REGINA — Ray Kneeland’s chosen profession was actually his second choice.
“I wanted to be a cowboy. Growing up in rural Alberta in the ’50s, it wasn’t all that unusual. But I got married and I figured out that I needed to make a living, too. So I got into trimming hoofs.”
Kneeland started trimming cattle hoofs in 1969 and is now past his 70th birthday, but remains active in his work.
More than 50 purebred cattle producers had Kneeland trimming their bull’s hoofs at Canadian Western Agribition held in Regina Nov. 19-24.
“I’m not sure it pays for me to do it at the show, but I know so many folks here,” he said.
“This is my community and they count on me being here. I count on them. They’re why I come.”
Kneeland grew up near Stettler, Alta., where his parents had cattle, and wanted to be involved in the beef industry from the time he was young.
He worked for ranchers in the cattle country of the Big Muddy near Bengough, Sask., for five summers and spent his winters in the north working on seismic crews.
“I was going to settle down and become a welder. After six weeks on the job, after trade school, I knew I wasn’t going to be a welder,” he said.
Kneeland started out in 1969 with a standard capacity tipping table, but he soon began to build sturdier models when producers began importing large continental cattle in the early 1970s.
“When you’re doing 6,000 or 7,000 cattle a year, you can’t be messing around with machines that might break or let you down,” he said.
After a couple of attempts, the third model proved lucky.
“So in ’72 I quick-like built a third one, heavier yet and taller, so I wouldn’t be bending all the time and hurting my back.”
He still uses that table today.
Kneeland bought a place near Martensville, north of Saskatoon, in the 1980s. He found he could make a “pretty good living being a cowboy,” working with dairy cattle and travelling throughout Saskatchewan trimming purebred beef animals.
“The dairy cattle used to get outside more than they do now and so you didn’t see too many lame animals,” he said. “There was always some trimming. Now they pretty much all get trimmed twice a year. But I don’t do too many of them anymore.”
Kneeland has taken on a couple of younger trimmers, who now have their own businesses, handling the dairy industry as well as the purebred work that Kneeland is slowly giving up while he and wife Noreen pull back to enjoy more leisure and community time.
The couple host a pair of provincial high school rodeos on their farm near Martensville and run trail rides through the warmer months.
Proceeds from those events are donated to charity.
Kneeland also invests time raising money for Saskatchewan’s Kinsmen’s Telemiracle Foundation and he’s known for his no-nonsense manner of involving other cattle industry folks in his charitable activities.
“Heck, during Agribition I managed to sell $1,000 worth of tickets for a draw on a fuel card and … $1,000 in chocolate almonds,” he said.
“It’s part of knowing a bunch of folks and leveraging that to do some good for those that got less of a good shake at life than I did.”