Feed rations important | Animals weighed and vaccinated, heifers bred, bulls tested for sperm viability and feed efficiency
CROSSFIELD, Alta. — Earl and Jonathan Scott were not entirely sure where they were headed when they decided to convert a former dairy bull facility into a purebred cattle development centre.
“We thought we would get some heifers and some bulls. We ended up with more heifers overall,” said Earl, who owns the Crossfield Creek facility with his wife, Debra, son, Jonathan, and Jonathan’s wife, Camille.
They placed a few ads last year and soon the phone was ringing with inquiries about what they might have to offer at their central Alberta facility.
Heifers came from as far away as Kelowna, B.C., but most are from central Alberta.
The heifers arrived in September and October and weighed 550 to 700 pounds. They are set to gain 1.25 lb. per day.
Many purebred operations calve in February, so these young females need to be ready for a breeding program by this April.
“You want them flush and cycling and ready to be bred in the spring,” said Earl.
The bulls also weighed 500 to 700 lb. and will be raised to gain three to 3.5 lb. per day with advice from a local veterinarian and nutritionist.
The Scotts grow their own silage and hay as well as some of the straw needed for bedding. The cattle receive a mixture of silage, hay, pellets and a small amount of grain from the silage mix.
The feed is analyzed, and pellets balance the ration for what the bulls need for growth.
Cattle need proper nutrition for breeding. Skinny animals are not going to calve.
“If you are not developing them right, it is hard to get heifers to calve and hard to get bulls to produce semen.”
The bulls are destined for commercial herds, and customers can have the animals tested to make sure they are capable of producing semen.
The Scotts will also breed heifers before they return home in spring if customers request the service.
“A lot of them are smaller breeders and quite a few of them have other jobs,” Earl said.
“They don’t have the facilities and they don’t have the time and in some cases, people don’t have the knowledge to develop them.”
The family has 300 Angus, