Alberta Style Sheep Drive


I wanted to share some pictures from running the ewes home last week. We had 250 ewes grazing a few miles down the road at Alyssa’s parent’s farm this summer. Since we only have a 16′ trailer, hauling 250 ewes home ends up being an all day job for a couple guys. The crops were off all along the highway, so we knew we wouldn’t risk damaging any crops by running the ewes down the ditch. 


We had two hired hands as well as myself on quads while Alyssa’s dad drive the side-by-side. Alyssa followed behind with the truck and trailer to help make us more visible, and also to transport any ewes that tired out along the way. 


All in all it went really well. Our road is fairly busy so we had to be pretty cautious. There were a few times the sheep wanted to start crossing the road, and we had to quickly move them off. The hardest part was actually going past one of our neighbours places on the opposite side of the road when their hound started baying at our sheep. The ewes were really curious about the noise and started trying to cross the road all at the same time. Thankfully the dog was fenced in. Otherwise that could have gotten really interesting. 


Thankfully all of us and all the sheep made it home safely. Only one ewe with a sore leg tired out and had to be lifted into the stock trailer. 


If it works out again in the future I think this is the way we will move ewes to and from pasture. It saves a lot of time, and it’s a lot more fun! 

130’s a Crowd

When we were getting started with sheep we had a really hard time finding any information about space requirements for sheep handling pens. We made a calculated guess when we built our pens and chute, and in the end I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I wanted to share some pictures with you to show what is working for us.

This post won’t go into too much detail about our chutes and the flow. I basically want to give you an idea about square footage requirements based on a given flock size.

In this picture we have 130 lambs penned up which are averaging about 80lbs/hd. 100 mature Rideau ewes fit in this pen about the same as these 130 lambs. The pen has some angles and curves in it, but is approximately 17ft x 31ft (527 square feet).

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Across from our handling system we have one pen to sort into. If we are splitting a group, we are usually doing a two way split so one group will go into this pen while the other group is usually running back to the pen they came from down the barn. We have to swing panels across our feed alley to connect our handling system to the sorting pen, but it’s pretty quick to set up. This pen is 12ft x 23ft (276 square feet) the wedge shape coming off the handling system across the alley adds quite a bit of square footage as well. It nicely holds the group that we’re sorting out.

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Our flock is currently 550 breeding ewes and we typically find that we handling groups of around 100 head or less. We’ve found this to be a good sized handling pen for our flock size. It’s large enough that we aren’t constantly going down the barn to re-load the pen, but small enough that it’s not wasting a lot of square feet of barn space.

It’s not a perfect set up, but we’re happy with the way it is working for us. Hopefully it helps those of you out there who are building new sheep facilities.

 

2014 Highlights

Wow! It’s been just about a year since we have posted anything on here. Not to make excuses, but 2014 was a whirlwind of a year. Here’s a photo diary of some of the hightlights.

Our barn roof and service room got re-done after our little mishap last winter.

Our barn roof and service room got re-done after our little mishap last winter.

The unfortunate end of our old "stock trailer". Thankfully our two new rams were just fine.

The unfortunate end of our old “stock trailer”. Thankfully our two new rams were just fine.

Everybody was excited for a new stock trailer with four walls and a roof!

Everybody was excited for a new stock trailer with four walls and a roof!

Not too unusual, but still a really nice set of quintuplet lambs.

Not too unusual, but still a really nice set of quintuplet lambs.

This is one of the proto-types for our self-weaning creep gate. The final version is working fairly well for us now.

This is one of the proto-types for our self-weaning creep gate. The final version is working fairly well for us now.

80 of our lambs participated in a special research project at Olds College.

80 of our lambs participated in a special research project at Olds College.

It was a very, very wet summer. Found this sink-hole by accident one day.

It was a very, very wet summer. Found this sink-hole by accident one day.

Spent a lot of time this summer cutting up concrete cattle feed bunks to haul home and convert over to sheep. It probably ended up being more work than it was worth but they'll make some really nice sheep feed bunks.

