It’s coming up to my first year, exclusively working on the farm. I have been lucky to find a spot to work with my family. My in-laws. Yes, you read correctly, I am one of the blessed people that have wonderful in-laws and enjoy working with them on a daily basis. Here are my thoughts on how and why we have a great thing going.
- Everyone is valued for their skill set. We each have a niche in the farm operation that we are skilled at and valued as the expert or go to person for that part of the business.
- Respect. We are respect one another. Everyone understands that we are all out to make the best of our business. That no one intentionally makes mistakes. I recently screwed up big time and said, “I’d understand if you’d fire me.” Thankfully, the response I got was, “It’ll take a whole lot more than that to get out of here.” And a couple jokes.
- Tolerance. We are a diverse group of individuals and personalities. It takes tolerance to know that each persons preferences, behaviors, and philosophies differ and that’s okay.
- Our own yard sites. I write this in all seriousness. We put a LOT of hours in together as a family. It is nice to still have a bit of separation and privacy at the end of the and a spot that is all your own.
- Common goals. We all want the farm to be profitable. We market our cattle and crops collectively. There is no yours or mine, just ours.
- Communication. Yes, we can improve on this one, just like most operations, but overall, we communicate where we stand on major business choices and make sure that the group is on target for our major projects and purchases. Our board meetings are more so coffee breaks with discussion, but that is what works for us.
- A sense of humor. We work hard enough each day, so it’s a good thing to see the humor in situations. Sure, sometimes it takes a few days to see it depending on the situations but if you can’t enjoy your work and have a bit of fun most days, you need a better job.
This what works for our farm. We are now where near perfect, but I’m proud to be a part of a family farm business that works like we do.
In the year 2000, I spend the summer working for a farm in Switzerland. I’m fortunate to be a dual citizen and bilingual so, getting a job in Switzerland turned out to be way easier than finding a summer job in my field in Canada. This turned out to be one of the most formative experiences of my early adulthood.
The farm I worked on in Switzerland
It was a dairy & hog farm in Central Switzerland. I hit the jackpot with my employer. They were excellent role models, tolerant & extremely kind. My boss was ecstatic that I could manage the cows as he was more of a pig guy & I was happy to learn a few new things.
Working in Switzerland was an indication of what Canada could see in terms of regulation & limitation to production. Cows and pigs both had to have access to the outdoors, nutrient management was down to the individual animal, plus it was illegal to cut down a tree. That’s just a sampling of the regulations Swiss farmer faced 15 yrs ago.
The pigs napping outside. If you have never heard pigs snore, it's quite the thing!
But the biggest thing I received from my stay was long lasting friendships. My bosses came to my wedding. I visited them since and their children have came to Canada to live with me multiple times. In 2012, it was my turn to see what it’s like to have young children and a 19 yr old in the house. It was a wonderful and eye opening experience.
I keep in contact with my Swiss friends and it’s a great thing to see what is happening in the Ag world beyond North America. Despite the immense differenceso in farming practices, farmers are similar across the world. We can instantly connect and discuss world food production challenges and have more day to day farm chats.
My friend Karin & I at the farm.
This week my bosses daughter once again came for a visit to our farm. The ties that I am so fortunate to have no since 15+ years are treasured. If at all possible, I fully recommend any young adult to travel beyond our continent to work, learn and make some amazing friendships.
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.
This week my bigger two kids are on spring break and we are busy prepping for our biggest day of the year, our annul bull sale. It’s hectic and we have to be inventive on how to manage our kids to busy and safe at the same time, but there is no where else I’d rather raise my kids.
My kids learn the value of hard work, the miracle of birth, the reality of loss/death and a whole lot science, common sense, math, and so much more on the farm.
The kids help outs as much as we can allow safely. This week, that means pushing a lot of brooms for them. And wiping down things. I inevitably have to re-wipe after them…
My helpers…one looks a lot more happy to help than the other, but I assure you they were both having fun!
Jobs take a little longer, but my heart sings when they say they would rather keep working with us as a family than take a break on the swings. Some of my own fondest memories are from working as a group on the farm as I grew up myself. I loved helping on days we were putting up small square bales. My jobs as a kid was to make sure they bales fed smoothly from one hay elevator to the next. It was a pretty small job, but it felt amazing to be part of the big team.
