RYCROFT, Alta. — Keegan Milkovich said he tries not to take what he has today for granted because he realizes his grandpa had it tough in the farm’s early days.
“People say you worked hard, but you really didn’t because all you did was put a lot of hours in. There are so many stories where people actually worked hard, like Grandpa, so you really do have an appreciation.”
Keegan’s mother, Colleen, said younger ones don’t realize how tough the older ones had it.
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“They know it was hard but, when they hear the personal stories, that’s when they really understand what life was really like,” she said.
At the Milkovich home at Rycroft, Alta., three generations of farmers sit around the dinner table and discuss how life on their land has changed drastically since 1923.
That’s when Nick, now 94, was born. He grew up remembering the Peace region as a place with lots of bush and countless rocks that he had to clear.
“We dug roots and, in those days, at 12, you had to work,” he said.
“There were no tractors to work the field. We had horses and oats was the source of energy, not gas.”
Nick’s son, Nicholas, remembers a similar experience. When his parents bought the land he now farms, they also had him digging out roots at a young age.
“It was good because we all had to work,” Nicholas said. “We picked roots after school and on weekends, helped with the chores and that was life.”
Nick’s wife, Anne, would likely be doing the laundry by hand, milking the cows, feeding or butchering the chickens, watching over her garden and later preparing dinner for the family while the men were out harvesting on the field.
“Nothing was bought,” Anne said. “We lived off the land and everyone made bread, but I enjoyed it.”
The family didn’t get electricity until 1955, and Nick got his first tractor about 10 years earlier. The John Deere Model D still sits in their yard.
“(Nick) would fall asleep out there,” said Colleen.
“He would have to be on the wagon. It’s life, and the young ones sometimes don’t realize how tough it was in the olden days. It’s really amazing. Things had to get done.”
As time went on, the family would try to keep up to date on equipment without breaking the budget.
“I was always afraid of debt, so I stayed out of it,” Nick said.
For the most part, lots of work was done by hand such as shovelling grain into a wagon. Horses would help haul lumber from the nearby valley to build granaries.
With help from Nick, Nicholas would eventually begin farming his own land in 1970 after his grandfather bought him a quarter section.
He would then acquire more land in 1977, farming cereals, peas, lentils, flax and clover while also working in the oil patch to pay the bills.
Nicholas and Colleen raised three children: Keegan and twins Whitney and Rebecca. Colleen handled much of the house work, while Nicholas worked mainly outside.
Nicholas used the newer combines and equipment that Nick still feels somewhat wary of using today.
“Going from what they had in the ’30s and ’40s to what we have now was intimidating,” Colleen said.
“(Nick) just isn’t comfortable with all the buttons and lights and is still fine with that old and dusty one.”
In 1995, Nicholas and Colleen took over Nick and Anne’s farm.
Keegan, now 26, has his own small farm nearby. Nick bought him that land a few years ago. It’s become a tradition in the family, where the grandfathers buy land for a grandson.
The generations help each other out by sharing equipment and investing in one another.
“It all just works,” said Keegan, who also operates a trucking business. “Nobody nickels and dimes.”
The family has now begun talking about succession planning, with Keegan hoping to take over his parents’ farm one day.
“It’s his choice and we told him from the get-go that he doesn’t need to feel like he always has to be here,” Colleen said.
“If he wants to move somewhere or grow his trucking company, that’s fine. The land will never be sold and there’s always someone looking to rent.”
His sisters are also welcome to move up, but have careers off farm. Whitney works as a dental hygienist while Rebecca is an optometrist.