenage struggles. I now realize how many trees were sacrificed just to get me through my adolescence. Apparently I’ve been writing stuff down for several years without really noticing and I have a body of “work” to show for it.

In spite of not really being a writer, I do spend a considerable amount of time writing these days, especially with my part time work. I don’t necessarily allocate a lot of time to writing this column (perhaps that’s better kept a secret?) but I am always writing a piece or two about prairie conservation, species at risk, invasive weeds, or beef production for a few different organizations. I get the opportunity to write riveting technical reports, web content, newsletters, fact sheets, even the odd funding proposal. The subject matter isn’t always charming and it can be a challenge to present a topic (i.e. bovine internal parasites) creatively, but the content is useful.

I do enjoy the creative challenge of this column. I appreciate the deadline, for without it I would not take time to cobble 650 words together a couple times a month. Life gets blurry and I like documenting the highlights and perhaps even more so, giving literary credit to the boring, everyday things I experience as a rancher, mom, and wife. I like stirring memories in others and hearing about their experiences with clotheslines, calves, lost dogs, stubborn kids, getting stuck (not that I do that!), and anything else they may identify with.

I may not be a writer, but I think I’ll keep doing it for a while.

Critters & Kids House & Homestead

Bedtime Story

Story time is a sacred time in our household, and the kids know that no matter how late bedtime gets pushed (and oh, how it gets pushed at this busy time of year!) we usually read something before bed. We’ve read and re-read old favourites from my childhood, new books from the library, and other tales here and there. It was time to switch things up a bit, and our kids seem fascinated by cows and cowboys, history and horses, so I started reading a chapter each night from The Mustang Wranglers, a family classic.

Curly Gunter, a cowboy who has been long time gone, wrote a real life account about being the foreman of a small crew of cowboys who herded a large band of horses from Val Marie, SK to the Peace River country of British Columbia in 1931. The story is a candid, straight forward read about the challenges, adventures, and occasional mishap that they encountered on their tri-provincial journey from shortgrass prairie to the forests of the north. The tale itself engages and enthralls our children, but to add an extra layer of interest, Curly Gunter was their great-great grandpa.

With chapters like “The Skunk and the Rattlers” and “Shoeing a Bronco Mare, and Disaster,” you can bet the kids are interested in what happens next. Early references to familiar locations such as Val Marie, Gouverneur, Lac Pelletier, and the Little Six schoolhouse, leave the kids feel quite an attachment to this story. I myself had read the book long ago, but this time around different aspects of the story resonate with me, such as when Curly becomes homesick for his wife Lena and their young daughter who were waiting behind with his in-laws. It’s indeed a well-spun yarn that appeals to all demographics, young or old.

One of my favourite parts of the story happens early on, when the group camps overnight near Swift Current. Looking to have an early start, Big George, the cook, put on a quick breakfast for the boys, but before long, they were feeding far more people than their five-man crew. Hobos travelling from Montreal to Vancouver, many who couldn’t speak English, followed the scent of hotcakes and came straggling forward to beg a meal. While the horse handlers didn’t have much themselves, these homeless, destitute drifters in search of work, had less. “It’s a bad thing to be hungry,” Curly says, “better give them something.”

The story embodies a lot of traditional values that perhaps are lost on today’s generation. The crew was comprised of gentlemen but they were not pushovers. Along the trail they encountered many people and circumstances that were challenging, and they gave no trouble, but wouldn’t back down from trouble either. They were respected and respectful.

If I had to sum up the story in just two words, I would say it is about resourcefulness and perseverance. Curly and his crew were forced to use common sense and whatever they had on hand to adapt to situations including horse-scattering thunderstorms, lost chuck wagons, and the ubiquitous facial contusion and laceration (thanks, turpentine and iodine!). They had seen tough times and yet had no way of knowing the challenges that lay ahead. They persevered through many pickles, like having to find water for the herd, manoeuvering hundreds of horses across ferries, or breaking green horses to add to the saddle string along the way. Giving up wasn’t an option because they had animals to look after and a goal to achieve.

Curly spent many long days in the saddle, both before and after this epic adventure. This story, and many others that he wrote and published, refer back to a time when the work was hard but the rewards were genuine. It’s a reminder that perhaps everyone would benefit from spending a few more hours in the saddle, literally or figuratively.

Ranch & Real Life

The B List

It’s hard to deny that summer is drawing to a close. The days are becoming noticeably shorter, I’m starting to see a few migratory birds acting as though fall may be on the way, and I can no longer ignore back-to-school prep. When I think back on this past summer it was pretty good all around, and a few B-list highlights include building, berries, bites, bales, and bikes.

Our children really grew in their freedom this summer and they continue to develop skills, the least of which are their independent carpentry techniques. They have spent all summer building, constructing, destroying and re-building an old pallet crate they have deemed the tree fort. Their fort has taken on a life of its own and currently features a (non-functioning) fire pit, a (fully functional) garbage can, an area for their most precious treasures, and a bathroom zone (please don’t ask). At any given time this summer at least one pajama-clad child was wandering the yard barefoot while two were randomly hammering, ahem, “building” onto this structure.

A highlight of the summer was the sheer volume of berries! Chokecherries were particularly bountiful in our yard and we picked, jellied, picked again, froze, and picked once more for good measure. The children proved to be especially efficient pickers and took pride in their work. They also ate a lot of fresh chokecherries, marveling at how they “dried out” their mouths, and they apparently stashed a fair amount in their pockets too. Of course I didn’t notice that until after I had washed their clothes, but what’s a day of wash without surprising discoveries?