Spent a lot of time this summer cutting up concrete cattle feed bunks to haul home and convert over to sheep. It probably ended up being more work than it was worth but they’ll make some really nice sheep feed bunks.

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It was an excellent summer for pasture this year. We were able to keep the ewes out at pasture much longer than most years before we brought them back to our farm.

It was an excellent summer for pasture this year. We were able to keep the ewes out at pasture much longer than most years before we brought them back to our farm.

We are now the proud owners of a cute little miniature horse. We decided to sell our full size horse, Kenya,  this year because she just wasn't getting the attention she needed and then we were thrilled to find out that our neighbor was selling a miniature horse. For this stage in our lives, with so many young children, we figured this would be a much better fit for our family.

We are now the proud owners of a cute little miniature horse. We decided to sell our full size horse, Kenya, this year because she just wasn’t getting the attention she needed and then we were thrilled to find out that our neighbor was selling a miniature horse. For this stage in our lives, with so many young children, we figured this would be a much better fit for our family.

Our youngest, Henry, and Miles enjoying the new horse.

Our youngest, Henry, and Miles enjoying the new horse.

Bringing the ewes back from pasture before the snow came.

Bringing the ewes back from pasture before the snow came.

We found a good used feed wagon so now we can mix TMR feed for the sheep. This allowed us to make the switch to silage feeding this year.

We found a good used feed wagon so now we can mix TMR feed for the sheep. This allowed us to make the switch to silage feeding this year.

We're excited to announce that we will be launching our very own line of ALYSHEEP wool products. The last couple of months last year were filled with planning out this new aspect of our farm.

We’re excited to announce that we will be launching our very own line of ALYSHEEP wool products. The last couple of months last year were filled with planning out this new aspect of our farm.

All four of our kids grew so much this year and we are so thankful and blessed for the many hours we had to enjoy playing with, working alongside and teaching these four little munchkins. Our oldest, Timothy, started kindergarten this year so we've enjoyed our time teaching him to read, write and do some basic math at home. Home schooling has some challenges but it also has many many benefits! We look forward to another great year this year!

All four of our kids grew so much this year and we are so thankful and blessed for the many hours we had to enjoy playing with, working alongside and teaching these four little munchkins. Our oldest, Timothy, started kindergarten this year so we’ve enjoyed our time teaching him to read, write and do some basic math at home. Home schooling has some challenges but it also has many many benefits! We look forward to another great year this year!

Eighty-Five Down… Three Hundred to Go

Yikes, where did January go?  I had intended on making a few more posts before lambing. I wanted to write a little bit about some of the unique things we’re trying out this year. Instead, what we’ll have to do is make a few posts as lambing goes along.

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January started off with a bang… literally. Our barn was one of the many in this area that had it’s roof collapse. Thankfully the main part of the barn was unaffected. Only the service room on the south end was damaged. Still, it set us back quite a bit in our preparations for lambing. We were extremely blessed to have lots of help getting things cleaned up and keeping the farm running at the same time. A huge thank you to all of our family, as well as the Pearson boys, who came to help out. All the wreckage is cleaned up and utilities are connected so that the barn functions as normally as possible.  photo

In the end, we were able to get everything set up in the barn, and lambing started pretty much right on schedule.


As of right now, we have about 85 ewes done lambing and things are going quite well. This is one of the first times that I have managed this many ewes lambing at once. We have nearly 400 ewes in this group. We have done groups this size in the past, but we always had at least one person hired to help out. So far, this year we are keeping up, and I have to attribute it to how much Alyssa has been able to help out. She has been coming out about twice a day with the kids and helping with getting jugs watered and grain fed. Timmy is really keen on learning the ropes and really enjoys using the garden hose to water jugs. All the kids enjoy coming to the barn, even Henry who likes to sleep in his car seat.


We have a few new things that we’re trying out this lambing season and we’re going to try to share those with you as things progress.

Take care
-Miles

Away in a Feed Bunk

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feed bunkI was blessed to spend a little time in the barn this morning doing the feedings.  Come Christmas time, I am always reminded of the manner in which our Savior entered the world.   So often, we forget to even consider the birth of Jesus this time of year.  In our best moments, we think about the baby wrapped up in swaddling clothes lying in a manger, but as I look at the nativity sets all around, I think that we have missed something of the reality of what Christ came into.

