Family, farming, flax and food

Meet Nancy Johns, who, with her husband Jason, own and operate Zelma Acres in central Saskatchewan. This fifth-generation family farm of about 5,600 acres is a Century Family Farm. Retired father-in-law Lloyd is their right-hand man during the busy seasons. The Johns family grows flax, barley, wheat, peas, lentils and canola on their farm.

Nancy Johns in the cab of her combine.

Nancy is the owner, operator of her own business called Hope Floats Agronomy Services. “I’m an independent agronomist, working with local farmers and also with the Saskatchewan Alfalfa Seed Producers association. I travel across the province 3 to 4 times per year and help troubleshoot alfalfa grass production for farmers,” Nancy explains.

 

Nancy describes a typical day during harvest:

“This morning I left the farm at 5:30 AM and drove to Parkside, 215 km from home, to look at an alfalfa field. Then I drove straight home because we hope to start harvesting today,” says Nancy. “Right now, my combine is idling and my husband is testing the seed to see if it is ready to harvest. I am responsible for pretty close to half the combining on our farm.”

Ben Johns

Nancy and Jason have a 10-year-old son, two grown boys and two grandkids. “My ten-year-old son Ben is my combine buddy and has been since he was in a car seat,” she reflects. “I love being able to farm with my family.”

Not only is Nancy a busy working mom, farmer and entrepreneur, but she is also the treasurer of the local KidSport organization, and a member of the Parent Council at Ben’s school.

In addition, Nancy is on the Board of Directors for the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission, and dedicates her time and talents to leading the flax industry.

Flax has many different uses.

“Flax is referred to as the ocean of the prairies because the flowers are blue. When you drive up to a field, it kind of looks like you’re arriving at the ocean,” Nancy says.

Flax has many different uses. The seed is ground for its oil which is high in omega-3 essential fatty acids and it is used in nutritional supplements, body and makeup products.

“There is considerable research being done on using flax for cancer treatments and to lower both high cholesterol and high blood pressure,” she explains. “Flax is very nutritious for us to eat. You need very little of it and it can really change your health.”

It’s something Nancy knows from personal experience. “Our family eats flax all the time. We take it from our bin and grind it in a coffee grinder. We use our home-grown flax in pancakes, stir it into orange juice, pizza crusts, buns and muffins—just about anything you can put flour or butter in. It can also be an egg substitute for those who have egg allergies.”

Nancy is clearly passionate about the food her family grows and the reason the Johns family has farmed for over a century. “We care so much about what we produce, and about having safe, nutritious food for us and for our consumers. We care about the health of our land. We care about leaving a legacy for our own kids, and for future generations.”

A Day in the Life of…Crooked Lake Farm

My name is Jill Burkhardt and I am a mixed farmer (small grains, such as wheat, and beef cattle) from Wetaskiwin, Alberta. Today on the farm, we are moving yearling heifers out to summer pasture. What’s a heifer? A heifer refers to female cattle that have never had a calf.

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Our farm is a 5th generation family farm. My husband’s family homesteaded just a half-mile up the road from our house in 1901 and have lived in the area ever since. Our land was purchased by his great-grandfather in 1915, and the original homestead is still in the yard. Although the house is uninhabitable, the artifacts remain.

We had our third baby in April. I do most of the calving work on the farm, while my husband, Kelly, is busy preparing for and seeding the crop. Well, this year, I had added challenge of taking care of a newborn human, in addition to newborn calves. It seems like everything is delayed on the farm because I’m busy with our new little guy and not able to help as much as I’m used to.

This year we are a little late moving cattle out to summer pasture. This is due to a few factors…

Last year, 2015, was a drought year for us in north central Alberta, and we had a drier than usual winter and early spring. Rain for us didn’t come until the May Long weekend and fortunately it hasn’t stopped since! We have delayed turn-out to allow the grass to grow up with some good moisture. This allows the grass to “de-stress,” put down good roots for the year, and grow. If we were to turn the cows out on the grass earlier, the grass may have still been in survival mode and stressed and would have decreased grass growth, preventing us to keep our cattle out on pasture later in the fall.

Thankfully, we had feed to use up. Last year, although it was a drought, the rains came later. These later rains landed right during haying season. To bale good hay, we need dry conditions to allow the hay to cure (be dry enough to store properly). Since it was raining, we made the decision to bag our hay turning it into haylage (fermented grass & alfalfa—similar to making pickles!). The haylage doesn’t keep well, so to keep from wasting it, we had to feed it all, and we just ran out in late June. 

IMG_0622 (1)Before we take the heifers out to pasture, we have to sort them in to two groups. One group will go out to pasture, breed with a bull, become pregnant (hopefully!), have a calf next spring and join our cow herd. The other group will be sold as open (not pregnant) heifers.

After we sorted and got our two groups, we loaded the group going out to pasture into a trailer and drove them to their summer pasture. We always trailer the cows out to summer pasture, rather than “push” them out on horseback because our area has a lot of crop fields, a few houses, and not many fences. It’s safe and efficient. 

