Monday, February 23, 2015

Remembering the Farm - Cows I

It snowed in West-Central Saskatchewan on September 28, 1982.  Enough wet snow for the kids and I to make a wonderful snowman in our backyard and decorate it with  sweet peas which were still blooming along the fence between our place and Nash's in Kindersley.  Dad had no harvest done and no feed put up. He said he was 60 years old and tired.  He phoned "the truck" and the cattle went to the yards.  For the first time since my grandfather bought the farm near Cavell in early 1914 and likely since 1906, there was not a cow on the place.

Initially, Dad farmed four quarters of land (640 acres, 260 ha), two owned, two leased.  The leased land, which he eventually bought, was 240 acres (97 ha) native (prairie wool) pasture and 80 acres (33 ha) cultivated. This would handle about 20+ cows with small amounts of pasture near home for milk cows.  In the 60's he rented another 3 quarters, which he also eventually bought,  of which one (65 ha) was native pasture and the other two (130 ha) were cultivated.  This allowed the herd to expand to about 30 cows which could be covered by one bull.

The pasture was in good condition until 1961 when the year was drier than anything in the 1930's. Between the cows and the grasshoppers it was shaved clean and never really recovered in 20 years until after the cows were gone and it was a few years before dad leased out the pasture for grazing.

Parkland native pasture with poplar bluffs, wolf willow and buckbrush

Overgrazed pasture allows invaders such as prairie sage 

Lessee's cattle grazing on recovered pasture
We ran out of feed in the winter of 61-62 and so did many others.  Buying feed was a problem as the insecticide Dieldrin, which wasn't banned for another year or so, had a long residual effect which meant that sprayed crop residue couldn't be fed to cattle.  And virtually everything had been sprayed as it was the worst hopper outbreak in years. We found a neighbour with three year old straw, half rotten but along with grain, it kept the cattle alive until spring.

Old original well and pump jack.
Water sets the limits as much as grass.  Livestock numbers were in many cases limited by how much water a farmer could pump.  Some cattlemen had gasoline motors to run pump jacks but before we got electricity in 1953, it was all pumped by hand at our place from a bored well about 20 meters deep.  In summer the cattle on pasture drank from sloughs until they ran dry, then there was an old well that dad pumped from.  I don't remember that very well as PFRA made a dugout for us in the mid-fifties and the well was abandoned and filled in with rocks.

 In summer there were the draft horses and milk cows at home to be pumped water for.  Dad got a tractor in 1950 and the horses, all but two, went to France in tin cans, leaving just the milk cows.  More on them later.  But in winter all the cattle were home and pumping was a major chore. One of the first purchases when the electricity came on was a pump jack and small electric motor.

PFRA dugout, dug 1955 (?), dry and cleaned out in 1980's
That did us until the mid 1960's when we drilled a deep well (100 meters?) and put in a pressure system with a hydrant in the cattle yards. Water quality was terrible.  High in Glauber salts and Epsom salts, calcium carbonate and iron bacteria.  We had it analysed and the lab said it was not fit to drink.  We hauled drinking water but the livestock were stuck with it.

To be continued


  1. This makes me reflect on my childhood on the prairies. There are many similarities. Those pictures are very much Saskatchewan. You have great recall. I doubt I could remember half as much. Looking forward to hearing more about the farm. I do remember pummelling mouse nests in the chop bin. The baseball bat got used summer and winter. I'd be hard pressed to do such a thing now.

    1. Barb, if you enter "Remembering the Farm " in Search this blog you will find several other posts I have written on the subject of growing up on the farm

  2. The thought of all that pumping makes me ache in sympathy. The sheer physical effort that used to be involved in farming is enough to boggle the minds of most people today. I remember watching my dad pitch bales (the small rectangular ones, so maybe 40-50 lbs apiece) from the truck up into the loft of the barn. Like a machine, he'd bend and straighten and toss them up there with an easy jerk of his arms, in the burning sun and cloying humidity with his shirt soaked and the sweat dripping off the end of his nose. I thought he was the strongest man in the world.

    We had saline well water in Manitoba too - Dad said it wasn't too bad because he never had to put out salt licks. ;-)

  3. We didn't get into bales until I was in highschool. Our feed was put up loose, using a stacker on the front end loader. More on that another time.


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