As I hurried my way through the barn this morning, hundreds of noisy ewes bellowed at me in their greedy quest to fill their stomachs.  They jostled and pushed their way through the straw and manure to find a place at the feed bunk.  I’ve always been quite happy with our feed bunks as far as feeding sheep goes, but Christmas morning the feed bunks take on a new appearance.  They look dirtier and dustier, the bottoms are caked with old bits of feed and manure and dozens of drooly sheep mouths plunge into the barley that I’m busy pouring.

I stopped to think about the feed bunk.  You see, when I ask my kids about the Christmas story I always ask them where the baby Jesus was laid.  They usually answer, “The manger.”  To which I quickly respond, “But, what is a manger?”  Now, even a lot of farm kids might have a hard time answering this.  Manger is a bit of an out of date word.  My kids have learned the right answer though, “A manger is a feed bunk!”

This is a stark truth when you are nose to nose with a two hundred pound panting drooling old ewe looking into her feed trough.  THIS is it! This is where the newborn baby Jesus was laid those many years ago.  This was his bassinet.

A fresh understanding of what it means that the Creator of the Universe stepped down into the form of a helpless baby to be born like any one of us.  The perfect God surrounded by the filth of a creation so utterly ruined by the sin of each one of us.  One has to ask the question why?  Why would he do that? It’s simple really.  It’s because he loves you!  It was all part of his masterful plan to redeem a world lost and without hope.  His plan to take our sin upon himself that each of us might have the opportunity to trust him and be saved from the consequences of our own sin!  What amazing love, what amazing grace!  And it started here, in a feed bunk.

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Counting Lambs Before They’re… Hatched?

Well, it’s now confirmed that about 400 ewes will be lambing here through February and March.  Yesterday was a full day of running our first breeding group through for ultrasound preg-checking.  We’ve been ultrasounding our own ewes now for a number of years and, though it is a big job, we find that it really pays off pretty quickly.  It allows us to identify our open ewes and, either give them another chance to breed, or identify cull ewes sooner than otherwise.  It also means that we aren’t feeding several open ewes all the way through late gestation and lambing rations, which is costly enough for pregnant ewes.

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We have been using a small portable ultrasound unit from Intriquip.  It’s about the perfect balance between cost and performance for our operation.  We use it simply to identify open and pregnant ewes.  As much as I would like to be able to count the number of lambs per ewe, it would require much more experience and training on my part and probably a more expensive ultrasound unit. IMG_8288[1]

 

IMG_8289[1]We were thankful to have Connor and Brayden Pearson join us for the day.  Once again they blew me away with their industriousness, and we managed to get through the whole group of a little over 400 ewes. IMG_8293[1]

 

Overall everything went very smoothly.  Brayden got to put our new alley system to the test while he ran the ewes up to us.  The night before last, I finished building and installing two guillotine gates in our curved lead up alley.  The idea was to be able to keep small groups of ewes moving up the alley in a way that they could always see sheep ahead of them.  To accomplish that, I used some pieces of overhead door panel for the bottom portion of the gates.  They are nice and light weight and don’t have spaces where sheep can stick a leg through and get injured.  The top portion of the gates is a panel made of galvanized steel rods.  The sheep can see through this part of the panel to the next pen ahead of them.  Sheep love to follow other sheep and it helps them move up the alley when they feel they are following rather than leading.  I ran cables up through a pulley and across the handling pen then through another pulley and across over top of the squeeze.  The plan was that the gates could be raised from either position.  It seems like the design worked, because Brayden didn’t seem to have much trouble keeping us supplied with ewes nonstop all day!  I’m thinking that the only change I will make is to add a counterweight to the lift cable so that the gates can be lifted a little bit more easily and quickly, but so far so good!IMG_8292[1]

 

