Wednesday, March 30, 2011

lessons learned?

This past winter (and I use the word 'past' with hesitation) has been very trying for Cindy and I. While there have been many positives with the farm business, there have been just as many setbacks and hardships. I certainly want to avoid complaining. Our children are healthy. We have a warm bed to sleep in and food to eat. Our entire farm has not been washed away in horrifying fashion as so many were in Japan. Those events that we watched in awe from so far away have served to remind me that things could be so much worse. 

Still though the hardships we've faced were stressful enough and have helped to remind me that I need to be more pro-active and work harder still to be prepared. The snow this year was just too much to handle and wrecked equipment and made it difficult if not impossible to perform farming business at certain times. I have not been able to get to the grain bins for most of the winter. The cost to repeatedly bring in the snow removal company would have simply been too great. The strong winds also blew in under the eaves of the steel grain bins and I had to shovel snow off the piles of grain. Of course, a lot of grain got shoveled out along with the snow. Lesson Learned...plant more fast growing trees and stuff the gaps with something that vents but keeps snow out and figure out better snow removal equipment. 

Even feeding the cattle has been hard. For most of the winter I was able to get the tractor out to the bale pile in the middle of the field. We have a rather large chore tractor with dual tires on the back, even so I had to borrow the neighbour's small tractor with attached snowblower to make a path to the bales. Of course, a week later the wind would blow for 4 days and that path would be rendered invisible. I just couldn't bring myself to keep borrowing equipment so I did my best to pack the snow with the tractor to get back and forth to the bales. Finally about a week ago the tractor became stuck and there is no way to get it out until the snow melts. So, that means feeding 9 cattle by hand from stacked round bales twice a day...not fun. Lesson Learned...stack the bales close to the house and keep the cattle close too (or get rid of the cattle).

This has been a tough winter. Our new property is so vulnerable to wind and bad weather. We need to focus on improving our land through the planting of as many trees as we can possibly handle. I am completely embarrassed for the previous generations of landowners in the area who actually went along with plans to eliminate trees from the ditches and fencerows to allow more cultivatable land. Supposedly our area was treed quite nicely prior to the 70's. I was told this by a family we know that have owned their farm for 100 years. Now I will have to try to fix that as best I can on our own property. 

We have so much work ahead of us to build proper out-buildings to shelter bags of grain and equipment. To plant trees and care for them. To gravel the yard and build or purchase proper snow removal equipment. To landscape and beautify our farm. Most of this work I look at as a challenge and I look forward to. But there is just so much to do and that is a little daunting. 

The weather now holds the promise of Spring. The snow is receding and with that comes renewed energy and optimism. We are so encouraged with all the new friends we are meeting with the flour business and that encourages us even more. See you at market tomorrow at Alberta Ave.!


  1. Hi John

    I can sympathize with you. This place is open to the elements also. Lucky for me, I have almost 900 acres of bush that I can go dig trees out of to start on that all important shelter belt. The first year 2006, I started planting spruce, and birch trees and I will be planting more this year.

    Check with your local.... brain freeze...start with the county. I know there is a program offered that you can get shelter belt trees for cheap. However they are just saplings. The willows that are offered grow fast, as so does the maples. The spruce and pine will take awhile.

    Auction season will be upon us next month, start there to look for equipment. Keep in mind, if those who don't own a blade for a tractor will also be looking. Check there are a few fellas that are selling chore tractors with all the implements. I can't remember where, but they are definitely closer to you than me.

    Invest in a set of tractor tire chains. Frank has been using them for 20 yrs. Makes a difference if your tractor is not front wheel assist.

    Also, I find it necessary, when there is so much to be done, to start with a list of everything that you want to accomplish. Than break it down by months and seasons. Baby steps John and things will eventually come together.


  2. ♥Love your blog♥

  3. Yes, we have already purchased some seedlings and planted them last year. I think I have the snow removal equipment, I just need to be better prepared for next winter by having it repaired and at the ready. This past fall I was working in the house 8 hrs a day trying to get the family moved in and back together. If I purchase anything I will be on the lookout for a rear-mount snow blower for the 766.

    You're right about the baby steps. I didn't mention the layoff either which added huge stress. Until the flour takes off, we still need off-farm work to pay the basic bills.

    I just sat down to write this commment after watching the tow truck take away my diesel 1ton for repairs. transmission oil pouring out the bottom of the truck. The struggles continue.

    Thanks for the thoughts Cheryl.

    I decided to publish Mary's comment. Clearly spam and most likely a middle-aged computer geek in his parents basement, but the photo is cute and she loves my blog. I need more comments like that!

  4. sympathies from the Maritimes...winter is a hard old slog some years. Our department of forestry here on PEI has a GREAT deal on trees (.25/tree, planted) and we've invested in multiple hedgerows every summer. Our kids will thank us I guess....haha.

    Anyway, keep on keepin on. This too shall pass and thankfully you are taking lessons instead of wallowing. A sign of a true farmer. :)

  5. And of course, you're going to order trees at no cost through PFRA? Here's the link to the prairie shelterbelt program:

    Trees, trees, trees. They are so important; I share your embarrassment. There are a lot of complaints about caragana as an invasive plant, but holy smokes, it grows fast and gave people, farms, buildings, animals much-needed protection from the wind. I'm not sure why the farmers who built my house did it the way they did--west facing across a little lake. The wind whips right in here. We lose a lot of shingles.....

  6. Oh yeah---I love your blog. My photo's cute too, but damn if I don't know how to make the little heart. Sorry about the truck. And the snow in the grain bin, and the worn out equipment. It is hard to stay positive sometimes. I don't know what the tricks are; how did our parents or grandparents do it? Would you and Cindy like to come over and drink? Bring the kids.

  7. Yes Patty, your photo is cute too. The cutest in fact, because you're a good friend. I don't know if we have placed our order for the free trees yet? Cindy was going to handle that...I think the deadline is tomorrow. Yikes.

  8. While we don't have the same type of weather that you do, we do have rain all the time in the winter, or occasional snow that brings everyone to their knees. 40 years of feeding cattle outside was a waste of time, fuel and hay. Now we feed in a barn and use deep bedding. The hay and bedding is right there, the cows need less hay to keep warm because the bedding pack is around 100F and I can walk to the barn, or my child can if I am unable or busy. Win, win for all. We fed outside because that is what everyone does in our neck of the woods. Wish I knew about this system sooner, it may be something for you to think about. In your spare time of course ;)

    Here's to a better year next year!

  9. Sorry to hear about the difficult winter. Watching the snow and the space needed to move and store it may help you decide where to put the trees - it's so easy to plant saplings too close together or too close to infrastructure.

    Don't forget to get as many different species as you can when you plant!

    I'd buy your grain to support your farm, but I'm way over in se BC.

  10. Have a friend that uses those big ole round bales for double duty... moves them out of the field close to the yard for easy access at feeding time, and creates a windbreak/snow fence with them for the yard. Only drawback is as you feed, your snow fence slowly disappears. Perhaps that plus a roll of snow fence until the shelterbelt gets established? :)

  11. thanks for all the comments! Christina has a good idea about the round bales...that is exactly what I was planning for next year! Should work excellent.