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Lexie Young

Born to Ranch

BY JESS CAMPBELL

Lexie Young is an excellent example of what the future of Canadian cattle ranching looks like.

There are a myriad of reasons why Lexie Young of Preeceville, Saskatchewan, has always known she wanted to become a rancher when she grew up. She loves cows and horses and crops and open spaces. She loves the outdoors and working with animals. And she has one particular woman in her life who has set an excellent example for what she can expect of her life on the range.

“My mom is the farmer,” says Lexie. “It was her dream to farm and she was determined this was what she wanted to do, so that’s what she’s done. She’s part time at the school in town and full time at the farm, so she works her butt off to have this farm!”

With 100 head of cattle and 2000 acres, there are, thankfully, a few more family members willing to help balance the workload around the farm. “My dad has a part time job and farms, basically doing whatever my mum tells him to do after work. (laughs) Both of my brothers have full time jobs so over the past few years, their roles on the farm have slowed down quite a bit. And my grandparents also help out, too.”

To make sure her dream of coming home to the ranch becomes a reality, Lexie decided to pursue post secondary education at the University of Saskatchewan’s Agronomy department. She’ll graduate in the spring of 2022, and then come home to the farm—but already has big plans in the works.

“I know where I want to take the farm and I’ve talked to my mum about it quite a bit,” Lexie says. “I think the biggest thing with our farm is that we’ve got a really good set up on our home quarter. We’ve redone our entire barn for calving season; it’s just for cows and for calving. There’s a lot of space to keep hay. But one of our biggest things right now is making sure we have enough pasture land for all of our cows. Our plan is to continue to get as much pasture land as we can to sustain more cows and then grow our herd.”

While the farm started with an open herd, Lexie says they’ve worked hard to build their breeding bloodlines and keep the herd closed, which is also something Lexie looks forward to continuing once she’s home full time. But to grow your herd, you need to make sure you have the land base and the hay to feed your animals, especially through the often harsh Saskatchewan winters. “In my opinion, hay land is very important because that’s what sustains your cows throughout the winter,” says Lexie. “Having good nutrients in your hay is really what your cows need, especially through the really cold months. My biggest expansion plan is getting more hay land and growing really high quality hay – the best for our cows to get them through the winter as healthy and happy as possible.”

It’s making sure the herd is healthy, happy and comfortable that drives Lexie to do her best, not only in her Agronomy studies but also in learning everything she can from her mom about managing the ranch. While Lexie certainly benefits from all that knowledge, the hard work is for something else entirely. “It’s all for the cows!” Lexie laughs. “Sometimes the cows are the biggest headache, but really, everything we do is for them. To be able to see your cows go through the auction and get the highest price, or to see that your cows are the best looking out of all the cows at auction, it’s just really rewarding as a cattle farmer. The lifestyle they give you is really amazing. Sometimes, the hours are long and the work is really hard, but at the end of the day, every time you go into the house, there’s a huge feeling of satisfaction.”

Lexie’s intrinsic love of farming is what she hopes other people can see, both in herself and in other Canadian cattle farmers and ranchers. “We care about those cows more than anything; everything we do is for them,” says Lexie. “We’re feeding the people we care about. We’re sustaining the world with top quality beef, and that’s why I continue to do this. Agriculture is just continually growing. Animal husbandry and animal welfare is just getting so much better. I really love being part of all those big changes. I’m really excited to see where the beef industry in Canada goes, because we have all these really awesome farmers and ranches who are always working together to improve the industry. I just love that feeling of accomplishment, knowing that we’re giving the cows the best life they can have while also providing the world with the best beef we possibly can. I just love farming! I think I was born to love it.”

“Sometimes, the hours are long and the work is really hard, but at the end of the day, every time you go into the house, there’s a huge feeling of satisfaction.

Andrew and Jolene Karanfilis

The Best of a Sticky Situation

BY JESS CAMPBELL

When faced with the most challenging time in their lives, Andrew and Jolene Karanfilis dug deep – and came up with maple syrup.

No one could argue that the pandemic hasn’t been hard. Everyone, on some level, has experienced loss, grief, fear and uncertainty, among other things. But as we turn the calendar on another year, there is great hope that maybe this will be the year the pandemic will finally end, and things will finally change for the better.

Andrew and Jolene Karanfilis know this tide of change; they also know fear and uncertainty well. When the pandemic hit, they were working as children’s entertainers in the Niagara region of Ontario. Now, over a year later, they’re beginning something entirely new and different, yet couldn’t be more excited about where their lives are going. “We had such a good thing going with the world,” says Jolene. “But then the pandemic hit, and a lot of people suffered consequences; we were on the bad end. Our business was decimated. Andrew was laid off from his part time job and I was pregnant and couldn’t work. So we really had to go back to the drawing board and redefine what we thought we wanted for ourselves. We dug deep into what we really wanted out of life. We combined our ideas and realized that our all-time goal, individually and together, was to own a farm of some sort.”

