Teetering on the vegetarian fence.

I must say that when my family heard I was dating a cattle rancher and was coming to Saskatchewan to help him, they were worried.  Why?   It’s because if there was ever a person who could be vegetarian or even a vegan, it was me and I was dating a man who raised cattle.

When I was little we had some chickens. They scare me. Well at least they did back then. I am taller now so maybe a flapping, pecking, squawking bird wouldn’t be as frightening at knee level as it was at face height.  We had them for eggs, or so I thought.

I arrived home after school and got off the bus. I heard voices in the back yard and went around the house. There in the back yard was a makeshift slaughter house. Dead chickens, blood, feathers, and my mom, grandmother, and aunt.  I went into the house and stayed there.  I hated the chickens but they didn’t need to kill them!  I was sickened. My dad told me when he was little he would have to go out in the morning and put a chicken under a pot for the day, so his mom could ring it’s neck that night for supper. It is just how it is.

From then on, I did not eat chicken if it came wrapped in brown paper.  Once our supply ran out and mom bought it from the store I was all over it. Something about the pink foam tray and grocery store sticker made it ok. It doesn’t seem logical, but in my mind it wasn’t a bird that had lived here, it was just meat.  The same thing happened when I came home and saw a deer hanging from the clothes line pole. Nothing wrapped in brown paper for me, Thank you!  That was the last time my dad ever hunted.

I even stopped eating KFC after finding veins in the legs too many times. The first time I had to stuff a turkey for a family dinner I wouldn’t eat it. Apparently it was very good and moist, but I just couldn’t do it. That was probably because I saw my grandmother in her house dress and rubber boots, wielding an axe, chasing after a headless turkey and then hanging it from my swing-set. If something made me feel too close to being a carnivore (animal) I didn’t like it.

So, as you can see, they did not know how I would ever handle being around the cattle.  I will confess that I did grill hubby about exactly what happens to the animals he sells. Did he actually send the animals to slaughter? Would I see anything like that?  Thankfully he said no.  He runs a cow/calf operation and he sells the calf after it is weaned to other people. That is all I needed to know. I didn’t want to hear anything after that point.

What I found at the ranch was not at all what you would expect if you listened to all the very vocal opinions of the animal rights groups.

I did not see animals stuffed so tightly into pens they could not move.

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The cattle in the distance are in one of the “pens”

I did see during the winter and spring, the cows in pens to keep them separate based on their feeding needs. They had enough room that all could lay out on fresh bedding, plus room to roam around, and a feed bunk big enough to all eat at the same time.  Was there manure in the pen?  Well of course.  Did the cows stand in it?  Yes, and they even poop on each other and poop while laying down. I think it keeps their butts warm in the winter.  Just my opinion.  Is all that gross?  Yes, until you realise that that is how it is even when they have acres to roam.  In the summer they are roaming thousands of acres of native prairie grass, trees, and streams along with the deer and moose.

I did not see animals suffering or malnourished.

I did see during calving season, a man wake every 4 hours after working all day, to jump on a quad no matter what the weather, travel about 1/2 km to check on his heifers. These first time moms need help sometimes or they will loose their babies and sometimes they will die.  No matter what needed to be done, how little sleep he had, or what the weather was like, hubby was there for that mama and calf.

I did see during bad weather when the rest of us would be curled up on the couch for the weekend, he was outside spreading straw and setting up shelters. Lunch time would pass and sometimes even dinner because the animals always come first.

I did see a man who in snow storms would bring new calves into the house to be wrapped and warmed so they would not freeze. A man who could tell you the history of his cows and could tell them apart.  A man who has cried when a calf has died and felt guilty because if only he had…

I did see  a man who vaccinates his cattle so they don’t fall ill. A man who uses antibiotics to treat his animals so that they do not suffer with an infection and recover instead of just killing them.

I did see that although these animals were being bred and their offspring were raised to be consumed, they were very well taken care of and loved.

Even now, raising the cattle myself, I still do not like being a carnivore sometimes, but I realise that it is life.  I know times are different now, but we started out eating meat and I believe that is something that is going to continue.  Wildlife could not sustain the population growth so we had to start raising our own meat, the same as we could not rely on mother nature to grow our wild fruits and greens and farming began.  I think of the stories of people who where lost and how they say they survived and it wasn’t from gathering. It was from hunting and eating meat from what ever they could catch.