When the cows were unloaded on their summer pasture they are always happy. Kicking and bucking usually happens—and then they go off to graze for the summer!

Want to learn more? Have questions for Jill? You can follow Crooked Lake Farm on social media: on Facebook and Instagram as @CrookedLakeFarm, and on Twitter as @crookedlakecows, and through their website and blog: www.crookedlakefarm.com

A Day in the Life of…Valleykirk Farms

Rob & Courtney and Courtney the Cow

Rob & Courtney and Courtney the Cow

A Day in the Life captures a morning, afternoon, or entire day of a Canadian farm. This entry highlights the Kirkconnell/Denard family’s day for June 21, 2016. Have a question about a particular farming type or practice? Leave a comment below and we’ll be sure to reach out and connect you!

My name is Courtney Denard and I am proud member of a farm family in Owen Sound, Ontario. Together with my husband Rob Kirkconnell, and his parents Bob and Mary Ann Kirkconnell, we run Valleykirk Farms, a 50-head dairy farm on 160 acres of land.

Rob and Mary Ann were up at 5:30 a.m. this morning (like every morning), and out in the barn milking the cows. It takes about two hours to milk our cows or “do chores” as we farmers like to say. Bob was in charge of delivering our bull calves to the Keady Market this morning so he left the farm around 8:00 a.m., and made his way to the sales barn where a livestock auction is held every Tuesday.

As a farm reporter and agricultural communications specialist, I work from home writing newspaper and magazine articles about the agriculture sector. This morning I had a phone interview about a new project that is placing giant wooden quilts on barns across our county. I’ll spend the rest of my day coming up with new story ideas, contacting people for interviews, and eventually writing articles for my weekly deadline. I might take a break or two to Tweet about our life on the farm or take our puppy, June, for a walk.

Rob came back to the house around 8:30 a.m. and spent some time working on the farm’s accounting books. Most farmers take care of their own financials so this is just one more job that needs to be done on a regular basis.

Rob and the new puppy, June

Rob and the new puppy, June

And because it’s summer, the farm is in its busy haying season so Rob made his way into the tractor at 11 a.m. where he will be cutting hay (kind of like mowing grass but with bigger machines, and we let it dry, then make it into bales) until 4:00 p.m. We’ll take up to three cuts of hay off our fields between June and August and use it to feed our livestock year round.

The cows will need to be milked again at 4:30 p.m., so it will be back to the barn at that time for two more hours. Dinner is usually at 7:00 p.m. but during the busy summer we really have no supper schedule. It could be a quick bite after evening chores or leftovers at 9:00 p.m. on a tailgate in the field. Bedtime at our house is around 11:00 p.m. but once again that depends on what needs to be done. Work trumps sleep when you’re making hay!

If you’d like to follow Rob or me on Twitter please do. Our Twitter handles are @Valleykirkfarms and @CowSpotComm.

A Day in the Life: How a Dairy Farmer Trains for Marathons

By Tom Hoogendoorn, dairy farmer

I am a dairy farmer in British Columbia who decided to take up running. But not just any running — marathon running.

Tom Hoogendoorn1Being a busy dairy guy I thought I had no time to exercise until one day I looked in the mirror and decided I didn’t want to continue to be out of shape. Life is hard enough with out packing extra weight along. So, I started running.

Of course, no self respecting dairy farmer ran in those days (this was 12 years ago). At first, I ran places where no one would see me. I got found out and started running on the local roads. My friends would tease me about it, but in the meantime they secretly admired me. Actually, I think I inspired a few people to take up running. I even had a few farmers run with me over the years.

Being a farmer and an active board member of various organizations I had to make time to run. We milk our cows twice a day at 5 a.m. and 4 p.m . Every morning is also spent doing chores related to caring for our cows and calves. My schedule works best if I run after lunch in the afternoons so I can get back in time for the afternoon milkings. I also will train after milkings in the summer with the longer days and warmer weather. Only problem then is being hungry running by houses and smelling the barbecue!

Tom Hoogendoorn's Farm in British Columbia

Tom Hoogendoorn’s Farm in British Columbia

I dedicate time to my industry as a B.C. milk board member.  We tend to have two board meetings a month as well as a lot of committee meetings, plus meetings in other provinces, so I never go to meetings without my running gear, and try to make time around meetings to get out and run. My motto is NO EXCUSES.

I have seen many beautiful places in the world because of running. I have many great stories about all the people I’ve met during my runs no matter where they are.

I found I love running and being around runners. We are a crazy fun-loving, in-your-face bunch. I feel great, and think it has helped my farming and political career by making my focus much stronger. You need focus to run 26 miles in bad weather all the while smiling through the pain! 

I’d urge all farmers young and old to do something that they enjoy that helps them stay in shape for the long haul. No one has to take running to extremes to enjoy it but everyone benefits by staying in shape. And your kids will love you for it.

The Top 6 Roundup

We thought it would be fun to look back at the most popular posts on The Real Dirt on Farming Blog in 2015. Here’s how they stacked up in popularity with you, our readers.

