Remembering Past Winters

JANUARY 26, 2009

We have had terrible weather since early December. It has been cold, the snow is deep and it has been very windy. It has been very hard on feed supplies and there has been very little if any winter grazing. We have been feeding very heavy. Our feed is mostly hay and oat bales and we feed rye pellets at both the home ranch at Fir Mountain and also at the Big Muddy. Lloyd is well equipped at Fir Mountain with a new tractor with front wheel assist. This tractor is good for the round bales. He also has a four-wheel-drive truck with a Dew Eze for round and small square bales. We still use some square bales.

At the Big Muddy in early January, we had to buy a new tractor. Our older John Deere was giving us some trouble. Ryan hauled a new one home from Assiniboia. This tractor has front-wheel assist also. Ryan tells me it is very good in the snow. Years ago we used horses. I stopped using horses in the early 70s except for a few emergencies. Today, we do not have a team we could hook up. With these air conditioned and heated cabs, the feeder will not get cold or hot for long.

When I go out for coffee or when I meet younger ranchers at the hockey games, I am often asked about how this winter compares with former winters. Today I will try and tell you about some of the older winters I can remember. I will start with the winter of 1933-34.

WINTER OF ’33/’34

At that time Dad had been raising sheep for a few years. He started out small and as we learned more about them, he would increase the numbers. In November of 1933, I left school and took over the herding and management of 600 ewes (female sheep). I was camped with the sheep on an abandoned farm. The farm was located close to some government lease land, which had not been grazed for several years. Dad paid $10 for the use of a two room farm shack and a small barn. With these buildings, there was a half section of farm land, which that year had grown a very good crop of Russian thistle. So, with the thistle, the prairie land, the old house and barn I went on to the place with sheep in early November. The winter was just average. There was enough snow to make the sheep paw, but they did well on the prairie and the thistle.

I was camped five miles from home. Someone would bring me groceries, coal, and batteries for the radio. There were no roads open and the farmers in the area did not get out too much. I stayed at that camp and in three months I got home twice. On February 14th my brother Gene came for me with a saddle horse. I rode home with him and that evening my brother Gene drove my mother, the hired girl, three smaller children and myself six miles overland with a team and wagon to a picture show at Woodville School — six miles away across country. The thaw had come upon us in a hurry. Water was running down the valley. That night, Dad had stayed home with the two smallest children. The picture show was silent slides and it was the first picture show I had seen.

The next morning, Dad told me to bring the sheep home. He said the thaw had removed enough snow near home and that they would do fine for the rest of the winter. The well had frozen up, so I thawed out snow for drinking and cooking water. The water froze up most nights. I had an old kitchen range in which I burned wood and coal. I had a heavy mattress on the floor, lots of blankets and my dog slept on the bed beside me. At night I listened to the radio. The camp was situated just 12 miles from the Montana border. At that time, the American stations came in very strong. Salt Lake City, Denver and Chicago were my main stations. Sometimes I got a Regina station and listened to some hockey games.

There was not much company near the camp. One night a trapper stayed with me overnight and a French farmer, Ozanne, would drive by from his farm on the way to the post office which was about six miles to the east. Anyway, the sheep wintered well and in three years, they increased from 600 to over 1,000. The sheep losses that winter were small. Dad was an old time rancher. Losses of five to 10 per cent on range cattle or sheep were considered very small.

WINTER OF’34/’35

The next winter I want to tell about is the winter of 1934-35. In 1934, Dad hired a Scottish shepherd to care for the sheep and that winter I spent much of my time hauling coal. It was a cold winter. Dad, Mama, the hired girl and the smaller children lived in the house. My older brother Gene, the shepherd Finn Beaton and myself lived in a bunk house. With two houses to heat, we used lots of coal. The coal mine was six miles away through deep snow and it was my job to go for coal three times each week. In early February, Dad took a trip to Minnesota to visit his aged mother. Coming home by train through Winnipeg, he was stricken with a serious case of appendicitis and he was lucky to have been there. If this had happened at home, he might not have lived. Our ranch was located 40 miles south of Lafleche — the nearest doctor. There were no roads open and no telephone. My mother was expecting her eleventh baby. Arrangements had been made for Nurse Disney to come and help at this time. At three o’clock one cold, blustery morning on February, my mother came to the bunk house and told Gene, age 17, that he must go for Mrs. Disney who lived across country six miles away. Gene made the trip, brought Mrs. Disney to our home and within a few hours we had a new baby sister. Mother and baby daughter were doing well.

