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About the Blog

Tara is a wife, mother and rancHER, who along with her Other Half is busy raising kids, raising cattle and living life on a beef cattle ranch in southwest Saskatchewan. Her family is proud to be a part of the beef industry beef industry and want to share with readers a little bit about beef production, and why Canada is home to some of the highest quality cattle, and safest sustainable beef, in the world! Come along and read about the western way of… the good, the bad and the ugly!

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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.