Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bleat.....The Story of a Sheep

My Father and I enjoyed a good roast of lamb. We would use our own Crab Apple jelly instead of mint sauce. Add fresh new potatoes and salad from our own lettuce and we ate like kings! Of course to get the lamb we would usually have two or three sheep about the place. We would buy orphan or neglected lambs from the Hutterite colony. This was a regular event and gave us a nice supply of excellent lamb.
Baa, Bleat and Sheep were the lambs that arrived in 1983. They soon became a fixture in the yard and made themselves at home. We preferred slightly older lamb and so the sheep we had grew bigger than regular market lambs before they went into the deep freeze. These three were Suffolk. They were nice meaty sheep. They had lovely black faces and legs. I quite enjoyed having them around. The three of them kept the yard well nibbled. They were good company when we were outside.
This year though I had a problem, Bleat was a ewe lamb. Usually we preferred whethers but somehow we had ended up with a girl. She was a very nice lamb. The leader of the local 4-H sheep club said she was an excellent specimen and would make a good breeding ewe. I wish he hadn't said that. We decided we would keep her and raise some of our own lambs.
At the regular time we took Baa and Sheep to their destiny ,the butchers. This left Bleat on her own. She was bereft and lonely. She moped around the place bleating sadly, looking for her friends in all their familiar haunts. 

 It was at this time we brought the cattle home from pasture. We pulled the bulls away from the cows to maintain a short calving season. The bull pen now contained two Angus bull's, Steel and Prospector. They were lazy creatures and lounged about all day eating or sleeping. I am sure
they were dreaming of the following spring when they would got out again.
With the arrival of the bull's, Bleat had found companionship. The bulls were a bit unsure at first. They had already been at pasture when the lambs arrived, usually the lambs were gone by the time the cows came home. What was this short, fuzzy thing and why did she hang around so much?
Bleat made a decision, she moved in with the bulls. She shared their grain, ate hay with them and chewed her cud as they rested in the sun. For some reason she seemed to be totally attached to the older bull, Steel. He was a big fellow and weighed nearly 2800 pounds. Bleat was dwarfed by his mass, yet, if you wanted to find the sheep it was most likely she was with the enormous bull. If he went to drink she followed him, she ate next to him and soon it seemed the pair was inseparable.

When September came around it was time to take Bleat to get bred. A neighbor [ about 3 miles away] who raised sheep, had a very nice Suffolk ram. He had agreed to let me bring her to stay with his sheep until she was bred. I was amazed to get his phone call just two nights later, he couldn't find Bleat. She wasn't with his flock, he couldn't find any sign of coyotes and his Guardian dogs were not upset by anything. There was just no sign of my sheep. I had tagged her with her name so she could be easily spotted among his sheep. They had looked everywhere. He didn't know what else to say, he would continue to look to see if the coyotes had dragged her away. I put the phone down and told Dad the bad news.

He looked up from his book and said “Well I thought you had brought her home already, she's down in the corral with Steel.”
I didn't really believe it. I walked down to the bull pen. There she was, happily standing beside the bull, chewing on a bit of hay. I called the neighbor and told him where she was. We decided I would take her back to his place the next day. I did and the same result soon occurred, Bleat came home. When we watched her it was like she didn't like the other sheep. She stood apart and looked toward my farm. While we watched she started off, crawled through what looked like impregnable fence and headed back to her home. Trotting up the road with a purpose. We tried to leave her there 4 times but it soon became apparent she was not having anything to do with ordinary sheep.
She wanted her flock of big black “Sheep”. She loved Steel for the lack of a better description. Bleat stayed with him for the winter. When spring came and I let the bulls out with the cows, Bleat was still at his side. It was a comical sight, the huge black bull striding along a cow trail, followed by a sheep! You would see them laying together in the hot afternoon or grazing the hillsides side by side.

