Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Fair Trade

This is a little rant about all those bleeding hearts who worry about things like politically correct tea or coffee. You know, fair trade coffee, that costs 2 or 3 times the price of regular coffee and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside because you did the right thing. Here in Lotus Land ( British Columbia ), where every one and his dog is out to save the planet, 9 times out of 10 if you are at a public meeting on any community or environmental issue its a given the coffee is fair trade. Every one knows Juan Valdez and his donkey need all the help they can get as they receive but a few cents on a pound of coffee. The fact that a family of four down there can live on $5 a day seems to escape the average person here. Stats Canada has a family of four in Canada needing about $45,000/year or $123.29 / day.
I wonder if any one has worked out the return on investment for a Juan Valdez family coffee farm compared to the return on investment for a family ranch or grain farm in western Canada. I have the sneaky feeling that Juan see's a bigger return than our local boys. Of course its less dollars than ours ,but compared to his over all investment, a 5% to 20% RoI would not surprise me. Having graduated from the Ranching for Profit School ( yes, for real I have the certificate)I know that the average ranch in North America runs at a loss even in good years and most run on a plus or minus 2% RoI. Seems to me like the guys keeping your country side looking nice and producing all that local food for your consumption, well maybe they are the charitable ones. I enclosed a bumper sticker from England which kind of sums it up. We family farmers keep and protect the pastoral scenery you all to enjoy and for some reason that does not show up in our wallets, only the tourist's plugging our narrow roads!! So when you think of Juan Valdez and Fair Trade coffee, think about John Smith and ask why there isn't Fair Trade Beef, Pork, Lamb and Wheat. OK I'll get of my soapbox now.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Jet Spray Panic

Back at our old ranch in Manitoba, we had a typical prairie septic system with a split holding tank, one for solids which was cleaned out once a year and one for liquids. The liquid side had a floating pill switch and once full, pumped out through a long pipe some 200yards out into the pasture where it went through a jet spray and was spread onto the pasture to filter through the 15 feet of top soil and sand back to the water table. This is a common system still in use there today and is very reliable, until small children swallow orange or cherry pips.
The jet spray is buried 8 feet down so as to be frost free in the winter and to get the necessary pressure to spray the fluids above ground there is a narrowing of the pipe called a venturi, much like putting your finger over the garden hose. The pipe is one inch in diameter but the venturi is only one quarter of an inch, now picture an orange pip when it meets the venturi! Just like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dam. My children in there gusto for fruit would swallow the pip which would float into the fluid tank ,pass through the large pump and lodge eight feet down in the venturi plugging up the sewer usually in winter always when its 30c below zero!! The rule was made and thoroughly executed that all fruit was peeled, segmented,de-pitted and inspected by a parent before consumption NO exceptions.
Daddy you see had had enough of trudging out to the field in arctic like gales often through snow banks,to remove the eight foot pipe to unblock the venturi. All I might add done with bare hands as the screws are to small to handle with warm gloves.The children had experienced my wrath and barn language in these matters and eagerly worked with the new rules and still chuckle at the memory of those events.
Fast forwarding to today its cherry season in our part of the world and munching on big black juicy cherries is a favorite treat. Yesterday while chatting to my daughter in the kitchen she was absent mindedly picking cherries out of the bowl and munching while chatting to me. Suddenly she stopped mid sentence and said "crap, Ive swallowed two pips". Horror spread over her face, she visibly stiffened and I could see flash backs taking place, visions of fatherly wrath, followed by Anglo Saxon adjectives. Then a relaxing and a smile. "Thank goodness we are at the new place," she said. Yep she's got that right no jet spray and not arctic fronts. I wonder if she will be checking her children's plates before they are allowed to wolf the cherries and orange segments. If not I have the experience to train the grand children.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Ranchers and Farmers endangered species