People come to farming in a myriad of ways, and Jolene and Andrew are no different. Neither of them were raised on a farm, but that didn’t stop them from pursuing their dream of owning one. “We owned a home and decided to sell it,” says Andrew. “We purchased a sugar bush, a two acre maple syrup farm here in Niagara. This is an origin story. We’re meeting what the market is demanding. There’s still an opportunity for us to do children’s entertainment but we’re integrating it with this sugar bush by getting involved with agri-tourism and education.”

February 2022 will hopefully be Andrew and Jolene’s first maple sap season. Although their sugar bush isn’t currently set up with the infrastructure to produce maple syrup, they have immersed themselves in the maple syrup industry in Ontario, meeting many existing maple syrup producers and even gaining some interest from producers in need of their sap. While Andrew and Jolene wanted to get involved in something “authentically Canadian,” they also wanted something that many other farmers want, too: to build a family legacy.

“We’re doing this for our son,” says Jolene. “This will be an opportunity for him. He has a very different upbringing than I did or than Andrew did. We’re creating a ball that we can pass to him, and he can improve the world as he pleases.”

Out of all the entrepreneurial ideas they could have chased down on behalf of their son, it just so happens that Andrew and Jolene have chosen an agri-tourism opportunity that works well with their existing skills. “I thought, maybe we could make this into something that we could not only pass down to our son but also bring our children’s entertainment business into,” Andrew says. “We want to tie the fantastical to the authenticity and the local feel of it, creating a little space to teach people where maple syrup comes from and how it’s made.”

While there are still uncertainties in their lives, Jolene and Andrew are determinedly looking forward to building their business over the next year, and beyond. “It’s very important to me to let people know that they can build something from nothing,” says Jolene. “With a little observation, you can make all the difference in your life.

My husband and I were put into a very stressful situation where we had to sell our home; it was a very scary time for us. But what gave us clarity were the moments we allowed ourselves to sit back and observe our life, and think about who we are as people and what we want to do with our life. In a way, we have the pandemic to thank for that. We were able to sit at home together and take that deep dive and make the necessary changes we needed to in order to fulfill our dreams.”

“We dug deep into what we really wanted out of life. We combined our ideas and realized that our all-time goal, individually and together, was to own a farm of some sort.

Janna Quesnel

From the Ground, Up

BY JESS CAMPBELL

Starting something from nothing isn’t for the faint of heart, but Janna Quesnel can handle it.

If there’s one thing that is very clear about young farmers across Canada, it’s that everyone comes to farming in their own, unique way. For some, they are proud to be part of a multi-generational operation, working the land and caring for livestock alongside one, two or even three generations of family members. But for others, like Janna Quesnel and her husband, Jason, of Lumby, British Columbia, a big source of their pride comes from striking out on their own and starting something from nothing, perhaps with the goal of someday being a multi-generational farm.

“Having started our commercial cow-calf herd in 2011, we bought our farm in 2013,” says Janna. “The farm was completely run down. There was nothing usable, so we’ve been working at building it up since then. Now, we have 150 head of cattle and 425 acres. We also have four kids now, so it’s busy!”

As with any farm, there are a number of challenges that Janna and Jason need to manage, whether on a daily basis or to achieve their long-term vision for their operation. But with challenge comes opportunity. “I would definitely say that in BC, land costs are huge,” Janna says. “At the time we purchased our farm, the cost seemed crazy, but now it’s even more. So, we’re fortunate to have purchased it when we did. Grass is a big challenge, too. The cost of land rental is a lot. We’ve secured some Crown range, which is good, but it’s also not enough for what we need. So, we’ve built some relationships with other farmers and are working together, and we’ve got some nice rental land and have some great people we’re working with on that. But honestly, our biggest challenge has just been building it from nothing. Blood, sweat and tears really applies!”

It’s likely that most farmers would agree that the challenging days are the hardest to get through and can easily make you feel like you want to throw in the proverbial towel entirely. However, the drive to keep moving forward is often the same, no matter how a farmer may have gotten started. “We’re doing this for our family and for our kids,” Janna says. “Raising our kids here and having them be able to run outside is great. We have 425 acres, so they can run and be free. I love that I get to raise my kids on a farm. For the most part, they see the joyful side, not the stressful side. And they’re just little helpers; they love to learn. Even my three year old, shovelling out the stock trailer, he loves it! Most people would think that’s a terrible job, but he enjoys it.”

