Young and Hip (Replacement)

When I started my blog years ago, I named it “Fit2Farm” with plans of melding my world of farming and my love of fitness which morphed more so into just farming and advocacy. Today I’m sharing a bit of my wellness journey over the past five years.

When I moved home to the farm in 2013, I was at my peak fitness. I had just finished my first triathlon and then ran a personal best half marathon shortly after. I was running 3 days a week, plus strength training and yoga. I was on the top of my game. Then in early 2104, I slipped while running outdoors. I went to Physiotherapy and was initially diagnosed with a glute tear. I did Physio, but the pain never really went away, and I started to lose a lot of my flexibility in my hips. I gained weight. I felt like an impostor in the fitness world, unconditioned and overweight. I kept trying to get better and I kept working out.

In late 2014, I found out I was pregnant with my third child. It was a rough pregnancy. I got fewer work outs in. My mobility further suffered. I had wicked pelvic pain. I started to hobble/limp and figured it was a result of my third pregnancy and age (I was 35). After I had my baby girl, I told my doctor about my concerns and was referred for Physio therapy again. This time was diagnosed with public symphysis disorder and bursitis in my hips. I did 2 years of Physio with 3 different therapists. Some of the exercises were too painful to completely execute but I was assured I just needed time and to keep at it. I hit the gym again and started walking with a friend but by the end of 5 km I was limping significantly. My mobility and pain never improved. I muscled my way through breeding seasons walking 15-20 km/day and the rest of the demands associated with cattle ranching. I started beekeeping and worked through hauling around 100 lb. supers of honey. I did rangeland assessment work, again hiking 10-20 km/day. I figured it was me. I talked with my doctor along the way, but it seemed like this was the proper mode of treatment.

Finally, this December, I went back to my doctor, nearly in tears due to frustration and pain. He referred me to a specialist to get a MRI to figure out a suspected hip ligament tear. As an extra precaution, he also ordered a hip X-ray just in case and for the specialist to speed along the process. The following week in I was back in my doctor’s office for some big news.

My X-ray showed advanced bilateral osteoarthritis. My hips are in bad shape. I received a referral to the orthopedic surgeon in Saskatoon for a consult. My husband and I went to the referral last week. My joints are too degenerated for anything other than hip replacements. I have no cartilage left in either hip, the bones are deteriorated and I developed some pretty impressive bones spurs. We expected the news but hoped for better. I’m 37 years old and in the next year will be having both my hips replaced. I am told that I have hip dysplasia and even four years ago, there wouldn’t have been much to be done.

Left Hip

My left hip, soon to become ceramic and metal.

I worry for my young family and our farm. My kids are 2, 6 and 8 years old. They are quite used to my mobility issues, but I am not sure how 2 major surgeries will treat them. I also have a farm business and consulting company to run. Last year I ran 17 beehives, took on new contract work and helped with the cows as much as possible. I’m feisty. We will make it through, but I am still a bit worried and honestly, a bit angry about the situation. As a farmer, and really in all aspects of my life, I am used to muscling through a rough path. I am told there is no powering through on joints with without cartilage. In my bones, I know my surgery is necessary (pun intended) but it will take a bit of farmer ingenuity to get this figured out and I look forward to getting my mobility back post-surgery.

 

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The Earl’s Conundrum.

Today Earl’s Restaurants announced that they are only serving what they call Certified Humane Beef through their Conscious Sourcing Program. Earl’s claim is: At Earls, we’re committed to conscious sourcing. That’s why all our beef comes from Certified Humane® farms and is raised without the use of antibiotics, added hormones or steroids. After all, it doesn’t just feel good to do the right thing — It tastes good, too.. This beef is not sourced from farmers in Canada. As a cattle farmer, my initial reaction is anger (how dare they infer that the beef I raise isn’t humane?) and then, introspection.

Am I, as a farmer, doing enough for my cattle and to tell people my story? My family spends hours researching new management techniques, how to improve the way we raise our cattle and care for our land. I have 2 degrees in animal agriculture. My husband has an agriculture degree. My sister-in-law is a mixed animal veterinarian. Our farm has an environmental farm plan. We take pride in our cattle and how we take of them and our land.  When we know better, we do better.  To tell others about farming, we have provided time and demo cattle to school events to talk about agriculture, we host groups to tour our farm, news interveiws, and more. On days like today, it seems our voice is not enough.  I encourage anyone that has questions about farming practices to talk to a real, live farmer. Ask me, or check out resources like Farm and Food Care Canada and Ask the Farmers. Talk to farmers and veterinarians about animal care, it’s our life’s passion.