This was also the summer of bites, as swarms of mosquitos descended upon us in early August. I was also the recipient of my first bee sting, which turned out to be completely harmless. Slightly more harmful however was the spider bite I also managed to acquire. I must admit I never fully believed spider bites were that big of a deal. And at the beginning, mine wasn’t a big deal either. Although two weeks after I was bitten and my hand swelled to twice its normal size, I couldn’t remove my watch, and I could feel every heartbeat and every loud noise in my hand, I realized what all the fuss was about. While two medical professionals actually recoiled at the sight of my bloated hand, they did get me on the track to recovery and my hand is (almost) back to normal.

Our family once again spent quality time making bales. Between the cutting and the checking and the baling and the hauling, we have endured plenty of “together” time. One could argue we almost spent too much time in close quarters. Between the “she’s repeating me!” and the “are we just about there? When are we gonna get there?” and the eye rolls that punctuated baling, there were a lot of picnics, ladybug hunts, and storytelling. Apparently the latter events are those that memories are made of.

This summer also proved to be successful from a bike perspective, as our two older boys learned how to ride their two-wheelers. Given the rocky and unstable terrain of our yard, teaching our kids to ride a two-wheeler was not very high on my priority list. It turns out it was high on their list however, and they took it upon themselves to modify their training wheels so that they were lifted off the ground. They climbed to the tallest hill in our yard and I happened to watch them teetering down the hill toward the house picking up speed as they went. There were a few collisions and they both had a few scraped knees, but nothing will compare to the big grins they wore coming down the hill that first time.

This was a summer to remember and it was a nice balance of work and play. It looks like fall has some pretty big shoes to fill.

Ranch & Real Life

Breaking Bad

There are a few certainties that come along with farming and ranching, and one of them is The Break Down. If you have equipment you know that at some point (usually at an incredibly inconvenient time, like a Sunday morning of a long weekend) you’re going to have a break down.

Personally, I’m not a great mechanic. Unless the Break Down is incredibly obvious and easy to fix with few tools and little skill, I’m unlikely to actually solve the mechanical difficulty. That doesn’t mean I can’t help though, and after assisting a variety of different “fixers” with break downs over the years, I’ve made a few observations about being the support staff.

Know when to talk. Know when to listen. Through experience, I’ve discovered that hovering over someone’s shoulder asking “What’s wrong?” and “How do you fix that?” is not only unhelpful, it’s unappreciated. Similarly stating the obvious, such as “ooohh, that looks bad….” doesn’t help much either. Unless you’re a mechanical engineer, keep your observations and questions to yourself.

Find your niche. Everyone has some sort of talent that can be harnessed into something useful during the Break Down. Perhaps you have a valid driver’s license and can go on a parts run to town (or Timbuktu, depending on the idiosyncrasies of your machinery). Maybe you are good at offering a little encouragement to your mechanically-inclined friend. I’m far too sarcastic to fill that role, however my twig-like arms and spidery finders have proven useful at grabbing tiny things from even tinier spaces so I’m somewhat purposeful.

Read the signals and learn the codes. Be prepared to listen to a lot of muttering and try to decipher this into something tangible. Did you hear “3/4?” Then grab the wrench and ratchet version of that. Is your spouse randomly banging on something with a rock? Get them a hammer. (Because that always fixes the problem.) Were you asked to retrieve bolts that are in a red plastic bag on the driver’s side dash only to find what they actually meant was a blue paper bag of nuts under the passenger seat? You cracked the code, congratulations! However, if you find you consistently can’t tell a 9/16 from a 7/8 and you’re not willing to learn, then just go home.

Plan B. During the Break Down, there may come a time when you need to consider Plan B. I’m not always quick to diagnose a problem, but I’m fairly good at thinking of a Plan B, but I still have to work on my timing. Early in the Break Down, I usually go straight for the alternative, which yields no response from my husband. I repeat my Plan B suggestion, a little louder the second time (completely ignoring point 1. above). Again, it falls on deaf ears. If we’ve tried a few other solutions and we’re still no closer to fixing the Break Down, my husband grudgingly suggests the Plan B idea, and I quietly nod. (And smile.)

Keep things in perspective. Unless the Break Down results in an actual human injury, remember that things can always be worse. Of course, it’s hard to remind yourself of that when you’re in a race against time and weather, but try to be happy for small mercies. Like mosquito spray. And cordless impacts.

Perhaps some farmers experience a break-down-free existence in the field, but I guess I’m not one of them. Good luck and happy fixing.

House & Homestead

A Stitch in Time

My German- speaking grandmother had a saying that loosely translates to “it won’t sew on its own.” What she meant was, you can have all the tools to do a job, but at the end of the day, unless you are motivated to do the work, it won’t complete itself. I am a bit of a procrastinator in certain situations, including actual sewing, so this saying applies to many aspects of my life.

Growing up, my mom always seemed to be sewing something. Naturally, as a kid, I started dabbling in stitchery myself. I appreciated a craft that yielded instant gratification. After just an hour of sewing, I had something to show for it! I would sew little dolls and then sew little dresses for said dolls. I participated in sewing in 4-H and liked sewing in Home Ec class in high school. I even moved my clunker of a sewing machine up to university, where somehow I didn’t have time to spend writing my thesis, yet I had time to sew a lovely set of custom-made blinds for my apartment. Priorities, I guess. In my twenties, I continued to crank out a few sewing projects, usually some Christmas potholders (on Christmas Eve) or a denim baby blanket (the night before we were visiting the new parents), proving that sewing was the ultimate craft for procrastinators.

