From Horse Power to HP – The Mechanization of Prairie Agriculture Part 2

Once again we have Terry James guest posting on our blog to finish our series on the mechanization of prairie agriculture! Terry is a mixed farmer who lives near Vegreville, Alberta, on the farm his grandfather first moved to in 1917. He studied agriculture at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and worked for a number of years in the crop supplies industry. Currently he is a full time farmer. Together with his brother and son, they farm about 2000 acres of grain land, and maintain a commercial herd of beef cattle. You can read Part 1 of this series here.

An early thrashing machine

An early thrashing machine

It is difficult to argue that one machine is more important than another on a farm as all are necessary, but for many years, the tractor was the machine that enabled the others to operate. The tractor began as a self-propelled steam engine, the “traction engine.” A pioneer in the manufacture of steam engines for farm use was a man by the name of J.I. Case. Early steam engines were used to provide power for the threshing machines, but were stationary. Case added wheels to some of his to make them easier to move and in 1876 he brought out a model was that suitable for pulling a plow. JI Case and the company he founded went on to manufacture many more tractors throughout the years and eventually merged with the International Harvest Company.

Another American entrepreneur was also very active at this time. In 1837 a young blacksmith name John Deere came up with the idea of using polished steel in a plow. His “self-scouring steel plow” was an almost instant success, and the company he founded continues to thrive today.

When a homesteader first arrived in Alberta his plow was probably pulled by a team of oxen. However as soon resources permitted, the oxen were replaced by draft horses similar to these. After World War II,  the replacement of draft animals with tractors proceeded quickly.

When a homesteader first arrived in Alberta his plow was probably pulled by a team of oxen. However as soon resources permitted, the oxen were replaced by draft horses similar to these. After World War II, the replacement of draft animals with tractors proceeded quickly.



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From Horse Power to HP – The Mechanization of Prairie Agriculture Part 1

I am so excited to have Terry James back guest posting on our blog. He has a passion and wealth of knowledge for agriculture. Terry is a mixed farmer who lives near Vegreville, Alberta, on the farm his grandfather first moved to in 1917. He studied agriculture at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and worked for a number of years in the crop supplies industry. Currently he is a full time farmer. Together with his brother and son, they farm about 2000 acres of grain land, and maintain a commercial herd of beef cattle. You can follow Terry on Twitter.

Anyone who has visited an Alberta farm, or been to one of the several agricultural shows that occur each year across Western Canada, has no doubt marveled at the size and complexity of today’s farm machinery. Even farmers are continually being surprised by the latest offerings from today’s agricultural engineers. Tractors with global positioning guidance systems, milking robots, and smartphone apps are just a few of the tools of the modern farmer.

Museums such as this one in Vegreville, can be found in small towns throughout the prairies. They highlight the changes that have occurred in Western agriculture over the years, and help connect current generations with their farming heritage.

Museums such as this one in Vegreville, can be found in small towns throughout the prairies. They highlight the changes that have occurred in Western agriculture over the years, and help connect current generations with their farming heritage.

Seed Drill

Jethro Tull’s seed drill

It has not always been so. As little as two generations ago, draft animals were a common sight in rural Alberta. The mechanical revolution in agriculture was well underway when the first farmers arrived in Alberta, but early settlers arrived with little money and little access to farm machinery. Some of the first crops were seeded and harvested by hand, as they had been for centuries. The first purchase for many settlers was probably a plow, and a team of oxen, which was used to turn over the virgin prairie soil. Seed was broadcast by hand, and lightly harrowed in. It was then up to Mother Nature to supply the rain and sun, until in the fall, the grain was harvested with a scythe, and manually thrashed.

The mechanical revolution in agriculture began in England at the start of the 18th century. There it is said, an ambitious man by the name of Jethro Tull, grew weary of admonishing his farm workers to pay more attention as they planted the crops. As one can imagine hand seeding often resulted in plant populations that were often too thick in spots and too thin in others. Tull was able to use his technical skills to develop a mechanical seed drill that used a fluted cylinder to meter the seed. The seed then fell into a tube that placed it at an appropriate depth in the soil, and it was then covered by a harrow like device attached to the drill. Many modern seed metering devices still operate using similar principles. With the plants growing in rows as a result of Tulll’s drill, another innovation was enabled. Mechanical cultivation to remove weeds was now a possibility.

