At the age of 25, Madison Anderson decided that she wanted a change in her career. She’d previously worked with people with disabilities for six years when she decided to take the Agribusiness program through Assiniboine Community College (ACC). The program focused a lot on agronomy — the study of crop production — but Madison wanted something different. She wanted to learn about regenerative agriculture in a hands-on setting. “I like how positive [regenerative farming] is about the world and the soils that we have,” explained Madison.
Through ACC, she came across the Young Agrarians Farm Apprenticeship program — a fully immersive program where participants are paired with a mentor at a regenerative farm in the prairies. With a day left to apply, she quickly put together her application for the posting with South Glanton Farms in Brandon, MB.
“When I read the description of the [apprenticeship position], it was exactly what I wanted to do.” — Madison Anderson, YA Apprentice
She’d known of Ryan Boyd (the farm owner/mentor) through a friend of a friend but was hesitant about having to relocate to live on the farm, leaving her husband, dogs, and cat behind. Her husband encouraged her to apply anyway, promising that they’d figure it out when the time came.
The Application Process
To apply, Madison completed an online application which included some questions about her interest/experience, an essay question, and her resume. You can read more about the application process here. She was accepted into the program in Mid-March and moved out to the farm at the beginning of May.
Madison packed everything to move to the farm — her husband, dogs, and cat came with her. Upon getting accepted for the position, she worked out an agreement with Ryan that allowed Madison and her fa(r)mily to move into an older farmhouse on the property. The farm is a 20-minute drive from their previous living quarters in Brandon, MB. When applying for the farm apprenticeship, she was determined to work in an area that was close to her family and friends in town. South Glanton Farm was the perfect farm for that.
South Glanton Farm is also known for its beef products under the business name, Boyd’s Beef. The farm has approximately 1,100 cattle split between three herds. Having no experience working on a farm, Madison quickly got acquainted while moving the cattle daily.
Here’s a taste of what her schedule looked like day-to-day:
Her day usually started at 8 AM when she’d walk over to the meeting area, just a few steps away from her farmhouse accommodation. On Mondays, the four farmworkers would have a longer meeting. This included Ryan (the farmer), Ryan’s dad, Connor (a farm employee), and Madison. From there, they would chat about the plan for the week to develop a general understanding amongst the team.
After the meeting, they would go out into the field to start the chores for the day. Madison was responsible for moving one of the three herds using an automatic fence lifter or as she calls it, “lifter posts”. “[I] would set up the temporary fence and then [with] this fancy lifter post, you can punch in what time you want it and it’ll lift up the post at that time,” Madison explained. The cows go underneath the lifted fence, making the process of moving the cattle a lot easier for the small team.
Other elements of her daily chores included checking the water for the cattle, pounding posts, and stringing up high tensile wire. It may sound routine, but Madison reassures that “every day [there] was something new”.
Somewhere in between her busy day or work, she returned to the farmhouse for a 30-minute lunch break. Unlike other farms, Madison’s meals were on her own.
Major Learnings and Next Steps
She was also given permission from Ryan to raise chickens on the farm as part of her own side business. “I got to experience [raising] 100 broiler chickens and 30 hens,” said Madison.
Without any previous experience, she built a chicken tractor with her husband. A simple dome made with cattle panels, half of which was tarped to provide the birds with protection from the elements.
During the first four weeks, the chicks were raised in a barn. After this, they were transferred to the chicken tractor, where they were moved twice a day — day and night. When they were ready for harvest, she sold them to friends and family in the nearby area. “It was such an easy sell,” she explained.
The chicken business isn’t stopping there and neither is her drive to farm. During the Apprenticeship, Madison and her husband purchased a 40-acre property just 10 minutes down the road. She hopes to raise 500 chickens, 20 turkeys, and keep her horses on the new property next year. As she makes the move to full-time farm life, she’ll continue to work part-time in the winter months for Ryan and full-time during the warmer months.
“If you don’t have soil, you don’t have anything.” — Madison Anderson, YA Apprentice
Madison is very keen on taking good care of her animals and land. She shares that working on South Glanton Farm has helped her understand the importance of grazing and its effects on the surrounding land. “That’s what we did with our horses all our years. We just threw our horses out in the field, because that’s what you did. And now I’m actually becoming more aware of how grazing — overgrazing — affects land,” Madison shared. She’s kept this in mind with her vision of the new property. Madison plans to have multiple pens that the horses can rotate through, and move the chicken tractors through the pens to also put manure back onto the land. It’s an unconventional idea that she hopes will build land for future years, rather than deteriorate it.
This coming fall, Madison is also participating in the Business Bootcamp, a virtual 10-week program that helps new farmers develop their business plans. We’re so excited to see where Madison continues her journey as a Young Agrarian!
Want to Learn More?
- Learn how you can become a YA Apprentice
- If you are an experienced farmer, learn how to become a Mentor.
- Read more about How To Start Farming In Alberta
Photos provided by Madison Anderson. Cover photo by Michelle Lam.