After getting married, I learned that my husband had his own set of sewing skills. Apparently a pillow he sewed back in high school (which he still has, by the way) garnered him a 99%, making him a self-appointed stitch master who thought he was well positioned to critique my needlework. I made a couple of nice shades for our house and a seat cushion (with the ties sewed on the wrong side) that he bravely appraised, giving my work a “mark” in the low 60’s. I may have flung the seat cushion at his head but it didn’t quite make the impact I was hoping it would.

Still, I kept sewing, with mending being my preferred task. Mending was just the right blend of nerdy yet frugal stitching that really appealed to me. Given that my husband’s pants were already infused with diesel and splashed with battery acid, I didn’t think a carefully placed patch would set his style back too much.

Then, just like that, I stopped sewing. My old, well-travelled clunker had died, and I replaced it with an almost-brand-new machine that was incompatible with me. I tried using different needles and bobbins and I adjusted this tension knob and that one and I even translated the Spanish operator’s manual, to no avail. My mending pile grew to be an overwhelming stack. Sewing was no longer fun.

I decided that I needed to inspire myself, and maybe sewing Christmas stockings for our kids would motivate me. Having moved my grumpy sewing machine on, my mom brought me her dependable PFAFF of my childhood, and even supplied me with some Christmas fabric to enable stocking construction. Still nothing. Years literally went by, one Christmas after another, and my sewing drought continued.

All of a sudden, in an unexpected turn of events, the other night I started sewing again. We were heading out the door and I had no clean pants and no time to wash any. A bit stuck, I recalled that I had a perfectly good pair of pants downstairs in my mountain of mending. These pants, which I fashionably bought with patches, needed a tiny patch… on one of the patches. I set my sewing machine up, plugged her in, patched the tear and was out the door in five minutes flat. The next morning, seeing my faithful sewing machine still set up, I started patching pants for my Other Half, who had recently informed me he only had two pairs of pants. How a grown man suddenly has just two pairs of pants left remains a mystery to me, but I digress. He now has many more, thanks to my stich witchery revival.

My sewing machine will never “sew on its own,” but it is seeing more use than it has in a while. Perhaps the trend will continue and those Christmas stockings will finally, after all these years, sew themselves.

Beef & Business Ranch & Real Life

East or West

We have several friends and cattle customers down east that my Other Half and I have been wanting to catch up with. In late May the stars aligned, or to be more specific, the clouds gathered and it rained, which afforded us a few days away. Travelling is always a good opportunity to recharge and regroup, but more importantly for us it is a chance to learn from others. This trip was no exception and below are a few of my observations:

Canadians are Canadians: We did spend a bit of time in Canada’s largest city. Being modest country folk, I was expecting the people in the GTA to be busy, bustling and distracted with their own agendas. That they were, but it turns out they were also friendly, courteous and helpful. People held doors open for us and returned our smiles. And, after noting my dear husband’s cowboy hat, only one person on Yonge Street asked if we were from Texas.

Do as the Romans do: when we travel, we usually spend minimal time taking in the culture, entertainment or sporting events of an area, and spend maximum time focusing on cattle. For this trip however, there was a Blue Jays game starting an hour or two after our plane landed so I bought a couple tickets and we joined in the fun, following the wave of blue people heading toward Rogers Centre. We cheered right along with our seatmates (who also happened to be from Saskatchewan), we indulged in frosty, over-priced-but-incredibly-refreshing beverages and bought tickets in the 50-50 draw…which naturally amounted to $43,000. (Note: we were not the lucky winners).

Age is just a number: One major difference I saw between Saskatchewan and Ontario was that of history and heritage. In Ontario, most farms had homes that were 150 years old and many had working barns and outbuildings that were of the same vintage. Here at home, my 55 year old house is sometimes considered quaint, but out east, it would be positively youthful. It’s a similar story for generational family farms. My husband and I, both fourth-generation Saskatchewan farmers, were visiting with a fourth-generation Ontario producer…who was five decades our senior.

The coffee pot is always on: at home, if I am craving a fresh, hot cup of Tim Horton’s coffee, all I have to do is drive 96 km to our nearest franchise and purchase a steaming cup. Of course I don’t do that, therefore a hot cuppa Timmy’s becomes a nice treat every once in a while. In Ontario, if you’re jonesing for a double-double, all you have to do is wait five minutes. There are literally Tim Horton’s locations scattered at five to ten minute intervals across the entire province. And they are all busy. And the coffee is all fresh.

Farmers are farmers: there are of course similarities and differences between farms in the west and the east but wherever we went, people were welcoming, very hard-working and generous. Everyone made time in their busy schedules to show us their farms and answer our questions. The farms were efficient and very well kept. Whether we were visiting traditional family farming operations or state-of-the-art enterprises, the animals were all very well cared for and the farmers noticed subtleties between individual animals even on very large operations. No matter where you are located, all farmers deal with challenges including land prices, soil conditions, market volatility, weather fluctuations and consumer pressures and I realized we have more similarities than differences with our eastern counterparts.

As the saying goes, east or west, home is best, but to be honest, I felt at home for the entire duration of our working holiday. East or west, Canada is home.

House & Homestead

Lunch Break

We are at that magical time of year when parents everywhere are celebrating the end of the school year and, more importantly, the end of the school lunch regime. It can be hard to come up with nutritious, interesting lunches for kids year round and by the time June arrives, kids and adults alike seem ready to just take a break. I, on the other hand, don’t (at least not yet, anyway) share that sentiment. With two kids in Kindergarten, their every-other-day lunch requirement was a nice pattern, and school lunches were hardly a blip on my radar. Rather, it is my ongoing quest to pack large, cool-on-hot-days, hot-on-cool-days, healthy and inspiring lunches for the field and pasture that cause me a little stress.