Towards the end of the 18th century another invention was perfected and this one had serious social implications. In Scotland Andrew Meikle developed a machine that separated the grain from the stalks of cereals. He called it a thrashing machine. Prior to that flails had been used to beat the bundles of grain to free the seeds and the seeds were then winnowed from the chaff by hand. Thousands of men were employed to do this over the winter months, and when their livelihoods disappeared, they rioted, destroying thrashing machines and threatening farmers. These were referred to as the Swing Riots, after a name that was appended to some of the threatening letters. It did not end well for the rioters as 9 were hanged and 450 were sent off to Australia.


A volunteer at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village near Edmonton illustrates the use of a flail, a tool that was used by early pioneers to separate the grain from the straw.

North America was the scene of the next major development. Steam engines had made portable threshing machines possible, but the cutting of the grain was still done with scythes and cradles (a multi-bladed scythe). It is Cyrus McCormick who is generally credited with developing an effective reaper, although others were working on similar machines at the same time. However Cyrus McCormick’s design and manufacturing skill eventually won out and his McCormick harvesting company eventually went on to become part of the International Harvester Company. His machine used a reel to hold the grain against a reciprocating knife. The grain fell onto a platform, where two men raked and bundled it together into sheaves. Eventually that process was mechanized as well and with the addition of a mechanical knotting device, it became a binder. A number of years later an Australian was able to put together the reaping and threshing components into a single machine, a combine. The term has stuck, even though on many Alberta farms, the reaping function may be done by a swather.

Please come back for part 2 tomorrow!

Aggie Days and Dairy Cattle accommodate special needs children

The 30th anniversary of Aggie Days has me reflecting on how much the Agriculture Education committee has accomplished throughout the years. I’d like to share a few of my top memories with you today.

First, let me introduce myself. I have been involved with Aggie Days almost from the very beginning. Although not actually on the Agriculture Education (Aggie Days) committee at the time, I was involved with the Dairy Committee and Aggie Days shared the barn with the Dairy Show. So in 1986, during the first Aggie Days, I helped bring in Jersey calves for the school program. I joined the Aggie Days committee shortly after that. I have been doing the cow milking demonstrations for many years with the help of my whole family.

One of my favorite memories of Aggie Days was when we invited Paul Brandt to come and sing for the special needs children as their lunch time entertainment. My daughter Danielle, who was 10 or 11 at the time, wrote him a letter asking him to come to Aggie Days as he was going to be in Calgary for a CBC televised concert in the Saddledome. She mentioned how much her younger brother Jeff loved dancing to his songs and that Jeff was developmentally handicapped and would be at Aggie Days. Paul’s manager contacted us and said that Paul would try to come and sing. Paul did come and sing for the kids in the Victoria Pavilion and the kids danced and clapped along. Paul also took some extra time to meet Jeff and Danielle and gave us tickets to his concert. It was truly a memorable experience!

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Children at Giddy-Up Aggie Days getting to know the dairy cattle inside the pen.

One of the best accomplishments with Aggie Days was getting special needs schools their own time at Aggie Days. My son Jeff attended a school program for special needs children and we invited them to come to Aggie Days. The handibus dropped the kids off at the barns about 45 minutes before the regular school buses arrived. Our exhibitors welcomed the wheelchairs into the pens with the animals, which let the kids come up close to touch, see and smell. Everyone really enjoyed the extra special time they spent showing these kids their exhibits and animals without a crowd. It was decided the following year to have Aggie Days Wednesday morning dedicated to the special needs schools and children. Now the Queens’ Alumni Giddy-Up Aggie Days for special needs children and their families is held on the Saturday of Aggie Days.

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My daughter, Danielle, introducing one of our Jersey cows to the kids during Giddy-Up Aggie Days.

Out of the cows that we brought to Aggie Days, one particularly memorable one was Bluebell the Jersey cow, who attended for at least 10 years. Bluebell was brown, with a few black highlights, but her most distinctive feature was a white heart on her face. She absolutely loved people she would have. Most of the time Bluebell’s pen would be open so the kids could go in and pat her. Quite often you would see her laying down, happily chewing her cud and surrounded by kids. Some would have their ear to her stomach listening for her baby, some would be laying on her and some would be hugging her.

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My daughter, Danielle, opening the pen so children in wheelchairs can touch, smell and feel the dairy cattle up close.

We would also take kids in wheel chairs in to see Bluebell and she was very still and patient so the kids were able to touch her.  She loved every minute of it. Every year in the barns, we would unload her and she would walk right into her pen. In the mornings she would be watching the entrance to the barns from the Victoria Pavilion, because that is where the kids came in. At home she would come to the gate of the corral when she saw the trailer that she rode in, and walk in without hesitation. Bluebell also came to Country Critters at Stampede time as part of Ag-tivity in the City for many years. She was such a special cow that kids would come back to visit her year after year. Bluebell’s legacy lives on as Bluebell, the hand milking cow, was named after her, (even though the plastic Bluebell is a Holstein).