We held our annual branding at working corrals built on the summer pasture. In Ranch country everyone gets together for the event. Branding, tattooing and vaccinating the calves becomes a social event and is very western. There is still a bit of animosity toward sheep. I had been told time and time again that the coyotes would eat Bleat if I turned her out with the cattle. I thought maybe the coyotes would avoid the bull and they had. Bleat was doing just fine. She had not got bred to the ram and lived the life of a range sheep beside her bull. Of course this led to the man who roped for us showing off. I have seen disasters with horses and ropes before but the one that was about to develop is still talked about in our neighborhood years later.
We had finished branding and everyone was eating and relaxing when Steve shook out his lariat and went smartly after Bleat. He roped her perfectly with one cast, not knowing she had been halter trained as a lamb and led beautifully. She felt the rope and knew what to do. She turned and ran toward the person at the end of the rope. He must want her to lead.
The horse, a good solid rope horse, didn't really like sheep to start with and now here was this woolly blob running toward him. He did what any self respecting rope horse would do, he bolted! He took off at full gallop. Bleat was having trouble keeping up and she “Bleated”, a long drawn out cry for help...BAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
Steel, who had been grazing near by, heard the terrified sheep and went after her to help. The horse was bucking in a circle. Steve was trying to let go of the lariat. The sheep was still trying to lead.  It was continuing to terrify the horse. Then the bull galloped into the fray. Bleat saw her hero and headed for him. She ran directly under the stampeding and bucking horse. It was chaos of the most amazing kind. A snorting horse, cursing rider, bleating sheep and bellowing bull in a cloud of dust. The entire crowd stood and gaped. We wondered how it was all going to turn out.

Finally Steve got the rope clear and thrown to the ground, Bleat had reached Steel and was pressed up against him. Steel pawed the ground and let everyone know his sheep was safe. After the dust settled I went and removed the lariat from a very relieved Bleat. I scratched Steel where he liked it. I left the two of them there, together. It was a very chagrined Steve who rode home from our branding that year. I am afraid he was the center of some very colorful descriptions of the sheep roping at our branding.

Bleat had decided she was a cow, a short cow yes, but a cow just the same. She never did have any lambs but she lived to a good age with her lifelong companion Steel the Angus bull. They were happy as mismatched as they were. If they got separated Steel would miss his sheep as much as she would miss him. My father used to shake his head and marvel as he watched the two of them walk up to the feed trough or along a cow path. Bleat the sheep that didn't think she was a sheep!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Living in the Shadow of The Rockies

This is my view almost every day....blizzards, rain and lowering sky's can obscure this amazing mountain range but for the most part I see this!

The Livingstone Range, a wall of rock running along the edge of the foothills in South Western Alberta. The mountain changes color from dismal grays to brilliant blues and greens. From the special blue of fall with the yellowing and sere grasses... to the blazing white of a fresh, heavy snow in winter. It is endless in its variety. The air can play tricks on the eye as well. Some days the mountains seem miles away in the distance, others almost close enough to touch. 

Some days the rocks are lightly dusted with the first snow of fall. Others crowned with a late snow of spring.  The view takes my breath away even now after living here all my life.  This world around us is so amazing and with our frantic modern lifestyles we no longer have time or take time to simply take in the view.
My blessing here is I don't have to stop and look, the stunning view is simply all around  me.  I wake up and look out my Kitchen window before my day really begins and I see the mountains and the ever changing shades of their glory and know I am blessed with where I live.  Take time to enjoy your world....stop and smell the roses.

Monday, July 18, 2011

An Interesting Book...

Several years ago I had a good friend send me a series of CD's. He had joined a book club called and bought a number of books to  listen to. He happens to be a long haul truck driver who hauls food grade liquids...from grape juice to Bourbon, liquid chocolate to orange juice, milk to wine.

I have to admit I had seriously procrastinated about listening to this book. However the time had arrived and I plunked the first CD in my little portable player, stuck in my ear buds under the earphones I wear on the tractor and went out to cultivate my farm field. Well the book gripped me, it is both disturbing and informative and explains how "Industrial" became a word that applies to agriculture. Yes it is based on the American system but that is one thing that disturbed me as much as anything. We in Canadian Agriculture have closely followed US trends even though they did not originally apply to our Agricultural situation.