I will say that I still do not think at this time in my life I could be the one to kill and process the animal, but thankfully there are other people who are able to do that.  When I do take an animal to the abattoir, I am thankful for the nourishment it will give me in exchange for the nourishment I gave it.  It is the circle of life.

I do understand those who do not want to eat meat. What I don’t understand is those that bash, condemn, ridicule, spread lies and try to undermine those that do.  Everyone has a choice and that should be enough.  Let your opinion or choice be known, but do not try and force or scare others into believing lies.

I am proud of our ranch. I see a place where the animals are raised with care, respect, and love to provide the best nourishment they can for people.  The land we use is also respected, loved and cared for. Without our animals or land, we would have nothing. So why would you believe we would do anything to harm either one?

 

Splint on Angus calf.

Mom stepped on her leg. 6 weeks of a splint and helping her stand to eat a few times per day, a year later she is out with the rest of our girls.

 

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No Bad Days Here

The past few days around here have been a little off. Friday our big tractor we had been using here at home showed signs that the wheel bearing was worn out. That meant we had to go get our other one which was about an hour away. We were using it to load the straw bales we still have to haul home. While I was going through town I stopped and picked up the mail. Good thing it was after hours and parking was available.

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Saturday we woke up to no heat in the house (10C or 50F). The dog (Lexi) was happy but we were not.  So with the repair man on his way (2 hour drive to us) we headed out to feed the cattle. At least it would be warm in the tractors.

So our daily routine is that hubby drives the tractor with the wagon and I drive the other tractor with the bucket. We load the wagon with chopped straw, grain, and silage and then he takes the load to feed a group of cattle while I take bales out to the older cows. Then we meet up again and repeat 4 more times.

I jump into the tractor I brought home and it had a blown hose so I couldn’t pick up anything. Good thing the we were able to take one from the disabled tractor and get going.

One of the water bowls had frozen up again, so off to the house to get hot water. The plastic fitting where the float is (just like in a toilet) freezes up sometimes in this one bowl. It is on the list to be replaced if I have any say in the matter.

On one of our rendezvous in the stack yard, hubby said we had to find water for our big bulls.  The creek froze over and usually I can just drive on the ice and break the hole open but not this time.  I don’t know why they can’t keep it open, the cows keep theirs open… must be a boy thing.

So while I was doing my thing, Hubby was having problems with the wagon because one of the gears are worn and that meant the auger wouldn’t turn because the chain slips.  That will be fun to change (not really). So after he was done he found me trying to get water for the bulls and we noticed the hydraulic ram that lifts the loader had broken. Back to the shop with the tractor.

As hubby welded that up, I grabbed the axe and off I went to chop a hole for the bulls. It wasn’t as big as I would have liked but chopping ice is hard work!

Finally around 4 pm we were back in the house, a warm house, and called it a day. What a day!  It’s a good thing we love what we do or that might have seemed like a bad day. 🙂

The little things.

I have been trying to learn as much as I can about the cattle business and part of this process led me to Medicine Hat’s Beef Pen Show in December for my second time. The event grew by about 100 animals this year and it was quite amazing to see all the cattle. I really enjoy seeing the 4H calves and it is really hard for me to not go up and pet or hug them. Hubby told me the first year that it is not something people do and besides I would wreck their hair-do.  They are just so cute!

The first year I took 2 pens of bred heifers and this year I took one pen of breds and 2 pens of heifer calves.  A pen consists of 3 animals. There are purebred and commercial cattle classes and my girls were in the commercial cattle class.  I do not get to pet, hug, wash or brush my girls, they are ranch cattle and after watching the 4H people, I am ok with this. I will love them from a distance, it is far less work.

The first year we purchased small bales of hay to take for feed and bagged up some silage. Then hubby brought out his buckets and tubs (I think they are just big bowls) from his days of showing cattle and loaded me up. He helped me set up and then I was on my own because he had to come home to feed everyone else.  I swore that year I would bring big tubs for water the next time.  Between the amount of water the cows drank and all the cattle being washed, all I did all day was stand in line for a hose and carry buckets back and forth.

