I have vague memories as a child of the farm that my grandparents owned in rural Ontario. They had dairy cows, pigs and several chickens on the farm. My dad was the oldest of five children. When my grandpa was diagnosed with Leukemia in the early 90’s the family made a hard decision to sell the land and farm that had been the center of their lives for years and make the move closer to town. My dad always kept his love for the farm life, and instilled that upon me at a young age. He would help out friends every Spring with planting and Fall for harvest. That meant afternoon tractor rides and rides in the big combines for me. It meant afternoons spent with the kids out in the hay mows, or chasing the goats around the barns. I always wished I had been a farm kid. My dream was to one day make sure that I could give that lifestyle to my children. That someday my children would grow up to appreciate the hard work and sacrifice that went along with farming.
Throughout the years I have worked at different farms, with different animals and in different settings, including vet clinics. It wasn’t until last Spring when my boyfriend invited me to come live with him that the country life really began for me. I moved six hours north from my apartment in Lethbridge, where I had been staying and working at a tractor dealership (once again trying to fill the farming void in my life), to 160 acres of land in Central Alberta, two hours West of Edmonton.
This past year has been an eye opener for me, in both the good and the bad, as to how country life is. Although we are just getting started with our farm, there is lots that has been learned. I know one day this land we own and this land we have worked so hard on, will be what teaches our children the life lessons that are most important. I know I have been learning lots!
Anyone can find the dirt in someone.
While some will cast judgement that perhaps I was given this property and this life without having to work for it, that I just got to step right into this life, there were sacrifices made. When I moved from the city, I had to say goodbye to my feline friend and watch him go back to the shelter I had rescued him from. I had to say goodbye to a job I loved with amazing coworkers that were more like friends and family to me. I had to move to a place where I knew no one, where I would have to try and make new friends and where, in a time of economic downfall, I would have to find a new job.
I was lucky that at the time, Dan was at a place where he could support me while I set out on all these new ventures in my new home. I was able to get settled in and get a hold of my new surroundings. And while I didn’t find a job right away, I wasn’t a big investment either. I had my own vehicle that was bought and paid for, I came with no credit card debts and I like to think I am relatively low maintenance in day to day life. We were able to get started at creating the life we both were wanting.
You don’t get anything you don’t work hard for.
Projects done on the farm here are done as a team. If I want something, then I have to help out to make it a reality. When we decided that we wanted to have animals, Dan was not going to just build me a chicken coop. We spent weeks, in the evenings and on our weekends, putting together the coop of my dreams. It was an experience, a way to really get to know a person, but we survived and it only made us stronger. And when it came time for another animal dream of mine to come true, I was there every step of the way to build the pig house I wanted.
The vegetable garden I wanted to plant so bad, also had a lot of hard work and sweat put into. Afternoons of shoveling top soil, sand and peat moss. Days of weeding and digging and tending. Then came the raised beds, measuring and cutting rail road ties, lining them up, drilling them in. Nothing in our yard came from sitting on your butt and wishing away the day.
Don’t dig up in doubt, what you planted in faith.
Life doesn’t always go the way you want it to or had it planned. Last year we had a bumper crop in our vegetable garden. It was weeded to perfection and the plants were proliferating. This year, our garden is a little sad. While we still have lots of growth and while we will still be able to enjoy the fruits of our labour, it will be no where near what it was last year. You cant control the weather. You cant predict how much rain you will get, how hot the days will be or that random frost that will hit after everything is in bloom. What you can do is appreciate what you are given. Learn to accept what you have and use that to better yourself in the years to come.
Patience really is a virtue.
In life, just because you want something doesn’t mean you are going to get it right away. If you plant seeds in the ground, they will not sprout the next day no matter how much you water them or how much sunlight you provided. They require time to grow and break free of the soil.
Waiting for the first eggs from our chickens felt like forever. I was having my doubts. Were we doing it right? Were we feeding them right? And then one morning we woke up and, Voila, our first egg. The best things in life take time. And when they are meant to happen, they will happen.
Always keep the gates closed.
This is the one lesson that is going to stick with me now for a very long time, and I am sure will be a mistake I will not make again, no matter what species of animal may be living within. We have 3 little pot belly pigs with us now, living in their own little enclosure with a gate and chain holding them in. It would seem as though yesterday someone ( we won’t point any fingers because let’s be honest it was me) left the gate unchained. I am in the chicken enclosure checking in on everyone and turn around to find pigs right outside enjoying the lawn! Rounding up three pigs, with two very excited dogs, is not an easy task.