Here in Alberta we are growing more and more corn. Chemical fertilizer has become an enormous industry that has done incredibly well for itself.  Farmers are becoming trapped in a cycle of the need for increased yields and spiraling fertilizer costs. And worse yet the downgrading of their soil.

In one part of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" the Author follows a bushel of corn from its seeding in the cornbelt of Iowa to the end product  of a fattened steer. I have learned far more about field corn than I had ever expected.  Now I am halfway through the book and I have barley to seed, by the time it is in the ground I should have finished listening.

This book has made my farming speed by and has given me new insight and concerns about this "lifestyle" that has become an Industry.  I would soundly endorse it anyone who farms or is concerned about the food they eat!  Read this book!

Now I am heading out to seed, ear buds in place and fresh batteries in the CD player. "Food for Thought"

Cows and an Open gate

A Barbed wire gate is an interesting thing. They come in all shapes, sizes and conditions. Some are fiddle string tight and others lean in a relaxed, lazy way that makes you think they really don't want to be shut. However that is not the strangest thing about barbed wire gates.

Have you ever noticed that cows can smell an open gate? I would think by now after years of dealing with bovines I would always shut the gate behind me. Of course this would be a bit of good sense wouldn't it. I was simply putting out fresh mineral, not a major job but one that takes you into the cow pasture through a barbed wire gate. This gate is halfway between fiddle string tight and lazy leaner so it is not hard to open or close. Did I close it.....of course not. The cows were way over on the other side of the quarter section...laying down or casually grazing the lush bunch grass on the farthest slope of my farm.

The salt/mineral feeder is about one third across the field so I will be able to make the dash, drop the mineral and salt blocks, then  easily make it back to shut the gate on the way out. The funny thing is there is a small hill between where the cows are sleeping and the mineral feeder.  A place where I cannot actually see the cows.

I dump the supplies in the feeder and head back out thinking how well I had done sneaking in and out of the pasture. However as I neared the gate what did I see but several happy kicking and bucking cows making a break for it...freedom yahoo!  There are just somethings older cows shouldn't do, its simply undignified as they buck and  act like rank yearlings!

I have this theory now...I really believe cows can smell an open gate at 50 miles or better. It has a certain tang in the air that makes them rush for freedom and act crazy!  Did I learn anything from this....YES  never leave a gate  open EVER!

Somehow I think the cows are laughing behind my back, yes they know for  whatever reason, whatever day.....there will be another open gate!  Keep sniffing the wind girls!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Water Water Everywhere.....are you sure?

Simple isn't it...A single drop of water. It doesn't seem like it could be the base of all things agricultural but it is. If there is no water there are no crops, if there are no crops there is no produce in the grocery store, no grain to make bread with, no corn,  no grain to feed beef and dairy cows so no steak, no eggs, no milk, no cheese.  You get the picture. We cannot survive without this clear  simple fluid.

Yet water is being ignored in favor of the frenzy  surrounding fossil fuel use. Every day we are bombarded with worries over the supply of oil, how expensive gas for our cars is getting and the cost of heating oil and natural gas. Do we hear much about water, no. The only time water really gets big headlines is when the huge drainage system of the Mississippi River is causing havoc along the flood plain. Occasionally we hear of cities calling for rationing but that is rare and is usually limited to watering your lawns on alternate days instead of every day.
California is one place where water use and abuse is starting to show the ugly side of water shortages. When John Muir  traveled through California in the 1800's  he found a paradise. He also found one of the largest fresh water lakes in North America. Lake 1849, the lake measured 1,476 km2 (570 sq mi) but by the mid 20th century the lake had vanished. Its feeder rivers, The Kern, King, Tule and Kaweah rivers had all been harnessed for irrigation and municipal water use. Now the wilderness paradise John Muir discovered is a faded memory in historical texts. The water that balanced the environment is gone. One of the more worrisome things of it all is the urban need for water has exceeded the agricultural need and now large amounts of land the water from the Tulare water shed helped irrigate is laying fallow due to water rationing.

