Carlyon Family Blog

Briana’s Introduction to Soil January 18, 2016 08:00

First big news for myself in 2016 is that my team, the Pandas Basketball Team kicked off this past weekend against Victoria Vikes, winning both games. We are currently ranked 8th nationally.

Classes began January 4th, and I am immensely excited for Principles of Animal Agriculture, Introduction to Management, and less excited for the mandatory Communications course and Applications of Linear Algebra.

This past semester I took introduction courses in plant science and soils which has enlightened me on a few things that apply back to our family farm. It relates to our day-to-day farm work and the choices our parents have made for managing our farm

Taking a soils class has been useful in my understanding of the many soils that cover Alberta and more widely, Canada. Using Alberta Agriculture and Forestry’s software, Agrasid, I looked more in depth into the soils that make up our farm. Mostly Organics with some areas Gleysols appear throughout our farm. There also some very small soil patches of the Chernozemic Order. I will explain these soils a little later on.

Knowing our soils allows us to be aware of the common water holding capacity, general pH levels, and the texture. These factors as well as many others, can affect what can be grown on our land, as well as what uses it has. The Canadian System of Soil Classification has 5 levels of soil identification, listed below from largest category to smallest;

Order               Great Group                Subgroup          Family             Series.

Soils are separated into one to three horizons. These horizons and the combination of the horizons lead to the categorization of soil types. There can be up to three horizons, labelled as ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’.

Organics is a soil order that is made up of four Great Groups and Mesisol is one of these Great Groups. Almost 75% of our land is of the Mesisol Great Group, which most farmers refer to as peat, muskeg, or buckskin. An Organic Order is identified by the single horizon ‘A’ consisting of high organic matter (Agrasid identifies as ‘undifferentiated material’) consisting of various stages of decomposing plant matter. The Organics order can be in dry or wet areas. The mineral content is very low because there are no recent mineral deposits. By recent, I mean within the past 10,000 years. The soil is too new to have further developed into other soil types such as Chernozems, Solonetzs, Podzols or Luvisols which contains more minerals.

Growing crops on Organic soil is very difficult as you would face many challenges due to;

  • Low water holding capacity - the soil has shrink/ swell abilities which leads to the formation of cracks
  • High soil compaction - any time equipment drives through the field to seed, or spray or harvest crops, it causes large ruts
  • Low soil density – with more air space, and less soil particles, a seed absorbs less moisture due to decreased contact area to soil. Less moisture can lead to a slower germination.

Agrasid - home quarter soil type

Screen shot of our home quarters soil type from Agrasid Information viewer

Gleysols are identified by the presence of gray or mottling appearance in horizon ‘B’ due to water causing soil reduction. Where Gleysolic soil is found on our farm, it is due to the sediments deposited by water over 10,000 years ago. In Alberta, the main soil types are Chernozems, Luvisols and Podzols, all very common for crop production. Gleysols are uncommon and the prevalence of it throughout our land has little impact on our decision making for the farm.

Chernozems are known to be great soils for growing crops because of their high mineral content and various other assets. It is highly fertile and often referred to as black soil. It is identifiable by its ‘A’ horizon containing organic matter, and its ‘B’ horizon can have high clay or carbon content. Although it is very common throughout Alberta’s grassland regions, it is rare on our farm which prevents us from utilizing its fertility.

Our passion for animal agriculture led to our decision to raise livestock on our land. Our choice to raise cattle, chickens, and turkeys on this land contributes to a higher productivity in comparison to growing crops.


To find out more about soil types on your farm, or your parents, or your friends farm, go to

Jessica`s take on Wetlands October 28, 2015 16:05

Hello everyone 

This is Jessica once again. I have began my fifth year of post secondary education at the University of Alberta. This is my second year here after transferring from Lakeland College. I am in the Agriculture, Life and Environmental Science faculty majoring in Sustainable Agricultural Systems. This program has allowed me to take a variety of courses such as animals science, natural resources economics, soil science, climates and ecosystems and a wetlands planning and management course.

I have only been in this wetlands biology class for a few weeks but it has caused my interest in the function of wetlands to increase.  I have always been inclined to notice frogs and ducks but I am beginning to realize exactly how much wetlands benefit ecosystems and my appreciation for natural systems. 

