When Life Gives You Lemons Make Lemonade



After posting the blog “Agriculture Needs Water” most of the conversations at our ranch has been dominated by water. Since the order came for us to completely shut off our irrigation it has been going back on forth between being able to irrigate with restrictions (6am-6pm) and complete shut offs. Last week we were completely shut off and now we are back on again until the end of September (which is when our water license runs out for the year. We can only pump water from the river from April 1 to September 30 every year).
It was a very frustrating experience as I expressed in the first blog, but I think you can always find positives out of any experience. Some positives that came out of it were our family and our neighbour met with our local MLA and had a great meeting and discussion about the future. For example, if this were to happen again how we can improve the consultation process and hopefully work together (if there is a next time) instead of just being handed a letter, also we discussed some collaborative ideas for the community to be proactive in water conservation. In addition, our MLA and her secretary came out and toured our place and our neighbour’s place and were able to see first hand other factors that contribute to the current water situation such as where the river has flooded and taken acres of our land and left a wide shallow channel, which is contributing to high water temperatures and creating a less than ideal environment for the fish, but this circumstance is not a result of irrigation for agriculture purposes. We also discussed while our water awareness was extremely highened when we were shut off we observed that in our community there is plenty of room for water conservation improvements. Such as the city of Merritt draws its water from an aquifer, but the Coldwater River runs right through the city, so that drawing water out of that aquifer would affect the Coldwater River because it is all connected. While we were shut off the city implemented an extra day citizens could not water their lawn, which is helpful, but if we are worried about the water I think there needs to be shift in society, agriculture is using water to produce food and we are being monitored, but we can use that water to ensure an aesthetically pleasing lawn or to wash our cars.
It has been an interesting switch in own mentality around water like how much we are watering our lawns and using household water. For example, we had corn on the cob one night for dinner and after boiling the corn instead of dumping the water down the drain I let it cool over night and then watered my flowers the next morning. Or when doing dishes only fill your sink up just a tiny bit and then rise your soapy dishes over the sink and that fills up the sink instead of starting with a huge sink full of water. As for our lawns, maybe there needs to be more incentive for xeriscaping or using plants that require less water.

A Little Relief From Cabin Fever

It has been quite the transition going from full time ranch hand to full time mom! The ratio to time outside and time in the house has flipped and has been a really hard transition. Don’t get me wrong I love my little girl and love my new role as mom, however I also love being outside and being active. We definitely get outside as much as we can, but I was really itching to do some hard work and be physically tired when you go to bed.
On Tuesday Dad came up with a perfect solution for me! We got a phone call from another ranch that has range near ours and they had found a cow and her calf that my husband and I bought on their range. It doesn’t make sense that just one cow was there, so dad went scouting for more cows that possibly had wondered way far away from where they were suppose to be, from our range. He was right and found 11 animals, 5 cow calf pairs and 1 yearling heifer, still on the other ranch’s range. Where dad found these animals there is no way we could get a horse up there. It was really thick bush and some cut blocks, so where loggers have logged, so there is a mess of branches covering the ground and really steep, so dad wanted us to walk down to see if we could ideally move the cows down off this mountain back onto our range and to see if we could find the trail where these cows are getting onto this other range.
Well we weren’t able to bring the cows down with us, we lost them in the bush, but we hiked down the mountain for 2 hours until we reached the bottom trying to figure out how these cows wound up where they did. To finish off our “hike” we got to cross the river at the end. My husband was so great he took our daughter and dropped us off at the top of the mountain and my dad, mom and I walked down and my husband Cyle picked us up at the bottom.

Cyle and Macy waiting for us at the bottom!

Cyle and Macy waiting for us at the bottom!


Mom trying to find a place to cross.

Mom trying to find a place to cross.

Dad crossing the river.

Dad crossing the river.

We found our cows on this cut block.

We found our cows on this cut block.See the little brown dots, those are our cows!


View from our hike!

View from our hike!

My week has just been getting better! Yesterday, I got to move cows on horse back for because the first time since November!!! The same cows that we lost on Tuesday on our hike dad went back to try and find them with the ATV. We couldn’t get our stock trailer up to where the cows were because the road was way to rough and narrow and a horse wouldn’t be that beneficial because of the steep and thick terrain. Dad ended up finding the cows and pushing them down the road with the ATV to a place where we could get to with horses. Dad called my husband and I and said he had found the cows, and was bringing them down off the mountain and if we could saddle up horses and meet him. Dad chased the cows for 24 km off this steep mountain to some flats ground. It worked out wonderfully because our baby girl was sleeping, so dad was the babysitter and I stole his horse and moved the cows the rest of the way. It was a great day!

Moving our runaway cows back onto our range! My cowgirl debut!!!

Moving our runaway cows back onto our range! My cowgirl debut!!!

Memoirs of Calving

Tonight as we were looking back at our photos, I came across this documentation of a full breech birth.  This birth occurred on February 20th, out of a first time mother.  A full breach is when the bum of the calf is presenting first and it’s legs are down.  Without help this situation would likely end with the death of the calf and most likely the cow as well.