Did you know to grow an acre of corn in Texas it takes 24 inches of water? That water comes from some amazing geological features of the Great Plains....The Ogallala Aquifer and The Edwards Aquifer The Ogallala is an enormous underground basin that runs from South Dakota to Texas and the Edwards supplies fresh water to a huge area of south central Texas from Austin to San Antonio. There are fears these two incredible resources are being taxed beyond their limit to recover.

Las Vegas is supplied by an amazing reservoir built when the Colorado River was harnessed by the Hoover Dam. The resulting lake, Lake Mead, stretches some 112 miles behind the head works of the dam. It is currently 100 feet below full level and that is after one of the heaviest runoffs in the past 10 years. The Colorado River that supplies Lake Mead and continues down stream no longer reaches the sea. That massive river is drained by the many uses man has for water.
In Canada we are blessed with huge amounts of fresh Water and a small population. Turning on a tap in this country is hardly worth a mention. That is until you realize the incredible demand from the United States. Even our Agriculture is beginning to use more water and farmers want more chances at irrigation, recreational use of water is becoming more prevalent.
But if we listen there is something in the wind, a hint of drought perhaps, the knowledge that our flagrant disregard for water is impacting even our plethora of fresh pollution free water.
 It is time we started to seriously pay attention to our miraculous resource....fresh water.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Fresh Experience

Fresh food is such a wonderful I don't mean fresh out of a cooler at the local grocery store or fresh from the produce section. I mean fresh out of the garden or out of the hen house or even out of the river. Living on a farm or ranch has advantages we often don't talk about because they are just part of the fabric of living a rural life. As long as I can remember there has been a garden in my life. Even when I was first out of college and working for an Angus breeder in Saskatchewan there was a garden.

When I was little my mother was the gardener and Dad was the potato farmer. What does this mean? Dad just had a way with potatoes and my Mother knew that. My Mother had two gardens, a small one near the house that provided us with lettuce, carrots, radishes, beans, early corn and herbs, peas climbed the fence and one corner was filled with Rhubarb. The second garden was huge and across the coulee, this garden produced the winter supply of root crops such as turnips, parsnips, bigger carrots, beets and Mother's Raspberry canes were there. My Father's potato patch was in a corner of a farm field where the soil was deep, rich ,black loam. There was no irrigation to either garden so the plants had to do with what moisture they got but we always seemed to have lots of produce come fall harvest.

As we grew up my brother and I ended up learning about growing things with our own little garden patches. We loved it and it seemed to be a contest to see who could grow the biggest beet or carrot. It is hard to admit but my brother could grow the biggest beets ever....even Mom said so. We smiled over that years later, they might have been the biggest she said but they were also the woodiest and most tasteless beets ever cooked!

Come meal time on the farm the table would be covered with things we grew, salad, vegetables and the meat dish were all grown on farm. My mother made butter and we drank milk fresh from Samantha our Jersey. The extra rooster's from the flock of chickens became roasting chickens and soup. If we needed potatoes we would get to go with Dad to dig up a hill and bring home a pail of dusty tubers, fresh from the earth. It was exciting to watch for the potatoes as Dad turned the earth with his garden fork, then to count to see how many there were.

Dessert was seasonal, wild Saskatoon's from the coulee banks, strawberries from the strawberry patch covered with heavy jersey cream, gooseberry pie, raspberry cobbler. In the fall our Crabapple trees would be ready to harvest and Mom would can for days so in winter we could have delicious spiced Crabapples or any number of tasty treats she made with the tart little apples. Syrup for pancakes, jams and jellies for toast.

Fall saw the root crops stored away in the root cellar, the pantry shelves would be loaded with canning of all kinds and the deep freeze would be full of beef from our own herd. Fishing trips in the fall were an adventure with my parents and without realizing it we were catching a supply of fish for winter. Of course summer fishing was a treat as well, we always loved the river and would swim and play, often picking Saskatoons along the river banks and then heading home with fresh fish to prepare for supper.

Now as an adult I find the garden has even more to offer beside fresh produce. Our generation is much more aware of what we eat and what goes on the food we eat. Now my garden provides chemical free organically grown vegetables that taste so much better and have not traveled by truck anywhere. The physical activity of gardening is both good for the joints and good for the spirit. I find myself enjoying canning and jelly making with the crabapple trees that have graced my yard for all these years. Yes fresh food is a wonderful go out there and grow some!

