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The other side of the fence

Grazing with Steve Kenyon

Your neighbour is not perfect, even if it may look like he has it all together. The same is true here at Greener Pastures. I will be the first to tell you of our struggles and of the issues that we have endured. I have had more than my share of discouragement on this ranch.

In our Stockman Grass Farmer school, Take This Farm and Love It, Joel Salatin and I share some of the mistakes and wrecks that we have had along the way. We do this in hopes that it will encourage others and possibly prevent the same mistakes down the road for the producers attending.

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Discouragement can be overwhelming. If you break down the word, dis-courage, it is the lack of courage. I believe farming is a very courageous profession. We have a lot of risks and our paycheque is dependent on a lot of different factors. It could be the weather, the markets, production losses; whatever the issue, it takes courage to do what we do.

Many times we have heard comments such as: “But everything always works out perfect over there at Greener Pastures.” I usually laugh at those comments. I want to share with you some of the wrecks that we have had. I don’t want to get all negative on you, but instead, I hope to encourage you.

One of the biggest mistakes that I have made was continuing to deal with someone long after the trust was broken. I am pretty proud of my human resource skills and I like to think that I can get along with just about anyone. I know that this is not true, but it is what I tell myself.

The first year of this particular business deal was okay, but I sensed that I could not trust them. My first warning sign was when they refused to sign a contract. The first year we had some small issues that cost me a few thousand dollars. The second year, it was a few thousand more.

You know the old saying: give them an inch, and they take a mile? Well, by year five, I was so frustrated as I had about $8,000 in production losses in that year alone. Every year it became worse. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt but I should have quit a few years earlier. In my final year of the deal, I had $14,000 in production losses because of a breach of contract.

Lesson learned? Once trust is broken in a business arrangement, get out. It is not worth the stress or the economic loss. Trust is the most important part of any relationship.

I have had trouble as a custom grazier with the different types of animals that arrive at our gate. Oh my goodness, can the cattle have different temperaments! More than once I have spent months trying to get the herd all together again. Some come off the truck, jump the corrals and blow through fence after fence. Five-foot high, steel corrals just cannot contain some animals. Four-strand barbed wire gates with electricity are no match for others. At the end of the season, I have spent months trying to capture stray cattle. I’ve set big mouse traps with my corrals to get the last critter.

Water is another issue that has caused me a lot of grief here at Greener Pastures. My solar systems have been a thorn in my side more than once. I would have sworn that they were the best system ever when I had smaller herds. But as my herds grew, dependability became an issue, especially in the fall. As the days shorten, panels are not capturing as much sunlight. By this time, the calves or yearlings are also getting bigger so they require more water. There is also a good chance that the water level in the dugout is getting lower, so the pump has to lift a bit higher, which requires more energy. With three strikes against you in the early fall, you are bound to run into some problems. I now compensate by adding more solar panels.

Water is a big headache for me because with 21 different watering sites, a lot can go wrong. I have had my gravity flow water system let loose on me a couple of times. A broken float switch, a loose connection, whatever the reason, it empties the entire water source in a weekend. That is a stressful day, I can tell you.

When you have livestock, you also have dead stock and I have had my share. We had about 500 head arrive in March one year and we had set up a bale-grazing site for them out on a remote pasture that needed rejuvenating. The plan was to bale graze until the grass was ready. I did not know it at the time but the cattle were purchased from many different places and all arrived at Greener Pastures in the same week. A viral pneumonia swept through the herd and, of course, we were not close to the handling facilities. We lost about a dozen after a lot of extra labour, costs and stress. That was not a fun week.

Once we grazed a landowner’s yard just to clean up and mow the grass for them. I never noticed the old burn pile on the edge of the bush. After 13 animals died, we found out that the old building that had been burnt 20 years earlier had lead acid batteries in it at the time. It was not fun having the herd quarantined for six months either.

How about losing land? All of my land is leased. We currently only own 33 acres. It is quite common for me to put years of work into a piece of land, rebuild its biodiversity, improve it and heal it, only to lose it. Many times I then watch a grain farmer rip it up and mine the nutrients out of it again. I have come to realize that it is just part of the game. I literally made sure that this is part of the Greener Pastures Ranching board game.

I could go on, and on, and on, and on, but that’s just farmin’. We have all been there and the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. We have struggles here at Greener Pastures just like everyone else does. We stress over cash flow just about every year but with planning and budgeting, we always seem to come out okay.

My advice? Don’t get discouraged. Mental health on the farm is a huge issue and we need to be aware of it. I have been there more than once. Some years are better than others but I always remind myself that if it wasn’t for bad days, we wouldn’t have good days. They would just be days and how boring would that be?

I wish you many blessings on the good days ahead. Be courageous and God bless.

About the author

Contributor

Steve Kenyon runs Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd. in Busby, Alta., www.greenerpasturesranching.com, or call 780-307-6500.

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