The Homestead - Part 2 of 3 - The Animals

If you missed Part 1, click here.

What's a farm without animals?  Sure, there are a lot of grain operations in southern Saskatchewan, but everyone has two or three chickens, a few head of cattle, or at least a horse or two.

My grandfather primarily grew grain, but everyone in the family knew about his chickens!  I can remember being quite young and going to the chicken coop to gather some eggs.  This memory is a bit of a mystery to me as I know that he mostly kept meat birds - birds which are slaughtered well before egg-laying age...

While Dad conducted business with Grandpa, I would tear around the farm-yard on an itty-bitty mini-bike.  Around and around and around I'd ride, by myself all day, left to my own devices. I'm not even sure what Dad was doing on those visits and rarely were there cousins with whom I could get into trouble - my cousins were all boys at that time, and either much older or much younger than myself.   

Now that I'm older and have listened to a few stories, I realize that my days were quite tame compared to the rest of my cousins.  I never went into dilapidated barn or the precarious old homestead house.  I never went up to the nuisance ground nor to the gravel pit, both of which were across the road from the farm.  Neither did I start fires nor beat up my siblings.  Listening to stories of my brother and cousins, it's a wonder that any of them survived childhood!

A day on the farm always ended with a big evening dinner - fried or roasted chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy to die for, creamed peas and carrots.  Everything from the farm. I know Grandpa took a tremendous amount of pride in providing food for his family.  As I place my chickens into the freezer, I get a small sense of this satisfaction, too.

Going back there with my Dad was such a good experience. There are so many reasons why I didn't have much of a relationship with Grandpa, but walking through the homestead and listening to my Dad tell stories about each building, each place, each item, each person, was a very special experience.

 This receipt was stapled to the wall of the chicken house.  It's not terribly old (heck I still remember 1981!), but those seem like pretty good prices. It's also interesting to note the address of the poultry supply - corner of Dewdney and Albert, Regina.  I know there is a car wash and battery place on the east side of Albert and some empty lots on the west - I think the business still exists, but that location is long gone.

This is actually a photo of a photo.  Although these are likely not the chickens from the receipt, it does shine a bit of understanding on Grandpa's chicken operation.  I see he has only a few nest boxes for this many chickens, so that tells me these aren't laying birds.  I count at least 60 birds in this photo.

The chicken coop now.  I see that he raised the five boxes from the previous photo and added more at some point.  I didn't get a snap of it, but the roosting dowels from the previous photo were mounted on hinges and had been raised to the roof in order to clean the coop.  The triangular box on the left (and partially cropped on the right) were feed trays - I bet he could fit a 40kg bag of chicken grower in each of those hoppers.  The brooder light still hangs from the ceiling and oddly enough the long-empty room still smelled of chickens.

Certainly at the time, but more poignantly as I look through these photos now, it occurs to me that each item on the farm, save for a few, has been placed in it's spot by a person who is no longer with us.  I suppose most of us have experienced loss, and it's true I was not close to Grandpa, but as I walked through the farmstead I couldn't help but think about all the remnants, collections and detritus of one person's life.  I took this photo of field coats because all of them have hung there for as long as I can remember.  The milk cans and milk bottle rack are the remains of Grandpa's side business of delivering milk to the town's folk.  I can remember a large barn on the property, which housed the draft horses and milk cows, as well as a large pig barn.  Both of these buildings are now gone, with only a small garden marking where the pig barn once stood.

Walking through the tall grass on the south end of the yard, one must be careful - the remains of implements, fencing and miscellaneous dips and holes will greet the unwary visitor.  My dad said he can remember the drafts pulling this manure spreader, he may have even driven it himself.   In the yard there was also some sort of horse-drawn processing equipment (possibly for potatoes) as well as the "flat deck".  Dad says he can remember Grandpa harnessing up the horses and taking all the kids in town for a ride.  Hidden in the grass is a seed drill and several types of harrows. It's remarkable that anyone was able to work that amount of land with this equipment.  Aside from the horse-drawn equipment like the spreader above, it is all in very good shape and very usable, on a small scale.  In fact, Grandpa still used the "one way" (a two bottom plow) and the disk harrow on his 1 acre garden.

Using horses meant feeding and watering horses.  With the chicken house in the background, these two enormous water troughs are the tires from an even older steam tractor.   It's too bad the story of their beginnings and arrival is long-gone, as I'm sure it was quite an event to see these big wheels arriving.  Can you imagine the machine from whence these came?  It's difficult to get an idea of their size, but they are at least 24" wide and probably 8' diameter!  Grandpa placed these next to one of the well houses and filled the bottom with concrete in order to provide water for the horses.  Dad says he can remember playing in the troughs, paddling around with his siblings on hot summer days!  Inside the closest trough is a spike/drag harrow and a roll of snow fencing.

It's hard not to feel a sense of sadness, walking about the property.  The old tractor sitting out in front of the shed. The shop, contents placed with care and attention to function, sits slowly sagging.  The chicken coop, once full of noise and business of chickens, is emptily tidy.  Implements left in the field according to a lost rhyme and reason. The big barn is gone. The big pig shed is gone.  All of the life and lives which once filled this farm slowly dwindled away...

I'm not sure that the family would have consented had I asked, but knowing what I do now, I can't help but wonder if we couldn't have made a go of it on Grandpa's old farm.

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. When I was a kid, we lived just a few blocks from that hatchery on Albert and Dewdney. One year my sister and I decided to surprise our parents with fluffy chicks as an Easter gift. We scrounged around the neighbourhood for abandoned pop bottles and eventually saved enough coin for the purchase. Our parents were surprised alright, but lacked the enthusiasm we had hoped for lol. The downy cuteness soon gave way to awkwardness and the soft cheeping to noisy squawking ... and we were the proud owners of gangly city chickens. The next year we gave them chocolate :/