Tag Archives: farm work

What do Farmers do in the Winter? (when we’re not doing chores, of course)

Posted on Monday, March 9, 2015 by Steph N

Have you ever wondered what farmers do in the winter? And I’m not saying we don’t have anything to do – we still check the barns, take care of our animals, gather eggs, clean and sweep, keep our records up to date, maintain equipment, grade eggs to sell to customers, and much more – but things are a little bit slower. There is a lot less outdoor work we can do and there are no crops in the fields to worry about, so we have a little bit of free time.

Many farmers will use some of this time to learn. From Soil and Crop to Dairy Expos to Farm Safety Training, there are many meetings that go on through the winter that help us farmers stay up to date on new technologies and new ideas that we can apply on our farms.

This past week I had the opportunity to go to the Canadian Young Farmers Forum. It is an event that takes place each year and is attended by young farmers ages 18 to 40. On the first day of the event I was able to meet with 13 other egg farmers from across the country to learn about how our industry interacts with the government and how different trade deals can affect eggs in Canada. It is amazing to see how much our industry does for us and Canadians. We also learned about Social Responsibility and how the Egg Farmers of Canada are doing their part. They are planning to build a chicken barn on a farm in Swaziland to help support an orphanage, and in turn help the local economy. This farm not only creates jobs for local people but also food and income for the orphanage.

The topics spoken about at the conference also included business planning, political predictions, new technologies and apps, and tips on agriculture education. While I learned a lot in each session that I attended, the most beneficial information I took away was from talking with other young farmers from across the country. I met dairy farmers from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, potato farmers from PEI, grape growers from Niagara Falls, chicken and berry farmers from BC, grain farmers from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, and egg farmers from the North West Territories. Each farmer had a different story of how they got where they are, and also a different way of doing things. I gained a lot of new ideas from these conversations that I can apply on my farm, including things as simple as a new way to streamline record keeping in my barn.

Farmers are not afraid to share their ideas with each other, and it helps build a stronger agricultural sector throughout the country. The community that this creates is one of the many reasons I am so proud to be able to call myself a farmer 🙂

A speaker at the Canadian Young Farmers Forum talks about Best Management Practices

A speaker at the Canadian Young Farmers Forum talks about Best Management Practices

Winter, spring, summer or fall – its always the season to farm

Posted on Tuesday, February 10, 2015 by Sarah

Sheep in Barn DoorLike every other person in Canada right now, I am so unbelievably ready for summer, its almost painful. I’m ready to take a vacation, to sit back and relax, and to not need to wear 16 layers just to go outside and still freeze.

The thing about summer though is when you’re a farmer, it’s actually the busiest time of year. Starting in about April, farmers are getting antsy to get out in the fields to start planting their crops. But planting isn’t the only job, once the crops are in the ground you have to fertilize, spray for weeds, monitor for disease, maybe even spread manure on the field, and if you’re on my farm, drive by the field everyday just to make sure it didn’t disappear.

When we aren’t focused on the crops we could be cutting grass, fixing machinery, putting the sheep out to pasture, fixing electric fences, cutting more grass, cleaning manure out of the barns, cutting, raking or baling hay, picking stones or maybe cutting some MORE grass!

 

My dad out checking on the girls, just because it was hot out.

My dad out checking on the girls, just because it was hot out.

The point of all this is that farmers work every day and they don’t get vacation days. 365 days a year a farmer is on their feet. On the sunny, hot, hazy days when you want nothing more than to be laying on the beach, a farmer is out working. On those minus 40 degree nights that we saw last winter where you didn’t want to uncurl from under a blanket in front of a fire, we went to the barn to make sure our sheep were okay. And we are okay with that.

We don’t get sick days either. We can’t wake up and play hooky from work, or stay in bed when we have the flu. We feed our sheep twice a day, once in the morning, once at night. There’s no back up plan. Lucky for my parents they had two kids, I got suckered into doing some chores around the farm when I was younger if my parents were sick. But you know that saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself”? It is extremely relevant to farmers, especially the older ones! Even when you help them, they supervise, then double check your work to make sure its done right.

