There is something fascinating about farm and ranch life. Working mostly outdoors and being in tune with the seasons and cycles of natural is an appealing prospect! As our population becomes more urbanized it becomes less connected to agriculture and food production. Many people desire to learn more about where their food comes from and how it is grown. This RiverCross Ranch blog post is a ‘Q and A’ with John Messner, Manager – Val Vista Ranch, designed to give a glimpse of ranch operations. John answers our questions with insightful remarks that will help readers to better understand autumn and harvest on the ranch.The RiverCross Ranch event facility is located on the picturesque Val Vista Ranch property. Val Vista Ranch is a working cattle ranch located in the community of Springbank, west of Calgary, Alberta. The ranch has been home to five generations of the Copithorne/Robinson family who have tended and cared for the land, keeping it in its beautiful natural state while also running a very successful cattle operation.
Our questions (RC) and John’s answers (JM) are below:
RC: How is the fall/harvest on the ranch different from other seasons?
JM: Generally most of the year is spent planning or actually growing the crop, in the fall we get to harvest the crop and see how we did. Fall harvest is the busiest time on the ranch. We have a short window of time between when the crop is ripe and ready to harvest and snow or rain stopping us from being able to harvest.
RC: Can you describe the process of harvest for us?
JM: Once the crop, in our case barley, oats and canola has ripened it will be swathed. A swather is a machine that cuts the crop and lays it together in a row, called a windrow. Generally the crop will be left 5-10 days in the windrow to further dry any crop that was not completely ripe at swathing. A combine will then pick up the windrow and feed it through, its job is to thresh and separate the grain from the stalk of the plant which becomes straw. The straw comes out the back of the combine whole to be baled or chopped to add nutrients back to the soil. The valuable grain gets augured from the combine into a truck that hauls it back to the farmyard to be stored in grain bins [for feed].
RC: Can you tell us what happens with the cattle during this time of year?
JM: Late fall is time for the cows to be brought in and wean the calves from their mother cows. Once the calves are sorted from the mother cows they are given a booster vaccination (not be confused with antibiotics) and put in pens where we feed them and give them lots of nice straw to lay on.
The mother cows go back out to the fields to graze until the grass is covered with snow and we have to feed them as well.
RC: How do you prepare for winter? What are the biggest challenges?
JM: Being prepared for winter on the ranch is critical, animal welfare is our top priority so making sure they have access to proper food and water is vital. We go around to all the water troughs in the fall and service them to make sure the heaters are working properly. We also make sure enough hay and straw bales are hauled home from the fields as well as any other feed is ready to use. We feed mostly with tractors so they must also be kept in good repair. No matter what the cattle must eat, they do not take a day off.
RC: What is the best/most rewarding part about working on the ranch?
JM: The most rewarding part about working on the ranch is being able to see the efforts of your hard work pay off. Think of the satisfaction that you get from gardening and growing plants from just small seeds into a plant that provides food, and I get to do that as my job.
Or spending all night in the barn to help a cow give birth, and then be able to watch that calf grow up and be healthy.
John and the Val Vista crew work long hours and rarely take time off in order to keep the ranch running smoothly. John also adds that there are “general misconceptions the general public has about farmers and ranchers. Herbicides and veterinary drugs are expensive, we only use them when required and follow the label for proper use. We spend our lives looking after these animals, they are our livelihood. In no way do we want to see harm come to them and do our best to look after them in a responsible manner.” Well said! Thank you to our farmers and ranchers who grow, tend, and harvest our food! We appreciate the knowledge, skills, and hard work that are required to provide top-quality food for our families.