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Doing Winter Chores The Old-Fashioned Way

About 10 years ago Judd and Jane Wright converted the majority of their grainland near Asquith, Saskatchewan into pasture. It’s a decision they haven’t regretted. With the high input costs associated with grain farming, Judd, who farms with his son Neil, was finding they were getting very little return for their efforts.

Today, the couple along with Neil and his wife Shelley, have a herd of 80 cows plus 20 replacement heifers. Although both Neil and Shelley have off-farm jobs, Judd says even during the years when BSE caused grief for cattle producers, they were able to make ends meet.

“We breed our cows so they calve in January and then by August they’re ready to sell. We’ve found that if we ship the calves out a bit sooner before the October-November rush, we get a better price for them. The prices seem to slide after that first rush.”

The Wrights have few difficulties with the early calving. “We don’t have a really large herd, so the trick is to just watch them very carefully. We go out every two hours to check and bring them into the maternity pen when they’re close to calving. They’re in the barns for the night. One barn has heat lamps for any newborns that arrive when it’s really cold. In about three or four hours the calves are dry and going strong. We pen one outside shed off with panels so the calves can bed down away from the cows. We’ve had very few problems,” Judd says.

Chore time during the winter finds Judd and Jane hitching up their team of horses to a sleigh to haul bales out to their cattle. Some may call him old-fashioned, but Judd says he grew up with horses. “I have always chored with horses. If it’s 40 below they always start up. You don’t have to warm them up — just hook up and away you go. It’s quicker, a lot less expensive and environmentally friendly. And I find it relaxing,” he adds.

The Wrights currently have three teams, two of which are Clyde and Welsh crosses, and which they regularly use for doing chores, mostly hauling bales to the cattle. One team belongs to Shelley, their daughter-in-law. These two horses are relatively young four-year-old Percherons and are in the process of being trained to do chores.

“The teams aren’t well broken until they’re five or six years old. Generally we hook up a horse that’s already broken with a new one, and start driving them together.

They learn from each other. If you’ve got one that will work for you, it holds the other horse in line, and they begin working together pretty good,” Judd explains.

During the summer Judd and Jane take the team to local small-town parades. “A few years ago I built a wagon, much like a democrat, which we use in the parades. I also hand built the harness that I’m using on the team right now.”

When the couple’s two children, Neil and Nadine, were younger, the family’s summer vacation consisted of a week-long wagon trek with about 12 other families, friends and neighbours. “There were usually about 15 or 16 wagons and perhaps 30 outriders. Our treks were sometimes over 100 miles, along historic trails throughout various parts of the province. One of the most memorable trips took us from Marwayne, Alberta to Dewberry, Alberta via Frenchman Butte and Frog Lake. You get to see lots of country. And it was always fun and relaxing at the end of the day to unpack, set up camp, enjoy our supper and visit,” says Jane.

“In the summer we check all the pastures once or twice a week with the saddle horses as the creek hills are very fragile and erosion can be a problem. It’s also a very nice way to see all the nature around you,” Judd adds.

When Judd’s not busy with farm responsibilities, he enjoys “playing” in the shed making diamond willow canes and walking sticks. “I’m converting another small building into a harness shop. These are my retirement hobbies,” he says.

“We love the beauty, the peace and quiet of farm life. We’re able to grow our own healthy organic food, and try to stay in shape. We wouldn’t trade it for city life,” adds Jane.

Edna Manning writes from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

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