I think this commitment and responsibility gets forgotten a lot of the time.

Think about it.

On those cold February days, when you were inside eating your dinner, did you think about how lucky you were that you were inside and out of the cold? Probably. Did you think about the farmers, who are braving the cold to feed their livestock? The farmers who didn’t get to stay inside where it was warm? Probably not.

I hate the cold, but its never too cold to stop me from getting a selfie with these cuties.

I hate the cold, but its never too cold to stop me from getting a selfie with these cuties.

What about on those hot, humid summer days, when you can come home from work, crack a cold drink and take a dip in the pool? Did you think about the farmers who are riding the back of a wagon, stacking hay bales so that their sheep or cows or whatever it may be, can have their own dinner when winter comes around and they can’t get to the grass in the pasture?

Being a farmer can be relentless. It can seem like the work never ends, and your to-do list just keeps growing and growing. But its worth it. Providing food for families across the country, giving a safe home to our sheep, that feeling of accomplishment that is felt at the end of every single day makes it worth it.

There is no greater thing than being a farmer. I challenge you to find a happier or more grateful person than a farmer.

Stats Canada says there are over 200,000 farms in Canada, 97% of those are family owned. Over 195,000 farming families in Canada working everyday. 365 days a year.

Of course I love the saying “If you ate today, thank a farmer”, but what I think everyone needs to remember is not only to thank them, but also to appreciate them, because they appreciate you.

Spending some time with some great poultry!

Posted on Monday, August 11, 2014 by Matt

Chicken BarnI recently spent a week at home on the farm over the summer which finally gave me a chance to get my hands dirty again after spending far too long at university. One of the things I got to do while at home was look after our chickens. We raise chickens for meat, which are known as broilers.

Compared to other livestock such as dairy cows or pigs, chickens can be a relatively lower maintenance animal, but they still do require proper attention and care. The most laborious part of the job is preparing the barns to receive new baby chickens. This preparation involves cleaning out all the litter from the previous group of chickens, disinfecting and sanitizing the barns, then laying down new fresh bedding for the baby chicks. We use straw for bedding, but other farmers use wood shavings instead. Straw is the part of the wheat plant which isn’t harvested as grain. Since my family also grows wheat, we can easily collect the straw from the fields which means we don’t have to pay for bedding like some other farmers.

Once the barn is prepared, we heat the barn up nice and warm to 34 degrees Celsius. It might feel pretty warm for us, but the day old chickens absolutely love it. From there, we raise the chickens until they are 2.8 kilograms, which takes about 6 weeks from the time they arrive at the barn. Over those 6 weeks, we walk through the barns two or three times a day to check that they are receiving adequate feed and water and to ensure that they are healthy. We try hard to make sure the chickens are happy and comfortable, so if something is wrong we correct the issue immediately.

After the 6 weeks are up, the chickens are loaded onto specially designed trucks and taken to a processing plant. When this happens, it means the barns are empty and the cycle starts again!

The photo in this story is of what my barns at home look like. The chickens are about 5 weeks old at this point and are calm, quiet, and enjoying the warmth of the barn.

Get Cracking!

Posted on Tuesday, April 15, 2014 by Steph N

Eggs

For egg farmers, the most important thing after making sure their hens are healthy, is making sure that they are producing Grade A eggs. The biggest factor in this is egg shell quality.

Eggs are graded based on size, shell quality, and yolk quality. When an egg goes to a grading station they are washed, candled (see what this is here: Why ‘Candle’ An Egg?), and then sorted by size to be put into cartons. It is during candling when egg shell quality is assessed and when cracks would be found and removed. There are many factors (besides just a clumsy farmer) that can contribute to a cracked egg.