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Bluebell, the plastic handmilking cow used for interactive learning displays. (Named after Bluebell the loveable Jersey cow.)

People of all ages should come to Aggie Days every year because the animals change from year to year, there are always a few new displays, and everyone can learn something each and every year. It is extremely important that everyone understands where their food comes from. Over the years, I have had people with young children come to Aggie Days and tell me that they watched me milk the cows when they were in school and now they are bringing their children to see it. It makes me feel old but proud that I have had such a part in teaching people about agriculture and specifically dairy cattle.

Aggie Days is open to the public on April 11-12 and takes place in the BMO Centre, Stampede Park.

Win a VIP Tour of Aggie Days!

It’s that time of year again—Aggie Days is getting close! Every year we host a family on a VIP behind the scenes tour with special accesses that only our VIP family gets to see! Last year’s family had a blast and we hope that you enter to win our giveaway to get the same experiences they did. The tour will be on Saturday April 11 and hosted by our volunteer, Teresa.

Enter To Win VIP Tour

Click here to enter

Good luck!

Supply Management – It’s A Good Thing

Today’s guest post is from Agatha Smykot. She is the Producer Services Administrator at the Egg Farmers of Alberta. She was born and raised in Edmonton and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from the University of Alberta. She has worked for a poultry processor and global animal health company and has a passion for agriculture and poultry production. Agatha is also an avid snowboarder, foodie, and indie music lover. She lives in Calgary with her boyfriend, their rambunctious dog, and a deaf cat. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

At the Egg Farmers of Alberta, I’m responsible for processing all quota transactions between registered egg producers in Alberta. It goes without saying that I have an intimate relationship with supply management. I believe in supply management, and I believe it benefits both consumers and producers.

First, let’s take a step back – what is supply management? Supply management is a uniquely Canadian system that balances demand and supply.

It operates on three pillars:

  1. Production discipline – the number of eggs produced matches demand to limit market fluctuations and maintain price stability
  2. Pricing mechanisms – ensures that Canadian egg producers receive a fair price for their products
  3. Import controls – borders are open to a predictable number of imported products

Supply management was first introduced in the late 1940’s, but it wasn’t fully implemented in the egg industry until 1967. For over four decades, producers have worked together to keep Canada’s egg industry stable and free of government subsidies. Canada’s egg industry is completely self-sufficient.

Supply management is good for consumers, because it ensures that consumers have access to fresh, locally-produced eggs and egg products. When you purchase eggs at the grocery store, you’re directly supporting a local farmer. If you ask me, that’s great news!

Supply management encourages producers to invest back into their farms. For example, a producer can suspend production for one year to build a new barn – producers earn quota credits and increase production for subsequent cycles to make up for lost time. This and other programs encourage producers to make continuous improvements to animal health and welfare. Alberta is a leader in this regard. In fact, a producer in Alberta was the first producer to install an enriched/furnished housing system in Canada, and one of our producers won the inaugural Canadian Poultry Sustainability Award.



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Alberta Chicken Producers – Who Are We?

Today’s guest post is from the Alberta Chicken Producers. Who are they? Read on to find out and you can follow them on Facebook and Twitter.


Alberta Chicken Producers is a provincial ‘farmer-run’ organization, representing our 245 registered chicken farmers in Alberta. Our chickens are raised for meat consumption.
Our farmers are local families who are passionately committed to providing consumers with safe, high quality, locally produced chicken, raised under the highest standards of animal care and food safety.

  • 100% of chicken farmers in Alberta are certified under national Animal Care and On-Farm Food Safety Assurance Programs as a condition of their licenses to market chicken.
  • Our farms are audited and certified annually by a third party auditors.
  • Our farms are 100% family owned and operated
  • By looking for the “Raised by a Canadian Farmer” label in your grocery store, you know you are getting fresh chicken. In fact, the majority of fresh chicken sold in Alberta was raised in Alberta.


Our industry is growing sustainably.

  • Our 245 farms produce over 128 million kg live weight of chicken annually, with a farm gate value of over $203 million. All of this is accomplished without subsidies or taxpayer dollars.
  • 69% of Alberta’s Chicken farmers are between the ages of 18 and 49. In 2013, Alberta saw 9 new entrants into the chicken industry.
  • Our unique combination of youth and experience has cemented our place in Alberta’s dynamic economic environment for years to come.

