Farm ends up with all-women crew this year

Saskatchewan producer says it wasn’t intentional but fewer mishaps and positive attitudes made the season enjoyable

Circumstances, not design, led Todd Moen to an all-female farm crew this year.

But the Elrose, Sask., farmer says he would hire one again anytime.

Fewer mishaps and positive attitudes made the season enjoyable, he said. Sometimes men want to do things their way or have an attitude about an aspect of the job, he said.

“What I liked about it is you told them once,” he said, referring to how to do something.

“You didn’t have to repeat yourself. And when they did something it was perfect.”

Todd, his wife Kandace, with help from daughters Mariah Moen and Arisha Briggs, crop 6,500 acres, hay another 500 acres and calve 250 cows. For the last five years they’ve relied on labour through the International Rural Exchange of Canada.

But this year the workers they were expecting were kept home because of COVID-19.

Fortunately, two young women from Germany had come to Canada on their own and had work visas. They added another from British Columbia and one from Rosetown, Sask., to complete their crew.

In fact, the latter woman was hired to help with meals but was pressed into service on machinery because they needed her.

The German workers quarantined in the living quarters of a horse trailer for 14 days before they were able to work.

“I was a little nervous taking on all these girls because one man, five, six girls, that’s a handful. Plus my wife,” he said with a laugh.

In the end, he’s going to miss them when they’re gone.

The crew was on hand for seeding, haying and harvest.

Mariah Moen, who took a leadership role on the female team, said she found the women were careful in how they approached their work.

One of the Germans had no previous farm experience but was able to master the grain cart. They all learned to operate all types of equipment.

“Nobody broke anything this year,” Mariah said.

“They were learning and took their time.”

This isn’t to say their previous workers have not worked out.

Todd Moen said they’ve had workers from France, New Zealand, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland, and they’ve all done well.

They rely on the exchange program to find workers because locals simply don’t want the jobs.

Moen had a trucking company for a while and had the same problem.

“That was one of the reasons we went out of the trucking business. We just couldn’t get good workers or people that cared,” he said.

None of this year’s workers had a Class 1 licence, which kept him and his brother on the truck.

The Moens treat their workers like family, with much joking around and lots of fun. Todd has a team of Clydesdales and likes to make small square hay and straw bales and use the team to collect them.

He said the girls were quick to point out they were doing the work while he drove the horses.

They did foot races in the fields and spent time riding the pasture with the cattle.

“I mean, that’s just like riding in heaven, I think,” Todd said.

One key thing the new workers learned at Moen Acres was the importance of safety.

Todd’s father was in a severe accident in 1992, when a 14,400-volt power distribution line hit him three times. He lived but with severe burns and damage to his body.

“Safety is huge for me. I will tell them, ‘if I ever catch you outside of the tractor with the baler running you will not run it anymore,’ ” he said.

“That’s probably where I am the sternest.”

Harvest is done, and Brenna Dolan from Rosetown and Mariah are both back in university. One of the German workers, Elisabeth Hesse, is on the farm until she has to return home at the end of November. The other, Pauline Muschner, will spend some time touring Canada before going back.

However, Sydney Walls, who grew up in B.C. and studied agriculture at Lakeland College in Vermilion, Alta., is sticking around for as long as she wants, said Todd.

“All of them were very good workers,” he said.

Where some might have lacked a little physical strength, they made up for it in determination, punctuality and a willingness to work.

“I would do it again at the drop of a hat. No questions asked,” he said.

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