During our calving season, calving out 280 cows, we had 7 backwards calves and 2 full breaches.  This was the first full breach and the next one was born the next day (if you can believe the odds of that) and was a twin.

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Saving the calf in a breach birth only happens if you notice early that she is calving, but she is not progressing.  When this is detected she is brought in and physically checked to identify the presentation of the calf.

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It takes long arms, a lot of time and determination to bring the hooves and legs safely up for birth.  Skill is required to do this quickly yet not hurting the mothers uterus.  The calf hoof has to be covered with your hand while the hoof and leg are brought up into position.

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The chains have to be properly placed to not harm the calf’s joint.  Again speed yet sensitive timing is important for mother and baby’s health.

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For the next minute we make sure the baby’s is breathing properly, then give the calf and vigorous rub-down to stimulate the calf and then we let the mother out to connect.

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It is always a relief when the calf’s head is bobbing around and we can let the mother take over from there.


This is the last calf this shirt will ever pull.  Time for one last check of the herd and then clean-up!

~Erika Fossen~


Some of you may have heard about the devastating wild fire that started Thursday near Rock Creek.  It is with a heavy heart that I show some pictures we captured.  No amount of words can portray the sadness that is felt for our fellow ranchers and neighbours who lost so much.  I just wanted to give you some insight into the situation.

Thursday afternoon, around 2, we started getting calls that a fire had broke out.  We were working 4 km from our home.  Our good friend and neighbour left to check out the situation.  Minutes later he called my husband Doug and strongly suggested he get his water tank ready.  I quickly finished what I was doing, and headed for home.  This is what I saw when I came around the corner.


Obviously this was very alarming.  We headed into Hulme Creek Road to check on our cows.  When we got into the area, we were put to work helping evacuate the acreages.



The fire was very close to the houses and us at this time.  We were doubtful of how many of the homes were going to be left standing.



Gates were opened and animals let free.


The fire bombers and fire fighters did an amazing job of saving houses.  This house (you can just see the roof in the middle of the photo) was saved!


At the time we were helping evacuate the area, I looked to the west and saw this.  Another forest fire had started in Washington State.  It crossed the border into Canada and was thankfully put out that night/next day.


There were 3 large Electra’s fire bombing the area.  At this point we retreated back to our neighbours house.  Electricity was out.  My husband and our neighbour took the tractors over to make a break around this house in danger.  They continued to fight the fire until midnight.



These folks and my husbands 2nd cousins all stayed at our house for the weekend.  This was the house the guys made a fire break around Thursday night.



As the guys fought and made the break, my friend and I and our children watched the fire.  This was about 1 mile and a 1/2 from our ranch.

Since the snow melted in February, we have only had 3/4 inch of rain.  It was very dry and that Thursday the temperature was +39 degrees celsius with only 8% humidity, with a strong hot wind blowing.  The fire moved a kilometre a minute burning north up a valley.  Thankfully nobody was killed in the fire.  It was very traumatic for us and we were just on the edge.  Many peoples homes and buildings and belongings were burnt.

The next morning we got a call that there was a lightning strike on our private land, so we raced up there to put 2 small fires out.


See the tree split by lightning.





The next day the sky was eerie.  All the highways around us were closed.  It was strangely quiet.  Phone lines, power and cellular service were all down.  That being said, the professionals restoring everything worked night and day to bring back power etc.




Sunday, highway 3 opened.  This is heading down to Rock Creek.  This first picture is where the fire started.





There are miles of destroyed fence, lost timber, lost pasture land.  Our prayers continue to be with all those still fighting the fire and to those who have lost so much.



I just took these 2 pictures to show how smokey the area still is.  The fire is reportably 25% contained, with areas of the forest still burning and smouldering.

