For those paying close attention to the sidebar of this blog, you will see that today is the day that we leave the farm where we have been working to go on a trip into the Rockies for a week. Well, we’re now at A&W (a fast food chain which guarantees beef raised without hormones or steroids) in Dawson Creek with a six hour wait for our bus to Prince George. I thought it would be a good moment to summarise our time on the farm.
The farm where we were working is an organic farm raising pigs, cattle, bison, chickens, turkeys and accommodating an assortment of other animals too including some rather vocal donkeys and a very strong-minded goat! We certainly worked hard and had great fun feeding the animals each morning, milking the house cow, moving animals, and doing general farm maintenance, but we also learnt a refreshing attitude towards farming animals which I haven’t seen before – and didn’t expect. The animals come first, always, said the farmer on our first day and this may just sound like “animals get fed before any other chores” but it applies to the welfare of all of the animals. When we moved the pigs into lovely new pens with long grass for eating and snuffling, they were very unsure of crossing over where the electric fencing used to be and often would want to stay in their familiar pen despite the grass being worn down to soil and the new pen being infinitely nicer! “No point in trying to push (herd) them, they’re much stronger than you” the farmer called out to us as we tried to encourage them forwards. “Just get a pail of feed and let them think about it.” We sprinkled some feed on the other side of where the fence used to be and slowly but surely they started to come towards where the fence used to be and eventually wandered carefully across and into their new pen where we greeted them with lots more feed (and the lush grass, of course) and they quickly realised that life was fantastic in their new pen. When cows escaped (which was much more frequent than we imagined!), there was no hurry to get them back to their field and instead we would just walk slowly behind them and let them work their way back in the right direction to the field and think that it was their own decision. As the farmer would say to us “you can make an animal go anywhere it wants to go” so we learnt to always make sure that the animal felt that they were making the decision to go the way that we were encouraging them. Made moving animals a helluva lot easier!
Bison are still relatively wild and so don’t like humans – they still consider us to be predators and so it can be pretty dangerous around them. They are huge and are the fastest land animal in North America and climb or jump over fences up to seven foot high. Rather than using trucks, ATVs or dogs to bring bison in from pasture as most bison farmers do, the farmer we worked for spends time with them and always bringing some nice treats whether it’s a new bale of hay or an open gate to a new pasture or some oats. Most mornings the farmer will walk into the field and call “Moostoos! Tatonka! Astum!” meaning “Buffalo! Buffalo! Come Here” and gives them some oats. That way when it comes to moving them to a new pasture or working with them, he just needs to call them and they come anticipating something positive. What a safe and sensible way to deal with such big and potentially dangerous animals!
We have also learnt that organic means so much more than just feeding organic food: it means that the animals cannot be given any antibiotics and so are treated naturally wherever possible otherwise they can’t be certified organic, they must have access to the outside and be able to roam around (we didn’t realise that free range hens means not much more than caged hens), and also that when they go to slaughter, they have to be the first of the day to make sure there is as little waiting around time as possible so the animals are happy right up until the last possible moment of their good life. We both always liked the idea of organic meat but thought there would be too many hoops to jump through to raise animals organically ourselves but it is absolutely worth it to see the way they live. When the one day old chicks arrive and are put into the hot brooder with plenty of feed and water, they are also given organic watermelons as they seems to enjoy them so much! What a life these animals have!
I think my favourite work on the farm was milking the house cow and trying to train her calf to become used to handling and being brushed so she can be a good house cow. I definitely want a house cow when we get our own place! Despite hating the taste of raw milk! But seeing how much yoghurt, cheese, butter and ice cream could be made from a good house cow has made me realise how much milk we could get through! And what about inviting neighbours to come and milk and get great milk for free as well??
We have made SO many memories meeting all sorts of people from different walks of life and learnt so many skills (we are electric fencing professionals now!) that it has certainly been an experience we will never forget. Let’s hope if we can get a smallholding of our own, we can apply as much as we have learnt as we possibly can.
Well, the early morning farmers have gone from A&W and the retired couples are in now which must mean it’s time for us to get up and have a wander around Dawson Creek before catching our bus.
We’ll keep you posted on our week camping in BC! Plans have changed slightly and we are going to go down to the Kootenays as it’s going to be much warmer…snow forecast in Jasper….but will definitely see the Rockies on the way back up!
Here are a few more pics from the farm…