We place high value on the partnerships that define our industry.

  • We are part of a community, an integrated value chain, working closely with hatcheries, processors, feed companies, researchers, and agriculture boards at the provincial and national level.


Alberta Chicken Producers values our relationships with industry stakeholders, as exemplified by the Shared Industry Vision:

“To continue to grow, be profitable, and satisfy consumers by providing safe, high quality chicken products.”

In support of this Shared Industry Vision, Alberta Chicken Producer’s Mission is:

“To serve our producers by collaboratively providing an environment for profitable chicken production and encouraging a competitive, consumer-focused chicken industry.”

Our booth will be operated by the best experts in the chicken industry….our farmers!! We will have baby chicks, a chicken barn display unit and plenty of give-aways. Our farmers look forward to answering any of your questions.


Chicken is the most popular protein in Canada, and we look forward to sharing our story!

Horsemanship at the heart of Aggie Days Extreme Cowboy Race

The Calgary Stampede is excited to be hosting an Aggie Days Extreme Cowboy Race on Sunday, April 12.  The race, which is a multi-faceted equestrian sporting event that showcases both horse and rider as they maneuver through a series of obstacles, shows amazing horsemanship and incredible speed. The event coincides with Aggie Days, an exhibit-style event geared to help youth learn about agriculture.

David Cowley, an extreme cowboy competitor, is eagerly waiting for this spring’s competition. “[The race] is a lot of fun,” he says, “and having a competition that focuses on the trust and relationship between horse and rider is great.” His first extreme cowboy race was in 2010 during Stampede time at the Cowboy Up Challenge and he has been a competitor in the Aggie Days Extreme Cowboy Race since last year.


Cowley adding a little extra flair to the competition by standing on his horse to rope the dummy at last year’s Cowboy Up Challenge during Stampede time

Cowley is well-known in Calgary for bringing his horse to the top of the Calgary Tower during Stampede time. “There’s nothing better than seeing peoples’ faces when I walk out of the elevator at the top with my horse,” he says with a laugh. Cowley has trained and taken six different horses up the tower over the past 15 years. This year, he will be bringing Tucker, a palomino quarter horse. Cowley appreciates the opportunity to promote the Stampede and western hospitality. “People don’t often understand how strong the bond can be between horse and rider,” Cowley says.


Cowley crouching on the glass floor at the top of the Calgary Tower with his horse Tucker

Training a horse to feel confident and comfortable enough to ride the elevator all the way up the Calgary Tower, then walk around and take photos with guests, is a big task and requires a strong bond between horse and rider. Cowley loves strengthening this bond and is thrilled to participate in a competition that focuses on this trust.

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Aggie Days then and now

Aggie Days, taking place from April 8 – 12 at Stampede Park, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. This educational program, which features displays, exhibits, animals and more, has grown significantly over the years.

In 1986, the first Aggie Days program was created for school children to experience agriculture up-close and learn where their food comes from. Aggie Days took place in a small part of the Agriculture Barns and featured a few exhibits and animals, mainly dairy cattle. The school classes were accompanied by a tour guide that took them through the exhibits, through the show cattle at the dairy classic, and made sure the students arrives at their scheduled demos on time.

In the years following, the Aggie Days team added to the animal experience by providing sheep shearing, cow milking demonstrations and wagon rides pulled by heavy horse teams. The experience of what life is like on a farm was beginning to round out. All of the demonstrations showcased the importance of agriculture and the various types of agricultural roles that shape our world.

Aggie Days’ success thrived; the classes returned, year after year, and the committee was eager to exceed their expectations. The interest youth had in agriculture was a driving force to heighten their Aggie Days experiences; even more exhibits were added. Cattle presentations, rope making demonstrations, butter making, wheat grinding and bread making were new highlights of Aggie Days. At this time, Aggie Days grew to occupy half of the Agriculture Barns and expanded into the Victoria Pavilion, which was used for the cow milking and sheep shearing demonstrations, and the noon hour entertainment.

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Aggie Days dairy exhibit in the Agriculture Barns 1993

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Agriculture in the Classroom

We are excited to have a new guest post on our blog today, especially because Aggie Days is all about teaching school kids about agriculture. Allison Ammeter is a grain farmer and Director with Alberta Pulse Growers.  Alongside her husband of 28 years, Michael, Allison operates a third-generation grain farm southwest of Sylvan Lake, Alberta. The Ammeters crop approximately 2,000 acres in a rotation of canola, wheat, barley, and peas, with occasional oats or hay in the mix, practicing minimum tillage and using variable rate seeding technology. Based in agricultural zone 2/3, with grey wooded soil, the farm experiences an extremely short growing season every year by North American standards. You can follow Allison on Twitter.

