Summer is waning again here in the Manitoba Prairies. I know some places *ahem, Brandon* reported that it got as cold as 3C two nights ago, which is pretty serious stuff, for August 18th. I’m going to be honest and say that I really don’t mind the heat, and so I do mourn those hot, sticky evenings and even those heavy-feeling days. (I’m also not generally the one wearing a heavy cotton bee jacket on those days, so who am I to boast?)
Anyways, Summer has been great – it has also been tiring, and at this point of the season we start to feel the ‘burnout’ that I referred to in a recent social media post as a fire-breathing dragon we must stave off with sleep (when possible), coffee (when not so much sleep is possible), stress-management techniques (deep breaths, anyone?) and labour management. Speaking of, we only really began to bring on help at the very end of July when honey harvest work began. Our Spring call-out for hired help was unrequited, though we are thankful for some last-minute hirings of Jim (himself a local beekeeper) and Kevin (a local high school student who recently moved to the area and was looking for some work before starting school). Add to this our good fortune of having one of our very first WWOOFers we ever hosted, a Spaniard named Pedro, contact us to say he was coming through and would like to visit / help us out for a bit, and we are suddenly in a position to breathe and spread our workload amongst many hands, rather than just our own.
Because of this help, we were able to push through the first round of honey harvest in good time (about 2 weeks) and ease off the pressure during the next two weeks in August when we were hosting various groups of friends and family here at the farm. It was really special that these people acknowledged how hard it is for us to leave the farm at this time of year, and came to us so that we could make some Summertime memories together. It’s especially amazing when company arrives with a willingness to jump in and help out with the farming activities, whatever they may be (the plan can sometimes change by the hour)! We know it’s important to take some time to make memories, even during the busy times, as the work can take over otherwise and before you know it you’ve lost opportunities to connect with the people you love. I’m sure many of you that don’t work on farms can relate to this, we are so busy, constantly tackling the to-do list sometimes to the detriment of the things that matter more.
Calving and lambing went fairly smoothly this year. We calved out on pasture as usual starting in May and into June, and the herd was moved onto a chunk of ryegrass that Troy had planted in the Fall. We were able to extend our Spring grazing with this, despite the dry conditions, and then continued onto the regular pasture with once-a-day rotations via an adaptive grazing management plan. The piece that was grazed down eventually had a polycrop planted into it, a warm-season blend to provide feed for the cattle over Winter. Due to some much-needed rains in July (after almost nothing May and June), the pastures, annual greenfeed crops and cover crops got the drink they needed to grow and the heat, to boot. We then went for another month or so without rain, but with just over an inch in 24 hours last week, we will get through the next while without disaster.
We had a low lambing rate this year, but this also meant no triplets and hence likely bottle-feeding lambs to contend with, so it’s alright. The lambs that were born out on pasture in June are growing well, and we have a consistent supply of grassfed lamb to carry us into the Winter, before these ones begin to be butchered around January. We got back some beautiful lambskins from a local tannery, and are exploring the idea of marketing some of them – we’ll hopefully an update on this in our Fall newsletter, before Christmas arrives.
The bees came out of Winter very strong, and we didn’t sell as many as we would have liked this Spring so Troy has been managing quite a few hives on his own up until now. We have six bee yards, and have focused on having them on land that is being stewarded using regenerative agricultural practices. We are very fortunate to have such a great group of ranchers around whose perennial pastures and hayland are managed in a way that benefits pollinators, in addition to building soil health. Keep an eye out for a special feature on our social media, highlighting these producers.
The laying hens have been doing well, though I had to come to terms with not being able to fulfill my total dream of having a mobile pasture coop this Summer. The time just wasn’t there to build it, and therefore it remains a project destined for a future time. The birds still have access to pasture every day, they just aren’t moving around to different areas like I had hoped (therefore providing nutrients and fly control to more areas of the pasture). Their lay rate was lower than I’d hoped, and because of that we had to decrease some of our Egg Share members and place them on a wait list in case of surplus. We appreciate everyone’s patience with us as we figure out this new ‘egg-citing’ enterprise, and look forward to possibly expanding it more (eggmobile and all) next season!
Troy is happy to report that we had some great hay crops so far this year, and also the greenfeed that was mostly a combination of oats, peas, vetch, clovers, etc also turned out great (the latter is made into silage, a fermented feed that serves as a high-octane option over the Winter). Greenfeed production always coincides with honey harvest, and we are thankful for our honey harvest workers that were able to keep things rolling as Troy went to get the feed done. Introducing more annuals into our winter feed system is new and exciting, and though it comes with complication, it has allowed us to plant more of a diversity of plants that will hopefully jump-start our soil into a succession back to perennial root systems (the latter being the best for soil/microbiology health).