The Three Little Pigs

My mother hated pigs, not with a simple hatred but a deep abiding hatred, it stemmed from being born and raised in rural England and having some horrendous incidents with local swine make her loath the beasts. She came to Canada in 1951 to work on a Ranch near Pincher Creek in the Porcupine Hills of Southern Alberta. This was the country for her. It was where she met my Father, he was a regular visitor at the Ranch where my mother helped the wife keep house and raise her sons. They Married in 1953 and I was born 3 years later. Farm life in rural Alberta suited my Mother but despite enjoying pork and my fathers repeated requests to have a hog around to eat the scraps and use the extra milk my Mother was determined not to have pigs.
She related to us the tale of the crazed sow in England. My grandfather was an author and the family was poor. Renting a small cottage in Yorkshire, my grandmother taught school to make ends meet. My Aunts and Uncles, along with my mother walked to school and passed a large farm on the way. The farm had dairy cattle, beef cattle, sheep and swine. The mistress of the farm was a young woman who had just had a baby. It was all the talk of the neighborhood when one of the sows, while farrowing got loose and ran wild. She broke into the farmhouse garden and knocked over the baby's pram and killed the infant. It was a tragic event and I am sure embellished over many times in the mind of these children. My mother was five years old when this happened and still looked gray faced when she told the story so many years later. She hated pigs, she loathed them, hateful beasts!
Here on our farm we had all sorts of livestock from chickens to rabbits and sheep and cows. No pigs! However the neighbors up the road had pigs, lots of them, all outside in a field beside the road with a large pond. The were enormous beasts and smelled dreadful. The summer pasture where we kept the cows was up the road and we had to ride by the pig field to go to check the cattle. My Mother dreaded the ride past the pigs, her agitation seemed to work its way into the horses and they all seemed much wilder and spookier when we rode past the pig field. Of course not knowing about pigs being curious animals, my brother and I were quite terrified when they came running over to see what was up as happy pigs do, whuffling and grunting with all sorts of quite normal pig noises. This was my childhood memory of pigs.
As years went by I myself came home to farm with my father, the neighbors pigs were long gone and they were no longer a scary animal. I had shown cattle all over the place and seen show swine at fairs and exhibitions, large and yes smelly but not quite so fearful as they had been to a small girl. One day my father looked at the vegetable scraps I was about to throw out and said....”Maybe we should get a pig?”
The idea took and soon I had my stock racks on the pick up and we were off to see friends of my Fathers who's son raised pigs. The one pig turned into three weaner pigs. They were pretty darned cool. Named Peachy [after my Brother's girlfriend], Paddy [ I swear he looked Irish] and Fang [he bit me] they moved into a acre field we had near the house. They made themselves right at home and soon were eating all the scraps we produced as well as any extra vegetables we had. The local grocery store gave me their stale dated bread and I took to milking one of my gentle beef cows to give them slops to enjoy. I had no idea how smart swine are, they became gentle very quickly and seemed to know their names. Fang was always a bit standoffish but Peachy was sweet and Paddy just fun. They loved to be scratched and brushed. I made a wallow for them on hot days but the field was big enough they did not root very much at all.
However they did learn to escape. In the morning it was not an uncommon thing to be woken up by the trampling of trotters in the porch and the grunting wake up call of three hungry young swine. They rarely went anywhere but around the yard but the odd time I would get a phone call from the neighbor to the west of us. At the time my father and I were supplementing the cattle with what are called Range cubes, they are large pellets about the size of your thumb. They had become the pigs addiction. They would do anything for a range cube. So to get them home from their adventure I would fill an ice cream pail with range cubes and walk down to the neighbors. The three of them would hear the rattle of the pail and come to investigate. It must have been quite a sight, me, my border collie Boo and sometimes my cat and the three pigs, walking back up the hill to my farm. Every now and then I would stop, give the pigs a range cube to chew on, then keep walking on the trip home. It was kind of fun and the critters seemed to enjoy it. The pigs took to coming with me to check fence about the place, going with me anywhere I walked. We did end up barricading the garden but we never really successfully penned them in their field. I enjoyed those pigs and the converted me to a swine enthusiast, they are smart, social and very clean if allowed space to roam.
All wonderful times come to an end, much to my realistic nature I felt a pang of guilt as I took Paddy and Fang on their fateful trip to the abbatoir. [Well I have to be honest I really wasn't going to miss Fang that much, he had never become as friendly as the other two.] Peachy , I couldn't bear to part with so she had gone to find romance at the farm where she was born. A handsome young boar caught her eye and she got bred. I brought her home with another wiener pig called Greg [after the young pig breeder] for company and watched her get closer to farrowing. She thrived during her pregnancy and became enormously round, as her due date got closer it was amazing to see the bulges of piglets in her distended belly.
I had no idea what to expect and I am sure Greg got tired of calls, Greg the farmer that is. Greg the pig was doing very well too. Then one day about four days after her due date she got restless and made a huge nest in the old barn where I was keeping her. She kept leaning on me until I nearly fell over then she would go and lay down and burrow in the deep clean straw. It really is lucky nature takes care of itself as she set about having her piglets. She was so careful and farrowed 13 piglets. They were fat and hungry little babies and soon Peachy was flat out with her horde all suckling and grunting. All of them survived the birth but one did die overnight. Peachy was an excellent mother and the piglets grew quickly and were gentle and tame for the most part, removing their tusks, castrating the boars and giving them their shots heard some awful screaming but all was soon solved by eating lunch.
The happy chance of a simple question asked by my father had turned into a most satisfying adventure in raising livestock. I would often find Dad leaning on the fence of the pig field talking to Peachy or giving her a treat and admiring her brood. I sold those piglets and Peachy had many more litters over time. She gave more than she got for enjoyment and entertainment, a totally enjoyable conversion from my Mothers fear of pigs to discovering what wonderful creatures they are. So ends my tale of Three little pigs. Oh yes Fang....I got the last bite in, he tasted wonderful!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Is Being First The Best?

