It’s very dry here this summer, luckily our stewardship of the wild prairie means we have ample grass for our livestock. But our hay and forage crops we use for winter feed are starting to suffer. If we get some rain in the next week things should be okay, so keep your fingers crossed. Drought always makes me think of the people that settled here 100 years ago and the hardships they endured. TK Ranch is located in a semi-arid region of Alberta called the Special Areas, 250 kms NE of Calgary. Many people haven’t heard of this remote and beautiful part of the province, but it has a very interesting history. The vast grasslands of east-central Alberta were first settled in the early 1900s by pioneers that had been lured by the federal government’s promise of rich farmland and countless opportunities. Settlers were given a quarter section (160 acres) for $10 as long as they met the requirements of staying on the land for three years, breaking at least 30 acres and building a permanent residence there. But for many settlers the transition to living in the wilderness of western Canada was a major adjustment. To begin with, there were few building materials on the treeless prairies. As a result many pioneers built sod houses called “soddies” which offered good protection from the elements, they were warm in the winter and cool in the summer. One is pictured.
For many years the prairie was a good place to live. Many small towns, like Spondin located 10 kms west of TK Ranch, used to be thriving communities. But the “dirty thirties” changed everything. In 1921 the population of the area was approximately 30,000 people. When the drought began the prairie showed her true nature. No rain meant crops wouldn’t grow and dry weather was ideal for grasshoppers. So even if you did get a crop, the hoppers would take it. While many people consider 160 acres a lot of land, in this semi-arid country you require about 40 acres for one cow/calf pair. So imagine these poor people trying to live when they could barely get enough water for themselves, let alone their gardens, crops or livestock. Wheat yields dropped from 34.8 bushels per acre in 1927 to 1.1 bushels in 1931. Many resorted to eating gophers, grasshoppers or whatever they could find. Unbelievable dust (dirt) storms were recorded in the area and many cultivated lands were left unfit for human or animal to live. Pictures of a dust storm and desertification are shown.
In addition to starving, these settlers were so poor they couldn’t afford to pay the taxes on the land they had homesteaded. This meant they were faced with potential jail time. The Alberta government recognized this crisis and offered these pioneers the option of giving their land back to the crown and walking away with their debts paid. The Special Areas Act was passed and in 1938 the Special Areas Board was formed as an agent of the crown to provide administrative services for those people who wished to remain. Twenty-five thousand people left the area and the crown recovered 1.5 million acres of homestead lands. Today 5,000 people live in the Special Areas of Alberta.
Our hens are out on grass and enjoying the sunshine! Our soy-free eggs are available at our regular pick-up locations. $8/doz for extra large, $7/doz for large, and $6/doz for medium. They are in short supply; sorry! We have purchased more hens to try and increase production so please be patient and thanks!
Experience the breathtaking beauty of TK Ranch by following my husband Dylan’s photos on Instagram. He updates the site almost daily so you can keep in touch with what is happening here. We hope to develop calendars and sell framed prints in the future — so please stay tuned.