I (Michelle) had the opportunity to attend the Soil Health Academy in Brandon, MB for a few days in July. This was an intensive school, led by some of the leaders in Regenerative Agriculture, that helps farmers and ranchers improve their practices through the principles of soil health, adaptive grazing management, and using the skills of observation on your land to continually assess important changes that need to be made. Regenerative Agriculture is largely about understanding and observing patterns and events in nature, and sometimes replicating these natural systems as opposed to fighting against them. So much of what happens in agriculture is working against nature, and sometimes this can take more energy, money, time and resources than changing our paradigms (the way we think about these systems) and being creative about how we react (or don’t react, in some cases). I came back from the Soil Health Academy with renewed energy and ideas for what we can do on our own operation, as well as some valuable connections with other ranchers and farmers who have similar goals. Our “Regenerates” peer group continues to meet monthly as well, and it has been great to visit other farms and see what other operations are learning and have to share with their peers.
Another thing that happened in July was our first delivery of food to participants of the Food Accessibility Program, in Memory of Ian Scott. Because of the donations from generous folks over the past year and a half, we were able to supply 6 Newcomer families with a package of grassfed beef and lamb at a subsidized rate. We are thankful to the assistance of Westman Immigrant Services in helping us organize this, and we look forward to doing it once more in the Fall.
‘Syd the Kid’ turns 2 at the end of this month, and he continues to be a fantastic little guy who is taking in his experiences here on the farm and exploring to no end. It has been hairy (despite the lack on his head) trying to find a balance between allowing him to roam and explore but also keeping him safe. He is learning about electric fences, how to be around animals, how to help feed and water the livestock with Mommy, and how kittens don’t always want to ride along in his wagon. He is quite obsessed with “tractors” and takes any opportunity to ride in one with Daddy or Grandpa (though we don’t use one much this time of year). He loves things with wheels, and is usually found dragging around a wagon with a very purposeful look on his face. He now says “no”, though it is endearing as his natural intonation makes it more of a “No….?”
Aside from friends and family, we’ve also hosted a few tours with groups of people who are wanting to come out and see what we’re doing here. We enjoy these experiences, but we do not have an ‘open door policy’ – we require advance notice that you are wanting to come and visit so that we can make the time into our busy schedules, and we are discussing the fact that going forward we will likely charge a fee for our time spent doing a tour (most other businesses would, so why should we not?) If you are wanting to come and have a tour of our farm/ranch and see what we do in person, please send us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org and we will try to arrange something for you! Otherwise, we do our best to communicate our daily tasks and goings-on via our Instagram and Facebook social media feeds (see links at page footer).
We’re excited about the new ‘Beef Box’ and ‘Lamb Box’ subscription programs that are part of our ‘Meat Share’. This July to December program is kind of a ‘pilot’ that will help inform us on how we could offer this program as a year-round option. If you have any suggestions, please let us know! We see this model as a win-win for both Farmer and Eater, by allowing the Eater to spread out the collection of food as well as the payment for it; and for us, it gives us stability in knowing we have folks that we will be supplying food for the upcoming months and to help plan our inventory around it. The Egg Share has also been a great learning experience, and we are encouraged to hopefully expand next season and be able to offer it to even more customers.
Heading into Fall, we hope that many of you are thinking about stocking up your freezers, and that you will consider us to provide you with some of that nourishment for your family. Something that has been on our mind lately is the recent reports about climate change and the effects from the livestock industry, including cattle. Although we acknowledge that we are far from carbon-neutral at this point, we feel confident that our practices and products can serve as a viable alternative to the mainstream systems that are problematic. Eliminating meat from the diet is not a realistic or sensible option for many people, and we are honoured to be serving a role and trying to do our part in helping to navigate and take positive action on this very serious issue we all face today and going forward. One book that is very interesting that I have been reading is “Nourishment: What animals can teach us about rediscovering our nutritional wisdom” by Dr. Fred Provenza. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to explore the human diet within a context of historical and holistic / animal systems. Another is “Kiss the Ground: How the food you eat can reverse climate change, heal your body & ultimately save our world” by Josh Tickell.
Thanks for reading my ramblings, we are looking forward to squeezing the last of the juicy bits from Summer, and we wish the same for you. Hope to see you around soon, friends.