#6: Day in the Life – ‘Kidding-around’ with a goat farmer

Anna, Mark and their children at their farm and butcher shop

Anna, Mark and their children at their farm and butcher shop

Hi! My name is Anna Haupt and together with my husband and three young children, we run Teal’s Meats – a provincially licensed butcher shop on our farm in Haldimand County, on the north shore of Lake Erie in Ontario. I also raise a small herd of registered Boer goats on our farm, Springvalley Boer Goats. I enjoy showing, sell breeding stock to other producers and process our market animals for sale through our butcher shop. Our summers are extremely busy serving our butcher shop customers, so I like to kid out (giving birth) my does (female goats) in the winter months when I have a little more time to spend in the barn. Today on our farm…READ MORE Continue reading

A Day in the Life – a Saskatchewan grain farmer at harvest

By Jean Clavelle Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

DayintheLife

I spoke to Rob Stone today from his grain truck in central Saskatchewan where it’s harvest time. See what he has to say about their family farm and being a grain farmer in Canada.

Tell me about your farm.

I’m part of a family grain farm in Davidson, Saskatchewan. I’ve been actively involved since graduating from the College of Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan in 1999. The first order of business when I came back was to expand the farm, and we’ve been able to triple our acreage base over the last 15 years to reach the 7,000-8,000 acres we farm now. Continue reading

A large animal veterinarian – and Herd health calls

Each summer veterinary students from the Ontario Veterinary College delve into that practical experience at veterinary clinics across Ontario and additional locales. These blog posts are an opportunity to tag along with nine of them this summer.

By Sarah Pechmann

Sarah_herdHealthAs my time at Port Perry Veterinary Services continues, I am starting to develop a routine for myself. Each morning one of the first things I am sure to do is scan the daily appointment schedule. The calendar is always packed with a wide array of interesting calls which each present a unique and exciting learning opportunity for me.

A common appointment that I find on the schedule almost each and every day is known as a herd health call. I remember being a little puzzled by this term when I first heard it. I have quickly come to realize that these herd health visits are some of the most important responsibilities a large animal veterinarian has and a great chance for me to grow as a veterinarian in the making.

Most dairy and meat producers will actively participate in a herd health program. This means that these producers will have a veterinarian visit their farm on a regular basis to evaluate how the herd is doing, and help make suggestions on ways to improve and maintain the health of the animals within that herd. Rather than focusing on sick animals, the entire herd is examined and the focus is on healthy animals and preventive measures that can maintain their health and well being. Continue reading

Day in the Life – Planting P.E.I. Potatoes

DayintheLifeMy name is Keisha Rose and I’m a 6th generation potato farmer working on my family’s farm in North Lake, Prince Edward Island.

I’ve worked on the farm on a part-time basis since I graduated high school nine years ago. The planting season lined up well with the end of the winter university semester, so it was the obvious job to go to at that time. It wasn’t until I moved away for a while that I realized I didn’t want to be away from North Lake and the farm.

Keisha Rose is a 6th generation potato farmer  in Prince Edward Island

Keisha Rose is a 6th generation potato farmer in Prince Edward Island

After graduating university with a Business degree, I was encouraged to go and get a job away from the family farm so I could make sure I had experience working outside of our family business. I worked for the past few years as a crop insurance representative. This job was a great learning experience and I got to see other farms and meet other farmers, and it gave me an even greater appreciation for the agricultural industry.

However, the pull to farm always seemed to be something that was present in my mind. Even as a young girl I loved visits to the field or the warehouse, so I felt it was something I couldn’t ignore. Although I have been working on and off the farm in the past, this year I decided to take more of a full-time, year-round role.

What I love is that every day is something new. You are usually outside, driving something, or trying to figure out the next problem. It comes with a lot hard work, a large time commitment, and a need to be constantly willing to learn, but in the end you get to see the “fruits of your labour” – quite literally!

Monday, May 18th, The first day we planted. My view from inside the box of the planter where I was working.

Monday, May 18th, The first day we planted. My view from inside the box of the planter where I was working.

Continue reading

Day in the Life – of a Saskatchewan Grain Farmer

By Jean Clavelle Farm & Food Care SaskatchewanDayintheLife

I spoke to Trevor Scherman today from the tractor on his farm near Battleford in northwest Saskatchewan where he’s in the middle of seeding. See what he has to say about their family farm and being a grain farmer in Canada. Continue reading

Day in the Life – ‘Kidding-around’ with a goat farmer

DayintheLifeHi! My name is Anna Haupt and together with my husband and three young children, we run Teal’s Meats – a provincially licensed butcher shop on our farm in Haldimand County, on the north shore of Lake Erie in Ontario. I also raise a small herd of registered Boer goats on our farm, Springvalley Boer Goats. I enjoy showing, sell breeding stock to other producers and process our market animals for sale through our butcher shop. Our summers are extremely busy serving our butcher shop customers, so I like to kid out (giving birth) my does (female goats) in the winter months when I have a little more time to spend in the barn.

Today on our farm… Continue reading