We are heading into peak meals-on-wheels season around our ranch and I’ve been packing picnics and field meals a lot over the last two months. I suspect it’s going to get busier before it gets better. I don’t mind packing a lunch most times, but it seems like I’m all tapped out of ideas and we have a long summer of baling and moving cattle still ahead of us. Kebabs and wraps, pitas and sandwiches, meat buns, burgers, hot dogs, taco in a bag, calzones, smokies, subs… you name it, I’ve done it. And I’m already kind of tired of it.

Our kids help a lot out in the field and their gigantic appetites don’t match their seemingly small frames. Apparently they will grow even heartier appetites, according to my sources. They aren’t picky eaters for which I am grateful, and they must be growing because they are ALWAYS hungry. It doesn’t matter how much food I pack with me when we go and check cows or head into the field, the cooler is always empty when we return.

I do enjoy baking and cooking, although you would never know it based on the deficiency of home-baked goods that appear in the cooler. On rainy days or those occasional moments when I’m in the house mid-day, I will try and stock the freezer and fridge with a quadruple batch of banana bread, biscuits, muffins or meat buns. But unless they’re well hidden, my fresh baked supplies dwindle, sometimes before I can even pack the next lunch. And, let’s be honest, baling trumps baking, so I prioritize my time accordingly and our lunches reflect that. At the start of the season, I seem pretty ambitious and creative, and mid-way through, my crew is lucky if there’s a pepperoni stick and a bag of chips to gnaw on.

Fortunately we have a good local bakery and an excellent grocery store right in town. I stock up probably two or three times a week, optimistically buying ingredients to make food, or conversely, buying whatever ready-made food items can jump out of my cart and into my cooler. Sometimes a well-timed parts run to a larger centre will yield subs for everyone or a strategic trip to the local tavern or pizza place for take-out does the trick too, which takes some of the pressure off.

When I first got married, some farmHERs gave me a few tips as to what to expect and near the top was “prepare a meal that can be ready in twenty minutes – or three hours.” Truer words were never said with regards to pasture picnics and field lunches. While I am a bit burned out of lunch prep, no one has starved. Yet. And my consumers rarely, if ever, complain.

I just have to come to terms with the fact that for our family, any time is lunch time. But… if anytime can be lunch time, I guess the same would hold true for five’o’clock, no?

Maybe I’ll get through this field lunch season after all.

Critters & Kids House & Homestead Ranch & Real Life

It Happened so Quick

“We like the things that summer brings… Summer brings so many things!” exclaims a favourite childhood book of mine that I now read to our children.

Summer is a time of fun and excitement, it is truly filled with so many wonderful things for farm families. Summer is also an incredibly dangerous time of year. Farmers and their workers, including children, are exposed to a variety of hazards on the farm and in rural, remote locations. Threats vary in immediate risk from prolonged exposure to sunlight and insects carrying a variety of diseases, to working with heavy PTO and non-PTO equipment.

One thing I hate about summer are the dreaded radio reports, or the feared phone call, when someone shares news of a farm accident, or the very worst, a farm fatality. We all know victims and families who have been impacted. It is the most horrible thing ever. Farm accidents resonate so strongly with us, with other farmers, families, and neighbours because in almost every case, victims are just like you or I. They were simply doing their jobs as they had so many times before. They were capable, cautious people, not overt risk-takers. One can’t help but think, if it happened to them, it can happen to us too.

So how do we prevent farm accidents? It’s a question farm safety advocates, farmers, and families have been trying to answer for decades and it’s obvious, there is no quick solution. It’s a complicated topic that everyone agrees needs to take centre stage, yet farm accidents continue to occur across Canada.

From my own experience, every time I hear of a terrible farm accident, I do spend the next few days taking a little extra time when doing jobs, taking more opportunities to explain risks to my children, and generally think about safety a bit more. I see our ranch and farm operations with fresh, albeit scared eyes, and notice things that once were part of the background all of a sudden jumping out as potentially unsafe. A major challenge of farm safety is that we live where we work, and we become habituated to on-site hazards. Unfortunately, inevitably the shock factor fades, and I lapse into old habits and previous inadequate ways of approaching safety. That’s simply not good enough.

Recently, FarmOn.com created a series of farm safety videos that can be viewed at YouTube.com/user/FarmOnVideos/videos. There are longer videos that share the stories of victims through their families, as well as shorter films that demonstrate farm hazards. Please take the time to watch and share these videos. They are haunting and very impactful. They are not easy to watch, and they all have a common theme throughout — “it happened so quickly.” The films also touch on valuable points, like making safety just as important of a topic on our farms as business management and production practices. One victim’s family points to the fact that people take workplace safety more seriously in non-farm environments, and it must be a priority on farm environments as well.  Another victim’s family says that farms employ accountants, lawyers, even cooking staff, perhaps it’s time to bring in safety experts who can help farmers evaluate safety hazards and mitigate risks.

There are no easy answers. Farming is dangerous. Hazards are real. However, maybe some first steps are to share the hard, gut-wrenching stories. Discuss safety regularly with everyone, including owner/operators, workers, children, neighbours. Look at your surrounding with fresh eyes, watchful of potential dangers. Think about what you would do in an emergency. Do you have cell service? Who would you call? Do you know your exact land location? Who on site has First Aid? If working alone, does someone know where you are? Do they know when to expect you home?

Let’s keep the joy in summer. Let’s slow down. Let’s keep farm safety at the forefront.

