I am an optimist.
It does not seem too much use being anything else.
- Winston Churchill
The Hobby Farmer
I was raised on an acreage on the outskirts of Innisfail, next to Highway 2. In 1939, my parents bought about 15 acres of farmland and started to build cabins. Over time, they built the Bluebird Motel and a service station, diner, small store, and coin laundry. We had a cow, some pigs and chickens, and a big garden. It was there that they raised six somewhat ungrateful and unhelpful kids (five boys and one girl). My dad was a building contractor, so during the oil boom, he moved us to Redwater, where I met Pat. Then to Fort Saskatchewan when Sherritt came to town. Pat's parents were farmers from Opal (near Redwater). We married in 1956 and lived in Edmonton. Doug was born in 1962, so we moved to Fort Saskatchewan, where I had been working for Sherritt.
Our involvement in the cattle business lasted about 15 years. Then, one day in about 1975, Dow Chemical had a major poisonous gas leak that drifted northeast of Fort Saskatchewan. It drifted right through my pasture land. had some sick cattle within a few days. Suddenly Dow Chemical owned them, and I was out of the cow-calf business. They were all shipped, subject to government inspection to confirm that the meat was good. I bought more steers to offset the income from the cows. That worked OK for a few years, then the feedlot steers lost money for two years, so I sold all of them.
Now I had a fair amount of farm income and no expenses. Guess what? All I had left was a big tax bill. I had been peed on, stepped on, kicked, and knocked down. I'd pulled live calves and dead ones. I had never worked so hard for the money I made.
My experience gave me a lifetime respect for those who call themselves farmers.
The work they do and the risks they take amaze me. May God bless the farmers that feed the world.
Fools and their money soon part.
Don't bite the hand that feeds you.
Do I have to dog you boys every inch?
I always liked cattle. The concept that a cow had a calf every year seemed a sure way to make money, so I started to buy a few heifers, trading used cars for cows. I traded a 1953 Dodge car for two cows. One was due any day and the other turned out to be a career girl. loaded them in my much-too-small truck and headed to my brother-in-law's farm at Opal. On the way, guess what? A flat tire on the rear. Between keeping a moving load on the jack and frequent showers from a nervous, pregnant cow, I finally got the tire changed. Pat and our two boys (about two and three years old) were with me. She couldn't believe what I went through for the sake of acquiring two cows.
We started with a few Angus, but in an effort to gain some size, we became acquainted with the University of Alberta experimental farm at Kinsella. We used mostly Simmental cross bulls, keeping the heifers. In a few years, this resulted in good-sized cows and calves.
We also added larger cross-bred cows. Eventually, we had 75 head. As well as the cows, we had 10 Yorkshire sows, we used Lacombe boars and we sold wieners. I rented four quarters of land for hay, pasture, and grain. This got me into the custom baling business, which took even more time away from home. We were also rotating a pen of 200 steers at a feedlot in Blackfalds.
I do have to tell a couple of stories about Pat. One Saturday, Pat came with me in the truck to take a cow to the vet. This was so we could have some quality time together. We met a man named Baulk on the road. He had a few cows running with mine. He told me we had to leave right now to fix fences because some of our cattle were out.
For Pat, that was the last straw. She stepped out of character and told him, "I'm getting sick and tired of playing second fiddle to a bunch of cows." He replied, "What do you mean second fiddle? You're riding in the front, aren't you?" Well, I thought Pat was going to go right out the window after him.
About the same time, I had found a guy north of Flat Bush who was making thick slabs by cutting six- to eight-inch poplar lengthwise. This would make good corrals. I had a three-quarter-tonne IHC and had bought a load from him before, so I thought it would be a nice trip for Pat and the boys, who were about three and four, to come with me.
Well, when we got there, the only person home was a 14-year-old boy who seemed a little strange. Regardless, I left Pat and the boys in the house and loaded up the truck. I came back to the house and offered to pay him the same as the last load. I wanted to get home before dark. Well, he left the room and came back with a .22 gun and said, "I think you better stay until my parents get home." Then he proceeded to tell us that he had been in a reform school. We agreed to stay. We were hungry. Pat was afraid for the boys and us, and we just sat there for about five hours.
I tell you, we were greatly relieved when we finally heard his parents' truck come into the yard around 11:30 p.m. For me, the fact that I put should my family at risk for a load of slabs bothers me to this day. I have called ahead to make sure they would be home.
I bought a newer used John Deere press drill with multi-lubers. I hooked it to my tractor ('44 Massey) and filled it with seed and fertilizer. Then I decided it wasn't level. So I un-hooked it just to watch the drill hitch go straight up. The drill was on its back. Of course, half the seed and fertilizer was on the ground. (Did I mention I that I was a "hobby farmer"?)
One warm summer afternoon, I was sitting on the corral fence, watching the young calves. A 300-pound Black Angus calf lay not far away, half asleep. I thought, "Hmm. I wonder if I could rope him?" So I tried, and to my and the calf's shock and amazement, I did.
Well, that calf jumped up and took off bawling and fighting the rope, I while I hung on by about 70 cows in the adjoining for dear life. The commotion did not go unnoticed pasture. Led by the bawling calf's mother, they started coming fast. I thought my time on earth was over. I dropped the rope and headed for the corral fence. I made it over the fence just a few seconds before the calf's mother would have been pleased to help me over.
Lesson learned? Whether animals or people, never mess with a mother's kids.