IMG_8295[1]Meanwhile on the front end I was doing the ultrasound scanning while Connor recorded tag numbers and pregnancy status in the handheld.  We also decided to give these ewes their dewormer while we were handling them, and Connor took care of that while I was busy scanning.IMG_8290[1]

 

This is one job where I am extremely thankful for our Racewell Superhandler squeeze.  It works perfectly for ultrasounding.  What I do, is set the ‘eyes’ to catch the ewes early so their back end is hanging out of the squeeze nicely.  This gives me good access for scanning while keeping them restrained.  It is also very nice to have the ewes up off the ground so I can sit in a chair rather than squatting all day. IMG_8296[1]

 

Ultrasounding ewes is done externally between the left hind leg and the udder.  With a bit of practice most pregnant ewes are fairly quickly identified and the process moves along nicely.  Some ewes seem to require a little more probing around to determine.  The ones that I find most difficult are the open ewes.  Probably because it’s a difficult search when you’re looking for something that’s not there.  I usually spend a fair bit longer on ewes where nothing is immediately visible.  Sometimes it turns out that she is pregnant, sometimes my searching yields no results.  In that case she gets a pink mark and goes into a separate pen.  In our flock, I will wait a few days and re-scan the ‘open’ group of ewes just to make sure that they are all actually open.  At that point I can make a culling decision.  If a ewe is one of our lower producers and is now open, then it’s a good opportunity to ship her.  If she’s normally a good ewe and just didn’t take for some reason, then she will go in with the next breeding group and get another chance in a month or so. IMG_8297[1]

 

Ultrasounding sheep isn’t all that common in Alberta yet.  Likely because the vet association won’t allow technicians to offer the service, as it is technically a veterinary diagnosis.  If you are a mid to large sized flock owner it might be something that you want to look in to.  The cost of the equipment probably doesn’t make sense for anyone with a smaller flock, though several small producers might want to have joint ownership in a unit or some such arrangement.  If you are interested in learning more about ultrasound scanning sheep let me know and I can try to answer any other questions that you might have.

 

Next on the road to lambing will be shearing.  Stay tuned.

 

-Miles

 

Breeding Rams and Helium Balloons

Wow, summer flew by quickly!  Here we are scrambling to get summer jobs done before harvest gets underway (I’ll be helping Alyssa’s family with field work).  Hopefully we have a mild fall, because our list of jobs is pretty long around here.  For our family, this August is a little more crazy than usual as we wait for the any moment arrival of our fourth child! We can’t wait to meet the newest little shepherd/ess and we will be sure to give you all a blog post to announce the arrival.

The kids loved playing with the balloons off the gift we received!

The kids loved playing with the balloons off the gift we received!

One thing that we enjoy about this time of year is getting geared up for another breeding season.  As everyone gets looking for the perfect rams, we get to enjoy meeting so many new people coming to take a look at the breeding stock that we have available.  It’s always a great surprise to meet a new sheep farmer as well as to re-connect with familiar faces.  We always enjoy the many and varied conversations about everything from the weather to politics, and of course lots and lots of sheep talk.  It’s always enjoyable to send some of our best genetics home to a new flock as well.

We just wanted to take a bit of an opportunity here on our blog to thank all of those who have purchased breeding rams so far this season.  We understand what an investment each of us has in our flock and the careful decisions that are made regarding selection and new genetics, so we consider it the highest compliment to have someone select one of our rams to add to their breeding flock.

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I wanted to quickly share a story from today that really illustrates how enjoyable it is to get to know new lamb producers.  Kevin Volkman had been in touch with me for a while about coming to look at our breeding rams, and it was just the day before he was scheduled to arrive that I had to call him and cancel, not a regular practice for us, but considering we were in the labour and delivery room at the Olds Hospital we figured we would be tied up the next day.  Well, as it turns out, Alyssa seems to be having some pretty realistic false labour this pregnancy and after a night of waiting, we went home to continue the long wait.  We re-scheduled with Kevin, and today was the day we managed to meet here at our farm.  Right from the get-go I really enjoyed visiting with Kevin and his helper Marie.  We looked around our barn and compared sheep notes.  It never fails that I learn something new from these conversations.  We looked over the rams and when Kevin and Marie were satisfied with their choice, we loaded him up and finalized the sale.  It was as we were saying goodbye that Kevin grabbed something from his truck and handed me a beautifully wrapped gift complete with helium balloons!  Well it turns out that Kevin’s good wife had heard about our expected baby, and gone out of her way to give us a very nice little outfit for the new baby!  It was hard to believe that these people, without even knowing us, had been so thoughtful to send along such a nice gift.  Thank you so much!