I was asked to write a blog post for Aggie Days about Agriculture in the Classroom, and my first thought was that of course I’d like to promote Ag in the Classroom, it’s an amazing program, but these readers would know all about it, right?  I mean, these are people who organize another amazing program, Aggie Days. My second thought was that maybe people reading this blog would just like to know what is being taught their children in school. I’m writing this for that second group. I’m a farmer – 100% of my yearly income comes from growing crops, and I’ve lived on a farm all but about 5 years of my life (single female years). I absolutely love agriculture and Canada’s ability to feed not only so many Canadians, but also so much of the hungry world. When I realized there was an opportunity to tell my story to 10 year olds who likely knew very little about the agriculture around them, I jumped at it. That is how I got involved in Ag in the Classroom.

The Classroom Agriculture Program (CAP) was started by Vickie King, a member of the Alberta Women in Support of Agriculture, with funds from the Alberta Cattle Commission. I got involved in 1987, was set to teach in a local school, and was given curriculum that told all about raising cattle and all the various consumer products that eventually come from the animal. I couldn’t do it – I felt like as a grain farmer, I was really not speaking about anything I knew, so I backed out. Flash forward 25 years, and I find out that CAP is now supported by the Alberta Beef producers, but also the Barley Commission, Canola Producers Commission, Chicken Producers, Egg Producers, Pulse Growers Commission, Veterinary Assoc, Irrigation Assocs, Olds College, and Agrium. Farmers of all types are encouraged to speak to children about what they, as producers, know and understand. I’m back in!

Classroom Agriculture Program
CAP’s mission is to provide students with quality, comprehensive agriculture learning experiences that lead to a greater understanding and support for the agriculture industry in Alberta. It is presented to Grade 4 students across Alberta at no charge. Volunteers deliver the program story-telling, engaging props and fun activities, and leave behind fun student booklets for the children to learn more about each of the main agricultural products in Alberta.

When I go into a classroom, I am prepared to talk to the kids about crops in our area, because that is what I know. When a chicken farmer goes in – they talk about raising poultry. When a vet goes in, they talk about their work. That’s the beauty of the program, the children (and their teachers) learn about agriculture from people who are doing it and loving it. So, what do I do when I go in? I take shoe boxes full of samples of all the main crops grown in Alberta – wheat, barley, oats, canola, peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas. As I’m passing them around, I ask the kids what they had for lunch, and point out what they ate that is made from what I grow (always enlightening for them). I give each of the kids a small handful of wheat for them to “make wheat gum, just like a farm kid”. I get one of them to grind wheat for me (with a portable hand grinder), to show them how flour is made. I roll out canola and show them the oil and the meal, explaining its use and purpose. I take hummus and show them the chickpeas it started as. I narrate a YouTube video from a friend’s farm of the growing season, answering questions as it plays.

Above all, I spend the hour interacting with the class (teacher included), answering any and all questions that are thrown at me.  My goal is to be a link between them and agriculture, and I always leave my contact information, telling them I’m available any time they have any questions or need any information. So much of Alberta’s population is no longer directly connected to our critical industry of agriculture, and I truly want to be a resource in my community for the teachers!

Alberta Farm Animal Care

Today’s blog post is written by Kristen Mortensen of Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC). You can follow them on Facebook and on Twitter.

Who are we?

Twenty-two years ago, Alberta Farm Animal Care was started by a livestock industry that recognized the need for moral consideration of farm animals in our care and, thus, is thoroughly grounded on ethical principles. We continue this tradition today by making animal welfare our main business as we develop into the collective voice of the livestock industry on matters of livestock care.

The value of AFAC lies in the focus on farm animals. Our staff have specialized in animal welfare and are skilled at understanding animal behavior, being able to interpret research, and providing expertise to our members on animal care or welfare issues/concerns.

So what are a few things that we have we been up to lately?

Well, coming up we have our annual Livestock Care Conference where members of the industry, researchers, students, government, and the public come together to address challenges and issues facing the livestock industry today. This year’s conference includes topics on social media, understanding animal welfare and consumer perceptions, and a cattle handling and body condition scoring workshop!

