Sandra Vos’ Masters in Nursing brings her understanding of nurturing, caring and science into play to get the best out of her 80-acre beef farm near Brantford Ontario. “Because of my health background, I have always been focused on wellness promotion, and I felt strongly that good food starts with good soil,” she said.
“Before I had cattle, I went to New Zealand and was amazed at how many animals they have on a given amount of land and how often they move them. I decided that since I can’t rent more acres, I must really care for the land I have and get the most out of it,” Vos said.
Moving the cattle regularly (pasture rotation) is the strategy Sandra uses to maximize the potential of her limited pasture. Rotation allows for recovery after each section of pasture is grazed. In the winter, she brings in about 100 bales of hale to augment her own hay supply, allowing cattle to graze longer. To protect the stream, she has installed easy water access for the cattle, allowing her to fence off the creek to keep cattle out of the waterway. At the same time, fencing off the bush area has provided a space for deer and birds. Vos also piles downed trees and scrub in some of the pasture areas to serve as both a habitat for wildlife and a natural scratching post for the cattle.
Although a relative newcomer to farming, Sandra Vos has made her mark as the winner of Ontario’s The Environmental Stewardship Award (TESA) for 2018. Unlike many farmers, Sandra Vos is a first-generation farmer buying a farm which was in her uncle’s family. And although she is married (husband Leo) and has three children, Aaron (33), Jen (30) and Cory (29), Vos is essentially the sole person working and owning the farm.
“I’m big on research, so I went to workshops, did a lot of reading and prepared my Environmental Farm Plan. One thing I’ve found is that while everyone has theories about what’s good or bad for the environment, some theories are based in sound science and others are just the latest trend. For me, monitoring the biodiversity on the farm tells me if the environment is getting healthier each year and if we’re on the right track.”
While there is still much to learn for this relative rookie to farming, Vos is guided by her past and her passion.
“I learned in nursing how to read studies and I transplanted that knowledge into the agricultural community. More and more, I find myself in awe of the power of nature and its ability to heal itself. If you’re going to farm in harmony with nature, you must be patient. I feel that if you take care of the land, it takes care of you. That means treating it with respect and working with it as much as you can; it was here before me, and it will be here long after I’m gone.”