by Karel Beijer
Many times during my apprenticeship I was asked, “How is working on RedTail Farms?”
During all my time there, the best answer that I could come up with is that it is a very “real” experience. While this may seem quite vague, this one word personally embodies everything that I felt during my apprenticeship. When working with living beings that don’t have a “nine-to-five” routine your life changes to a different flow – a more natural yet no less demanding routine. Allow me to explain.
Coming into the apprenticeship, I had the questions, “Is farming, especially a larger animal operation, right for me? Is it something that I am capable of and would enjoy, and where would I fit in?”
Unlike many of the other apprentices, I had some experience working with different species of fowl and smaller livestock in general, but more as a hobby farm than a livelihood operation. With this in mind, as an apprentice I wanted to work as if this were, in a way, my farm. That I would work whatever hours I needed to, to get the work done when it needed to be finished and that I would be involved as much as possible in every task on the farm no matter how gruesome, hard, or monotonous it was. Only in this way was I confident in testing my ability to farm, to get the true farming experience.
Involving myself to this degree I became a part of the ebb and flow of the living entity which is RedTail Farms. When working with nature and living beings one’s life begins to flow with that surrounding them. The cattle, pigs and plants don’t stop needing attention just because it’s the weekend, or nine at night and you just want to sleep. You begin to tune into the flow of the life around you and the life around you taps into your flow as well. The pigs would be waiting in the morning for their rations of feed, and be protesting that they could always use a little bit more. The cows would barely take note of you as you checked in on them during spring calving. As the time and seasons changed so did the work and what needed to be done. In the spring during calving, if there was a cow having trouble birthing and the calf needed to be pulled at 9 pm, there was no waiting till tomorrow, it had to be done then and you would go until you were finished. If there was a large summer event your farm was hosting, you might be working twenty days straight to get ready for it and still keep the farm running smoothly. If you had a week to get hay cut, dried, and baled, before the rain was supposed to come you would be working every moment that conditions were favourable, be that a weekday or a weekend, day or night. There are times when you are utterly exhausted, and frustrated but you push on because not just your boss is depending on you. Every creature and even the farm itself is depending on you and is pretty much your boss. In my mind there was no option of not feeding or caring for an animal, it had to be done. At the end of the day you are tired and a little sore, but it feels amazing because that time and energy that you spent made a difference to everyone and everything depending on you. Like floating down a river, you are engulfed in something much larger than yourself most times going at a steady pace but you do hit some rapids and swift currents along the way just to end in a calm pool where you can relax before it starts all over again.
However many things might depend on you to get them done, there is always help available at RedTail Farms. If you are lucky enough to apprentice at RedTail farms you will be surrounded by friends and family. You might think you are moving out to the middle of nowhere with no connections and nothing to do, but that is the farthest from the truth. In the city, I often find people barely know their neighbours whether they are across the apartment hall from you or across the street. At RedTail most of the neighbours are friends and family that you will meet at brandings, birthdays or when they or you come calling for a bit of help. Multiple times a week there are suppers being held at relatives and friends of Ian’s and Dana’s that you’re welcomed into with open arms, and not to mention heaps of amazing food. There is so much socializing and get togethers that I was still meeting new people even when my apprenticeship was coming to a close. Talking to Bri Vos, a friend of Ian and Dana’s that I met at a supper event, verbalized exactly what I felt at RedTail Farms. Bri said that when she first met Ian and Dana she was going around Alberta shooting photos of farms and their different operations. She would usually spend and couple of hours at a farm and then be off. At RedTail Farms she ended up staying all day and even overnight. Being out there I completely understood what she meant and looking around at everyone at the event knew that most the people there felt the same way. That once you meet everyone at RedTail Farms you are hard pressed to leave anytime soon.
The hardest part about my apprenticeship at RedTail Farms was not any of the work or occasional frustrating occurrence that accompanies any job, but finally having to say good bye for the season. Saying good bye to the people, the animals, the landscape, and the way of life, until next time I am back there. Right now, sitting outside the university on a bench after classes while I type this I feel like I am experiencing farm withdrawals. Wondering what excuse I could come up with to spend six hours driving there and back and not worry about class assignments for a weekend. So that I could go and see the pigs and their piglets that I took care of all summer, lend a hand helping move more bales with Ian or spending some time with their two rambunctious boys. This summer I learned more, made more friends, and had a better time than I could have ever imagined. If you are anything like me you will not regret apprenticing at RedTail Farms for a season, and up into this point it may be one of the best summers you will have.
All in all, this past summer RedTail Farms taught me how to walk, now it is up to me as to which route I take, but I know there will always be a helping hand along the way.