This past September my class had a field trip to evaluate the hydrology, geomorphology, vegetation and values of three wetlands in the Edmonton area. Of the three we analyzed, I have driven past two of them numerous  as I traveled to and from the farm to my place in Edmonton. I hardly gave them a second thought. During class we were tasked with defining what a wetland is. The definition is very difficult as it cannot include open water over 2 meters deep, but it does include a black spruce forest where there has not been evidence of water on the lands surface for years. 

In Alberta peatlands and prairie pothole style wetlands are considered plentiful. Wetlands are being altered due to agriculture, forestry and the oil and gas industry. I am hoping that this class will give me the knowledge to determine which wetlands are necessary for efficient and profitable ecosystem. Most of our farm land is a peat soil. We have a couple acres that could fit into the definition of a wetland. One area is filled with tall skinny spruce trees,shrubs and sphagnum (various moss species that can be up to 70% water). Although the piece of bush has vegetation indicator species of a wetland there is not sitting water because of the reconstruction of the creek channel has changed the flow of water. Most of this wetlands water source must be from the ground and surface run off can no longer travel through this area. Within this particular bush piece we have a small hay field. Generally wetlands are considered to have very high productivity. 

We have a quarter of land and three quarters of it we refer to as "the swamp". In the north section there is a creek that runs through the middle and it generally holds some level of water throughout the summer. It is during the spring and early summer that the surface run off overflows the creek banks. We have water that floods through the willow shrubs and our pasture. We have had great productivity from this area due to the ample moisture and there is abundant organic matter and nutrients available to the plants.  

We have not changed the condition of the wetland areas as we are not looking to change over the land use to cropping land. We have a cattle back grounding operation and this requires enough pasture land to sustain the yearling steers we want to pasture over the summer. The "swamp" land and the dry fen have value to our farm in that they provide forage farm operation as well as recreational value. I have mentioned before about the high productivity, this benefits our operation as we are able to get a high level of grazing from this piece of pasture as we rationally graze the pasture in addition to the rest of the property. In addition the grazing helps keep the willows from reaching a climax community and out competing the grass species. The variation in the vegetation to levels and species provides a mixed habitat for many different native bird, insect and ungulate species. We have personally spotted ruffed grouse, black-capped chickadee, yellow bellied sapsucker, great grey owl, blue herons and multiple duck species. 

Agriculture is our families way of life and the idea of raising chicken, turkeys and cattle on pasture is satisfying in that we provide value, nutrition and a transparent meat option to our consumers. Agriculture is living off the land and coexisting with the species that were living in the area before we began farming the land. Maintaining the diversity between pasture land, treed areas, wetlands and unfarmed area has allowed us to not only farm the land but allow for natural processes and succession to produce a vast collection of wildlife species. We as a family enjoy seeing birds flitting through the tree branches or porcupines chewing on willow bark when we go find our Carlyon family Christmas tree and white tailed deer bolting from the hay field. The difference in water availability fuels the wetlands which provide a different combination of vegetation for a wide range of wildlife. Frogs, ducks, cliff swallows, moose and coyotes all provide a function for a natural system. We would like to sustain this diversity and maintain a profitable family farm operation. 


 Below: Canadian Geese in our dugout July 7,2013


Below: Briana un-damming the creek to prevent hay field flooding






The Nature of Farming August 8, 2015 09:45

Hi everyone, Rod, the dad here, writing my first blog post.

Farming and Ranching is about raising food. It relies on what nature provides. Sunshine, soil, and water are the foundation. The result is that the business can focus on what it can manage which is the soil but relies on the “weather” to provide the rest. This summer has seen plenty of sunshine but significantly less rain than we normally get. In our 26 year tenure of the land this is the second time it has been this dry.  It brings uncertainty and the need for more planning and thought on what to do. We are thus busy trying to keep looking ahead and making good choices today the may impact us six months to a year away. We have managed the land to be sustainable in our tenure. The result is that the dryness has been less impactful. We have trees planted for shelterbelts and keeping the forest has helped keep the snow on the land and not blown away and as well it reduces the wind during those hot days resulting in less water evaporation off the land.