Lots of apple treats, a few bowl fulls of their pellets and an exhausted and sweaty me later, everybody had found their place back in the pen. Not before we had made a couple of rounds of the pens, decided to check out the feed shed and the area where the trailers are all parked. Thank heavens nobody headed for the bush and we have fence around the 16 acres at the house. I am now checking and double checking the chain any time I am in or out of the pig pen!
In a world where you can be anything, be kind.
Raising animals, I have learned, is not for the faint of heart or those weak in the stomach. It has taught me a lot about patience, about staying calm and collected and about showing compassion. I am one who tends to get worked up a little more easily. I can be excitable, I can jump to conclusions and I can be pessimistic. When dealing with farm animals, you have to be tough and you have to be collected.
There are days when you come home to an injured chicken who was in a rooster fight. You clean him up best you can, and if you must, you find him a new home where he wont be picked on. We had to say goodbye to our Albert for this exact reason. While he was a bit of a jerk, he had a special place here because he was our first rooster and one of the first chickens we purchased last summer. But we couldn’t have him picked on and I didn’t want to come home to find him dead one day. So he found a new lovely home.
There will be nights when you do bed time checks and find that one of your pigs is limping funny on a front leg. You’ll spend hours wondering what to do, what could be wrong. You’ll resort to Google and regret that decision. And eventually you will call the Vet to set your mind at ease and get some rest for the evening.
You do all of this because of your love for animals, and for the compassion and care you want to provide for them. Because they give back to you and shouldn’t they at least have that respect.
Loading more than a washer and dryer.
Moving to the country meant there was now a risk for wildlife that I had never had to encounter before in my life. Cougars and bears could be a real threat, not just something to stop and take a picture of on the side of the road anymore. They weren’t only threatening to me either. We had chickens now, pigs to protect and our two beautiful farm dogs who I know would hold their own. But who wants to take that chance?
I had never had anything to do with guns. I didn’t know the first thing about loading one, let alone shooting one. But Dan was a great teacher. I also decided it would be in my best interest to take a gun safety course as well and get my firearms license. You can never be too safe when it comes to firearms.
This past Fall, I took my knowledge of rifles with me out to the bush and decided to try my hand at hunting off the land. I landed my first buck. As exhilarating as it was, I had utmost respect for this beautiful creature who’s life I had taken with my own hands. We butchered that deer, used every part we could and fed the rest to the dogs. The meat lasted us all winter long, and it gave me a new appreciation for survival and for providing for myself and a family.
Keep close to nature’s heart.
There is so much beauty in the wild and the quiet if you are willing to stop and listen and take it all in. I feel blessed every time I walk out our back door and I get to stare out across the land that we call our own. How neat is it that you can spot a deer off in the distance from your back deck? Or catch a moose travelling across your path in the bush?
How beautiful it is to watch the sun set across the forest tree tops, listen to the days noise turn to nightfall murmurings. To catch a ruffled grouse sprinting across your driveway, or come across a baby rabbit on your morning walks. In the dead of winter to actually hear the snow flakes hitting the ground, catching every footstep or bird call with it.
Be humble in the good times, and strong during the bad.
I am so thankful to have taken the dive off into the unknown and accepted the chance to move here with Dan. Throughout the past year we have worked at making this place our home instead of just a house. It is filled with love, with hard work, with determination and a hope for the future. And though this new year has brought with it its own challenges and defeats, we are working together as a team to see it through. We will not let it get the best of us. We will wake up each morning, thankful for the roof we have over our heads, the food that we can put on the table and the love that we have that holds us together.
The importance of having a good man in your life.
Some people will search their whole lives to find what I have found with Dan. To find someone who understands you is gold. To find someone who understands you and still puts up with you is what true love really is. We are living real life. We are normal people. We have our moments. We have our days. But at the end of it all, we always have each other. He is my rock when I need support. He is my calm when I am flying of the handle with worry and stress. He is my voice of reason when I cant think straight.
He is the one who had given wings to so many of my dreams. He is the one who makes it all possible. Who works with me to make it happen. His little notes hidden around the house, in my lunch bag and in my car are what keep me going some days. The way he treats our animals, even when he is trying to be mister tough guys, melts my heart. It makes me excited for the day I can watch him with our children, showing them all about life. It makes me confident they will grow up to be good people, because they have a good man to guide them. It makes me excited for our future. And it makes me have faith in all that we are doing with our lives.
Every day I count myself blessed to hold this kind of man’s hand in mine.