So this year we got out the buckets and tubs and bagged the silage but we didn’t buy the small bales of hay. Hubby said we will just cut one of our bales open and re-bale a couple flakes by hand. Well let me tell you that I don’t care how much small bales are, I am buying them next year. It is very awkward, tough, and itchy to wrangle a flake from a 4′ x 4′ bale and tie it up again.  I did however take big tubs for their water. Hubby filled them when we arrived so I only had to keep them topped up.

I was very lucky the second morning because I was close enough to the building to be able to take the hose outside and fill one of the tubs.  Well it turned out that one of my girls thought this was very interesting and came over to see what I was doing. She stuck her nose under the water first, then her forehead, and then she figured out what it was and out came her big grey tongue. She started lapping at the water falling from the hose. I don’t know why I found it so intriguing, but it made me smile watching this big creature. I tried to get a picture but it was a little difficult with one hand. 20151219_105821.jpg

During the down time when hubby came back after feeding the rest of the herd, we wandered around the exhibits. There are some very talented people around.  One such person is my cousin and her husband who had a booth there. Deb has always done work with leather and wood but her latest is silk scarves. Her husband Bob also works with leather and makes saddles.

While we were chatting and I was showing some of my many pictures of the ranch, I happened to come upon the picture I took of a porcupine sitting in a bush. That was very exciting for me and my enthusiasm came out while I was telling the story of  how I came to take the picture. Apparently I was the only one who thought seeing a porcupine up close and personal for the very first time was  exciting.  When Deb and Bob looked at me with weird grins, Hubby said “I know. It’s like working with a 4 year old every day. Everything is exciting and new to her.”

Well I do try to take pleasure out of the small things in life every single day. Life is too short and amazing not to.

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Dealing with Mothers

 

Every Spring, when the calves are being born, it gets very busy around here. Hubby and I are the only ones here and with about 600 babies expected we are run off our feet.

Along with the normal day’s work of feeding and bedding and checking on everyone we also have to tend to the babies.  We usually split up so that while he is feeding, I check on the new babies. If we are able to get to them right after they are born we are very happy because they are much easier to catch and handle. It is quite amazing how at only minutes old they are able to get up and run, and very fast. Everyone is tagged and their number, mom’s number, date, and sex is recorded in a book.  Sounds easy enough. So I thought.

My first time out Hubby told me to be careful, keep my head up, watch the mamma, and be ready to run. What!?

Our cows are ranch cattle which means we do not have a lot of hands on interaction with them.  We can walk amongst them but don’t expect to be able to pet them or catch them (unfortunately, because I would love to be able to pet and hug them all!).

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Just like human mothers, there are many different kinds. Some moms will back off and just stand and bawl (moo) at us or walk away and continue eating. Others will actually run away like they are on fire or something and we have to either chase her back to her baby or load it up and take it to her. There are also the “Babysitters” as I call them. They are the other moms who come running at any calf’s cry or the one lone cow left with 4, 5 or even 10 calves. We even have delinquent mothers and it seems they don’t care where their calf is or if it cries and sometimes they will actually loose them. We usually sell those ones. Then there is the one who tries to kill you.

Hubby knows who some of these are and their babies never get tagged, which is ok because I pitty the one who tries to take her baby.  The bad thing though is that I am not that familliar with the herd yet, so sometimes I encounter these moms.  On one such occasion I pulled the quad up to a calf, got the rope on it’s hind leg so that stayed put for me and then I started writing on the tag and in the book. Suddenly there is a cow bellering and charging at me. I jumped over the quad to the other side and she came around, I jumped over again and here she comes again. This time she head buts the side of the quad and it rocks up on two wheels. I untied the rope from the quad, threw everything into the bin and managed to get out of there.

Hubby has had a situation like that, but unfortunately he didn’t get away like I did.  He was rammed into the side of the quad by the cow while bent over tagging her baby. His warnings come from experience and I try very hard to listen and remember.

Although very scary, I can’t help but admire these moms. I would like to think I would do the same if someone was after my kids.

“Why?” My favorite question.

As I have been learning more about the cattle industry and living the life of a cow-calf producer, I have been asking “Why?” a lot.  Apart from not knowing anything and having to ask that question, I am always looking for a way to do more with less.  Knowing why people do things a certain way helps me figure out how to improve on things.  One thing I thought I may be able to help with was bringing in more money.  I thought about marketing the cattle in a new way.

