A letter from a Pasture Manager’s Wife

The letter below was submitted to us on behalf of a PSAC member’s wife. The member, a Pasture Manager in Manitoba, received an affected letter, along with all employees on federally owned pastures, and his wife explains how the effects of this government decision are far reaching.

Progress or Purgatory?

With the recently released 2012 federal budget, or more specifically, the cuts, the title “Progress or Purgatory” is more than applicable.

There are many more affected Canadians than the federal government is letting on. In the Agriculture sector alone, many positions are being deleted. The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) branch is being completely wiped out, will no longer be a government agency, and, within a few short years, will cease to exist.

We are a rural family living the dream, or were up until April 11, 2012 when we had the rug pulled out from under us. We are one of the affected families in the PFRA. Not only did the federal government and its agencies not give prior warning, they have now left us in limbo. We have received no official date of termination; only a vague reference to this year; or next year. But considering the well laid out plan thus far; it could be next month.

Was PFRA eliminated because it is a cost-recovery agency that runs a profit (or close to it)? Or was it wiped out based on the government ideal that to progress the government cannot run businesses. Progress or not, it sure feels like purgatory to us.

This is our story.

My husband is a Pasture Manager in the PFRA system. In short, his job is a professional “cowboy”, the only difference is the paperwork. As a young man he wanted to live the dream of riding horses and working cattle. In today’s technological age, there aren’t many avenues to provide this service. So off he went to obtain a position in the PFRA system. He worked as a Seasonal Rider for many years, striving to prove himself & his competency. He worked hard to move up the ranks; finally obtaining success and becoming a Manager. This type of job may seem trivial or out-of-date to some, but to him it was worth its weight in gold. Doing what you love on a daily basis is what we all strive to do, and it was something we as a whole family were proud of. 

Four years ago, when my husband finally received the promotion to Pasture Manager in an area of Manitoba unfamiliar to us, we moved lock, stock and barrel to our new home; our kids were enrolled in a new school and I had to find a new job. We all live at this job 365 days a year, and inquiries come 24-7. This is a more than “full time” job; this is a way of life.

My husband works daily, checking cattle, maintaining the facility, ensuring that the job is done right; and on weekends and summer holidays our kids are right along with him. If the cattle break fence on the weekend, it’s all of us rounding them up. If a water system stops working on a weekend, we can’t wait for Monday to fix it. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t phone or stop by asking about programs, rates, pasture availability or a hundred other questions.  And if my husband isn’t in the yard when one of these questions is asked, the kids or myself get to be secretary and forward the question. Yes, my husband is the only member of our family on payroll, but we all play a part in the success of his job.

There are 87 pastures in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, about 26 of those in Manitoba. For the most part, each of these pastures has a manager, with a few exceptions where a manager might manage two or more pastures close together. Part of being a Pasture Manager is that you have to live “on site” where you rent your “home” for as long as you are employed. Many Pastures have housing for the Riders, as well.

Managers and Riders have to provide their own horses and tack. So, in essence, each is a “farmer,” but without the personal farm or livestock (owning more than 12 head of cattle is frowned upon and considered a conflict of interest). Most employees nearing retirement have the funds ready or have already purchased their retirement home or property. But for those of us who were planning to spend another 20-30 years working, we are left with no job and no home. Sure, we were planning ahead, but so far most of our extra income has gone back into the job to buy better horses and riding equipment. We were finally at the point where minimal amounts annually went back into replacing animals and tack.

The Managers and the Riders equity were in their animals and equipment. Of the 26 pastures in Manitoba, all have at least one employee; many have three or more. Each employee owns four horses, on average, and all the necessary equipment.  This works out to a minimum of: 

  • 75 people unemployed;
  • 300 unneeded horses, most of which will be for sale immediately. Horses previously valued at $3,000 will now be worth $700 as they flood the market;
  • Related riding equipment, per employee, valued previously at a minimum of $10,000, will now be worth best offer.  

And these are just the Manitoba numbers. Quadruple that to encompass Manitoba and Saskatchewan: 1,200 horses for sale, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of riding equipment, 200 families looking for jobs and homes, all of their equity is worth next to nothing. As for jobs, I don’t see many ads in any paper looking for a hard-working, honest country boy. Re-training is their only option.

There may be those that are thinking, “It’s a fact of life; move on.” But what if the politicians were told tomorrow, “Move out of your house and get a job farming”? Would they handle the situation with grace and poise? I think not. They would be kicking and screaming to keep their jobs. We are neither kicking or screaming, but would have appreciated fair treatment, advance notice and proper compensation, for all we have sacrificed.

Now, with my husband’s job loss, we are looking for a new home and he is looking for a new job. Heck, I may also be looking, depending on where affordable housing can be found. The kids have to move to a new school, and we hope to find a place where we can keep some of our precious animals. How do you say goodbye to an animal that has worked alongside of you for the past 13 years, helping you earn your wage? Especially when he is past his prime, blind in one eye, and the only buyer would be a slaughterhouse.

Banks don’t loan out money to hopes and dreams. The next few months would be easier to take if they did.

A Pasture Manager’s Wife