PIAPOT, Sask. – Balancing work and family on the farm can be a challenge. One Saskatchewan family has met it head on.
The Brost family of Piapot, Sask., has taken the hands-on approach to getting the best of both work and family. Reducing the workload through time-saving strategies for the cattle and grain business has allowed Blair Brost and his family to perform much of the work of the family’s farming operation without the need of hired help. In the family’s home life, alternative met-hods provide the extra time needed to strike a balance.
By timing calving to start in January, the Brosts spread the work out and produce larger calves for a fall market.
“Prairie winters can be pretty harsh. Lots of people overfeed their cattle in the winter to ensure a healthy animal. If I’m going to overfeed anyway why not have them calving,” said Blair.
Winter feeding for the family’s 130 registered Charolais cows could be more work than it is. Two decades ago Blair’s late father built silos and began using automated feeding systems.
For Blair, his mother and his wife LeeAnn, this means feeding in the yard can be easily done by anyone with instruction on measuring rations and weighing silage. The family puts up 2,100 tonnes of triticale and barley each year as winter feed.
Winter calving is more work when it comes to monitoring the herd but a steel and wood calving barn makes animal handling and difficult calving episodes less labor intensive and warmer. The barn is plumbed for floor heat from a custom-made hot water boiler in the garage attached to the family home. The boiler helps heat the house.
By moving cattle around during pasture feeding and not keeping them at any one shelter too long, the couple manages to keep disease problems down during the winter.
“We also don’t face any line-ups when we need a vet and they know that we have a great spot for them to work so that too makes life a little simpler,” said Blair.
Pasture feeding of silage starts indoors with a loading shed, out of the wind. Blair said this makes it easier to manage, needing only one tractor to pull the feed wagon rather than one for transport and one for loading. Indoor loading reduces losses in the windy southwestern corner of the province.
Planning around the seasons allows the couple to accomplish tasks formerly done by Blair, his father and often hired help. All farm equipment is serviced and repaired after harvest so when spring comes the machinery is ready.
“Why be three months behind when you can be three months ahead? This is a perspective that the banker appreciates,” said Blair.
The couple manages 28 quarters of land; 600 acres farmed, 700 acres of hay land, 100 in flood irrigation and the rest used to background 300 calves and provide for the Charolais herd. The family uses the balance for the cow-calf herd, also taking advantage of nearby community pasture.
“Spring is when we fix the fences, clean corrals and clean up the ranch after the winter. Not having a bunch of machinery repairs to do at the same time makes this a lot easier and as soon as haying time comes we are ready,” said LeeAnn.
A working relationship with a local Hutterite colony that trades a large sheltered garden area and its produce for help during seeding and harvest time means the family has not had to invest in larger farm equipment. Being able to hire the colony for custom farming is economical for the farm.
“We won’t be wearing out our older equipment any time soon and that means we can use the money to improve other parts of the business,” said Blair.
In summer the whole family works on silage harvesting and keeping a landscaped yard ready for guests. Entertaining is part of the family’s lifestyle and business, so a yard and home that can accommodate this are important. Even during the busy summer season they keep Sunday free for family trips.
Jessica, 8, and Jamie, 12, have their own farm-based business. Jamie has begun a trout business, keeping the fish in a dam on the ranch and Jessica collects and sells eggs in the community.
LeeAnn, a teacher by profession, instructs the couple’s two children at home. Home schooling provides more family time and, through accelerated lessons, a shorter school year. The added flexibility allows them to take advantage of an unpredictable farming schedule.
Home schooling has given Blair and LeeAnn the chance to spend more time with their family and has eliminated a drawback to rural life in sparsely populated areas – the long school bus ride that eats up hours of rural children’s days.
In 1997 the family used the flexibility of home schooling to take a trip to England in April, a time when the children would normally be in school.
LeeAnn acts as farm administrator, using a computer to track expenses and income. The internet is used by the whole family for recreation and business.