So I asked “If we are raising Black Angus cattle, and everyone knows that you pay more for a “Certified Black Angus” steak in a restaurant, why are we not selling them that way?”

Hubby said “Yes we can do that.”

What Hubby didn’t tell me was that he had already been there, done that. So I was able to learn first hand that it costs money. You pay more money for the Angus RFID tag and more commission and fees when you sell at an Angus auction.  After years of being in the business, Hubby already knew all these things. What Hubby did was sell direct to the order buyers from home. So we didn’t have to truck them to auction, pay any commission or fees and he received a better price than what we received at the auction.

Then I asked about implanting cattle with hormones and why people do it. The more your cattle gain, the more money you make since you are paid by weight.   But!  I said… If people want beef without hormones, would we not get a premium for our beef since it is hormone free?

Hubby said “We can try.”

So I searched the internet for companies, feed lots, anybody that wanted natural beef and sent out some emails and made some calls. No responses back.  When we registered for the auction I made sure to list that the calves were implant and antibiotic free.  One buyer had us sign a guarantee before the auction. I was so excited, I thought for sure this would be great.  It turns out that a regular buyer bid the most and the natural guy didn’t even come close to the highest bid.

So I have come to realise that I will stick to what I know and let Hubby do what he knows, and that is cattle. I will say that I appreciate him more because he let me learn by doing. He could have just said he had done it before, but he didn’t.  Thanks Honey!

 

Years of stuff…

Well after many hours of sorting, cleaning, collecting, and recycling we are finally able to put two trucks in the shop.  You would know that this is quite the amazing thing if you had seen the shop before. As soon as I started making a big dent in the piles I wished I had taken pictures.  Hubby said that most of the stuff has been in there for over 30 years.  We took a truck full of old tire tubes and a couple of loads of scrap metal to be recycled. Plus a couple of tractor buckets full to the dump.

The smell was probably the worst part. The raccoons had been in the shop, and if you haven’t smelled this odour before just imagine really strong cat pee. They tried to get back in this past week, but now there is no place to hide so we were able to chase them out. They are such pests!

It took a while of working a few hours here and there to get it all sorted out but the bulk of it is done.  The next thing to do is the work bench and shelves. It would be nice to have it sorted and organized by equipment. Then we will know what we have and not buy things we don’t need or assume we have something and we don’t.  We have wasted so much time searching for things so this will make life much easier.

The coolest thing about this whole venture was that we also found a few very old tools, an old Electrolux vacuum which actually worked when I plugged it in, an old wash tub, and a milk can.

I can’t wait to have this all done. I promised myself that I wouldn’t start ripping apart the old farm-house until this was done and I really want to start on that. 🙂

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What is that large mound covered in plastic and tires?

Before I met my husband I had seen these big weird-looking mounds and had no idea what they were except for ugly. Covered in old tires and usually partly surrounded by an old wood slab fence, it was another pile of stuff in a farm-yard.

Now I look at that mound with awe and sometimes envy depending on the size. I have my own pile now, and this year will be even bigger than last.

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Field of barley.

What is this thing I speak of? It is called silage and it is amazing.  When you get close to a silage pile it is the smell that you will notice first. It is a sweet earthy smell that makes me think of wine, but made from a crop. When you grab a handful of it or dig into it you will feel the warmth from the heat it produces as it ferments.

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Swaths of barley crop.

What is silage made of?  It is made from chopping up a green crop, which means it is not ripe and there is still moisture content, and then piling, compacting it, and covering it to reduce the amount of oxygen it receives. This will cause it to ferment.

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Forage harvester

How do we do this?  I drive the swather and cut the crop down.  The machine lays the crop in a row called a swath, and then a crew we hire comes along with the forage harvester and a truck to pick it up.  The forage harvester picks up the crop and chops it into small pieces then blows it into a trailer. When it is full, they dump it into a pile where we drive over it with our largest tractor, repeatedly, to compress it.  as more gets added

Why do we do this?  Well because cattle love it and it provides them with more nutrients and energy then just dry forage in the winter.

We silaged barley this year, along with whatever weeds grew with it.  We did not use a herbicide this year as the barley grew well enough to choke out most of the weeds. Some years we have had to spray or the crop would not have been able to compete with the weeds even though we tilled the land.

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The silage pile waiting to be covered.

It was a week full of long days but well worth the effort. The cows will love it!

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One end of the final product.