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Canadian Farming in 2015 – A Perspective from a Visiting Danish Farm Coach Part 3

December 20, 2015 0 Comments

Judy Finseth with a retired bull, Bar Pipe Ranch, Calgary in July 2015 by Sylvia Fredenslund


Guest post by Coach Sylvia Fredenslund-  Fredenslund Farm Coaching Denmark

Sylvia Fredenslund was invited by CAFA (Canadian Association of Farm Advisors) to hold a lecture at the recent “Ag In Motion” agricultural exhibition in Saskatoon Saskatchewan, about her experiences with the crisis in the Danish farming and handling problems in that respect. This is the third of  four articles of her experience while she toured across Canada.

Canadian Farming 2015 – Alberta

By coach Sylvia Fredenslund

It was time to visit Alberta with Rocky Mountains in the backyard. After a flight of two hours I landed in Calgary, Alberta’s capital – the city where the wild west unfolds in “Calgary Stampede” the first week of July each year. There are straw in all the million-city streets and there are rodeo, lasso-throwing and cattle driven around on horseback with the help of sheepdogs. A relic of the past “events” in agriculture and it is worth to come and be a part of.

In Alberta, most agriculture is primary crop and all forms of livestock farming. There are not that many pig here.

In Alberta a lot of all agricultural production is made in the so-called “Hutterie Colonies” – which are small independent self-sufficient religious communities with their own schools, boot maker, tailoring, bookbinding and so on and they produce in all agricultural activities: cattle, pigs, chickens, sheep, goats, rabbits and crop production – including horticulture. The characteristics of these communities to neglecting school education – everyone has to work in agriculture and they are “learning by doing” so why learn about geography, culture, language and so on!

They are in a sense comparable with Armish minority but apart from that, in a “Hutterie Colony” they use modern machinery and technology in the fields and stables. They are dressed in special clothes. Men must wear black wool trousers – regardless of the 35 degree heat in July 2015 – plaid shirt with suspenders and additional hat. Each “Hutterie Colony” has their own way on the hat – so you can know the affiliation of men’s hats. Women do not have any special determining role in their small communities and they have no right to vote in their advisory councils. The women are supposed to dress with scarf tied at the old-fashioned way under the chin, floor-length skirt and 2 shirts outside each other. All women wear blue or black clothes – it may be patterned.

Judy Finseth with a retired bull, Bar Pipe Ranch, Calgary in July 2015 by Sylvia Fredenslund

Judy Finseth with a retired bull, Bar Pipe Ranch, Calgary in July 2015 by Sylvia Fredenslund

They are skilled farmers or else they were not standing for all that agricultural production, since they are not so many in number. They are successful and are therefore also well known in mechanical trades – buying many new and large machines. At the “Ag in Motion outdoor show” in Langham I saw a lot of people from the Hutterie Colonies looking for new machinery.

You can not just come in to visit a Hutterie Colony – but my contacts among active farmers I manage to get a special exclusive visit to the “New York Hutterie Colony” established in 1993 in Lethbrigde, which is about 200 km south of Calgary. A very well managed and successful Colony. It was a very exciting and different experience. There is much in their choice of lifestyle and way of living I cannot sympathize with, but there was definitely no plans for a constructive critical dialogue, so I was content to watch and listen and thoughts are always tax-free.

In addition to the all-encompassing production in Hutterie Colony then Alberta is a cattle province. There are milk producers – dairy farmers, cattle – “Feedlot”, for example Angus cattle and then there are the actual “ranches” where there is for example Hereford cattle. It was interesting to see and hear how there is a difference in the status and respect between those who have a Feedlot – popularly called and those who have a Ranch – it clearly has a much different status. Cattle by heart or by money?

The dogs drive cattle, Bar Pipe Ranch in July 2015 by Sylvia Fredenslund

The dogs drive cattle, Bar Pipe Ranch in July 2015 by Sylvia Fredenslund

I visited “Bar Pipe Ranch”. Where they have bred and sold purebred quality Hereford bulls and females for ranchers in western Canada and the United States since 1953. They produce breeding animals that are part of the cattle industry and have about 225 purebred cows at the foot of the Rocky Mountains southwest of Calgary. In addition they have almost the same number of young animals. They export bred bulls for the world, especially China has great interest in their bulls.

At the ranch rider Doug horse and Judy control sheep dogs when the cattle to be driven around. There was a drought and the rivers were almost emptied of water, so the cattle were gone over the river and had to be recouped Doug went to get them back again. In the evening the sheep had to be moved and seeing the dogs drive the sheep is probably one of the most impressive experiences in agriculture I have ever had, it was great to see how Judy with whistles in different keys bearings for the dogs, to steer their way to run sheep on.

Doug Finseth and Sylvia at Bar Pipe Ranch in July 2015 by Judy Finseth

Doug Finseth and Sylvia at Bar Pipe Ranch in July 2015 by Judy Finseth

After my visit at the ranch, where I almost went to be a cowboy, I was picked up by Grace and we went northeast close to Wainwright, where I stayed a few days at “Severn Farms Feedlot” with Grace and Bob. They have about 250 Angus cattle and similar bovines. The holding was located in a stunningly beautiful nature far from the city noise and pollution, and here I saw besides cattle both coyotes, deer and eagles. But I also saw big problems for Canadian farming in finding employees. Bob wants to find a young  and fresh farmer who will eventually succession, so if you just go and have thoughts of emigrating to an agricultural country where the rule of control is not as tight as in Denmark, there is still a little high to the ceiling, so keep in contact….

Bob's grandparents started this farm and built this house in the middle of the prairie in the late 1800s. Bob remembers he visited grandparents in the house as a child, Severn Farms Feedlot, Alberta in July 2015 by Sylvia Fredenslund

Bob’s grandparents started this farm and built this house in the middle of the prairie in the late 1800s. Bob remembers he visited grandparents in the house as a child, Severn Farms Feedlot, Alberta in July 2015 by Sylvia Fredenslund

Bob took me on a tour of the farm and it’s interesting when you drive around the middle of the Canadian agriculture to see how the drainage is not something one does anything about, then it means that the cornfields are full of more or less dried up ponds with every green vegetation,  there is simply enough land to go for, so nobody spending time and money on draining, you just drive around.

Tour of the Severn farms Feedlot, in July 2015 by Sylvia Fredenslund

Tour of the Severn farms Feedlot, in July 2015 by Sylvia Fredenslund

Not least because of Grace’s active attitude and understanding of agriculture’s challenges through her work in the Canadian agricultural organizations they are a little more progressive on this farm in their approach to agriculture than other places I visited, there are clear attitudes about work, leisure and options moreover. A farm which is run quietly, quietly and challenges solved as they arise rather than being made larger. Here, some Danish farmers probably could learn something. It’s not that Grace and Bob do not face challenges on their farm, life is tough here sometimes, among other things, lacked the staff and had to do everything yourself, it’s about the way they have chosen to respond and act on the challenges.

My last stay in Alberta consisted of 5 days with Riejke and Johan ter Borgh on their farm south of Edmonton. A Dutch family who emigrated to Canada 20 years ago. The tale is awaiting the next and last article and there is much to tell from an interesting visit.


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