~Erika Fossen~

Agriculture Needs Water

Erika Fossen and I have blogged several times about irrigation and we like to refer to it as irritation. Yes, it is a pain in the butt to move irrigation everyday to make sure we get over our entire field with water, however right now I would do anything to have that problem.
Last Friday we got hand delivered a letter saying that there were water restriction starting that night at midnight. We are restricted to water from 6pm to 6am, which was fine we were sort of prepared for this because we had such a mild winter and there was no snowpack in the mountains and the river has been extremely low all year coupled with extreme heat. We have been watering about 30% less than usual just to try and conserve water. However, that wasn’t all they told me… Here’s the kicker they said we are restricted until August 11 and then after that it is a full shut off. That means in an area that is considered semi desert and even though we have a water license we are not going to be allowed to pump until September 30, which is when our water license says we need to be done pumping for the year anyways. This was absolutely devastating news. Without water all our crops will die and we will not have enough feed to feed our cows during the winter months. My husband brother and I decided we should start cutting what is ready of our second cut of growth on our fields, so we could get it off and get the water back on while we still had the ability to water. So that is how we spent our long weekend working until about midnight each night trying to get as much feed off the fields and then move irrigation so when 6pm rolled around we could start the pumps and have water.
I am so frustrated with this government decision because it severely affect our ranch especially when there was no consultation with the people who have water licenses to the river, which should mean we have rights to the water. In addition, I believer that they should have complied with The First in Time First in Right policy which means those with the oldest water license have the most rights, so should be able to pump the longest. I also feel there should be some preference for those who are actually making a living from agriculture and not just hobby farmers that have 20 acres and sell a bit of hay on the side to supplement their alternate income. This is our income if we don’t have enough feed that severely affects our business.
Moreover, hay is super expensive this year, so having to buy hay will be a huge cost. I asked the person who delivered the letter if there would be compensation for loss of forage and he said he didn’t know.
A main reason for the shut off they say is for the fish, which I completely understand we are not out to hurt another commodity, however it feels like there is no common sense being applied in this decision. This year the river has been so low and warm since June it seems like damage to the fish probably is already done and in addition in the past 20 years the amount of fish that come up to river has diminished greatly. I was speaking to somebody who works for the fisheries and yesterday they counted fish in the river and in a 8 km span they counted 4 fish!!! FOUR FISH!!! Is that really enough to justify completely devastating our crops? We are reasonable people who care about the environment. We have been voluntarily pumping 30% less water all year because we could tell the water was low, but not to be able to compromise is frustrating. We think a great compromise would be allowing us to keep pumping, but only at night. Another frustrating piece of the puzzle is that the same weekend August long weekend Merritt was host to a music festival, Rockin River Music Festival and the same river that we have water rights to flows through the festival ground and a main attraction during the day is for the thousands of attendees to pull up their lawn chairs in the river. Please explain to me how this doesn’t affect the fish, the amount of people trampling fish, fish eggs, leaving garbage and I’m sure bodily excretion. Moreover, the same river that flows through our ranch flows through our range and hundreds of quaders tear up the grasslands and that go through the river all summer long. How are the quads not affecting the fish and fish eggs when they drive through the river? My dad had a meeting with the man who delivered us the letter and asked him these questions and he didn’t have an answer just that he was the messenger and gave the impression he really didn’t care. That is so frustrating he probably went on to have a great relaxing long weekend after he delivered us the bombshell of a letter. I really feel there needs to be a shift in society to put value back on agriculture. We are the people producing YOUR food. Isn’t that important? More so than recreation and music festivals? Before it gets to you in pretty cellophane packages at the grocery store it goes through a process and we are a very important part of that process. Some consultation and negotiations would have been very appreciated especially when the city of Merritt who is down stream from us has no restrictions and the golf course is still being watered, car washes being used, cement plants functioning all of which use vast amounts of water. Are these things what we value more than food?

Here are our fields looking green and bountiful because of irrigation. We are very scared what they are going to look like without our ability to water them.

Here are our fields looking green and bountiful because of irrigation. We are very scared what they are going to look like without our ability to water them.

Recreation quads going through the river on our range.

Recreation quads going through the river on our range.

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Days of July


The days of July have been full!  We are busy putting up feed for our cows and keeping cows where they are supposed to be on the range.IMG_3271

Our super-duper Range Riders!


Here we are working with a 2 year old horse, ‘Rock’, getting him used to us being around.

Check out this video of rounding up some stray cows out of a pasture.  If you have ever played the game iHerd, this reminded me of it!  Except, instead of sheep and 2 dogs, I have a husband on a horse, and a few dogs!  The girls and I were on one ridge and he was down on the other.



This was a cover crop of spring rye that was planted along with Alfalfa.  The spring rye is a annual and is seeded to help compete with weeds and give a crop in the year the alfalfa is established.  It is under our pivot and did very well!  Hopefully it did not harm the alfalfa getting established!  This is the field we had planted to corn last year.


This is one of Doug’s little buddies.  The hawks’ follow the silage chopper around the field and catch the mice that get exposed.  Their timing is impeccable.  Every year when the chopper shows up, they are close behind.  They spend the day swooping and diving around the tractor.  This one is having a deserved break, resting on the centre pivot.


The view from Doug’s office.

~Erika Fossen~

Meet You At the Watering Hole


This is a picture of a new trough we installed to an area last week.  The next week we gathered up the herd and pushed them down to show them the new watering hole.

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Even though cows do travel in the pastures they are in, it is very important to move them to the areas they are not using.  IMG_3065 IMG_3068 IMG_3074

The grass was awesome in this corner of the pasture but since the water was minimal, they didn’t like hiking down there.  Cows are creatures of habit and you have to show them new areas.  This herd is mostly our 1st time calvers and have never been on this pasture before, so they need to be directed where the sweet spots are.


It is also good to do a ride like this to check on the bulls and cows and calves to make sure everyone is healthy and happy.

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Who knew that horses would make such good ladders for picking Saskatoon berries!  On our way back from moving the cows to the new watering hole, we picked enough saskatoon’s to make a couple of pies.  Ummmmm!

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Riding is such an important part of our ranch management.  Sometimes we question wether we can afford to ‘take the time to ride’, but whenever we do it we get a lot done and we say to ourselves, ‘Good thing we came up here and did this!’  Seeing the cows standing in the best grass available, taking a sip from the new water trough; shows us it is important.

~Erika Fossen~