While farmers generally take pride in their work, Janna finds that seeing the farm grow into what it is today has been extra satisfying. “Seeing our progress and experiencing tangible results has been quite nice. We’re pretty proud of our animals, too. We take good care of them and do our best to provide a really good environment for them, with the best possible care and good herd health programs. Canadian agriculture has some pretty good standards, too, and that makes me proud. We have really high standards for ourselves and our product, and we’re proud that we’re doing the best we can, as are most Canadian farmers, I would imagine. I haven’t met too many Canadian farmers who don’t take pride in their product.”

In fact, that’s a message Janna believes to be a very important one for consumers to understand, that despite how a farmer got started with their farm, they take great pride in producing food for Canadians. “Anyone who owns livestock cares about their livestock. They care whether they’re healthy and taken care of. Farmers in general are passionate about their product, and their livelihood. Consumers can have faith that farmers are doing their best and providing you with the best possible product they can.”

“… we’re proud that we’re doing the best we can, as are most Canadian farmers, I would imagine. I haven’t met too many Canadian farmers who don’t take pride in their product.

Amanda Henderson

Catching the Farming Buzz

BY JESS CAMPBELL

Amanda Henderson went from milking cows to raising bees, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Farming isn’t an easy endeavor to start, especially if you’re not from a farming family. Amanda Henderson, owner and operator of Henderson Apiaries in Brant County, Ontario, grew up on a dairy farm. For many dairy farm kids, the assumption is that they’ll one day take over the farm, carrying on the multi-generational legacy a farm can bring.

That wasn’t the case for Amanda, as her parents sold the cows and quota when she was in high school. It was while attending university that Amanda started keeping bees on her parents farm as a hobby. “It’s been 11 years now,” says Amanda. “I started with just a few hives, but grew it into a side business. I work full time for a commercial beekeeper that’s about half an hour from home. I’ve been there for seven and a half years now. We focus on breeding queens and selling bees to other beekeepers.”

While Amanda also raises queens, her focus at Henderson Apiaries is producing honey, beeswax candles and other products. Amanda is quick to say that beekeeping wasn’t really on her radar as something she wanted to do with her life, let alone raising the coveted queen. “If I’m being honest, I stumbled into queen rearing a little bit,” Amanda says. “I was at university and was really getting into beekeeping. We’d had our hives for three or four years by that point. I wanted a job in beekeeping but a lot of those jobs, especially entry level, are seasonal. I was hesitant to quit my year-round part-time job, but I started looking around for where I could get a job in beekeeping. Half an hour from home is a queen breeding operation. My boss had worked for the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association for years and eventually left that job and started her own queen rearing operation. She was about four years in and working on expanding when I was looking for a job. I ran into her at a beekeeping meeting and told her I was looking. And I’ve worked for her ever since.”

When asked what she loves about beekeeping and raising queens, it’s very clear Amanda loves pretty much everything about it, including working with larvae (yes, larvae). “I love the seasonality of it. The queen rearing season is relatively short; we usually start grafting larvae in late April and go until late July. When we’re raising queens, we’re selecting our stock for the genetic traits we want. Once we have our mother lines selected, we start grafting larvae out of those breeder hives and take them into a cell builder hive. We’ll raise the larvae into a queen cell, then 10 days later, that cell is ready to harvest. We can either sell the cell to another beekeeper or use it ourselves by letting it hatch out into a mating unit where that queen will mate with the drones, which are male bees. At that point, we can sell her as a mated queen or use her ourselves for expansion or replacing older stock.”

Amanda says she loves all the different aspects of beekeeping and queen rearing, such as paying close attention to the blooming schedule of flowers to understand what the bees are pollinating, when. But just like any other type of farming, there are always challenges as well as consumer misconceptions about beekeeping and apiaries. “It’s so tough. There’s a lot of fanfare around honey bees. People don’t realize there are, like, over 400 native species of bees here in Ontario. A lot of the bee populations that are under threat are actually some of the native bees. We’ve got the European honey bee. They’re living in a lot of the world and are pretty adaptable in terms of pests and diseases. But some of the bees that people aren’t reliant on for income get overlooked, and I think that gets mixed up in the media sometimes. Plus, there’s different management practices, there’s micro climates, there’s so many factors that make beekeeping difficult. I mean, they just go fly! We can’t tell them where to go! (laughs) They will go for three miles from wherever their hives are, and I can’t control what happens within a three mile radius of all my hives.”

Even with all of the challenges of beekeeping, Amanda is truly passionate about her work and her business, especially when she’s able to foster a connection between agriculture and the consumer. “To be able to meet my customers and say, ‘this is local, the bees made it.’ To provide that connection for people, I think they really value that.”

“… there’s different management practices, there’s micro climates, there’s so many factors that make beekeeping difficult. I mean, they just go fly! We can’t tell them where to go!”

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