There is a major greying of heads amongst ranchers and farmers these days as fewer and fewer youngsters want to take the reins. Stats Canada released figures recently that put the average rancher at 55 and the average grain and hay farmer at 57. That means I can still say I'm a young farmer, though it doesn't seem to pull the young ladies like it used to!
This brings about the problem of succession or passing the baton on to the next generation. In some cases it skips a generation to the grand children. The big worry is the knowledge base that will be lost, as good farming is far more an art than a science, hence the name Agriculture. Thanks to Big business the culture is almost gone and it is called Ag-Industry, not unlike Military Industrial complex. So in an effort to reverse trends I feel we have to get them while they are young and take a page from the "street pushers". After all us young and not so young ranchers know full well that agriculture is as addictive as crack cocaine so its just a matter of getting them hooked.
The photo above shows my first effort with my grandaughter she can steer and as it has a shuttle shift automatic the clutch is not a problem. Brakes on the other hand pose a serious concern so we will have to keep her on flat ground, that could be interesting living as we do in the mountains.Judging by the expression on her face she doesn't relish the hills either!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Barns 2

Here as promised several days ago are some photos of our old barn. The lighting's not very good and this old rancher has a tough time with camera shake in low light situations. It seems to show the beam work quite well and even one of the resident green eyed monsters.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

That'll learn me!

As mentioned in the previous post the 13th started out well, the rest of the morning followed suit. I managed a successful shopping expedition for supplies as I am batching at present, moved pipe and cattle and from that point it went downhill rapidly. It was very hot and getting humid and cloudy, it broke with a big wind ripping down the valley, lots of thunder in the mountains, and a crash as a large maple tree blew over and knocked down a section of our corral fence. Topping it all with a power cut that lasted 4 hours.
Knowing it would take a while to get power back I thought I would go along to the neighbours and see if they had power as often outages are very local here. Keith, Ernie and Doug were sitting in the shade drinking beer, Doug could not milk his cows as he needed hydro to do it, Ernie was there to bale Keith's hay which was too dry and needed a small shower which was headed our way over the hill.(Yes hay can be too dry and a quick shower or dew will dampen it enough to stop the leaves shattering and thus make the hay better quality.)With the power out the boys were worried the beer would heat up and spoil so they decided the best course of action would be to finish the case. They asked me if I could possibly lend a hand, well now I'm always willing to help out a neighbour so we cooled our insides down with Molsens while the outside was cooled down with a nice shower of rain.
After two cold beers on a hot afternoon on an empty stomach things started to look better and after telling the mandatory number of lies and tall stories we felt it time to asses the situation. The hay was now just right to bale and low and behold the power had come back on. All good things come to those who wait!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Big Brother is watching us !

Hows this for creepy, its our farm from a Google earth satellite photo. Back on the old ranch in Manitoba If you were caught short no problem we were after all in the middle of nowhere, here in BC with a smaller property and more neighbours one has to be careful. But with the spy in the sky nothing is sacred! The ranch is a large square with land on both sides of the river which can be seen winding its way through the middle. With the hot weather now here we will be spending some time messing about in the river to cool off, maybe even today as its early and already getting hot.

Saturday, July 7, 2007


Old Barns are one of my favorite places, our first ranch in Manitoba had lots of barns but they were all new. Our BC ranch has a beauty and as near as we can tell talking to some of the local old timers it's close to 100 years old. Now I know for you Brits your new barns are older than that, but bear with me, this valley has only been settled for the last 100 or so years which makes our barn a true pioneer. The frame is made of ceder logs and is overlaid with bush cut lumber. The old ceder shake shingles are still there but are now covered with tin. It also has a rail and track at the top of the barn to bring the loose hay in, with an opening at each end for unloading the hay wagon. It has had a new wing built on the north side to allow for a feeding area but the original part is just for storing hay.
Built into the west side of the barn is a stable for 4 horses, once again all made from ceder. With some hay in the barn and some new kittens to play with its a great place for kids to explore or adults to contemplate. When the lighting is better I will take some shots of the inside to show the craftsmanship of its construction.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The River