As a hen ages, the quality of the egg shells that she lays will eventually decline, causing more cracks to occur as the shells are more fragile. Creating an egg takes a quite a bit of calcium and so we increase the amount of calcium in the diet as the hens get older since she is not able to use the calcium as efficiently as when she was younger. Usually at around about 60 or 65 weeks old, we increase the level to the maximum level that it will remain at for the rest of the time we have them.  The calcium in the diet it mostly oyster shell.

Another factor that can lead to cracks is equipment malfunctions. To get an egg from the hen to the carton is a process that involves transporting the eggs quite a distance. To see how it happens on my farm check out this video: Getting Eggs to Your Table. If one little thing is off, it can mean the eggs are transported rougher than normal or allow an egg to hit an edge faster than it should and it can cause a crack. So as farmers, we are regularly maintaining and upgrading our equipment to ensure safe and happy hens and a good quality product.

Of course the biggest factor of cracks is the most important – breaking them into a pan to eat! So next time you crack open an egg, you can be sure you know how the farmer ensured it was Grade A.

It’s wet, wet, wet!

Posted on Sunday, November 24, 2013 by Steph N

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_2710-640x480.jpgThis fall, with the wet weather we have had all summer and continuing now, it is making corn harvest slower for many farmers. Since most crops were late this summer due the moisture and lower heat unit accumulation (this means there was less heat and sunlight to help the crops grow and mature), the crops matured later and therefore did not have time to dry down in the field before the cooler weather set in. It is important that corn and other crops are at a certain moisture in order to store without worrying about spoilage. Usually the moisture that farmers aim to have corn at is below 16 percent, this way if it is stored on farm it will not spoil in the bin, and if it is sold to an elevator, they will not have to pay to dry it. 

Many farms now have a drying system in place, as it is usually difficult to let the corn dry down to 16 percent in the field without losing yield. This is because as genetics are getting better, farmers choose longer season corn varieties in order to get higher yields. If they were to choose a short season variety that would dry down early in the field, they would be giving up enough yield that the cost of drying is far worth it. 

On my farm we are currently harvesting corn at 23-28 percent moisture. This means that we have quite a bit of drying to do! The dryer bin that we have in place, like at most farms, is not able to hold all that we have in the field. This means that we must harvest enough to fill a bin, and then wait for it to dry until we can harvest more. It is this process (and that the yields are so good!) that is slowing many farmers down this year, because while there is usually some drying to do, it normally is a much faster because the corn is not as wet. The drying system that we use is one that is very common on farms. The bin uses a system of stirators which move the corn around, as well as a fan and heating system. Our bin is heated using propane. 

This year, with some of the crazy wind storms that we experienced in the summer, there is also quite a bit of corn that has lodged (fallen over). This is another factor that many farmers are having to contend with when harvesting as they cannot drive as fast and in some cases have to combine all one way, meaning lots of extra driving and time taken.

Even with all these challenges that farmers are facing, things are still getting accomplished and harvested, and this means happy farmers. 

Summer Family

Posted on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 by Erin M

Every spring, our summer family begins to arrive. It’s slow at first…a couple of guys now more like old friends. They arrive and there are welcomes, a mix of chatting through broken Spanish and English, grocery shopping…trips to the bank and most importantly – the purchase of long distance phone cards to call home. 
 
We get down to work quickly as there is lots to do. Sometimes we work side by side cleaning up after a busy spring, sometimes they’re out in the fields doing weeding, picking rocks or moving irrigation and sometimes we’re sitting on the back of a bumpy tractor planting acre after acre of strawberries. 
 
 
As the season moves on, another couple of guys join us in the daily tasks of farm life and then after that, usually a couple of more. 
 
By the time the middle of June arrives…our entire summer family is here catching up with each other as they speak in rapid Spanish, filling the farm with infectious laughter and song. 
 
