History is far from buried on the Dodds farm near Kenton, Man.
In fact, it’s a point of pride for current owners, Cameron and Bea Dodds.
Their 117-year-old brick farmhouse sits nestled in between old-growth trees and long-established gardens, providing a backdrop for the memorial cairn beside the lane, added to commemorate the farm’s over-135-year history.
This year, however, it is the barn’s turn to shine.
Built in 1917 by Arthur Drummond, Cameron Dodds’ great-uncle, and set into the hill overlooking open pasture to the south, the red barn is easily the farm’s most eye-catching feature from a distance.
Outside of the classic style and colour, the building’s exterior betrays few hints at its real age. Bright paint and new windows show the signs of recent maintenance, while the original roof has been covered with metal to preserve it.
Inside, however, the barn is peppered by the remnants of history.
The structure of the building has been largely untouched. Some doors have been widened to fit modern equipment, Dodds said, while the barn now sports a “cow cam,” used to monitor animals during calving.
“We’ve taken out some of the stanchions to make it easier to put in gates for moving cattle about because the way it was set up before, to get from one side of the barn to the other was only one access, so you had to sort of go outside with the livestock to go around,” Bea Dodds said.
In the bottom level, taken up largely by livestock pens, a stringer of metal runs along the ceiling, once used to hang lanterns before hydro was installed in 1947. In the top level, still used to store hay, the open space is broken by a ventilation system encased in wooden pillars, used to whisk out heat and moisture, while an insulated room in the corner was once a source of winter water, pumped from a nearby reservoir to a wooden holding tank.
“It had a sort of mechanical manure-handling system in the barn on a rail system and in the loft too, it had the forks — grapple forks — to move the hay from the wagons into the loft,” Cameron Dodds said, pointing out some of the structure’s quirks, many of which would have been state of the art at the time of construction.
Changing with the times
Now mainly used for hay storage and winter calving, as well as a home for the healthy farm cat population, the barn was once the hub of the farm’s small dairy herd, a legacy still reflected in the milking stalls standing in the barn’s lower levels.
“We still kept dairy cattle for quite a while — and then it went more into the beef cattle and before that there was an era where we used to use it for hogs, you know, finishing hogs,” Dodds said. “I guess at times there was, maybe, some small area for chickens at one time. It’s seen a big variety of livestock over the years.”
“Actually, there is an old henhouse there which we’ve transformed now into a pump room, but through the ’50s and ’60s, they kept a large flock of laying hens and sold eggs for both hatching and for commercial use,” his wife, Bea, added.
“They’d take the eggs to the train, even, when the train came to Harding and take the eggs to Brandon that way or, later, it was delivered mostly by themselves to Brandon,” she said. “Cream was the same thing.”
Most farms milked at least a few cows at that time, Cameron Dodds said, although most were crossbred rather than true dairy breeds.
That cream later became critical to the region’s farms, he added, and his family’s farm was no exception. Trucks, sent out to pick up the fresh cream from farms, eventually replaced rail and became a valuable source of income as well as products like butter.
“What really kept a lot of people going was the cream trucks, especially back in the Dirty ’30s and that kind of thing,” he said. “I guess you could say (the barn) was built in a time that was quite affluent, getting close to the end of the war and after the war — the First World War — and things were quite good. Then the ’20s were very good economically, and then, of course, the crash of ’29 and all during the ’30s was quite difficult — very little income on farms.”
The barn is the latest, but far from the first, structure on the Dodds’ yard to mark a centennial.
The farm dates back to 1881, when Dodds’ great-grandparents, Matthew and Margaret Drummond, settled in what is now the southwest corner of the property with their seven children.
In 1898, Matthew Drummond purchased the north half of the section including the current yard site and soon laid the foundations for a new, more elaborate, farmhouse.
By 1900, the multi-storey brick home was complete.
The farm’s founding father died soon after, leaving the business to his son, Arthur.
A generation later, the farm’s surname changed from Drummond to Dodds.
The farm was rented out during the ’20s, when Arthur and Ella Drummond temporarily retired to Winnipeg. In 1930, however, the pair returned.
“Which was probably the worst time to step back into the farm,” Bea Dodds noted, referencing the grim economic times that hit farmers in the 1930s.
That same era of financial challenges brought Dodds’ father and Drummond’s nephew, Les Dodds, to the farm to work. Drummond later passed the operation to his nephew, paving the way for Cameron Dodds to take the reins in 1992.
“I’ve been here all my life,” Dodds said. “Even as, maybe, five, six years old, I’d be helping my dad do chores and up in the loft.”
The barn was both workplace and playground for the younger Dodds, who remembers bringing hay into the loft by hand, grinding grain during cold winter days, playing with kittens and puppies and working with livestock.
“There’s been lots of changes with all of the modernization, all the machinery — just so many changes,” he said, comparing his current farming style to his childhood. “(There is) a lot less hand labour and more machinery, which is all right. It’s a good thing.”
Today, the Dodds farm is a mixed grain and beef operation, spanning about 400 acres of crops, plus pasture and hay land for their 60 head of cattle.
The Dodds recently expanded further into beef, renting land to bolster their pasture acres.
“One thing we’ve tried lately is grazing corn,” Dodds said. “We do that. We like that. And I guess you could say we’re conservative minded in respect to the soil and that. On rolling land here we have runways to protect the soil from erosion from water and then we have a dam on the property to save the water from getting away too fast, using it for our livestock and gardens.
“We’re not big farmers in today’s standards, but it still keeps us busy and with the livestock we have lots to do,” he added.