  I was rushing off to town one day, I wanted to be first in line at the bank so I could get all my running around done  and be home in time to work show cattle. Chores had been a blur, I had a super fast shower and sure enough I made it. I was the first in line at the door. While I was waiting the line grew along the street and people were restless. We all have such busy lives with so much to do in a day, we all want to be first at  everything. Standing in line almost seems counterproductive. Shouldn't we be filling this time with more work and getting more done?

As the line grew I remembered something my father had said to me as we were on our way to get a load of hay. He turned to me and said "You know cars ruined our life, yes they made a mess of things." He grumbled something under his breath and I could tell it wasn't complimentary. So I had to ask him what he meant.

It was simple really and when he answered it made perfect sense. When you hauled grain to town with horses you couldn't pass your neighbour without stopping to talk. Even if you rode to town on a fast Saddle horse passing by another rider without stopping was unheard of.  If you loaded up the wagon with your family on a monthly trip for supplies it was a social event looked forward to by everyone. You didn't rush in to town, speed through your shopping just to rush home again. It was an event enjoyed by  every member of the family from the oldest Grandmother to the youngest children. A trip to town was an adventure! You most certainly did not rush to town to be first in line anywhere, lines were unheard of.

I am not sure how many firsts my Father had but I do know he had some memorable "Lasts". He was the last man to haul grain with horses to our local Grain elevator in Cowley.  (9 miles away) He was the last man to have grain Threshed with a Threshing machine in the Porcupine Hills. I can remember that day myself, I was sure the Thresher was going to eat me with its huge maw gobbling up the bundles of wheat. Straw spewing out the back into a Golden pile reaching the sky!
He was the last man to actually farm with horses in our hills and didn't get his first Tractor until 1946. He supplemented the work that tractor did with horses until I  was 6 years old and even then we still used the team to feed the cows and pick rocks. (He didn't get his second tractor until 1984 and the first tractor was still going strong)

He never did see the merit in being run off your feet. He was a hard working man but he also knew to really enjoy your life you have got to live your life, savor the small things, go slowly now and then. Stop and visit with your neighbour. I stood there in that line and it dawned on me...that line was a bit like a saddle horse, we couldn't stand there and ignore each other so I started to visit with the people waiting. It was the oddest thing, it was like everyone was starved for the relaxation of a conversation. In no time at all we were all yakking it up like long lost friends. The bank opened and half of us kept visiting out there on the sidewalk. People were laughing when they went to the tellers and the entire mood had changed to one of happy enjoyment. 