ALERT Line – A confidential call line for anyone to report livestock care concerns. We have a Resource Team that includes farmers and other rural community members who offer solutions to improve livestock care. As well we work with rural veterinarians, the Alberta SPCA and RCMP. The number is 1-800-506-2273.

So come by our booth and say hi! We have resources for kids, adults, and teachers on livestock welfare and care and are always happy to answer any questions!

AFAC Nenshi

Kristen Mortensen and Kristen Hall with Mayor Nenshi at Aggie Days 2014

The Importance of Irrigation in Alberta

Patrick FabianToday’s post is from Patrick Fabian. Patrick is a first-generation pedigreed seed producer who farms in Tilley, Alberta with his wife Brenda. He has a passion for agriculture, and realizes the importance of sending the right message to consumers how their food is produced in a safe, efficient manner. His experience as a food
producer for 29 years gives him the background to speak to a number of issues, as well as clarifying misconceptions about food production that are spread via social media. You can follow him on Twitter and visit Fabian Seed Farms.


With all the interest and concern about the environment, changing climate, the food we eat and how it is grown, there is one component that is often overlooked—the importance of irrigation in Alberta for the production of that food. It started back at the turn of the last century, when irrigation in Alberta was created by the Canadian Pacific Railway when they were constructing a railway line that would link all provinces from coast to coast.

There are many reasons irrigation is important. 40% of all food produced world-wide is produced on irrigation. In Alberta more specifically, almost 35 percent of the of the province’s gross domestic product in processing industries is directly tied to irrigated production. 20% of agricultural production is produced on irrigation, yet irrigated acres only account for 4% of the farmed acres. This will become more important as the farmer is called on to triple food production by 2050 to feed 9 billion people. This will be even more important as climate change affects us. The land form will remain the same, but the
presence of irrigation will ensure adaptability for growing crops for decades to come. This should enhance everyone’s level of comfort for food security more so than any other factor of agriculture present today.

For farmers, irrigation gives stability to control the most important factor in food production: water for the growing crops. It also provides flexibility—to be able to grow crops that are not possible without it. In Alberta, there are 45 different crops that are grown on irrigation, yet without only 10 different crops could be grown in the native climate we live in. So that speaks to the diversity of industries and employment that have been created and are directly attributed to irrigation, which impacts those who are not involved directly by agriculture, yet make their livelihoods as a result of it.

Irrigation Equipment

Aside from agriculture, there are other benefits to irrigation in Alberta. With the habitat for migratory birds being eroded due to city developments and other commercialized land uses, the creating of natural habitat through constructed wetlands (in excess of 89,000 acres) on reservoirs and lakes contributes immensely to the preservation and enhancement of balance to our ecosystem. Following that through, this opens doors to recreation areas that result from that healthy enhanced natural ecosystem; fishing from lakes, reservoirs and canals as well as camping, boating and water skiing to name a few. Have you ever been to Chestermere Lake, Lake Newell or Lake McGregor? If so, you too have enjoyed the benefits of irrigation in Alberta.

But what about “preserving our water”? After all, what happens when the glaciers are no longer feeding the major rivers like the Bow that runs through Calgary? Won’t we run out of water? After all, the major cities depend on that water. The truth is, glacier melt only comprises 1% of the river flow and supply. The majority of the water that comprises our rivers is predominantly fed by way of snow melt and rainfall. Rest assured, with the technological advancements of agriculture, we are irrigating the same acres on 2.5 times less water than was used 50 years ago! Thanks to irrigation, your food supply will be assured for generations to come.

What Do Cows Eat in the Winter?

Jill BurkhardtToday we have another guest post from farmer Jill Burkhardt of Crooked Lake Farms near Edmonton, where she and her husband are 5th generation farmers raising Angus-cross cattle on grass land with their two children. You can follow Jill on Twitter and their farm on Facebook. Jill previously wrote on how to help cows in the cold weather and cows in the heat.

What Do Cows Eat in the Winter

With a foot of snow on the ground and temperatures below zero, many people often ask, what do cows eat in the winter?  The simple answer is hay.

Most people are familiar the a cows diet in the summer, acres and acres of lush green grass. But what is hay? Hay is the staple forage in most cattle operations. Hay is forage (grass and alfalfa) that has been cut, dried, and made into bales.  It would be similar to us eating dried fruit, for example.  Putting up forage in this manner, a producer can store a nutritious feed source for the animals to eat during the cold winter months.

