NZFarmer : January 19th 2010
11 Straight Furrow • January 19, 2010 NewsWeek ALOVE of life, adventure and challenge led Wairarapa farmers Hugh and Dianne Maxwell half way around the world to a remote part of Canada and a lifestyle far removed from what they were used to. Two years ago Hugh and Dianne, who admit to always thinking outside the square, chanced upon a small, two-line advertisement in a newsletter. Someone was looking for a cou- ple of "young guys" wanting to dotheirbigOEonafarmin Canada. The contact was a local farmer who was acting on behalf of the owners. Although, not "young guys", after much discus- sion Hugh made contact and expressed their interest which ultimately saw them heading to Stockholm in Saskatchewan, Canada on a six-month place- ment. "Our job was to set up and use our knowledge of grass manage- ment," said Hugh. Situated in western Canada, Stockholm is a small town with a bank, a co-op and a population of a few hundred people who Dianne describes as "incredible". The region has always been a cropping area until recently when land had been bought and developed for stock. This was the case with the property Hugh and Dianne were about to work on. Owned by three partners, based in Alberta, the property was divided into two ranches: the Dubuc Ranch and the Main Ranch. The sheer size of the properties which ran 7000 stock units was one of the things the couple found hardest to "get their heads around." To grasp an idea of the size it is perhaps advisable to first give a breakdown of how the land was measured and the terms used. When settlers arrived in Canada many years ago they were given a section. Sections were divided into quarters with each quarter being 64ha, making a section 258ha. This was something Hugh and Dianne did not understand themselves until they arrived there. The property they were to work on for the next six months wasmadeupofatotalof89 quarters, or nearly 6000ha -- mas- sive when compared with the couple's 80ha farm in the Wairarapa. Stock was divided into mobs, six at the Main Ranch totalling 5300 and 1700 heifers in two mobs at the smaller Dubec ranch. "Stock was brought in as wean- ers, they came to us in a weight range of light, medium and heavy and we set them up in roughly 1000 head cells and worked out where we were putting them. Like any farm some parts grew more grass than others," said Hugh. "The first year we were there, other people managed the prop- erty and it got away on them, so we tried to set something in place. It was not as easy as here and we learnt a lot ourselves. "The thing we had to get our head around was there is only 100 days of growing and of that probably only 70 days of really good growth, the rest is coming on and tapering off. Here we just keep growing grass whereas there you have to always plan ahead and be really conscious of the weather. "You have to grow enough to feed the stock and also to make sure you have enough to feed out as supplement feed in the winter. We were told for every quarter that you graze you need to have another quarter to top your win- ter supplement off. "The ranch we worked on only did summer grasses for six months so the cattle came on in May and went to the end of September/early October. So they worked on 120 days on grass then went back to the feed- lot for another 100 days on grain, which is what gave the meat the marbling. "They didn't do rotational grazing so part of the reason for us going out there was to intro- duce some of the New Zealand ways of farming. They had the idea to do it but what they had done was just moved stock onto 64ha and electric wired it. Then they were trying to move a mob of 700 steers underneath the hotwire after teaching them don't go near, on one occasion seven cowboys on horseback took five hours to move the stock under the wire. Introducing tape gates helped solve that problem." Last year, when Hugh and Dianne went back to Stockholm to manage the properties they decided it would be their final visit. "We had achieved what we wanted to achieve, introduced systems and increased stock weight gains. In our first year there we thought the weight gains were very mediocre. Heifers were gaining about 0.4kg per day and the steers were gain- ing about 0.8kg -- less than a kilo per day. So this year we had a goal in mind to put on 680,000kg over the total number of animals and this we achieved. The heifers gained 0.8kg per day and the steers 1.08kg, which gave us a total of 707,000kg." Both Hugh and Dianne admit they will miss going back this year and especially the friends they made. The land where the temperature in winter drops to minus 45 deg C and is so flat, locals say "you can see your dog running away for three days", will always hold some very spe- cial memories for them both. However, for the moment both Hugh and Dianne are happy back on their farm near Masterton. "The first year we were away our son looked after our property and this year our daughter and her fiancé took over," said Dianne. "Now when people say, when are you going away again, we say we have run out of kids." firstname.lastname@example.org Farming in minus 45 deg C in Canada holds special memories for Masterton couple The Saskatchewan experience by Barbara Gillham Hugh and Dianne Maxwell say they will miss going back to Skockholm, in Saskatchewan this year. Above: The "Elkford Stampede". Right: An old, abandoned farmhouse on the property. Below: Cattle mustering.
January 27th 2010