Monday, June 10, 2013

Bison ranch WWOOFing.

In our most recent WWOOFing experience, we spent just under two weeks at a bison ranch near Calgary.  Our hosts (friends of Jen's friends from her Galapagos trip) were a hard working couple who started early, worked late, and made sure to play sometimes too. 

Accommodations were in their "old house" - this was the original house on the property; the couple has since built a "new house" reusing materials from around the farm and other local finds.

the "old house" reminded Jen of Grandma Whetzel's place

fun with sepia settings

When we first contacted the ranch, we had no idea what kind of farm chores would be thrown our way.  We were really happy with the variety of tasks and the independence we were given on the ranch.  Some of the tasks were familiar...

... like scooping poop (this time: horses!) to make compost
... and planting potatoes
(everyone does it differently)

But unlike our other experiences, this was a working farm and there were many other tasks to be done.  Our first day, we dug a trench and helped our hosts put in a new retaining wall for the garden - it was our first true "dig a hole, now fill it in!" opportunity.  Over the next several days we helped clear old logs and branches, prune their poplar forest, chop and stack wood, prep their yard and garden for spring (planting, lawn mowing, general landscaping), and finish some fence, barn and building maintenance projects.
 conquering fears
not pictured: chainsaw operation 
 dueling lawnmowers
planting: gangsta monkey style

We didn't interact with the bison much, but we spent a good deal of time in close proximity.  From what we observed these are gentle, independent, beautiful creatures. 

 calving season

We did help with animal chores including refilling their all-natural grain in the corral and helping to weigh the animals to determine which ones to send to the butcher.  This second chore occurred on our second day and we (being semi-vegetarians) helped with mixed emotions - but after seeing how well these animals are treated by our hosts, and after understanding more about the benefits of bison meat over other types of meat, and honestly after trying and enjoying bison meat, we got over it.
nothing impure here
rainy day meat labeling

We did spend ample time petting the farm cats and dog.
 crazy Grizz
 forewoman Dixie
elusive but adorable Tigger

Over meals with our hosts we learned about Canada-US trade and impacts on Canadian farmers (namely the mad cow debacle of the 90's), Canadian government issues, and the benefits and challenges of raising and selling bison. 

We also enjoyed some down time with our hosts, and we thank them for sharing their movie night with us (The Iron Lady - highly recommend!), as well as their bicycles and their backyard campfire. 
bison smokies backyard barbeque
biking to the neighbor's
(this is just the road in to the ranch)

And Jen got to catch up with her old friends from the Galapagos over the weekend. 

sunny day reunion
bertie, willie and jen traveling slowly

We also enjoyed a day trip out to Drumheller & the Hoodoos.  The Royal Tyrell museum was really interesting, and the hoodoos were worth the side trip.

he made this face the whole time 
 measuring up at the museum 
hoodoo voodoo
All in all a great couple of weeks.  So many more photos available on Flickr...  Next up: two weeks on our own to explore national and provincial parks between Alberta and Manitoba.  Here we go!

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