Earls cut steak

Image source : Earls.ca

Why are consumers duped into these programs?  I’m guessing this sells for the same reason many other things do…fear…fear of things we don’t understand. So few people today are directly connect to livestock production, how can you know what is best? Food is a very emotional subject, so selling a fear of other food by inferring that it is “bad” makes a good sale.  Note on Earl’s site, they use the tag line “Cut Steaks, not Corners” to make it seem like anything less than their product is sub-par. As a farmer who cares deeply for my cattle, this is super offensive.

 

 

How is it ethical or humane to withold treatment to an animal that is sick? The Earl’s program is a “Never/Never” program that is stated to that these animal have never been treated with an antibiotic in their lifetime. As a farmer, I take my animal health very seriously. We manage our cattle very tightly, but inevitably, some cattle get sick and I see it as my duty of care to treat the animal as prescribed by my veterinarian to do my best to heal the calf. We also a very careful to follow the directions on withdrawal times to be sure that when an animal is sold, there is no antibiotic left in their system.

How is being less efficient by not using hormones or steroids better for the environment? Keeping producers from using these products is actually worse for the environment. Animals that are less efficient need more resources, feed, land and water, in order to produce the same amount of beef. How is that good for the planet? The safety of these products are clear. It’s safe. The difference between implanted and non-implanted beef is negligible and a drop in the bucket compared to many other things we eat, never mind if you are a woman who uses hormonal birth control.

More technically, I have many questions for Earl’s about how the program was specifically developed, with who (beyond the Creekstone Farm’s plug in the promo video), and how it the program audited? These are big claims for Earl’s to say they are using the Gold Standard in the industry. I am curious to know how they came to the nuts and bolts of the program.

I guess at the end of the day it is about trust. Do consumers trust me, as a farmer, that I am doing the best I can for my cattle and the environment? I’d be crazy not to.

Sold! Bull Sale is all over for another year


A snapshot of our bulls sale by numbers:

  • 9o Bulls sold
  • $590o average price per bull
  • 200+ customers at the sale
  • 1 auctioneer
  • 3 wingman
  • 1 multimedia company working the videos
  • 2 families involved with multiple generations working the farm
  • 12 dozen donuts
  • 75 lbs of beef for beef on a bun
  • 1100 sale catalogs & DVD’s
  • 1000’s of miles on the road & man hours on the farm

Wednesday was our big old sale day and I’m very relieved to report that it was a success.  We had a huge crowd, a sunny day, and a lot of buyers. 

This day is our single largest income source of the year. We have 2 extended families involved, although many of us also support ourselves through off farm income, it’s a big deal for us.  One of the things we use the income from the sale is put towards buying future herd sires for our cows. 

The bulls we sell are mostly used to mate with mama cows to produce calves that are raised for beef. A handful of our very best bulls are sold to other purebred breeders.

What’s a herd sire? They’re bulls that are the daddy’s of these dudes, costing anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000 for us. Top price for a bull in our breeds sold for over $100,000! The quality of their genetics (the ability to consistently produce sound, productive offspring) make them pretty pricey. 

The purebred cattle industry does come with extra investment. We need to pay to feed the bulls themselves, plus their mama’s that raise them. Unfortunately, not all our bulls are the quality we feel is needed to be sold as breeding bulls and about a quarter are sold into the beef market. These bulls don’t have any other reasonable purpose and produce great tasting beef, but we sell them at a bit of a loss. The other bulls we sell need to make up for that difference. We spend more money on feed, veterinary costs, marketing  and incidentals for our purebred cattle compared to cattle that are strictly raised for beef. We also have our babies in winter compared many beef producers that have their babies in the spring out on pasture (grass), so we have more infrastructure too (barns, corrals etc).
Big plans are already in place for next year. We’ve already loaded up our best bulls and cows for harvest their genetics (a post for another day), next year’s bulls are born and we’re planning our breeding for the 2018 calving season. It’s been a good run and we’re hoping to build on our successes for our 28th Annual Sale next April.

 

 

 

Duty of care.

This week we were blessed with yet another drop off cat. Meet Jerry. He’s super sweet, neutered and most definitely was someone’s house pet not too long ago. Thankfully, we welcome cats and have a vet in the family to provide free care, so, we keep all drop offs as our pets. But, this weekend getting yet another cat got me kind of rant-y about the concept of “Duty of Care.”

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Jerry, our newest member of our feline family. They 7th (I think)  drop off cat we received this year.

I get my hackles up as I feel that farmers are sometimes portrayed as money grabbing tyrants that don’t care for their animals. I assure you we do.

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Walking with my girlies

wp-1457838889697.jpgSpring seems to have sprung very early this year- I hope I’m not jinxing anything by this post! Our winter has been crazy mild and we are looking ahead to this year’s pasture season.  Our yearling heifers are currently on grass at on our home quarter and will likely stay here all summer.  I started my evening walks to see these girlies. I love their curiousity and frisky demeanour. Heifers are naturally super curious and the spring air gives them lots of energy for frolicking.  Check out this video of us strolling about together and some geese flying back home to prove my point that spring is here.