Beef & Business Critters & Kids

Herd Bound

As our kids grow older, they are gaining independence and observing things around them – which leads to questions. Lots of them. Questions like, “how old were you when you started driving?” and “when did you get your own tractor?” My personal favourite is “how old were you when you got an iPhone?” which I enjoy answering with a confident “twenty-nine.” That usually shuts down the Q&A session while their young minds contemplate my mind-blowing answer.

For several years now, our children have been asking us how old we were when we got our first calf. My husband and I each started our respective herds around the mature age of seven or eight, he with a purebred Gelbvieh female and I with a commercial heifer named Patches. We have descendants of those foundation females in our herd to this day, but what is more, our fledgling herds helped support our education, instill responsibility and business sense, and foster our entrepreneurial interests. Of course, at the time we didn’t really care about all of that, we were just excited to have a calf!

Many ranch families give their kids a calf when they are first born. Having birthed our twins during our own peak calving season, selecting a nice calf for them didn’t make our priority list. Later on, we thought it might be nice to wait until the kids were a bit older and could understand the concept of raising cattle before we arbitrarily assigned them their own calves.

This year, we could no longer ignore their interest in starting a herd of their own. All of our kids tag along on our daily ranch work, but our older two kids in particular have been helping us chase calves, brand, rope, and notice calves that require special attention, even when those calves fly under the radar of the adults around our camp. They are interested and invested in caring for animals. It was now or never.

One evening, my Other Half took our boys out to check cows in the pasture and they returned with a big grin and a list of their top pick plus a spare just in case. (Having had a special Sweet Sixteen birthday heifer that ended up in the deep freeze myself, I appreciated the value of having a Plan B). One of our sons chose a nice stout black heifer calf and the other chose a red commercial heifer with a patch of white down its nose. Special calving books were developed and pertinent information was noted. Names were carefully considered in consultation with their little sister.

Maybe these heifers will help fund whatever passion our kids develop as they grow up, or maybe these calves will be the start of their own ranching careers. No doubt, it will be the start of something big and exciting for them and I’m looking forward to watching the events unfold.

Welcome to the herd, Alice and Lou Lou. I hope you have a long and productive career around our pastures.

House & Homestead Ranch & Real Life

City Mouse, Country Mouse

One of the things I love most about ranching is the wide, open spaces. Life on a farm is very different from life in the city, and while both have their benefits and drawbacks, I know that living in a (usually ambient) rural setting is what’s best for me and my family.

I did give city life the old college try (literally) when I lived in Saskatoon for four years during university. I also lived in other urban locations for a handful of summer jobs along the way. The centers I occupied as I worked during the summer ranged in size from 17,000 city occupants down to approximately 100 urban dwellers – give or take a few.

Urban life does have a few benefits including access to a diverse variety of restaurants, activities, shopping centres, cultures, and events that my quiet home quarter simply does not offer. On the flip side, absolutely every time I left my city apartment, I usually spent some money somewhere. One thing the city does offer is access to reliable high speed internet. As a rural business owner and contract project manager, I actually can’t think of a drawback to this one. In fact usually a few times a year I become a temporary urban resident as I lurk in a library, Tim Horton’s, or nearby school parking lot that may offer free Wi-Fi. A girl needs to update her devices every so often and I require such highfalutin internet connections in order to maintain my ability to do business from my internet-deficient location. But I digress.

Once in a while, I do have a moment of longing to window shop on Broadway or order a very fancy coffee or have a picnic down by the river in a beautifully manicured park. However that moment is fleeting. When I get to a city and I hear the noise, see the traffic, and encounter one person after another who avoids eye contact with me, doesn’t return my smile, or doesn’t hold a door open for me after I’ve extended the same courtesy to them, I’m quickly reminded that I don’t belong there. And I don’t really want to belong there. Forget about having a quiet dinner in a new downtown restaurant or pub, I want to order from the same menu I always do and talk about the price of corral panels, replacement heifers or canola with my neighbours at the next table like a normal human being.

But that’s just me. I don’t expect anyone to understand why I love to live the way I do and I shouldn’t. I also realize that I have to share some of the benefits that the city can offer to my kids so they can be somewhat adaptable and open-minded if and when they encounter city life themselves.

I was able to do just that with my youngest daughter recently. We had a day in the city with a few hours to spare and we made the most of it. We sauntered through a beautiful museum (and only set the You’re Standing Too Close to the Display Alarm off once!). We visited a park and explored the…er, “wildlife” that the park had to offer (dodging geese and associated dung along the way). We went shopping. We indulged in a fancy smoothie as we walked downtown.

As we made our way back to the truck (quick question, how come parking spaces are so teeny?!) I said to her, “You know, we are really lucky we live where we live.” She beamed up at me and said “Yeppers! Nobody lives by us!” Then she paused for a minute and added “except for bales. Lots of bales.” I think she summed it up nicely.

The city can be a nice place to visit, but I’m so glad I live where I live.

Beef & Business

Farmer’s License

Not too many people farm in Canada, yet everyone needs to eat. And these days, you don’t have to look very hard to find a conversation about food or farming. Almost everyone has an opinion on at least one of those topics, and whether or not the opinion is well-informed seems to be of little consequence.

Conversations about food and how it is produced are fraught with a complex list of terms and buzzwords. Sustainability, social license, local, welfare-friendly, antibiotic-free, corporate farming, stewardship, back-to-the-land, free range, Big Farms, labelling, public trust, Big Pharma, certified, natural, eco-friendly, organic, genetically modified, free-from-added… the list goes on. And on. Restaurants and retailers employ no shortage of marketing schemes to promote their products as superior, and in my opinion, sometimes exploit consumers’ lack of understanding or underlying guilt in order to sell food.