The next day, I drove the team seven miles to my Grandma Lula Prices’ place and drove my

Grandma back home where she helped to care for my mother and the new baby girl, Marjorie. Then, word came from my dad that I was to haul out some wheat to the Fir Mountain elevator. This wheat was in a granary eight miles from town and no sleigh road. On the first trip, I only took about 25 bushels of wheat because I had to break a road for the first three miles. After that I was on a sleigh road. Anyway, I made five trips, one each day and hauled out a total of about 200 bushels. Looking back, I can only assume that Dad needed some cash to pay for the trip and all the other expenses of wintering 600 sheep and 300 or more cattle. Counting kids and hired help, there was a household of 14 or 15 for each meal and one hired sheep herder and one hired girl to pay and keep. Dad came home on the train and I picked him up with the sleigh and team. He had another little baby girl when he got home. In total time, Dad had been away for over two weeks.

While I was doing the grain hauling and the coal trips, my brother Gene and the Finn Beaton had been busy every day feeding the cattle and the sheep. The animals wintered well that year and I believe both the calf crops and lamb crops were good. That was the only winter in 10 years that I had not cared for the sheep.

WINTER OF ‘37/’38

The summer of 1937 was very dry. Dad did not put up even a forkful of feed. We never hooked up a team to a mower or a binder. With government programs and various sales, Dad and I went and cut down our herds to 180 cattle and over 1,100 sheep. We got hay out of Manitoba and black hawk (oat hulls) from Robin Hood in Moose Jaw. We expected the sheep to paw the snow and graze. In a real emergency, we would feed them. The six car loads of hay fed the cows, the team and a saddle horse. All the livestock took winter well.

On the last day of March, a blizzard started in the early morning. Our sheep were safe. They were bedded down near a shed and sheltered by trees. Our cows were caught out on the open prairie and worst of all they were south east of the home ranch and away from our good sheltered coulees. The first day, the storm was vicious with wet snow and freezing temperatures. The sheep were safe except that we could not feed them. On the third day, Dad and a hired man got on saddle horses and started looking for them. There were dead cattle here and there. Some were huddled together in a brush coulee. The worst sighting was finding over twenty dead in Rock Creek. They were caught up in a creek bend. The weather stayed cold and miserable. The big herd of sheep survived but then without grain and no feed, the sheep started to suffer. They were heavy in lamb. We had no grain to give them. They lost strength and the result was many dead sheep and a poor lamb crop. In the end, our losses were about 50 dead cows from 180 and about 10 per cent of the sheep died.

My Dad had left his father’s farm when he was 16 and had learned about cattle from the big open range cattlemen of South Dakota. These ranchers never fed and made no effort to put up feed. They thought 10 to 15 per cent losses were normal and because of little expense they got by and made money. After the bad spring storm of 1937-38, my dad was never again caught without feed. In the fall of 1937 with many horses borrowed from an uncle in Iowa, I had bought 60 sheep at $5 each. I lost over 10 of them that winter. The western prairies are full of stories of heavy livestock losses in the early days. Today things are different. We have good machinery, feed is available — sometimes the price is high, never the less, it is easier to meet the needs of the livestock.

JANUARY 29, 2009

Last night, there was an exciting hockey game here in Glentworth. The Glentworth team was playing against Lampman to see who would continue for the Saskatchewan provincial championship. It was a two game series, counting total goals to win. Going into the game, the Glentworth team was down by two goals. Our team tied it up and scored in sudden death overtime. A good local crowd was very excited and pleased. My grandson, Chay, is on our team and my son Lloyd is the manager.

A famous New York sports writer once made up the following poetic statement:

When the one Great Scorer places a mark against your name,

It matters not that you won or lost, it is how you played the game.

Boyd Anderson is a mostly retired rancher from Glentworth, Sask. and has been a columnist for Grainews for many years.

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