The stall belonging to High Bluff Stock Farm in Inglis appeared like many others at Brandon’s Ag Ex last month.
It was nestled midway through the Charolais barn, marked overhead signs announcing the farm’s name and a display at the mouth of the aisle, and now adorned with a banner marking the farm’s success in the show ring. Turning the corner, the view opened up to a line of cattle, each waiting for their turn with the brush and the blow-dryer before their appointment with the judges. Around the stall, the team bustled and clippers buzzed.
A second look at the team, however, might reveal a sight that is still attention grabbing, despite Canada’s consistent rise of female farmers since 1991 (according to the 2016 Census of Agriculture).
Everyone showing under the farm’s banner was a woman.
Five daughters make up the next generation at High Bluff Stock Farm. The sisters, Fawn, Haylan, Autumn, Erin and Tomina, all grew up on the farm and, in the case of Erin and Tomina Jackson, have now joined their parents on the operation full time. All five planned to make some appearance at Ag Ex.
The extra hands, likewise, were female. The sisters arranged help from Cassidy Elder of Saskatchewan, who agreed to lend a hand on top of showing her own cattle, as well as Heidi Nicholls, an Australian who had met the Jacksons while judging a recent Charolais youth show and had been visiting the family. A local 4-H’er, Ella Marzoff, helped round out the team.
“All of my sisters, we really love agriculture. That’s why a couple of them have come back to the farm,” said Fawn Jackson, also the senior manager of government and international relations with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. “I work in agriculture. I certainly invest all of my vacation and spare change. I invest in the farm both in time and money and it’s so great to come back to the farm. There’s something special about working with animals and working on the land and being outside. I think that sometimes, as farmers you forget during the really high peak stress seasons just how wonderful that job is. Certainly, those of us who work in an office full time are envious.”
Back to the farm
There was little question that Erin Jackson would end up on the farm, despite seven years’ absence and an established career as an agronomist. She wanted to be a farmer at a young age, she said, something that eventually shifted to the desire to work in “something outdoorsy,” and eventually cycling back to agriculture in university.
“I got an ag summer job, and then I got another ag summer job, and then I was completely hooked,” she said. “I liked scouting fields.”
Even as an agronomist, however, her holidays were spent helping out on the farm.
Then, two years ago, Erin Jackson took the plunge. She left her job and moved back to her childhood farm and a partnership with her parents and youngest sister, Tomina.
The result, she said, has been even better than she thought it would be.
“It’s great and it’s challenging and the learning curve some days is really steep and some days I’m like, ‘I’m not sure I can do this,’ but it’s so much fun,” she said.
“I like the livestock, but I really like being in the field and scouting fields and I really like being in the combine,” she added. “Combining might be my favourite job.”
The family currently runs about 200 head of purebred Charolais and Simmental cattle, including the animals that made the trip to Ag Ex this year. On top of that, the family works 1,400 acres of canola, seed barley and wheat each year.
It is in those cropped acres that Jackson’s background as an agronomist has come into its own. Jackson has drawn on her previous job experience to play with the canola agronomy, an area she self-admittedly “geeks out on.”
On the livestock side, the sisters have helped reintroduce the farm to embryo work in their purebred herds and have given the farm new life in the show circuit.
The latter of those paid off in October when High Bluff Stock Farm walked away with the Little Lady Classic Championship from Ag Ex.
The family, and their mother in particular, has also ramped up ag advocacy. The farm has worked with Ag in the Classroom, as well as the yearly Canola Camp, put on for the food industry every year.
“We bring people who are influential in the food industry. They come and tour rural Manitoba,” Erin Jackson said. “We’re their beef stop. They also go to a bison farm, a honey farm, a couple of grain farms actually, and just talk to farmers and that’s one of the things that we kind of really like to do. We like to talk to the public.”
Public exposure hasn’t been without its moments of nervousness, although Jackson says the Canola Camp has been largely positive so far.
The farm, and the sisters, now turn their attention to the Western Canadian Agribition in Regina Nov. 19-24.