winston

In February 1973, the days of hauling small bales on a wooden hayrack pulled by a team of heavy horses to feed the cows were almost past. However, Millarville, Alberta, rancher Winston Parker still adhered to the old tradition with help from my brother, Art. I jumped at the chance to tag along with them one Sunday morning.

I needed to shoot black-and-white pictures depicting a winter activity for my photography class at SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary.

That Sunday morning dawned a milky winter day with little delineation between the horizon and the sky. Even the Rocky Mountains to the west were obscured and there was no sunshine in the forecast. However, it could have been worse because there wasn’t a blizzard driving white-out conditions. 

Listen up, Elaine

Before we entered the barn, Winston got my undivided attention with two stern warnings. First, I wasn’t to get near his workhorses, Bobby and the Baron, especially the Baron. He tended to be a little skittish at the best of times. If I spooked the team, I might cause a runaway that could result in one of us getting hurt, the horses injured, the cattle scattered or the rack wrecked.

Second, I wasn’t to pet Smokey, the dog; he didn’t like strangers either.

winston bobby
stacking bales

To start the day, the team pulled the empty red rack to the stack where Winston and Art loaded 80 small square bales. Winston fed a total of 160 bales daily, which meant a trip back to a stack to manhandle more feed. The 160-bale total of hay or green feed didn’t include the straw Winston put out to bed his cows.

Breakfast is served

cattle
winston
cattle feeding

Winston’s Hereford cows patiently waited for breakfast in two different pastures. Always keen on increasing efficiency, Winston engineered his own hatchet that he and Art used to cut the bale strings.

When the snow was deep, Winston traded his rubber-tired red rack for one with sleigh runners, also painted red. His heavy horse team didn’t flinch at the weight they pulled or the predictability of the daily morning routine.  

Don’t forget the watering hole

winston

Winston’s sidekick, Smokey, supervised the cattle feeding. He also jumped down off the rack to watch Winston cut holes in the ice on Sheep Creek where the cows could get water. Feeding the cows took the better part of each winter morning no matter what the weather.  

Back at the barn

horse

When feeding was done for another day, Winston put up his harness. Bobby and the Baron headed out of the barn. They had the rest of the day off.

winston

When Winston and Art headed up to the house, Marj had a pot of steaming coffee and a stack of sandwiches waiting. Winston carried the bridles indoors. That ensured the bits wouldn’t be ice-cold the next morning when he went to harness Bobby and the Baron.

***

I had a great time that long ago morning. Although the horses, the dog and even the cows scrutinized me carefully, my presence didn’t create havoc. That was a relief.

That spring, when our class staged its photo exhibition, Winston, an enthusiastic amateur photographer himself, attended. He was pleased with the display of pictures I had taken during my Sunday ride-along. He was even more pleased when I sold the photos and a story to The Western Producer. It’s a farm newspaper headquartered in Saskatoon, Sask.

A few months later when the feature story was published, Winston’s friends and neighbors congratulated him. They were glad he had provided me with an opportunity to document a disappearing facet of farm life.

By then, massive tractors hauling huge bales of hay were fed to the cows and still are. However, it still takes a dedicated cattleman to see it gets done.

A gentleman of the old school

Winston was such an extraordinary friend that I was honored to write “Saddles and Service: Winston Parker’s Story.”

saddles and service

In his book, Winston used several of my photographs. He also shared a selection of his own shots including a cow whose face was filled with porcupine quills. He explained, “I took great pride in my cattle and took good care of them. Perhaps that’s why I shot so many photos of them.”

I cherish the memory of tagging along with Winston and Art. Funny, though, it doesn’t seem like that Sunday field trip took place 50 years ago.

winston parker

Know of anyone who enjoys reminiscing about rural life? If so, please share this post. It would please Winston immensely to be remembered and you’ll make my day, too.

To learn more about my friend, Winston Parker, click on these links to other posts about him.

Elaine Thomas
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