The skies are overcast when I drive up the Decosse family’s long gravel driveway on a Monday morning. I park in front of the house and step out to meet the resident farming expert I’ve been hearing so much about.
Brayden Decosse has farmed all his life, spent long hours in the combine during harvest, and today carved some time out of his busy schedule to tour me around, teaching me some of farming’s basics.
Brayden is only three years old. But he loves farming and he already has a pretty good understanding what it takes to run a successful family operation — making money, pitching in and staying safe.
I reach down and shake his hand. His mom, Anne, pregnant with her second child, smiles and welcomes me. I crouch down to explain to Brayden why I’m here.
“I just started working as a writer, writing about farms. And I was hoping that you could teach me some things because I know that you know quite a bit.”
As Co-operator readers may already know, I didn’t grow up around farming. A couple of months after starting my new job, I wrote threshermen were “shovelling hay” when really they were “pitching sheaves.”
I have a lot to learn. So it only made sense to track down someone who could share knowledge from the ground up.
The Decosse family runs a cattle and grain operation near Cartwright. They follow a holistic management plan with Black Angus and Hereford-cross cattle.
Brayden smirks and speaks slowly into my microphone. He points to a machine that he says his family uses to “scrape the fields.”
When I ask him why they do this, his answer is simple, “For money.” Right. I make a mental note. Drainage prevents excess water from drowning out the crop.
He soon changes the subject. “I like the cows,” he says. The black ones are his favourite. “But best of all I like baby calves,” he starts humming to himself as he trundles towards the gate. We go inside but, before long, he realizes the calves are elsewhere and turns around.
He runs ahead of us, past his dad Mitch, and up the hill to a gated pen near where we started. “I won,” he shouts, arms up in the air triumphantly. He doesn’t lord this over us long because he’s spotted “Pudding,” a bottle calf he named.
His dad finds a pail and, with Brayden’s help, turns the crank on the hopper bottom bin. Grain falls into the container with a tap, tap, tap. Brayden reaches for the pail, helping his dad carry it past the gate to the calves.
“Are you sure you’re carrying any of that pail?” his dad asks with a smile. “Yaaaaa,” says Brayden, his little legs working to keep up. “C’mon,” he looks over his shoulder to us. The two pour the grain into the feeding trough as the calves trot over. Brayden watches, standing in front of the trough, before he realizes he’s in the way.
He helps out around the farm when he can and watches when he can’t. In the fall, he still has to watch as his dad and grandpa move the cattle home, but he goes with them to check the cattle during calving.
“There’s a combine in the shed that he’d probably love to tell you all about,” Anne says.
Combining is Brayden’s favourite time of year. This year he talked about it months ahead of harvest. His mom says he gets angry if he has to go to bed before his dad is finished in the fields. The family uses radios around the house to communicate with whoever is combining. So Brayden is always hearing what’s going on in the field.
We all walk over to the equipment shed. Brayden runs ahead and carefully climbs the steps of the big yellow combine. His first priority is to show me the horn. His legs dangle from the seat as he reaches over to press a button at the end of the turning signal.
“Beeeeeeeeeep,” the high-pitched honk echoes through the shed.
I sit next to him and his mom stands in the doorway. She gathers up the pale-blue and yellow fleece Tweetybird blanket he curled up with for naps when he was riding in the combine during harvest. Sometimes he watched YouTube videos on the iPad or listened to his favourite children’s songs on a CD.
“What can you tell me about a combine?” I ask him.
“It has a pickup header,” he says. When I ask what this is, he replies, “It picks up in the fields.” He goes on to explain, with some help from his mom, that the pickup header scoops the swathed crop into the combine, which separates the grain from the straw.
Brayden grows serious as he talks about the auger sitting unplugged in the yard. “It rips off arms,” he tells me. Living on a farm means learning the hard facts about safety at an early age.
His mom asks him what goes out the back of the combine. “What? What is it?” he whispers. “Gaaaain?”
“Straw,” she reminds him. Right. That straw is bound up for bedding for the animals in the winter.
Brayden slides off the seat and moves past me to the ladder. His dad stands underneath holding out his arms just in case he falls.
“But I won’t,” says Brayden.
“I know,” says his dad.
Brayden takes us over to the bale wrapper and says they use this to make silage. I ask him how it makes silage and he responds by pointing his finger and moving his arm in a circular motion. The machine wraps bales in plastic so that they can retain moisture and ferment — adding nutritional value.
We start walking back to the house. On the way, we stop by the grain dryer that Brayden calls the air dryer. “It’s for drying grain.” I ask him why they need to dry the grain and he answers, “Because it’s wet.”
I reply, “Oh yes. And you don’t want the grain to be wet, right?”
“Because we can’t combine if it’s wet.”
Brayden stretches his arms up to his mom. “Let’s go to the house. Carry me, Mom,” he says and she scoops him up as we walk back to the house. He has to get ready for preschool this afternoon.
“Thank you for taking me around, Brayden,” I say to him. He peers out from his mom’s shoulder. “Thanks for teaching me. I learned a lot.”
He nods and smiles, rubbing his eyes. I reach my hand up and we shake again.