The Salmon river flows right through our ranch and it is a pretty and sometimes challenging body of water. It is also the life blood of our grazing system as we pump water from it during the summer to irrigate our pastures. Over the years since the valley has been settled the river banks have eroded and the river has changed course many times in different areas. So a group of folks got together and with government and private funds are restoring the river banks, righting the wrongs so to speak. They build up river banks ,plant trees and grasses, and help build watering points for livestock as well as fencing a set back zone from the river to allow nature to do what it does best without old "Bossy" the cow's interference.
We are due to have some work done on our place this summer along with several other folks up and down the watershed. So yesterday I spent the day with some of the founders and organisers, first looking at a property and the work to be done there some 30 miles up river from us and then they all came to check our place out. We have a problem with a wide stretch of river and it changes sides most every year, making it very difficult to water cattle, at the same time the bank is being undermined by the river and is collapsing into the river adding to the silt problem. If the work is approved it should be done sometime in August. The top picture is a view of the river on our place where it is in good shape, lots of growth in the riparian area and stable banks. The others are of the site further upriver we visited, as you can see we live in a very pretty valley and we feel blessed to be here and hopefully do our bit to keep it that way. I learnt lots yesterday and am always up for a challenge, which will no doubt come when the machinery arrives ,fences come down and cattle get to curious for their own good! Next time . Rob.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Our Pasture

Just so you don't think I spend all my time fussing over keeping cattle well fed, I have enclosed a couple of shots of my people pasture!! So far we have eaten radish, lettuce, potatoes,carrots,swisschard and raspberries.

Hungry Again

Remember yesterdays photo of happy cows in their new paddock, well look at the top two and see how much they ate in 24 hours !! So I took down the next fence and let them have today's dinner. Yes its a daily job, hence the name chore, but its very satisfying, the big secret is to get it to grow back in time for their next visit !!

Retiered Seed Drill

On some pasture that we rent from our neighbours is an old seed drill that has been abandoned for some time. The pictures give a good idea as to how long it has been there when you see how grown around and through the drill the Hawthorn bush is. The bush is some 15 to 18 feet tall. We do not graze this little area as it is the other side of a small creek and is too small an area to justify the cost of the fencing. When I stumbled across it , the setting seemed so tranquil,I felt I should put a bench there as it is a perfect spot for reflection. The other side of me felt it was a shame those steel wheels were trapped in side the bush as they would look good set in a wrought iron gate at the ranch entrance !!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Day Job

I milked for the last time this morning so its back to my day job, at least until they feel like another few days off. We have had about 5 inches of rain this month so I shut the irrigation down on the 13th June, before going to our son James Graduation in Winnipeg. It has been dry for several days now and the 14 day outlook is hot and dry, so I fired up the pump and spent the morning setting out hand lines and fixed guns, a good work out so I have earned dessert with my supper.
I always vowed I would not buy a farm with irrigation as I felt if I was that tied down I might as well milk cows,Ha never say never. After 2 seasons of irrigation I think its great, I finally control the rain. What a control freak, actually its not true as I control the on switch, not the off switch.
This afternoon I was getting a tan setting up portable electric fences for the next three days grazing, buy far my most favorite job. We move the cattle every day to fresh grass, this keeps them gaining weight and minimizes waste. I some times think they are better off than me as I get to eat left overs at least once or twice a week, they always have fresh every day with out fail. When I approached Clare (my wife) on this I was told that this is how we make money, more pounds on the cattle and less spent on me!! Touche!
I posted a few photos from this afternoon, I had an audience while erecting the fence as you can see, the mountain in the back ground is Mnt Ida, and my favorite sight a contented bovine eating fresh grass. Bye for now. Rob.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Ealy Bird

Its 4.30 am this fine Sunday morning, Happy Canada Day to you, or as I prefer Dominion Day. I have just made a pot of coffee and am up this early to milk the neighbours cows as he is away at a family reunion. Just 32 to milk so its a pleasent chore with a few calves to feed along with the cows after milking. Many years ago I used to milk fulltime, I now find I prefer relief milking ( just odd days to help out), its a bit like Grandchildren, you can enjoy them and hand them back when they smell !! Ahhh that coffee tastes good, well I best be off, bye for now. Rob