GLADMAR, Sask. — Five pigs are teaching teenagers Anna and Jeremy Hoimyr about small business.
Encouraged by their parents, Mark and Laura Hoimyr, the siblings have been raising and selling pork on the family’s cattle ranch for two years.
The pigs root about within a strand of electric fence, which Anna and Jeremy move regularly to give the stock fresh grass.
“We buy them as weanlings, we buy the feed and we’re sort of in charge of finding people to sell them to, but then we get the money,” said Anna, who is steadily growing her own piggy bank to buy a car. By November, the pigs will be ready for the abattoir at 200 pounds.
Their parents say giving the teenagers responsibility, opportunity and ownership is important.
“The pigs are not their chores. They are their pigs. It’s kind of their own little enterprise.… It’s nice for them to be able to do something to completion,” said Mark.
“We try to give them jobs that are not just make-work projects. … It’s their own project.”
Added Laura: “Now that they’ve had the pigs and they’re the ones that do the work, they know more about how to deal with them than we do.”
The family operates Box H Land and Livestock near Gladmar, Sask., maintains a herd of 300 Red Angus cross and raises replacements on about 5,500 acres of native prairie, tame hay and pastures.
“They’re bale grazed and fed three months on a good year and five months on a hard winter. Other than that, they’re out grazing,” said Mark.
The Hoimyrs were rewarded this past June with the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association Environmental Stewardship Award.
Using rotational grazing practices, they move the livestock between one and two days during the peak growing season.
Water is key to intensive management so a pipeline with good quality water allows them to graze more evenly.
“Being able to turn on a valve and have water there in between April and October really opens up what you can do and when you can do it,” said Mark.
Fencing is the second major component of controlling the movement of cattle.
They’ve started replacing a barbed wire fence with permanent electric fence using temporary cross fencing that divides 80-acre pastures into 20 or 40 acres.
“What it forces you to do is see a lot of ground often,” said Mark.
For the family, extending the grazing season sustainably and improving soil health are two priorities.
They recognized that their farm was well suited for perennial forage.
“We don’t get a lot of moisture and we get a lot of hard conditions and having something growing all year round versus just three or four months of the year was just a better way to maintain the health of the soil and more productive for us,” said Mark.
“(Soil health) is really the building block of everything and to be able to keep things growing in the soil longer, to be able to keep it covered up with litter, to insulate it from the rain, the wind and from the temperatures. All of that is really important and it’s a perfect fit with livestock.
“The healthier the soil, the more nutritious the grass is. And it then stands to reason the more nutritious the beef is that’s harvested from eating the high quality grass.”
They strive to increase the effectiveness of limited rainfall.
“Absorption rate of the water into the soil is a big deal because when we only get eight to nine inches on a typical grazing season — if you get a three inch downpour and you only get to keep one of those inches, that’s a big deal. That’s important to us,” said Mark.
Recently, the family has also added honey production with two hives and sales of grass-raised beef.
Customized packages of meat are sold using a Regina based retailer.
The couple says the response has been good.
“We’ve been able to meet a few people who are so happy and so excited to be dealing with us and eating some of our beef,” said Mark.
Added Laura: “It’s so interesting to hear their questions and what they want to know about our place.…They just want to know the basics but it’s nice to connect.”
For the future, Laura is thinking of raising a few chickens to become more self-reliant.
“Mark’s sister has chickens and we get our eggs from her and she gets her honey from us and we know someone with a milk cow and when he has extra, he brings us milk,” she said.
“We like the idea of adding more enterprises to the business without expanding our land base. So we’re just trying some things and seeing what’s a good fit.”
“They call it stacking enterprises. Adding more to the same land base. It makes sense.”
Added Mark: “You don’t need to buy land to expand that way because that’s utilizing land that wasn’t used that way before. We’ll run out of ambition long before we run out of room.”