MARSDEN, Sask. — Every child deserves a home, agree Arianne and Otto Koedyk.
That’s why the couple decided to adopt six children that they had cared for during their 22 years of foster parenting and build a nine-bedroom house on their Saskatchewan dairy farm near the Alberta border.
“It’s important for kids to have stability and permanence in life,” said Otto, who like his wife, grew up in a big family in Holland.
They continue as foster parents and juggle parenting responsibilities with milking 100 Holsteins and growing barley on their four quarter farm.
“Mom is a very independent and strong woman. They’re good parents, loving, kind, nurturing,” said Cylen Koedyk, 13.
She and her siblings, Shayla, 17, Shelby, 7, Levi, 6 and Kaydon, 5, lend a hand in the house and barn and tend to an assortment of bunnies, donkeys and chickens. Daniel, 19, works as a dry waller in Lloydminster.
Otto oversees the dairy while Arianne takes care of the calves.
“It’s never boring,” sad Otto of his big family.
Added Arianne: “There’s always something to do.”
The Koedyks mainly stay close to home, making day trips to nearby lakes, but have travelled to Holland in past years.
“It’s a commitment, especially right now,” said Otto .
They grow and mix their own feed to keep costs down and receive $2,000 in revenue from one gas lease.
“It’s right in the middle of our best land,” Otto said.
They have been fortunate to find labour in a job market that must compete with the oil patch that surrounds them.
A busy industry brings more people to town, but rural businesses have shrunk as nearby Lloydminster becomes a major service hub.
“That’s kind of sad. There’s a lot of older people who don’t have their (driver’s) licence,” said Arianne.
The couple met in Canada after coming to southern Alberta from Holland separately to work on farms. They met in church, something that has remained central to their family life.
When Arianne was stricken with pneumonia recently, she received help from her family but also received hot meals from church members. The children participate in church youth groups and Bible camps.
The Koedyks operated a 160 dairy cow operation with another couple for 20 years but now manage the twice a day milkings at their parlour style dairy with help from two workers who have homes in the farmyard.
They sell bull calves at two months old and keep the heifers for replacement cows.
The Koedyks say dairy farms have shrunk to 86 from 1,000 in the province, partly because of increased milk production from each cow. They once supplied a Lloydminster dairy but have shipped milk to Sask-atoon since it closed.
Otto would like to have more dairy farmers nearby, but keeps abreast of industry news through a newsletter and talking with other farmers.
He said the quota system provides a comfortable living for families and doesn’t want to see supply managed systems changed in world trade talks.
“Canada is the only place in the world where dairy farmers are doing well,” he said.
“Our milk’s not that much more expensive than anywhere else.”
They raise chickens, drink the milk from their cows and manage a large garden for their own needs.
Arianne likes farm life, and the distance from their nearest neighbours suits the large family.
“We’re a pretty loud family,” she said. “Kids like it here too, the openness and freedom.”
Cylen said Arianne heads for the lawn mower when feeling overwhelmed.
“I like being on my own,” Arianne said of her penchant for cutting grass.
Cylen, who has been here for eight years, has learned much from farm life.
“I enjoy being out here. I could not live in the city,” she said. “The only down part is there’s not enough kids around here to hang out with.”
She and her siblings are bussed to schools in Marsden and Neilburg.
Arianne lamented on a reality of foster parenting —the return of children to biological parents.
“I don’t always agree, but rules are rules,” she said.
“It’s nice to see families back together if it works.”