On our farm, feeding the cows in the winter starts way back in June.  This is when we start getting the equipment ready to make hay.  Before the haymaking begins, all the blades need to be changed on the disc-bine cutter.  The oil needs to be changed the the tractor.  Belts and chains need to be checked and adjusted on the baler.

Discbine cutting hay

Usually toward the first week of July, the alfalfa and grass is getting close, and we begin watching the weather forecast.  Once we begin to cut the alfalfa and grass for hay we do not want any rain on it.  Rain causes the cut forage to slowly rot, having the potential of destroying the nutritional value of the hay, once it is baled.  As we hope and pray for no rain, the cut alfalfa lays in swaths in the field, drying.  Once the swaths look and feel dry, we get out the hay rake and give the hay a turn.  This helps it to dry evenly.  Once the swaths are dry, we get the round baler out and bale up the dried alfalfa and grass into hay bales.  This process is again repeated at the middle to end of August for our area.

Once the hay is baled, we haul the hay home and stack it in our bale yard.  This is where the hay is stored until it is used to feed the cows in the winter.  We do not want to leave the hay bales in the field too long, because just like object left in your lawn, the vegetative life under the bales cannot get any sunlight, and therefore dies.

Tractor and Baler

Tractor and Baler

When the bales are all at home and we are done haying, we test the bales to see their nutritive values.  This is done by using a bale corer, a tool that you push in to the centre or core of the bale to get a small sample.  We randomly test all the bales, separating them by field or the time they were cut.  The sample is sent away to a lab where they test for nutrients, minerals, vitamins, digestive ability, and protein, for example.  We receive a printout back that is similar to the labels we see on our food.  From this information, we decide when we feed certain bales, how many bales need to be fed to the cows, if we have to add any supplements in the form of whole grains to their diet, and what other minerals and vitamins we have to add to make a balanced ration to help the cows maintain their weight and if bred, carry a healthy calf to term, through the winter.

Hay Rake

In addition to hay all cows our our area need a salt supplement.  We have large metal tubs that we set out all year that contains salt that is supplemented with selenium, trace minerals, Vitamins A, D and E.  Just like vitamins help us maintain our health, this mix keeps our cattle healthy.

Cows Eating Hay Bale

Happy, healthy cows is very important to producers.  Putting up hay for use in the winter is one way we keep our cows fed and healthy, especially in the cold.

What’s Going on With Canadian Honeybees?

Lee TownsendToday’s guest post is from Lee Townsend. Lee is a second generation commercial beekeeper from Stony Plain, Alberta. Alongside his father, he operates 3100 honeybee colonies for honey production. His business has expanded consistently for the past 30 years, and has also been strictly exporting all their honey to the Asian marketplace since 2009. Lee has served on numerous agricultural based boards, most notably 7 years on the Alberta Beekeepers Commission board and 3 years on the Canadian Honey Council board. He has a new blog called Alberta Buzzing and you can follow him on Twitter.

When I was asked to write this for Aggie Days, I wasn’t sure where exactly to start.  There has been a great deal of misinformation about the Canadian and world honeybee industry spread by both the media and certain beekeeping associations. While it’s challenging for us as an industry to dissect it all and separate the truth from the lies, I can’t imagine what it’s like for the general public when they hear this conflicting information. I’ll take this opportunity to try and do my best at sorting through it for you.

The Canadian honeybee industry is thriving, that is a fact. Do we have our fair share of challenges before us? Of course, but that’s true within any form of agriculture. Despite these challenges the number of beekeepers and honeybee colonies has increased substantially in Canada over the past decade. In 2004 there were 7,925 beekeepers operating 597,890 colonies within Canada. As of 2014, those numbers had increased to 8,777 beekeepers and 694,217 colonies. Why is that?

Before I go further, there needs to be a brief history lesson of the Canadian beekeeping industry. The honeybee used in Canada (Apis Mellifera) is not native to Canada. It was introduced to Canada from Europe in 1776, with that introduction taking place in Ontario.  The honeybee was then further introduced to the rest of Canada over the next century.  By 1927, the honeybee was introduced to every province in Canada, and during both World Wars the number of hives continued to grow in part due to the sugar rations in Canada at that time. In fact, you can trace the history of many Canadian beekeeping businesses back to the great wars.

