Photo Essay: A year on the farm
By Karen Niedzwiecki
Night in the country is different from night in the city. Unless there’s a full moon, the darkness is broken up only by the warm glow of yard lights off in the distance. Some of my most visceral memories of home are of driving towards our farm, and catching the first glimpse of our yard light. Although we’ve driven those gravel roads too many times to count, the light is our marker.
Our family farm is near St. Alphonse, in the Tiger Hills area of southwest Manitoba; 100 miles from Winnipeg. The land is fertile, and home to rolling hills, the winding Cypress River and big sky.
In 2012, my sister Elaine and I decided to document our family farm through photography. Once a month, we went home and followed our family around with our cameras, while gaining an understanding of how their operations have changed since we were kids. In the space of 20 to 30 years, the land has remained much the same, but the technology and equipment have evolved.
Operating the farm today are my parents, Yvonne and Lawrence Delichte, my brother Gordon and my brother Warren, his wife Nicole and their kids, Ian, Erin and Dion. The farm is made up of three separate yards — 1,100 acres of grain land and enough pasture to support Gordon’s 120-130 head cow herd as well as the 300-350 calves that Warren winters and summers annually.
Growing up in a family of three alumni — my dad graduated in 1953, my brothers in 1982 and 1989 — I know that a U of M School of Agriculture diploma isn’t just something that hangs on the wall.
It’s found in the dust and the grit and that hard-working attitude of “we can fix anything.” Lessons learned are incorporated into a lifetime of farming, passed down to the generations that follow and entwined into everyday chores and tasks. It’s part of what makes this land “home.”
Scroll down (and click on the photos) for the story of my farming family as they mark the days, weeks and seasons.
My dad Lawrence, born in 1931, takes a break to show some visitors around, taking them to the various hill tops that provide the best view of the area. Lawrence and Yvonne’s deep appreciation and love for this corner of the world has passed down to their children and grandchildren. These wide-open spaces are where the Delichtes feel most at peace. Lawrence has spent his entire life here, as the three farms he has lived on are all less than half a mile apart.
JAN. 21, 2012, 11:19 AM It is calving season and my brother Gordon is busy. By the end of May, approximately 100 cows will have calved, with another 30 to follow in the summer. In the winter, while the cattle are on the yard, Gordon carries 48 five-gallon pails of barley from the bin to the feeder every day. Each pail weighs approximately 25 pounds.
FEB. 18, 2012, 9:11 AM Steam rises in the cold winter air as Warren’s cattle line up at the trough to eat. My brother Warren handles the feeding a little differently, and instead of carrying pails, fills a feed wagon with silage and grain and then drives beside the trough with an auger spilling the food out.
MAR. 24, 2012, 12:56 PM When not at school or playing hockey, Warren and Nicole’s eldest son Ian works alongside them, learning by watching and helping where he can. If Ian decides to farm when he grows up, he will be the fourth generation of Delichtes to do so in the area.
MAR. 25, 2012, 8:51 AM To make sure it is getting enough to eat, Gordon feeds one of a set of twin calves an extra bottle of milk. Later that afternoon he will rush one of his cattle 21 miles away to the vet in Notre Dame de Lourdes for an emergency c-section.
APR. 21, 2012, 10:50 AM It is raining today so the fieldwork is on hold. Instead, Lawrence spends the day working with his sawmill, having harvested 80-plus year-old trees that were nearing the end of their lifespan. Later this year, the wood that Lawrence has cut and dried will be used to build a new semi/trailer shed on Warren’s yard and new troughs in Gordon’s pasture.
CIRCA 1920 In the space of Lawrence’s lifetime, farmers have gone from working the land with heavy horses to working with state-of-the-art tractors and equipment. Here, Lawrence’s father is shown taking a break from seeding to pose for a photo.
MAY 12, 2012, 1:42 PM Warren’s seeding equipment runs almost 100 feet in length once you add the tractor, the first air tank, the air drill and the second air tank. It enables him to fertilize and seed at the same time, saving crucial hours in one of the busiest times of the year. Today Gordon and Warren spend six hours seeding a combination field of canola and peas. The canola gives the peas something to grow on, and the peas, which create their own nitrogen, provide the canola with some of the fertilizer that it needs, reducing the amount that is put in by equipment.
MAY 12, 2012, 1:55 PM The Delichtes have notepads in every tractor, and keep a careful record of what goes into each field. Crops are rotated yearly and adjustments are made based on last year’s yield. Farming is a family business and good documentation and accounting keeps finances on track. Mixed farming (in the Delichtes case: beef and grain) allows for downswings in markets – when one is down, the other is typically up. However it is a tough business and a true passion for the land and lifestyle is an absolute necessity.