 

It has fallen upon myself and the kids to gentle the heifers; getting them calmer around people every spring/summer. We go out to visit them multiple times a week. Sometimes we will bring a pail of grain as a treat. By the end of summer, they gentled down to be quiet at minimum and many get quite tame. It makes it much easier  and safer to handle them when we need to do any health work for the cows and around calving season. It’s really important to me to quiet animals that my kids can be around them and I love getting to “know” my girls. I know the mama’s of many of the girls in this group and a good number of them I “remember” from when they were baby calves and in the yard at my in-laws. This year is my third summer on the farm and it’s so heartwarming to see the first generations of cattle now growing up that I have known from birth. I look forward to seeing these girls develop over the summer!

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Old and new- some long retired machinery out to pasture and the future matriarchs of the herd.

 

Bull Sale Wrap Up

The sale in action

The sale in action.

It’s been nearly a week since our sale. I am happy to report that the sale went very well. We were fortunate to have excellent weather leading up to the sale in order to prep the yard and shops for the sale. Everyone pitched in, including my kids. Sale day came and so did the crowd. We had a very full house. If you’re curious, this is how we sell the bulls. As I mentioned in my last post, this sale brings in 80% of our income for the year. Our sale was up significantly from last year. The overall prices of cattle is up considerably, so that was a large reason for the increase, but we also worked hard to improve our cattle as well. The set of bulls we sold were overall a better package compared to the year prior and we invested a lot of time and money into promotion this year to make the sale a success.

One of our boys travelled 1000 km to his new home

One of our boys traveled 1,000 km to his new home

Now comes the task of delivering our bulls to their new homes.  It’s a service that most purebred breeders offer to their clients. We map out our plans to take the boys to their homes in an efficient and timely manner possible.  Most of our customers are local, but we have a few bulls travelling a fair distance to their new home. One is headed to South Dakota to a long time friend and client.  Another bull went all the way to Sangudo, AB which is just shy of 1,000 km away. In a great show of cooperation between breeders, he hitched a ride with a fellow breeder that was headed to Lloydminster, then was transferred to another farmer who took him from Lloydminster to Westlock. In Westlock, he stayed for a couple of nights until his new owner could bring him the rest of the way home. In our industry, with a couple of phone calls and a community of people who want to help, organizing travel for cattle is pretty common place. We cooperate in order for everyone to save the most amount of time and fuel while getting all the bulls delivered.

In the next week we will have all the boys delivered or arranged to be cared for at our farm and we will look to next year. We are planning our breeding season to match herds sires with cows on pasture. We will assess our finances and build our business plans for the year. It’s a fantastic time to be in the cattle industry and I’m proud to be part of this incredible industry.

It’s bull buying season.

We are a purebred bull operation. We purchase the elite bulls as we are breeding seed stock for the commercial cow calf producer that in turn producers the beef for the feedlot industry. On our farm we have one bull for every twenty-five cows. This means that they are a very vital part of our program. They are passing on their genetics at twenty-five times (give or take) the rate our females do. As such, we are very picky about the bulls we purchase as herd sires. We look for confirmation, pedigree and fertility. Bulls are sold in the spring time by auctions that are live or video sales across the country. We have countless sale catalogs and websites to comb through looking for the next great herd bull.

Cattle Industry

Overview of how purebred breeders fit in to the cattle industry. Each portion of the triangle feeds into to the level below in order to produce some the tastiest and safest beef in the world.

This year, we are looking to purchase three new bulls. Cattle markets are extremely strong and as a result the purebred bull market is very competitive. We expect to invest $100,000 on the bulls and another $10,000 or so to insure the bulls for death or injury. Yesterday was an exciting day as we were able to buy one our next herd bulls. He has most everything we want in a bull: power, great hair and good conformation. It’s always a thrill so see if you can purchase the bull you want for the budget you have set, the excitement of the sale as well as visiting with fellow breeders. Since the purebred industry is a small portion of the cattle industry, we are a tight knit bunch that enjoys each other’s company while still promoting our specific programs.

Our newest herd sire.

Our newest herd sire.

Next week we have our own bull sale. We manage our own sale and host the sale on farm. It is our major income event of the year. We sell a handful best of our bulls to other purebred breeders but the bulk majority goes to commercial cow calf producers to use in their cow herds. We put months of preparation into the sale developing the bulls properly through specific nutrition programs, marketing our cattle through local livestock shows, print and social media, as well as countless networking events. We will sell approximately 70 bulls this year. The next 5 days are a flurry of activity and excitement as we get our facilities and bulls ready for the big day.  On Wednesday, we will sell the bulls via video auction to avoid stressing them by putting through a loud and unfamiliar auction ring. In about two hours the entire sale will be complete. An accumulation of year’s work will be complete and we will analyze our year and start planning for next season.