HELPING – like a ranch hand

Cows and pigs and a garden – oh my.

Yes, this is my life (at least for a couple of weeks). I am participating in a work exchange on the 144 Milehouse Ranch up near William’s Lake, BC in Canada. I am staying at the home of a lovely couple who, in exchange for a helping hand around the ranch, provide me with room and board. In all honesty they are providing me with so much more than that – great conversation, years of wisdom, an amazing experience, a very comfortable bed and room, and the most delicious and nutritious food. I couldn’t be happier with my first Workaway experience, this is definitely what I had hoped for.

I arrived on Tuesday evening and began work bright and early on Wednesday morning.  I work most of the day on various tasks, mostly outdoor, with breaks here and there for meals and the occasional trip down to the creek to cool off. Some of the work is rather easy, and some of it is fairly back breaking, but all of it is new to me and I am happy to do it.

It is so refreshing to be out here in the country. It is amazing how much open space there is – rolling hills, meadows, pastures, bunches of forest, and multitudes of lakes, ponds, and streams.  Even though it is right off of a fairly major highway (for these parts), it is amazingly quiet and peaceful. The nearest town (a gas station and a few shops) is about 6 miles away and William’s Lake is about 10 miles further.

I think the extent to which I have any balance at all, any mental balance, is because of being a farm kid and being raised in those isolated rural areas. – James Earl Jones

Herding the cows…

They raise all natural, hormone and antibiotic free, grass fed beef here. The cows pretty much take care of themselves – it is the fields that the ranchers mainly have to worry about. They use portable electric fences to allow the cows to graze certain areas of the pastures for a couple days at a time. It takes a lot of know how to judge the right size area and length of time for each move. You have to take into account the density and variety of grasses and legumes in the area and what the optimal stage of growth is and how much regrowth will occur if grazed to a certain level. I never knew so much care went into it. I’ve heard that ranchers who switch from the traditional method of raising cattle to more sustainable and natural practices, often begin referring to themselves as grass farmers because it is the grass that makes all the difference.

I have helped with the setting up of fences and moving the cows a couple of times now. The first time it was rainy and muddy and the cows did not want to cooperate, the second time was sunny and beautiful and the cows came right when they were supposed to. It is a very simple process of setting special stakes into the ground and stringing the wire along. Once finished, the cows are moved to the new area with the help of an ATV (all terrain vehicle), the fence is charged, and the old fence is taken down. It involves a lot of walking through tall grass and cow pies, carrying a load of stakes and setting each stake 20-30 feet apart for the length of the enclosure. It is an ingenious little system, and seems to be working out quite well here.

To laugh is human but to moo is bovine.  – Author Unknown

Feeding the pigs…

Holy moly – pigs kinda scare me. After seeing Babe, I thought pigs were so cute. Not so much. One of the first things I did was feed the pigs. This is how you do it:

Step one – turn off the electricity to the fence. Don’t forge this step. I haven’t touched it myself, but one of the pigs got their snout a bit to close and let out quite the squeal.

Step two – get a couple of buckets of feed from the unplugged freezer chest in the barn. Not sure why it’s in a freezer, but I’m guessing it is the best way they’ve found to keep all the unwanted pests out.

Step three – Put a bit of water in with the feed and try to distract the pigs so you can reach the trough unharmed. This is important. Those pigs are greedy little buggers and they crowd around you and make it really difficult to get anywhere. Remember when Dorothy fell in the pig pen in the Wizard of Oz, now you know why the distraction part is so important. We don’t all have a lion to haul us out of harms way.

Step four – Give the pigs some water. Clean out the drinking buckets and fill them up. Then add some more water to the mud pit so they have plenty to roll around in. These pigs are pretty light colored and need lots of sunscreen so they stay happy – SPF mud, maybe I should try it too.

Step five – Get out and power up the fence again. Finished (until evening at least).

Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it. – George Bernard Shaw

Tending the garden…

I’ve always loved farm fresh produce, but I have never really had the opportunity to have a garden of my own or learn the basics needed to make a garden grow and thrive. This is my chance.

The most tedious thing I’ve done thus far is weeding and thinning the carrot bed. I know, the carrot top pulling carrot tops – hilarious. But in all seriousness, these beds were a jungle. A massive tangle of weeds, carrots, and innumerable insects. All of this and the hot sun beating down on my back. It was nothing but me and the weeds in a battle to the death. The trick is to get the giant tangle of weeds out while trying not to pull up the little baby carrots just starting to take root. While weeding I was also thinning the carrots. Sacrificing a few so that others may prosper. We ended up with buckets of baby carrots. I think I might be turning orange, considering how many carrots I’ve eaten this week.

I also did a ton of picking; tubs of raspberries, peas, cherries, and kale. I would go out one day and pick everything that was ripe and the very next day everything was ready for picking again. It was amazing. The best part is, I get to eat all of it. The food here has been so delicious; tons of fresh salads and vegetables and fruits, farm fresh eggs and grass finished beef. It is super healthy and super satisfying.

Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it.  – Author Unknown

As you can see, it has been quite the learning experience so far. I am enjoying it tremendously and can’t wait to get started again tomorrow. Who knows what the next day will bring.

Have you ever dreamed of living on a farm or ranch? What draws you to this lifestyle?

Thanks for reading!


18 responses to “HELPING – like a ranch hand

  1. Oh my!! This is great, I can’t believe you are a cowgirl. I love the pictures and all the fresh vegetables and fruit sound wonderful.

    • Yes, it’s turning out remarkably well. I was really not sure what to expect and was happily surprised with what I got. The fruits and veggies taste even better than they look! Thanks. – Rene

  2. Rene, the pics are so beautiful how great it is to eat such good fresh food that has not been sprayed and poked at to grow. You are a amazing person.

    • Thanks for the comment! I feel so lucky to be out here enjoying this opportunity. The fresh food is so great. The amount of time and care it takes to raise organic vegetable and fruit is intense – I will never again complain about prices at a farmers market. – Rene

    • Thanks Dohn! I am definitely enjoying my time here. Looks like you have an amazing place of your own. I will have to take a closer look at the earth stone station – looks right up my alley. – Rene

  3. I’m so happy that your first workaway experience is a good one! Thats awesome and you are getting some beautifull pictures! except for the bee, that one was just scary. lol Have fun and pet one of the pigs for me!

    • I will attempt to pet a pig just for you Sarah. The bees were minding their own business, I was just playing around with my iPhone camera – can you believe what great photos it takes. Crazy! Thanks for the comment. -Rene

  4. Wow. What an interesting life you are living. Sounds like you are having a great time and learning a lot. Best wishes on all of your adventures.

  5. Pingback: Ranch Hand Volunteering in Canada with Workaway •Workaway Blog·

  6. Pingback: LEARNING – a year of blogging | Repurposed Redhead·

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