JUNE 22, 2012, 8:42 PM It’s a clear night and my brother Gordon is spending the evening swathing alfalfa with the haybine. In total, there are 275 acres of hay to bale this year. The haybine compacts the swath, making it easier to bale. To feed and bed their cattle through the winter, Gordon and Warren need a minimum of 1,400 hay bales and 600 straw bales.
JULY 16, 2011, 7:20 PM The farmers in the Tiger Hills area of Manitoba work in stunning vistas — or as my dad Lawrence describes it “heaven on earth.” Golden fields of canola are a common sight because they are generally the most profitable crop.
JULY 27, 2012, 8:00 PM Harvest season started earlier this week and today Warren, my brother, is swathing barley to prepare the field for combining. Crops are suffering from the extended heat wave and yields are expected to be down.
JULY 28, 2012, 4:23 PM Starting in July, Yvonne, my mom, and sister-in-law Nicole are harvesting from their respective vegetable and fruit gardens. A typical crop includes potatoes, heritage Belgian peas and beans, beets, tomatoes, corn, carrots, onions, leek, rhubarb, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, cherries, plums and crab apples. Every year they make their own jam and freeze enough vegetables to last through the winter.
AUG. 4, 2012, 7:35 PM The combining is done and the straw is baled. This field yielded 209 bales and with two trailers, it will take six trips to take them off the field and on to the home yard. Each straw bale weighs approximately 1,000 pounds.
AUG. 20, 2011, 6:58 PM Lawrence and Warren scan the horizon to decide whether they will get rained out before finishing the field of ryegrass they are combining.
AUG. 21, 2012, 6:38 PM In order to harvest, a minimum of two people are required – one to drive the combine and one to drive the truck. It takes four full hoppers to fill the semi trailer, which in this crop, equates to about six rows in the field. The yield is lighter this year, due to the heat wave and less moisture. Canola has much higher yields when the weather is cool.
SEPT. 3, 2012, 2:51 PM Now that the fields are harvested, they need to be harrowed in preparation for the upcoming year. The harrow breaks up the ground and stubble. To reduce erosion and increase nutrients in the soil, the Delichtes follow the minimum-till method, leaving some stubble on the ground throughout the winter.
OCT. 24, 2012, 2:40 PM With Gordon’s cattle having eaten down the grass in the pasture they’ve been in all summer, they need to be moved to another pasture three miles away. The cattle know they are heading to fresh food, so follow the tractor all the way.
NOV. 10, 2012, 3:07 PM Gordon has spent 30 years building up his cow-calf Simmental herd, selecting specific bloodlines to bring out the traits that he wants. Breeders are known for their stock’s performance, and cattle are purchased with that in mind. Gordon typically sells cattle at seven sales per year, and at this one, has six bred heifers up for auction.
NOV. 12, 2012, 9:58 AM There has been a blizzard over the weekend and the cattle seek shelter out of the wind. The countryside is filled with an extra two feet of snow. While Lawrence, Gordon and Warren can use their tractors to clear their yards, the gravel roads are impassable until the plow goes by.
DEC. 26, 2012, 10:47 AM The landscape is cold and white now, but the work continues. Cattle are being fed, equipment repaired, house projects tackled and bookwork caught up on. On days when it isn’t too cold or windy to safely work, Warren and Lawrence are framing the walls and rafters of the semi/trailer shed.
Although Canada measures distances in kilometres, the countryside is marked out in miles. Land is divided into quarter-sections, which are a half mile on each side. A full section is one mile square, or 640 acres.
MEET THE FARM FAMILY From left to right, Lawrence, Yvonne, Gordon, Warren, Nicole and their three kids, Ian, Erin and Dion.
Karenia Niedzwiecki: Karen works in the Marketing Communications Office as a client relations coordinator. Evenings and weekends, she focuses on fine art photography, her main creative outlet. Whether self-portraits, landscapes or everyday objects, she aims to create unusual, engaging imagery. Karenia Niedzwiecki is trained as a graphic designer and brings conceptual and design thinking into all of her photography. You can see more of her work here: http://karenia.ca
Elaine O’Keeffe has always loved taking photos, capturing those special moments, the beauty around her or the people within it. She aims to capture the inner character of whatever she is photographing, bringing out its vibrancy and beauty so that others may see it too. You can see more of her work here: http://elaineokeeffephotography.ca