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I’ve been asked a few times why we hire migrant workers – and my answer is fairly simple: 
 
We need reliable staff who show up every day and we need staff who will work when we ask them to and provide the quality and quantity we expect to be picked. Contrary to why a lot of people believe farms hire migrant workers – it’s not cheaper or easier….it’s actually is a lot more expensive and a lot more work for us to hire them than it would be to hire local staff. First – we’re required (as we are required to pay all of our staff) to pay them minimum wage. Some of our guys who have been returning year after year have earned increased wages like all of our staff does when they return year after year. Then – we have to pay for housing, a portion of their utilities, and a portion of their airfare to and from Mexico. We also spend countless hours taking them shopping for anything they need – from groceries to new clothes to take home for their kids…which is a tremendous amount of work, time and effort. But in the end…for us..it’s worth it. 
 
We hired local pickers for years…years and years and years – in fact – we still do to supplement our ‘summer family’ with them …but we could never find enough people who wanted to do the work. Or people who would stick it out the entire season. Or people who would show up when it was over 30 degrees, or raining, or whatever the day may bring. Regardless of the circumstance – we still needed to be able to harvest the crops we were planting…and before we started hiring migrant workers, we were never able to do this. Entire fields would go to waste because we simply couldn’t get them picked. 
 
We couldn’t get things harvested, keep things picked clean and the harvest suffered, the crops suffered, our customers suffered and we as farmers suffered. 
 
We hired four guys from Mexico originally, and have now expanded now to twelve great guys. Guys with wives, kids and lots of family back home. We have guys with toddlers, twins, teenagers, grandkids and everything in between. Guys who when they’re back in Mexico work on farms, as taxi drivers and even one as a DJ.  Guys who want to come to Canada to work temporarily, because they want to provide a better life for their families in whatever way they can. Guys who jump in to help whenever it is needed and are ready and willing to work with whatever has to be done. 
 
When we first had four guys it meant that we were able to start producing more and harvesting more of what we had produced. It meant we were able to hire more people to sell the things that we had grown, and expand our business – eventually buying a second farm and hiring even more guys who live on that farm for the summer. Since we started using the migrant workers program we’ve been able to create a vast amount of new jobs in the community that would have never been available if it weren’t for them. We’ve been able to expand from one full time employee (who as a business owner was rarely, if ever, actually paid) to four full time year round employees. We have also been able to expand from 3-4 seasonal employees, to almost 25 seasonal employees, not including migrant workers – which is an enormous increase. 
 
Our guys are one of the major backbones of the business. They are vital to our operations successes – we quite literally could not exist without them. From planting, to crop maintenance, to keeping the farm and fields in good working condition to harvesting and beyond – they do an immense amount of hard work. We have good friends, brothers and even a father and son who spend their summers side by side working with us – and we know how important they are and try to make sure they know how important they are whenever we can. Whether it’s taking them out for a nice Mexican meal they’ve been craving once we make it through our busiest season, grabbing some Chinese takeout after an unusually long and/or hot day so that no one has to cook, taking them to the lake to go swimming, having BBQ’s or Mexican feasts on the farm, having them at weddings, or just an evening soccer game in the backyard…going to Canada’s Wonderland or simply bringing them an ice cream, ice cold bottle of water or can of their drink of choice “coca” (coke!) to the field on a hot day – we want to make sure they know how big of a part of the business they are, and how much we value them. 
 
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Yes – they work long, hard days for us to put fresh local produce on your table. Yes, they may not be Canadian…. but to us…they’re “the guys” – and they’re our summer family. They’re salt of the earth people who we look forward to welcoming to work on the farm each summer. They’re the kind of people who smile encouragingly as you stumble over your Spanish and grab a heavy box to help you carry it, who laugh and joke and tell you about their “bambinos” and ‘bambinas’  as they show you a better way to harvest a certain crop. They are incredibly grateful for the job and we’re incredibly grateful for them, their work ethic and their determination to do the best job possible in everything that they do. 
 
No – It’s not the easiest job, but they work hard and come back year after year…happy to be working along side us helping to make our farm the best it can be… always welcomed with open arms to be part of our “summer family”.