As time went by and the industry continued to grow, the realization that Canadian winters weren’t kind to honeybees became very apparent. Beekeepers were having varying levels of success with overwinter of honeybees, but the practice of importing honeybees from the USA became a vital part of most beekeeping operations. The importation of packages was more prevalent on the Canadian prairies, but it happened across the country.  This lasted until late 1987, when the USA border to package bees was shut down. It was closed for a number of reasons, but the main reason was to slow the introduction of various pests (parasitic mites) and diseases (American Foulbrood) into Canada.Lees Bees

When the USA border closed to package bees, many beekeeping operations went out of business. The overwintering of honeybees had become somewhat of a lost art, and to this day it is still a challenge for Canadian beekeepers. But there are many of us that have learned how to be successful with overwintering colonies since 1987, and that’s evident by the fact the Canadian honeybee industry has never been bigger than it was in 2014.

Beekeeping today is a never ending challenge, but it isn’t a doomed industry. One of the main reasons for the success of the industry, specifically on the prairies, is due to the strong relationships beekeepers have with farmers and the biotechnology industry.  Seed companies and farmers depend on honeybees for the pollination of crops such as Canola. Beekeepers depend on farmers for the crops we produce honey from and we depend on the pollination contracts we receive from the seed companies. Beekeepers also depend on biotechnology for many of the hive health products we use to defend our bees from the multitude of pests and disease our bees suffer from. Without this symbiotic relationship you would see far fewer honeybee colonies in Canada. Ask any successful beekeeper in Canada and they will tell you a similar story. Ask most unsuccessful beekeepers the same questions and you’ll get back a multitude of excuses with no concrete evidence to back it up. Like most industries in agriculture, they generally had to lose a few members in order to get better. The beekeeping industry is still going through that process, but it’s slowly improving.

Live, Eat and Breathe Farming!

Matt Gosling

Today’s blog post is written by Matt Gosling. Matt is an agronomist and farmer near the Strathmore area. You can follow Matt on Twitter and learn more about his business Premium Ag.

Live, eat and breathe farming! That’s what I do and I feel completely blessed to love agriculture so much. Farming has always been part of my DNA. I grew up admiring my grandfather who was a farmer his whole life. He was second generation after his parents immigrated from Poland in the early 1900’s. After 3 years of crop failures in Jenner, they were inspired to move West, ending up NW of Strathmore. As a child, my fondest memories are riding on the combine picking up canola.

Unfortunately my grandfather had health issues in the early 80’s forcing him to sell off a lot of the farm. We ended up moving to the farm in 1991 where my step-dad Dave Gosling sparked my interest in 4-H, raising Limousin cattle, and being involved in ag youth programs. My 4-H career lasted 9 years and after graduating high-school in Strathmore I immediately enrolled in the Agriculture Sciences program at the University of Alberta.  A 4-H friend recommended me to join FarmHouse fraternity which I did my first day on campus, as well as the Ag Club.

It was pretty easy to realize that I wasn’t going to have a career farming, so I embraced my university career. Not so much in the academics, but by being involved and meeting some of the best friends that I still have today. I’ve always loved all aspects of farming, but my first instincts were to be in animal science. At the time, there weren’t many job opportunities in that industry, so the plant side of the business is where my compass pointed.

Premium Ag

After receiving my BSc in Agriculture Science, I lasted less than 2 years in the corporate world realizing my ambitions were to own my own business. I quickly found Agri-Trend and they had everything I needed to start my business and Premium Ag was born.  March 15th 2004 I held my launch meeting and there’s been no looking back. In 2009, I sold half the business to Andrew Clements to accommodate more growth and a higher level of service, and that match has been nothing but a miracle for Premium Ag and we’ve grown over the last 11 crops to offer many more services outside of agronomy.

Philanthropy has been a big part of my life through 4-H, FarmHouse, and now being a LIONS member. With the Cheadle LIONS club, I’ve helped coordinate as much as $2 million towards the Canadian Foodgrains Bank growing projects.

The dream of owning my own farm was accomplished on September 30th, 2010 where my wife Marissa and I are raising our young family. Just south of Strathmore I get to practice what I preach on 80 acres of crop land, with 30 acres of that being irrigated. We’re also extremely proud to farm 80 acre that my grandparents farmed as well. Frequently we have family and friends out to help with the farm and our intensive gardening habit. As I say, “I was born, raised, and will someday retire in farming around Strathmore”.

A Family Farm’s Growing Season

One of the ways that my family agvocates is by sharing our family farm’s growing season in an annual video. My husband Jay works hard to film on his GoPro Hero 3+ cameras and his DJI Phantom drone for 7 months of the year: from seeding in the spring, to harvest in the fall. We farm approximately 6000 acres of wheat, canola and yellow peas east of Calgary in Wheatland County. We hope you enjoy our 2014 growing season video and please share!