City girl discovers a good fit with farm life

A Red Angus keeps an eye on the the Skinner family at home on the farm: Bonnie, Alice, 10, Sarah, 12, Ruben, 6, and Pat. |  William DeKay photo

On the Farm: The Skinners grow wheat, barley, oats and canola and calve about 250 purebred Red and Black Angus cows

ENGLEFELD, Sask. — City girl Bonnie Skinner went looking for a farmer and the search led her to marry her husband Pat.

“When I met Pat on his farm and he was covered in dirt, I just fell in love,” she said.

The two connected online in 2006 using the dating service Cupid.com, which they had both heard about through a radio advertisement.

The farm was their meeting ground.

“I just hoped that she knew what she was getting herself into because I knew,” recalled Pat.

Dates out at the farm included time with Pat’s pull-type combine during harvest, and he patiently taught Bonnie how to operate the machinery. The courtship was short.

“They had a beautiful bridal shower for me in Englefeld. It was funny because as much as the other women really cared about us, they would ask me, ‘why a farmer, what are you doing?’ ” Bonnie said.

Fueled with passion for the outdoors and unafraid of a little dirt herself, she quickly adapted to life on the farm, even though she had no agricultural experience.

“It’s hard work, but life is hard work. It’s whatever you’re made for. I think I was made for this. I think it would be hard work for me to live in the city, to be all civilized and clean and stuff. I think I’m in the right place,” she said.

“I enjoy the entire concept of farming. I enjoy being married to a farmer. It’s what I wanted. The way farming makes Pat think, the way it propels our family through the seasons. There are incredible moments of stress, but so is life.

“I love that we can do it together as a family. We can take care of each other. We’re all headed in the same direction.”

The couple have three children: Sarah, 12, Alice, 10, and Ruben, 6.

Alice Skinner, 10, stands with her halter broke Red Angus steer. | William DeKay photo

They grow wheat, barley, oats and canola in rotation on their 3,500 acres and calve about 250 purebred Red and Black Angus cows.

Pat has been on the farm, southwest of Englefeld, since his parents sold their dairy near Macklin, Sask., in 2004.

Bonnie said life would be more difficult without the support of her parents-in-law, Cy and Carolyn Skinner, who remain active on the farm.

“Thankfully, Pat’s mom is also a farmer’s wife and when I married him, I got her. Thank goodness,” said Bonnie.

“She taught me to bake bread and make jam. When we all caught the flu, she came over and watched the babies and Pat’s dad checked the calves.

“During harvest, I jump in the combine and she moves into the house. She cooks, she keeps the kids in line, she brings us our meals. She understands it’s a stressful season. She holds everybody together. She’s an incredible example.”

Sarah Skinner, 12, nurses a young Magpie at home. | William DeKay photo

Pat said the pandemic has had little impact on the family during the past year.

“We don’t go out a whole bunch, so nothing’s really changed, other than you have to wear a mask, use hand sanitizer,” he said.

“We’ve got a constant about us. You’ve got to get up in the morning and feed the cows. You’ve got to go do, COVID or not.”

Bonnie did learn she was not cut out to be a home-school teacher when the local school was closed last spring and she tried to co-ordinate the children’s curriculum with limited internet service.

“It was a challenge. It was a learning curve. We’re not really computer people,” she said.

Ruben pops a wheelie outside the 4-H pen. | William DeKay photo

However, the family was thankful that their local Bar West 4-H Beef Club continued to operate.

“The meetings didn’t happen, but we still have the animals here, so the kids had their chores,” said Pat. “They had to keep doing just to keep some kind of motion going at least.

“And that’s what we had said this year too, that even if 4-H had to come to a stop again with the shutdowns, that our kids would still have their steers to deal with and take care of.”

Cancellation of the usual 4-H auction was a good learning opportunity for the children, who were accustomed to getting top prices for their animals.

“We went around and talked to businesses or people to see if somebody was looking for a half a beef or whatever, and sold them privately rather than have the auction sale that we normally do. And we did well.… But it didn’t hurt the children to have a year without the extra premiums on top anyway, just to know that it can happen,” said Pat.

Sarah feeds calves twice a day. | William DeKay photo

Added Bonnie: “That is one thing I like about 4-H, is that they don’t hand out those ribbons very liberally. You’ve really got to earn them. And that’s all right. That’s definitely all right.”

Pat said he would like to add more acres, but land prices limit the options.

“We’re happy where we’re at. With the prices of land and machinery and everything else, it’s pretty hard to expand. So right now, we’re making a decent living at it,” he said.

“I wouldn’t mind a couple more quarters of land. Maybe increase the cattle herd a little, but we’re sitting in a good spot right now.”

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