In the past, Canadian farmers had an implicit “social license to operate,” meaning the public trusted farmers to produce food without asking too many questions. Perhaps stakeholders and consumers placed their trust in farmers because more people had stronger connections to rural roots and they had an intrinsic understanding of agriculture. Now, thanks to advertising and media as well as a large volume of information available on-line, much of which is unscientific and even downright false, it seems as though the public trust in Canada’s food production systems need to be maintained, and in some cases, earned back.

The concept that farmers need to maintain or work to earn a social license to operate really used to (pardon the agricultural pun here) get my goat. Who do these people think they are, telling me what to do, how to make my living and how best to care for my land and water? Don’t consumers understand how hard farmers work? Doesn’t the public get that we are doing everything in our power to produce safe, high quality food to feed their families while hardly making our own ends meet? Don’t they realize the challenge farmers have to produce more food with fewer resources?


The reality is, most consumers don’t understand modern agricultural production practises because only 2% of Canada’s population is actually tied to the agricultural sector. That leaves 98% of our country’s people whose main interaction with food is through purchasing it at the grocery store, where confusing campaigns, guilt, and buyer’s remorse thrive. No doubt consumers have questions.

But what’s a farmer to do?

It’s hard to expect consumers with no agricultural context to understand what farmers do, unless we explain it to them in a concise and respectful manner. We should not just wait until there is a crisis to address, we need to start initiating regular, everyday conversations with regular, everyday consumers. Start a conversation at the rink, in our schools, at a restaurant, during music lessons, in the waiting room at the dentist’s office, in a grocery store, and with our non-farming friends and family.  These visits won’t be loud and they might not make any headlines, but these conversations are the ones that count. Rather than defend our production practises, we need to explain them, and share the benefits that they offer the environment, our animals, our land, and our water.

When it comes to social license, some would argue that the consumer with their almighty dollar is in the driver’s seat. But farmers shouldn’t be content to ride shotgun. Farmers can and should start navigating the road to respectful and productive conversations about food with the public. There is simply too much as stake and we can’t afford to lose our social license to operate.

Ranch & Real Life

More Than Meets the Eye

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but what if one beholder has 20/20 vision and the other beholder is somewhat blind?

My Other Half and I agree or at least compromise on pretty much everything in our daily lives, however I realized pretty early on that when it came to eyesight, there was a deep chasm between us. In fact, we couldn’t be more different. He could see things far away and in great detail, and I couldn’t. He could enter a building after being outdoors and not think twice, but I had to stop and wait for my glasses to defrost. He could hop out of bed and see instantly and, you guessed it, I could not. Working in the various “offices” that one has on a ranch, I would notice our differences often.

“You see that coyote over there on that hill?” my Other Half would ask as we moved through a pasture.

“Er….where? I think so…maybe?” I would squint in the direction I thought I should and look as hard and earnestly as I could, and often still saw nothing. Unless the coyote, or any subject that he was pointing out, was extremely large, slow-moving, or better yet, dead and immobile, it would have long scampered over the hill by the time I could ever spot it.

Gathering cows, my husband would regularly explain how I should bring pairs up through a draw towards a distant gate that he would make reference to which was apparently on the horizon somewhere. Initially, I would ask questions until I was certain I knew the specific gate on a particular knoll that he was talking about. After a few years I’d save us all the hassle and say “yeah, sure, that gate over there,” and start gathering cattle, hoping I would figure out what Eagle Eyes really meant when the time came. Not exactly a solid plan for either herding livestock or preserving a marriage.

Having to wear glasses is a First World Problem, really. There are far worse things in life than having imperfect eyesight, and I got by for decades by wearing contact lenses, and when that failed, I had glasses to rely on. But….it was a First World Problem that I knew could potentially be solved by laser eye surgery. After looking into it, visiting with friends and family who had undergone the procedure, and going through the appropriate optometry channels, I went ahead and booked my appointment last May on the day we happened to be celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary. Who doesn’t deserve a night away in the city with the love of your life on a special occasion? (Even if you have gauze and plastic shields taped to your eyes and are solely dependent on said husband for the following 24 hours).

When we planned our wedding in May so many years ago, we discovered that on a ranch, there are bad times to get married and there are really bad times to get married. The same holds true for scheduling a voluntary eye procedure, but I made it through the brief and relatively simple convalescence fairly well, even if I did have to tape goggles to my head for a day or two when we were sorting pairs for breeding pastures. The lasting results (for me) were worth the discomfort, dust-preventing contraptions, and yep, even the money. This summer, when I was baling into to the sun, I no longer had to squint through my old glasses, I could throw on a pair of sunglasses and see just fine. This winter, when we walked through a barn, I didn’t have to wander around in a fog. And when Old Eagle Eyes can spot things that seem to be several miles away, through the magic of technology, now I can too.

There is always more to life than what meets the eye, but it sure helps when you have better than 20/20 vision.

House & Homestead Pastures & Prairie

Tree Hugger

My dad used to have a saying about the southwest Saskatchewan landscape – “there’s a girl behind every tree,” he would say. Evidently there aren’t many trees in our part of the Palliser Triangle and apparently back in the day, there weren’t many girls either. Not many trees, mind you, except for the rows upon rows of carefully planted shelterbelts that dot fields and farmyards.

