Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Spring is in . . . the Air

Milk River. Looking west . . .
My home town of Milk River, Alberta is a small place just north of the Canada/US border.
Tucked into the very heart of farming and ranching country.
Generational farms and ranches surround it on all sides.
The Milk River, itself, meanders quietly through.
A peaceful little oasis, perfect for raising families and finding harmony.
In the sixties, homes built on the edges of the town looked out, quite literally on farm fields.
And, on the west side of town, one feed lot.
Okay, yes, I will admit that said feed lot was across the tracks and behind the seed-cleaning plant.
But, let’s face it. It was very, very close to the town.
And had been for a great number of years.
My dad raised bulls in that feed lot.
It was . . . handy.
I should maybe explain for any of you not familiar with cattle and feed lots, that a feed lot is simply a large series of corrals in which cattle are fattened.
Much like Hansel and Gretel.
To the same purpose.
But with much less candy.
Moving on . . .
Beef cattle are twice daily fed a mixture of grains and yummy nutritious stuff. (But no candy: see above.)
They happily slurp this up, then wander around the corrals and grow.
When they reach a certain size, they are sold either as breeding stock.
Or as dinner.
In a cow, as in any living being, sustenance goes in one end.
Something else comes out the other.
Let’s be classy and call it ‘effluent’.
A poorly-run feed lot will leave said effluent.
For years.
A well-run operation cleans it away.
Every spring.
Ours was a well-run operation.
And said cleaning was a dirty and vastly smelly proposition.
And now the feed lot’s proximity to the town comes into play . . .
Early one spring, just after thaw, Dad decided it was time to clean the ol’ corrals.
He hired a specialized team, who moved in with loaders and trucks.
In no time, the corrals were tidy and clean.
The evil-smelling  ‘gleanings’ were spread on a nearby field as fertilizer.
Job finished. Money paid. Hands shaken.
Dad went back to his regular day.
Now, the town of Milk River has one distinctive anomaly.
It has beauty.
It has peace and prosperity.
And it also has wind.
Mostly from the west.
That springs up . . . whenever.
Usually at the worst, possible time.
Within minutes of the field being spread, the west wind started to blow.
I don’t have to tell you where the accompanying smell went.
Fortunately, the pain was short-lived.
The hot, dry wind that was caused such agony also dried the effluent quickly.
The smell died. Within 12 hours, the people of Milk River could once more draw a decent breath of sweet, clean air.
But the damage had been done.
One woman, the town secretary, unused to the common smells of ranch life in the spring, decided to take matters into her own hands.
She wrote a letter.
On town stationary.
The letter advised my dad that “under no circumstances would he be allowed to operate a feed lot in close proximity to the town.”
Dad stared at the letter.
The feed lot had been there since time began.
Certainly since Milk River had been there.
Was he really expected to shut his business, and livelihood, down?
He went to the mayor.
Who went to the council.
Who went to the secretary.
Apparently the letter had been written without the authorization of any of them.
Well, except for the secretary who really had no authority.
Dad didn’t have to stop using the feed lot.
Something about it being an old established business.
But changes were made.
After that, he did try to be a bit more judicious about where he spread things.
To save the poor, urban noses.


  1. We get the same thing here in good ole Ontario....a farm has been operating for generations, someone sells their farm next door for a subdivision and smells are an inconvenience. A farmers life can be made miserable and often they are forced out. Where the heck do they think the meat on their table comes from?

  2. Oh boy do I know that story! Our hog lot was to the west of our house. In the summer, it was one way to shorten out-landers' visits.

  3. Some say: "That smells expensive." I used to get ribbed in school but I just told them to be glad we didn't raise pigs.

  4. Oh, you really managed to shake loose a memory for me today! Not a particularly "sweet" one, not sweet-smelling anyhow ... many a day we endured the smell of cow, chicken or pig manure being spread on the fields surrounding us. We could smell it at home. We could smell it at school. We could smell it at church.

    I do love how your story ends!

  5. Many years ago, I lived in a town that had a chemical plant that employed many of its citizens. Every now and then an accident would happen, and the smell of rotten eggs would spread all over. This often happened in the summer when windows were open. Nobody made a "stink" about it, we just accepted it. With what we know today, I am sure those emissions caused many health problems later on for residents of the area.

  6. I just randomly fell upon your blog. I noticed "Milk River" on the side bar of the Mormon Moms blog. So I had to click on the link. What a joy to read this story about the place I now call home.

  7. Another delightful telling "effluent" odor and all, Diane! Your friend, Kaye ~ @grammakaye on twitter.


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