The great thing is that genuinely great people like this are not uncommon at all in the lamb business.  That’s why we’re always happy to have people come over, even if it’s just to see the place and have a visit.  If we haven’t met you yet, just drop us a line, we’d love to get the chance.

-Miles

Timmy’s First Flock

Last summer we had our hands full. Our oldest child turned three in September 2012 and so for a few months we had three kids under the age of three. For this reason, as well as the fact that we live pretty close to a main highway, we decided to build a little fenced in area in our yard for the kids to play in.

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Since the kids were all a little older this summer and our oldest seemed to have a better sense of danger and boundaries, we were thinking of just taking down the fence. That way we wouldn’t have to mow around and in it and quite honestly, it didn’t look very nice having a page-wire fenced in area on our front lawn. It looked a lot more like a sheep pen than it did a nice play area.

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And that is exactly why we turned it into just that, a little lamb pen! Just days before Miles was planning on tearing down the fence, I came to him with the idea of putting a couple of lambs in there for our kids to play with.

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The more we thought about the idea, the more it grew on us. We began to realize the opportunity it would provide for our oldest son Timmy to learn some responsibility as well as give him a chance to learn more about taking care of animals first hand.

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Now, everyday Timmy looks forward to watering his lambs. Miles had the great idea to use an old milk jug to haul the water in because it is easy for Timmy to carry and it has worked great.

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Timmy has not only enjoyed the task of watering his little flock, he also has fun running around and playing with the lambs. So far the lambs are still quite timid around Timmy but I’m thinking if he spends enough time playing in their pen, they’ll eventually warm up to him.

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We started out with two female orphan lambs and then after a few weeks we realized they weren’t quite big enough to keep up with the grass. So Miles brought over a male orphan lamb that needed to get weaned. We figure we may try to sell him as a grass fed lamb just as a bit of an experiment to see how much demand is out there for grass fed lambs.

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We’ll try to keep you updated on what happens to Timmy’s first flock as the summer goes on.

~Alyssa

All We Like Sheep

Two days ago(thursday) was a busy day for us. It seems like time is flying and the pastures are getting deeper and deeper. Meanwhile, the sheep have been penned up inside, many of them finishing up lambing, but about 150 who could have probably gone out quite a while ago. The only reason they weren’t out on that beautiful grass was the state of our fences. It seems like there are holes in the wire all over the place. So, I finally put some of the fencing on the top of my list.

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One of the major repairs was the fenceline that burned in the fire we had this spring. The kids came out to help haul boards around, hammer some nails, saw boards, and haul away the scrap. Everyone worked hard and got the job, mostly finished up. At least enough to hold ewes in.

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The other thing that needed to be done was to run a temporary stretch of fence across between our house and the barn yard. I have always felt that there is an awful lot of grass going to waste around our barns and sheds, and this year I wanted to let the sheep graze it rather than let it grow long or try to keep up with weed whacking it all.

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Well, we worked all afternoon and after supper, when everyone was put to bed, I went back out to finish up until about 10pm.

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Once the fences were secure, I opened the pens for about 150 ewes, finished up a few chores and went to bed. The plan was to keep the barn doors open and allow the ewes access to it for protection from coyotes, but free access to go out and graze when they wanted to. The ewes stayed inside that night as I expected, but when I looked out the window friday morning I was surprised not to see any sheep out grazing all of that green grass.