The yard I grew up in was an excellent example of how trees can grow in the southwest if they have a little support. When I was a kid, my parents hauled a grain truck full of tree seedlings home from the shelterbelt centre at Indian Head. If you’ve ever planted tree saplings, you’ll know that they are pretty small, so a grain truck full of saplings is, well, a lot of trees to plant. The tilling, the hoeing, the watering, the re-planting, the fist-clenching and chasing away of troublesome deer… it was no small feat to establish a healthy grove of trees and shelterbelts on a once barren stubble field during the driest years in the 1980’s. But they more than established, in fact, they thrived. Soon the trees grew tall and strong and beautiful and there were many excellent climbing prospects, lots of shady spots to tie a hammock in, and even some berries to pick. If you closed your eyes and just listened to the wind whistle through the branches, you could imagine you were in a forest. Songbirds, mourning doves, great horned owls, and of course, deer, all made their homes in our yard and nearby field shelterbelts.

Another grove of trees that I can’t help but admire is one that my Other Half’s great-grandfather established. He had foresight to plant trees on his homestead at a time when there would have already been so much work to do and so many challenges to overcome. His descendants followed in his footsteps, continuing to plant, maintain and nurture the impressive stands of trees and field shelterbelts which you can spot for miles around. At a recent centennial celebration for the original homestead, four generations of family members all gathered at the farm among the remarkable trees. The elder generations enjoyed visiting in the shade while the younger folk scampered throughout the trees, playing and laughing.

I got my hands dirty and planted a few trees on our own farmyard, though not as many as our ambitious predecessors. I’m not so sure about our foresight but I know hindsight is 20/20 and looking back, we were darn lucky that we planted our trees right before a few of the wettest years we’ve ever experienced. I still had to mow and till and water and weed our trees, but our timing turned out to be good for establishment. I didn’t have to harass deer during establishment however I had to grapple with gophers, who would pull the seedlings over and chew the buds right out of the tree. I was persistent and we were lucky to lose just a few trees and before I knew it, we could enjoy frosty beverages in the shade of the very trees that we planted.

Shelterbelts are more than just a legacy, they serve a purpose too. Trees provide many functional benefits on our agricultural landscape including the commonly known services such as carbon sequestration, windbreaks, soil erosion protection, and habitat for wildlife, birds and pollinators. Maybe those trees also provide paybacks that we don’t see and therefore can’t readily quantify. Perhaps the perennial vegetation that grows alongside those trees have positive soil microbial activity that benefits adjacent crops. Maybe these naturalized corridors are part of the greater matrix of biodiversity that is essential in fields that would otherwise be monocultures. Perhaps today’s trees are providing soil protection from future environmental threats that we can’t predict or even comprehend yet.

I’m not sure you can find a girl behind every tree in the southwest, but behind the odd one, you will find me. And I’ll be hugging that tree for dear life.

Critters & Kids

Old Yeller

Right or wrong, one of the communication tools I seem to use extensively in motherhood is hollering. It’s not usually the first technique I resort to using, but after trying methods such as having a quiet and rational discussion about a situation, I do find yelling to yield at least moderately effective results in my offspring. And if my hollering is not completely effective, at the very least it does allow me to let off some steam which is therapeutic in itself.

I know I’m not the first mom to yell at her children, however I feel that raising farm kids does cause me to holler things that my suburban mommy counterparts never would. Sometimes in the heat of the moment when I hear myself yell out loud, I have to just step back and contemplate how different it is to raise a ranch kid. The very things I holler at my children remind me that we are so very fortunate to raise our rural kids. I think…

“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times, stay out of the afterbirth!” At this time of year, cows are busy birthing baby calves around our ranch, and with every calf comes a placenta that is often left scattered throughout the corrals. The slimy, gooey, gelatinous mass that is the afterbirth is a pretty strong magnet for inquisitive farm kids. It begs to be poked with a stick, or tapped with the toe of a rubber boot, or stuck on the end of a pitchfork to chase your sibling around with. In the continuum of gross things that ranch kids love to play with, afterbirth is boss.

“If you heel me one more time as I walk across the yard, so help me….!” I not only have the occasion to yell this out to my kids, I can honestly say I complain about this to my Other Half as well. I’m pleased that members of my family seem so adept at roping, but I would prefer if they use their clever skills on livestock and leave me out of their game. There has not been a single incident where roping me by my feet unexpectedly has improved my mood or the resulting mood of those around me. Just stop.

“If you stick that [insert toy/bracelet/ball/bicycle] down that [gopher/badger] hole, I am NOT going in after it!”  While I sincerely love our homestead, it is fraught with many holes, some of them quite large, and most of them all within a short distance of our house, garden, and play area. In the past our gophers not only added grey hairs to my head but I’m sure they shaved precious days off my life, and I’ll be darned if I’m going to spend any time peering down a hole wondering where that Hot Wheels car went. And I’m definitely not going to be sticking my arm down one of the many badger holes dotting our landscape to retrieve a beloved trinket. It’s gone. The end.

“Stop touching that dead [insert gopher/bird/mouse/frog]! Leave it alone!” While we are lucky to raise our children with an appreciation for life cycles and the natural world, I don’t exactly want them to touch every random dead critter they encounter. I certainly don’t make it a habit to have dead wildlife accessible to my children, but farm kids are attracted to gross things like, well, a fly to roadkill. If they spy something icky, they’re going to check it out. And if they go to check it out, they will poke it with a stick.

Just like all moms around the world, my curious kids keep pushing their boundaries and I keep nudging them back. It’s all a part of a healthy childhood, but when the playground is a farmyard, the limitations that are explored are just a little different than those of the average Canadian kid. As long as my little ranchers keep pushing the envelope, I’m probably going to keep yelling. Hopefully they learn a little something along the way.


