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Niagara Falls
Monday, May 27, 2024
Farm-hers of NOTL: Kim McQuhae

At 16, Kim McQuhae left a note for her parents: “Skipping school today, going out to buy a horse.” Using the money she had saved from scooping ice cream at Taylor’s Bakery and Ice Cream, she went to a horse auction in Stouffville and picked out a nice gentle pony. But then accidentally bid instead on a 4-year-old Arab thoroughbred. “Spicy, spicy, spicy!” Her eyes twinkle as she describes their very dynamic relationship.

She brought the horse home and put him in the family’s garage between her parents’ two cars. In the morning she heard her mother get ready for work and open the garage door.

“She calls up, ‘Kim, what’s in the garage?’ I tell her it’s a horse. ‘Will it bite me?’ I say I don’t think so. ‘Can you move it?’ I put him in the shed, and my mother just went to work, no further comment. When my father came home from a business trip and found the horse in the shed, he just said, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ I should have put the horse in the living room!”

That horse — Rusty — went on to be one of McQuhae’s greatest loves. “We were each other’s world — I would just get up and ride him everywhere. I even rode him to NDSS to pick up my report card — he knocked on the window with his hoof while I was inside! He lived until he was 26. His nickname was Captain Chaos!”

Shortly after she acquired Rusty, McQuhae’s parents moved to Europe. She stayed back to care for her steed, and says, “Who knows what might have happened if it weren’t for Rusty? I could have had a very different kind of life.”

Like that horse, every animal that joins McQuhae’s wild ride at Gryphon Ridge farm has a story, and the farm-her is happy to tell them all in her excited, engaging way.

Elsa the Highland cow was born in a lean-to during a January snowstorm. Her young mother didn’t bond to the calf, so the baby wandered out into the snow. McQuhae’s friend Fred Sentineal happened to drive by and see the calf frozen in the snow, legs up in the air, and attempted a rescue. He and another friend brought the calf inside and warmed her with hairdryers until she revived. “We named her Elsa — because she was frozen,” quips McQuhae (referring to a character in the Disney movie Frozen).

McQuhae chose to raise and breed Highland cattle “because they’re so cute!” She saw some of the long-banged, long-horned shaggy beasts in a magazine, and fell for them. Shortly after that on a visit with her parents in England, she saw the cattle everywhere. She took that as a sign.

On her return she did some research and found a breeder in Ontario. She visited the farm and fell for a white calf — who sadly wasn’t for sale. On a return visit not long after, the farmers had changed their minds, and were selling the white cow with whom McQuhae had been so smitten. “When I told them I couldn’t afford to buy it at the moment, they said, ‘That’s okay, just pay us when you can.’ That’s when I realized that cattle people are the coolest, best, most honest people in the world.” Incidentally that cow, named Faith, went on to give birth to Bucky, McQuhae’s winningest bull and the model for the labels on all of her products.

McQuhae strides around the farm with a Sullivan comb in hand, grooming the cattle as she goes. Each of the animals answers to their name when she calls them, and comes running for the attention and affection she offers. While initially reluctant to show on the competitive cattle circuit, she now has a wall of ribbons and an almost unbeatable reputation. Her favourite bull, the aforementioned Bucky, took Reserve Champion and Champion in the two years he competed.

Given her full-time job as a cable technician, and two part-time jobs as a server at local restaurants, the 10-acre farm is more of a hobby. But with 75 laying hens, eight cows, three horses, and a pot-bellied pig named Wilbur, it’s a full-time hobby.

McQuhae seems to be one of those people with the ability to unfold time and squeeze ten extra hours into every day. Not only does she single-handedly care for her livestock and manage her crops (hay, fruit trees, and an ample kitchen garden), she also makes award-winning jams. “Jams are where I make my money. Cattle are what I pour my money into.”

“One day I had this notion to enter the Royal Winter Fair with my jams. My first championship was in 2007, with lime-ginger-water-chestnut marmalade. Which I actually dreamed about. I won Champion Marmalade! I thought, ‘That was kinda fun.’ So I kept doing it. In 2017 I won Premier Exhibitor — the most points over all. That was a big year: Champion in four categories.”

Her diverse careers were put on hold earlier this year when she was sidelined by a riding injury on her farm. “I was riding Brandy in the field and she threw me. I realized I had an issue when I couldn’t stand up. I called my boyfriend and said, ‘Put me back up on the horse — we need to go by the dog again to make sure she doesn’t spook this time.’ I wound up in emerge three days later diagnosed with a broken L1 [vertebra].”

Other stories close with lines like, “I went out for coffee and a donut and came back with a horse.” Most of them end with, “I just fell in love, and so I brought the [calf, miniature goat, rooster, Fjord-Arab cross miniature horse] back to the farm.” Rescues abound at Gryphon Ridge, including cats and dogs and the aforementioned pot-bellied pig. There is currently a young chicken on the farm who thinks it’s a dog — terrified of other chickens, it goes on regular strolls with Jethro the dog, Wilbur the pig and Kansas City Kitty the cat. (Someone call Disney!)

Why the name Gryphon Ridge? “I had a pitbull named Gryphon, my private investigation business was called Gryphon Investigation. I designed and drew the gryphon in my current logo for that.” Yes, there are stories indeed. “See that manure pile? There’s your ridge.” All of the tales told with a strong dose of humour.

You’ll find McQuhae at the Farmers Market @ the Village for the remainder of the season, and then at markets in Hamilton and Milton over the winter. The farm also has a Facebook page.

You can support our local farm-hers by visiting them at farmers markets, and following them on social media. Linc Farm also sells their meats, sheepskins and wool online, and Bartel Organics has a CSA programme featuring a box of freshly harvested produce every week of the growing season.

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