It is interesting to observe nature on our farm during this dry time. We have built and installed a number of bird houses across our land. Some in open areas and some more sheltered. They have been used and occupied by a number of species. Sometimes by someone you did not plan for. A couple of years ago a squirrel enlarged the access hole and set up house! Back to this year; they have been used as normal. For many, the mosquito is their food source, which is why we have the bird houses. It results in fewer irritants for the livestock. I am not sure what the birds are enjoying this year but the nests are full of young. The larger species that we have purposely provided forest for are also doing well. I have not seen any twins this year but have seen the moose and deer with their young. Last night in a grassy area we not graze I just about stepped on a young fawn. It was very new as it was small and wobbly as it ran to the cover of the forest. The mom was not seen but I bet she was watching. The beavers seem to be okay as they have built a strong dam that seems to be water proof as the creeks are down to a trickle but the dam is full. Any critters that eat grass hoppers are getting fat. We have a significant number of “hoppers”. It will take time but nature will take its course. We see various birds in the fields on the ground hopping around get their fill. In the scat (manure) of the coyotes and foxes you can see the remnants of grasshoppers as well. Flies and wasps seem to being doing well. We have all stumbled into a wasp nest this year and were quickly notified with a sting that we were too close!

We currently have our freezer well stocked with beef and chicken products for you. There are lots of excellent choices available for the BBQ or something for the oven. Call, email or order online to get a product you can trust, know where it came from and support a local family business.

Life of a Farmer June 19, 2015 13:21 1 Comment

Life of a Farmer

I was told it was my turn to write the next blog – so it is me ‘the mom’ Janet following after all three of the girls have posted a blog in the past few months.

I hope this time finds you enjoying our spring/summer weather. Here at the farm, things are going well, with the exception of a severe lack of rain!! Our pastures and hay crops are really hurting, as are many of the grain crops in the neighborhood. This problem is by no means local as most of Alberta and Saskatchewan are way below their usual precipitation for the season so far. It is hard to comprehend what this may mean for us and every other farmer out there!

Shortage of feed is a major immediate concern as everyone is struggling to line up alternate feeds for the coming months and for winter feeding. We keep praying for a decent rain to come down on our fields!

In the other day to day stuff, we are getting close to our first round of chicken butchering, and getting ready for our market on June 26th. This is a busy time as we try to keep our sales list updated and line up helpers for catching chickens and then 2 days later again for the sale! The day after the finished birds leave the farm we get our next batch of day old chicks! So there is only one night without chickens! Not much of a break. They are so cute when they arrive, but boy do they change fast as they get ready to head outdoors at around 3 weeks old.

The turkeys are doing great- except for a darn fox got in a few nights ago! He managed to dig under the fence, past the electric wire that runs along the bottom and then kill off a few of our lovely birds! Our ‘guard’ dog is getting lazy and we need to get him back in his game. But that is the hazards of raising the birds outdoors so they can eat all the grass they want.

Life of a Farmer

From Farm to Field May 22, 2015 10:33

Hello readers.

I am Briana, the youngest of the three daughters at Triple Lyoness Farm. I've taken two years of University Transfer at Lakeland College while playing a mixture of basketball and some soccer. I am currently living at home for the summer while working for Crop Production Services in Westlock, as a crop scout and occasional operations support. I do not necessarily pay rent, but I do provide labour for the farm. Most of our current work is focused on moving cattle around in preparation for summer pasture rotation.

We use pasture rotation to lessen the affects of the cattle upon the grass and give it time for regrowth. We constantly are checking fences and water systems. Our solar water systems pump water into troughs away from the dugout, so that the cattle are not disrupting the riparian ecosystems of the water body. Most access to water on our farm is fenced off to reduce the livestock's impact. Manure and pasture runoff can cause an increase of nutrients in the water which leads to unwanted algae and plant growth. To reduce nutrient runoff from the pastures, we pile manure and bedding for it to dry out and then after spring run-off, we spread it as 'recycled fertilizer' on our pastures. By doing this, we can lower our costs of production because we don't need to buy as much fertilizer from our local retailer. Maintaining fences and watering systems while the cattle are on pasture rotation always keeps us busy throughout the summer.

(Male Mallard duck that I photographed Thursday evening on our home dugout)

As a crop scout for CPS, I have training for weed, disease, and insect identification  and crop staging. This covers all weeds of Alberta, and some found in other areas of North America. A dry year, like this spring has been will help with disease and weed control. In the Westlock area, farmers are growing cereals, pulses, hay, and canola. Cereals can mean wheat, oats, rye, or barley, while pulses are chickpeas, faba beans, and hay fields with alfalfa, grasses, and clover. My knowledge of weeds is useful on the farm because there are many plants that are harmful if they are eaten. Also, knowing whether the amount of weeds is putting too much pressure on the grass that the cattle require to graze.

I am reading up on how many of the plants that we commonly know as weeds are edible for humans. Look for my next blog to find out which plants are edible in your backyard.

Til next time, happy growing!