What Not to Wear

We are smack dab in the midst of winter weather (of sorts). For many, it doesn’t matter if it’s raining, windy, snowing, or darn cold – you’re outside whether you like the weather or not. My winter outfits may not always be in vogue, but I will note that I have yet to lose my ears to frostbite, and on some wintry days, I would consider that a win. Here are a few of my fashion tips for those braving the elements this season:

1. Know your internal thermostat: I tend to like to be a little warmer than the average person. During the dog days of summer, I may actually be the only person you will find who is content with extremely hot temperatures. On the flip side, when the barometer drops in winter, I seem to feel colder than most. Also, I’m not sure if there’s any truth to this theory, but I have been informed that I am slightly less than pleasant to be around when I get cold and apparently I’m also less productive. Therefore, it is in my best interest (and the interests of my loved ones choring around me) if I dress a little warmer than the rest.

2. Invest in a few key pieces: Any good fashion magazine will insist that it is important to invest in a few key wardrobe pieces. When it comes to winter chore clothes, I wholeheartedly agree! This applies not just to myself, but our entire family. There is nothing like buying a brand new pair of coveralls and pulling them on that first really cold day or sending your kids off to school in brand new warm winter boots. Of course, investment pieces should last a lot longer than normal articles of clothing, but when the time comes and you have to replace them, just do it, no matter how costly it seems. Trust me, your warm, intact toes and fingers will thank you.

3. Layer up: My love for long underwear deserves a column to itself, however I will speak to the power of layers. Closely affiliated with my first rule, if other folks are happy wearing two layers, I definitely don’t set foot out the door unless I’ve donned three. The challenge with wearing more layers, however, involves a higher level of Layer Management. For every layer you add, it is essential to ensure layer compliance. While slightly time consuming, you will be happy that internal layers are tucked and hiked up where they should be, and external layers are loose and bulky where appropriate. The worst thing that can happen is a middle layer malfunction, leaving inside and outside layers pulling and tugging where they should not. While layered up, if one encounters such challenges as an urgent call of nature or the need to nimbly hop on a horse, do what I do – just don’t.

4. Tools of the Trade: Post-chore clothing administration has evolved. We now have one mitt warmer going strong in our porch at any given time and we also employ a boot drier. We seem to have an unspoken power struggle over the boot drier, and the winner is our oldest twin son. No matter what time of night or day I remove his warm and cozy boots from the drier (whether they need to be there or not!), he surreptitiously places them back on the warmer. He clearly has the honour of the toastiest toes of the family.

I am certainly not be the best person to obtain style advice from, but I have learned a lot about what not to wear when it comes to winter chores. I’ll always favour warmth and function over casual and cool culottes or whatever else is haute couture these days. In my humble opinion, warm is always on trend.

Ranch & Real Life

Note to Self

I am one of those people who enjoys a good list. Sometimes I lean a wee bit towards a Type A personality, and I organize and file and use notes to support my tendencies. I feel like a thorough to-do list helps me stay on track, and the odd time I even complete something on those numerous scraps of paper. In theory, at least.

I gained an appreciation for The List as a child when I would watch my mom make her list then cross each task off as she completed them. She always got a lot done and her system seemed effective, so I guess I can blame my love for The List on her.

I have a variety of lists including daily to-do lists, short-term lists, long-term lists, ranch lists, project management lists, people-to-call lists, and more. If it’s anything from goals to groceries, you can bet I have them noted on a sticky note tucked away somewhere. These sticky notes cause much grief for my dear Other Half. I feel as though my system works just fine, but I suspect he doubts its usefulness when I’m searching for the right little orange piece of paper for a specific important detail. He even once bought me a notebook, I think to sort of reign in my sticky note dependency. I’m not so sure where that book is now, but I currently have no less than thirteen scratch pads within inches of my computer. I just counted them.

I must admit that lists have gotten me in trouble a time or two. During an elementary school group project once, my classmates and I had a long list of tasks to complete so we decided to split them up. Naturally, I made a list of tasks for each of us Grade 5 kids to accomplish which didn’t sit very well with some of the adults. It turned out I should have kept my lists to myself.

I have a few favourite list types, including my ongoing gift list. I keep track of ideas for presents for my family and friends and add to it throughout the year, subtracting as I gift them. Another list preference is the list-within-the-list concept, where I prioritize “need to do” vs. “nice to do” in tidy little columns. I’m sure there are many a household with a Honey Do list, but mine flew out the window about nine years ago.

Probably my most beloved list, and arguably the most important one, is the list I’m working on right now…the calving list. For every calf that’s born, we note it’s birth date, weight, gender, colour, and who their mom and dad are. We keep track of all of this data and information in a magnificent oracle known as a calving book. It is such an important little booklet that, because I like lists and what-not, I actually make a duplicate book. A “his” and “hers” calving book, if you will. The chance that a singular calving book could get misplaced, or tumble out of a shirt pocket and into a cow pie, or spontaneously combust is just a risk that I’m not prepared to take.

Before we started calving, my six-year-old made his own list of veterinary supplies he thought we would need to have on hand. He can’t spell all of the words yet so he made a graphical list that was fairly detailed. A veterinarian later sent me a supply list that he sends to his clients prior to calving. I think other than a few items (and a few less pictures on the grown-up version) the lists were pretty similar. A good list will not be limited by age or literacy level.

Thinking and planning about doing something sometimes gets in the way of actually doing something, so there needs to be a happy medium. A list for the sake of a list is pretty redundant, and I need to remind myself of that every so often.

Maybe you make a list and maybe you don’t, but I can’t imagine my life without one. Long live The List.