So maybe my Father had something when he remarked about cars making life too go out there today and be last at might just surprise you what happens!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

My Father, My Future

Gabriel Paul Lagarde, born in 1904 in ally, France.  This ruggedly handsome cowboy is my father. This is a photo taken in 1929 with his top horse Rastus.

How did a French boy born into a mining family end up here? It is an interesting tale and it is the seed that grew my love for Agriculture.

My Grandfather came to Canada to make a better life for his family. He settled in Hillcrest, Alberta and began work at the Hillcrest mine in 1911. In 1913 he brought his family from France, my Father, his sister Mary and my Grandmother. It must have been a happy reunion for all of them and the future looked bright. A new country and lots of work. It was not meant to be.

On Friday June 19th in 1914 The Hillcrest mine, a mine noted for its safety had an explosion and cave in. 189 men were killed, 130 women widowed and over 400 children left fatherless. My father was one of those children. Antoine Paul Lagarde was dead at the age of 36.

My father was always determined, it was in his nature even as a boy. He missed the strong influence of a father and was soon one of a myriad of young boys that were running wild in the community. He ran afoul of the law with a friend, they had vandalized a box car full of produce, scattering cabbages and carrots all over the rail depot. The got caught and the Judge gave them two options. Reform School in Winnipeg, Manitoba or being sent to the country to work for their keep.

My father took the country option and his life changed forever. The man who ended up with this stubborn French boy was an Englishman called Ralph Veitch. He took a dislike to my father's traditional French name of Gabriel and called him Billy. He put him up in a shed with a bed and wash basin of his own and set out to make a farmhand out of him. My Father thrived on the fresh air, hard work and plenty of good solid home cooking. He learned to garden from Mrs. Veitch and he learned to slop hogs, feed cows, pitch  hay and cut firewood from Ralph. He got used to his new name and learned English but most of all he learned to love the land.

The more he was around the livestock the more he knew he was going to be a farmer. So the seeds were sown for my future, a future involving horses, cattle and crops. A future that would instill in me a love for the land and a desire to keep it well and healthy to be the steward my father was.

When I watch the bunchgrass wave in the wind or find the first crocus of spring I think of my father and am thankful I am more like him everyday....this is an example of the strength that lives in the people who tend livestock and grow our food. The love of what they do makes it all worthwhile. Thank you Dad!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Post One....not a fence post either!

Today I am trying my hand at something new, blogging. I was introduced to this by a great girl who is keeping her own blog "Life of a Farmgirl". Thank you Emily, it has been great fun keeping up to date on the goings on with your farming family.
So this is  my first post.

The word post brings to mind so many different things, Not many of them to do with writing. Most of them to do with hard work, rocks and getting blisters. My first real memory of "posts" is one of childhood. Cutting fir posts with my Father. He  cut his own from a tree covered hillside on our farm. Fir is a challenging wood to say the least. When it dries it is hard. Very hard!
Two years ago I found out how remarkable fir posts can be. These were not treated with chemical but let dry. I was taking down an old part of the corral, a part my father had put in way back when. [1976] There was little rot when I pulled them out of the ground so I thought for historical and sentimental reasons I would use them for a part of my garden fence.  I bent more nails trying to set planks on those ornery old posts than I had in the entire 5 years previous!

Those posts remind me of farm families, they dry a bit with age, maybe get a crack or two, but over all they last forever, each one with its own character and knots. Each one holding onto its shape. Keeping the corral together and hanging on for the future. I hope my blog can be a gnarly old fir fence post for you. Something that reminds you of all that has gone before in our world of farming and ranching and all that is yet to come.