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For a minute I was worried that they had escaped through some unseen hole and taken off into the hay field. But, when I got out to the barn, there they were milling up and down the alley scrounging for left over hay. I couldn’t understand what they were up to. They had no lambs in the barn or any other reason to want to be in there that I could tell. It just seemed like they preferred the dusty barn over the fresh air and grass outside. I chased them out a couple times throughout the day, and every time they circled around and came back in. The only logical reason I could come up with for this strange behaviour was that the ewes were content being close to the majority of the flock who was still penned up inside, and possibly that they were somewhat attached to the dry dusty hay they had been fed all winter.

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I finally gave up on them and resolved to wait for them to make up their own minds. Well, they spent almost the entire day inside, looking for bits of dusty hay. Finally friday evening they began to come out of the barn in small groups. It seemed like they were finally beginning to warm up to the idea of fresh air and green grass. Today (Saturday) they are still spending most of their time in the barn, but more and more they are coming outside.

I spent all that time fencing thinking our ewes would come rushing out into the sunshine to devour that lush green grass, but no, they decided to stay exactly where they were in a dim smelly barn eating dusty hay.

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Just when I think I am beginning to understand sheep behaviour they always find some way to baffle me. In the end I am reminded that people aren’t so different from sheep after all.

What Separates the Boys from the Men?

We almost didn’t hire any help for lambing this spring. Anyone who is familiar with what lamb prices have been over the last year and a half will know why. We were fully prepared to make the big push through lambing on our own, but were a little worried about whether we could keep up with everything. Thankfully we didn’t have to.

It was sometime toward the tail end of our fall lambing last year when Alyssa invited some new friends from church out to see our lambs. The Pearson family came with all the enthusiasm we’ve come to expect from them. Of course any family with 11 children is bound to bring excitement just about anywhere they go! Towards the end of the farm visit I offered to show the kids how we shear our sheep. They watched with interest, and when I asked if anyone wanted to try their hand at running the clippers I was surprised by the number of takers. I’ve come to realize that this is the way the Pearson family operates, enthusiasm to learn something new and tackle challenges with piles of energy and a big smile.
So when I asked the two oldest Pearson boys, Connor and Brayden (14 and 13) if they could come help out for shearing this year, I was very happy when they said yes.

Shearing was more fun than usual with Connor and Brayden here. Connor must have exhausted every muscle in his body learning to shear, determined to get done as many as he could. Brayden picked up the duties of managing the shearing floor and wool. Both of them worked hard and had a great attitude the whole time. I was excited when they asked if we needed any help during our upcoming lambing. Even though we hadn’t planned on hiring anyone, I knew this was a great opportunity and wanted to make it work.

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The boys came every Friday through the busiest portion of lambing. They took responsibility for almost all of the daily feedings and duties that take up so much time every day. This gave me valuable hours to catch up on the many other jobs that are pressing during lambing like tagging and putting in new lambs.

By the second week here, the boys already had the routine down and before I knew it, they would be through the daily chores and asking what they could take care of next. We got tons accomplished in the few days that they were here, and it always seemed like they were finished a job almost as soon as I gave it to them.

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So, as we wrap up lambing for this spring, we’re going to miss Connor and Brayden working around here. In thinking about our experience with them over the last five weeks I realized how unusual it is these days to come across two young guys with so much character. They always showed a great work ethic for any job I assigned, and took initiative to take care of something that needed to be done even if I hadn’t noticed it. They were able to solve problems on their own, but were honest and forthcoming when things didn’t go the way they planned, like a quad stuck in the mud :). And something that I realized was really unusual was the respect they addressed me with (Mr. Driedger).

At the ages of 13 and 14, I realize that our world considers Connor and Brayden immature and fully expects them to act as such. It seems like the culture of our time expects young people to spend most of their time watching TV and playing video games, rebelling against authority and getting themselves into trouble. But, as I watched Connor and Brayden working, I realized that these boys were acting as was the norm for those their age in past centuries. I realized that they were acting as much more than what our world would expect from them. They were stepping up to their God given role in life – to be a responsible and creative ruler of the earth, creating something valuable with the work of their hands. And this is the dividing line between the boys and the men. Those who take that responsibility by the horns and own it, and those who refuse to. That’s why Connor and Brayden are, at least in my books, men. We’ll miss them around here.

I sure hope they can come back next year!