I fandangled a napping station in the back of my SUV for the baby and we are off to the races.
My kids can explain possibly a wee bit too much about biology and reproduction, but they can also tell you what we use wheat and barley for and how exactly a combine harvests grain. They apply math skills on a regular basis. They are learning social skills and marketing when they accompany dad or uncle to sale. They are always watching…they may have learned a few choice farming words as I call them along the way. I call that a lesson of wisdom, knowing when and where you can share certain experiences (*ahem* calving biology) and vocabulary.
Matt checking calves
We may not get off the farm too often, and we like it that way. It’s our home, our business and a pretty great place to raise our children.
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.”
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.
This month we decided to diversify our place a bit….into chickens.
Kelly and I thought the kids could use a project that teaches them responsibility and possibly makes a wee bit of side money. So we are now in the business of laying hens.
We bought a 10 × 10 ft shed, insulated it and got our feeders etc. We built nesting boxes and a roost from scrap lumber around the yard. Our neighbour sold us 15 laying hens and off we are to the races.
The ladies have settled in nicely and are laying 8 or so eggs a day. We gave our first dozen of eggs to grandma this week and we are enjoying eggs for breakfast!
So far the kids love excitement of picking eggs everyday and all are hens are still here, so I’d say our venture is a success so far! We have 30 chicks that will be arriving in a month and that will be a whole new adventure raising them up to lay on the fall!
A photo of my family from a photo shoot we agreed to do for Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan whilst I was 38 weeks pregnant.
I have been pretty quiet this year. A trying pregnancy, work, farm, etc. all took priority over the blog. In my time away, I have learned, reflected and analyzed many things. Without further ado, here is my list of things I learned in 2015:
- I am a farmer. Not a farm wife. A farmer. My role currently is more in the background supporting the farm with website work, social media, a bit of admin work, behind the scenes organization and a lot food. My superpower seems to be cooking for a crew with ease. That’s okay; I am still a valuable part of the farm. It’s taken me a lot of time to get this space. I’d prefer to be outside working the cattle, but I have realized I need to value my role as it is now, not what I want it to be in the future.
- I know what I don’t know – this a big one for fitness/nutrition and agriculture. I have a few fitness and nutrition “designations” but I realize there is a LOT in the world about safe training and sound nutrition that I don’t know and am not qualified to comment on. I wish there were more people that realized what speaking in scope meant. As such I have kept my fitness and nutrition posts to a minimum. I keep the same principal for agriculture. I’m a cattle farmer. My professional training is cattle nutrition & microbiology, so I won’t be spouting off any agronomy advice anytime soon.
- Advocating is tricky. I started the year off quite active on twitter and the #farm365 hashtag. Things got ugly on the hashtag quickly as vegan fanatics flooded the feed with animal rights propaganda. They’re still there. I took a pretty big break from social media advocacy.
- If can’t keep your cool, keep your hands off the keyboard. In addition to #3. I saw a lot of poor advocating out there. Farmers bashing farmers. Farmers cursing out vegans. There’s no place for that in my world. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face, in front of your grandma.The internet never forgets and you never know who is watching -from the mushy middle looking to learn about agriculture and infighting, to potential clients or employers checking you out on social media.
- One win in a week/month/year may make your work worthwhile. My best win this year was having an honest and constructive set of conversations with a lady that happened to be vegan over Twitter that was looking for a farmer’s real perspective of Earthlings the movie. I watched it, yelled at the screen many times and took copious notes, referenced current science and industry codes. It felt great realizing you can have a respective dialogue.
- On a personal note, I learned I am the queen of drafting posts and not hitting publish. So I haven’t published since April, but I have a few posts in my drafts waiting to pop up. 2016 Goal – Write, review, and go for it – hit publish!!!
- Advocacy is simple: Speak your truth with conviction and relatability. Tell people what happens on your farm operation. Our farm has had inquiries from all walks of life asking about how we farm, what we do and why. From contacts over social media to consumers stopping at our stall at Agribition it’s all been great. I encourage all farmers to take more time to talk about the industry with our customers. Farm and Food Care SK has a great Real Dirt on Farming training program to get you more comfortable.
I’m looking forward to learning and growing in 2016.