WildFire

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.

IMG_3422

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.

IMG_3439

IMG_3436

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.

IMG_3445

IMG_3451

Gates were opened and animals let free.

IMG_3447

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!

IMG_3456

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.

IMG_3468

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.

IMG_3461

IMG_3460

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.

IMG_3357

IMG_3483

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.

IMG_3495

See the tree split by lightning.

 

 

IMG_3490

IMG_3493

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.

IMG_3513

IMG_3516

IMG_3522

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

IMG_3533

IMG_3540

IMG_3541

IMG_3559

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.

IMG_3391

IMG_3569

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.


Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 6.29.04 PM

Days of July

IMG_3199

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!

IMG_2365

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.

IMG_3179

IMG_3281

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.

IMG_3259

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.

IMG_3250

The view from Doug’s office.

~Erika Fossen~

Meet You At the Watering Hole

IMG_3064

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.

IMG_3066 IMG_3071

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.

IMG_3078

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.

IMG_3087 IMG_3092

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!

IMG_3128 IMG_3084 IMG_3052

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~

 

 

Keepin’ Busy

IMG_3092

Heading home after a successful pasture clear-out.  Right now with the heat, we ride either early morning (being finished by 11 am) or later evening.  We had heat of 38 degrees celsius for the last few weeks.

IMG_3085

IMG_3093

After a mile of straight down hill, sometimes to keep from ending up riding on your horses ears you make the decision to get off, lead down the last slope and then readjust saddles at the bottom.  Pictures often do not do the hills steepness justice.

IMG_3081

The Fossen Ranch Cowgirls.

IMG_3068

IMG_3113

IMG_3118

Some miles to cover on a evening ride, searching for cows before the sun goes down.  Found the cows, got them moved and got back to the trailer at 10:45 pm in the dark.  Drove home to a spectacular lightning storm and a 10 minute downpour just as we had to unsaddle.

IMG_3124

If we’re not on the horses we are on this trusty steed: our JohnDeere Gator.  Our dogs cruise at 30 km/hour behind us, doing a quick 10-15 km pasture check.  We’ve clocked our year old puppy at 52 kms/hour!

IMG_3008

Heading out on a 4H Ranch Horse Range Ride, a convoy of truck & trailers.

IMG_3019

The 4H moto is ‘Learn To Do By Doing’.

IMG_3025

Enjoying the scenery.  There was a mama brown bear with two cubs over the hill.  Doug stayed back with the dogs to allow the kids to get a look.

~Erika Fossen~

Team Fluff

IMG_3004

This is our dog ‘Tuff’ but our family often calls her ‘Fluff’ because of her timid personality and, as you can see, her fluffy doo!

IMG_2948

IMG_2946

You never want to get into the middle of two of these!  It is best to just wait it out and then move them along, or if they are not moving out then I will sick the dog on them.  Bulls look big and lumbering, but can move VERY fast and are much larger than a horse and can do damage to a horse and rider if in the wrong place.

IMG_2989

IMG_2883

IMG_2879

A heifer calf growing up out on the range.

IMG_2963

IMG_2975

The girls out fencing with their dad.

IMG_2997

The dogs waiting patiently.

IMG_2952

We love to see a sky like this!!

~Erika Fossen~

 

Organic ??

IMG_2127
We want to explain to you why we do not call ourselves organic, and strong disagree with the notion that all farming should be organic. We would like to share our point of view and why we have chosen to use modern farming practices like: chemical weed control.

We live right next to Canada’s only desert. Our ranch is on a 14% grade side hill. We have limited surface water for irrigation. In order to ranch and stay viable we use a very small supply of labour. Every decision must make sense financially. In order to survive, we have to be wise in our use of everything on our farm.

The basics of planting a crop is that you have to kill the old plants and weeds in order for the new seeds to get established and compete. In conventional tillage, which we do not do, a farmer might first plow, then disc one or two times, then cultivate, then seed, then pack in order to get a crop. This is all done on the same piece of land. In other words, the tractor is running over the same field up to 6 or 7 times. This type of tillage uses high amounts of fuel because you are physically breaking up the soil structure. It is similar to how most people work their garden with a rototiller. Conventional tillage looks pretty when the soil is all black and fluffy and the crop peeks through. Although by digging deep and working up the soil, researchers have shown that you loose between 9 to 25 centimetres of water over the land. On our ranch, that would be one pass with the sprinklers. For a person like me who does not like moving ‘irritation’, thats a huge savings right there! Did we mention how much we dislike picking rocks? That is another huge savings for us.

IMG_0577

Do you know why they called it the ‘Dirty Thirties’? All farmers conventional tilled, worked their land, lost their moisture and then the whole country blew away and everyone went broke. Here some pictures of some small scale conventional tillage dust storms.

IMG_0564

IMG_0568

We plant and reseed our crops using a practice called ZeroTill or Minimum Till. This involves killing the old crop or weeds by using chemical, yes: RoundUp. To seed our field we make one pass with the sprayer, putting on between 1/2 to 1 litre per acre of actual chemical. Then we make one pass with our ZeroTill Seed Drill to seed and fertilize the field. One of the biggest advantages to this type of seeding is that we are leaving the organic matter on the surface of the soil and year after year are building healthier soil rather than making it into dirt. This layer of organic matter is what saves the moisture in the soil. Because we are more productive with the acres we do farm, we are able leave more land for grazing.

IMG_2121

IMG_2122

By our estimations, 1 litre of RoundUp is being directly traded for 58.4 litres of Diesel fuel not burned plus the savings on labour, equipment and moisture. If you are at all concerned about the environment, how can you say that burning 58 litres of Diesel into the atmosphere (picture 3 – 5 gallon jerry cans) is better for the environment than using 1 litre of RoundUp?

IMG_2132

To summarize, our ZeroTill seeding reduces the use of Diesel, saves moisture, prevents soil erosion both from wind and water on our side hill, prevents us from picking rocks and is one of the major elements that has kept us in business over the years. Oh, did we mention that we get better production, use less seed and fertilizer and have fewer weeds? If you drove across the Prairie’s (Alberta and Saskatchewan) where the large scale farms are, you would notice that there is not a lot of dust in the air and that everyone ZeroTills.

IMG_2129

We totally agree that people overuse chemical. All we want you to understand is that modern farming uses many different tools. It is not as simple as doing it the way Grandpa use to. If you want to know why a farmer does a certain practice, there is probably a legitimate reason. We put a lot of thought and heart into our decisions. 4th and 5th Generation Farms got there by making wise decisions for their land, their family and their business.

~Erika Fossen~