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The Lesson Of 1946 Winter

FEBRUARY 1, 2010

Daylight broke this morning with a clear sky, very little wind and a temperature of -10C. It is generally accepted February 1 is the half-way point in our winter. My grandmother Lula Price was born to a pioneer couple out in the Nebraska Plains and the Dakota Territories. She and her husband came to Canada in 1911 and settled on a homestead in the Wood Mountain Hills. My dad, Leonard Anderson, at 21 also came to Canada and took up a homestead and married Ab and Lula Price’s daughter, Aquina.

This couple raised 12 children on Rock Creek, a running creek on the south edge of the Wood Mountain range of hills. As the fourth child on that family, I spent much time with my Grandpa and Grandma Price. Grandpa Ab Price died from diabetes in 1930. My Grandma Lula carried on with her small ranch until 1940 and at that time I made a deal with her.

My Grandma Lula was always giving me some of her wise advice. She drilled into me that one must always have a good supply of food for oneself and also plenty of feed for the livestock. She had a saying that went like the following “When one wakes on a February morn, have half your taters and half your corn.” Every February 1 morning, I think of her old saying and also of how true it is. I also always think back to February 1946.

By 1946, I had come back from overseas and in February, my wife, Lorene, and I were living on Grandma Lula’s little ranch. The government programs had helped us get established on my Grandma Lula’s ranch. We had some pasture land paid for, a quarter of farm land, 700 sheep (not all paid for), 12 cattle and our only machinery was a front-end wood mower, a team of horses, a saddle horse and a wagon and a sleigh. The year 1946 was a poor crop year and by fall I could see that we would have to buy feed to get our sheep and cattle through the winter.

There was a bad drought in 1946. The government brought in a program of freight assistance and the government also took on the responsibility of purchasing the hay and arranging for the shipping. With two carloads of hay coming, I felt quite safe for my livestock. I had good winter grazing and sheep are very good at winter foraging. December went by, January came along and my two carloads of hay had not come. The delay was caused by an early arrival of winter and a great demand for hay. My sheep had been grazing good, but a wet snowfall in January put a crust on the grass. The sheep could not break through the crust.

I took two sections of diamond harrows and pulled them with the team. I fastened the harrows behind the bobsleigh and in my way, I broke the crust and the sheep pawed out the broken snow. By February 1, though, my grazing was almost done. On the morning of February 1, I got up early. It was clear and cold that day and my feed was gone except for some oats. It was a Wednesday morning. I fed our 12 cattle the last of the feed, turned the sheep into the stack yard and after breakfast hooked up my team to the bobsleigh and drove off to Fir Mountain, which was eight miles away.

There were no roads and no telephone. Everything that my wife, Lorene, and I had was tied up in the herd of sheep and the few cattle that we had. That morning, I left Lorene, who was expecting another of our children, and our 11-month-old girl. In going to Fir Mountain with the team, I was hoping that some neighbour would have received some hay and that I would be able to borrow some. That is exactly what happened. My good neighbours, John and Russell Flynn, had two carloads come in. I borrowed a half-ton to load the hay and paid them back in March when my hay finally arrived.

In February, we had a good Chinook wind come through and it bared off some grass and removed the ice. The sheep grazed very well. I also found a farmer with some wheat sheaves and with my own hay arriving in March, we got through the winter of 1946-47 with only a small loss. In May, we had a good lamb crop and it helped to get us a start with our ranch. Our cattle operation did not turn out very well. We had two cows and 12 two-year olds to calve. Our female cattle had contracted brucellosis (Bang’s disease) and out of 14 that were to calve, we only had four live calves. Our small herd was tested and we sold the infected females to a buyer from Moose Jaw. Testing the cattle for Bangs and vaccinating became a common practice after that and we never had another loss through abortion.

That bad winter of 1947 took a heavy toll on the livestock industry though out southern Saskatchewan. One rancher in our area lost over 200 cattle and calves. This rancher had calves weaned in November to ship out. The roads were all blocked and continuous snowfall hindered the movement of the cattle. Finally, in January, the calves were trailed 20 miles to Fir Mountain, as the rancher was hoping to ship them out on the train. The train movement between Assiniboia and Moose Jaw was blocked so the calves were sheltered in a grain annex in Fir Mountain. The calves got sick and those that lived were sold to Jim Fancourt and George Walker at Glentworth. The calves that died were skinned by some school boys at Fir Mountain and the hides were sold. That winter a railroad engine was snowed in and left there until spring by the railroad.

Never again did Lorene and I have such a problem or come so close to such a disastrous loss of our livestock. Over the years, we have had some feed shortages, but we have always managed to keep a surplus of feed. Many years ago when I first started driving south of the No. 1 Highway, I would ask, “Where are your stacks of surplus feed?” Generally, I found out that most cattlemen north of No. 1 did not think there was any need. Down in our area, we always try to keep a good supply of feed over the winter into the next year. Over the years in my time, a surplus of feed is a number one priority. At this time, Lloyd tells me that he will have a one-year carry over of feed for the livestock.

A few days ago, I went to a local meeting of the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association. This was a meeting of zones three and 12 and it took place in Hodgeville. A good discussion took place on several subjects including age verification, swath grazing, bale feeding, pasture management, marketing and movement of cattle and beef to the United States and elsewhere. A good crowd was in attendance and there seemed to be some optimism at the meeting. The locals three and 12 were among the first to organize when the zones first came into being back in the early 1970s. I believe this local has had an annual meeting ever since organization. I also believe that three presidents of the Canadian Cattlemens Association have come from this area during this time.

FEBRUARY 8, 2010

Our cattle operations here at Fir Mountain and over at the Big Muddy are going well right now. We have plenty of feed and a good grass cover for the spring. We have had some stormy winter weather lately, but when one has plenty of good hay and grain bales, it is easier to take the hard weather.

The sales of my book are still going on. For mailing, the cost has gone up a little. I can still send them out for $15 each. Contact me at: Box 7, Glentworth, Sask. S0H1V0.

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

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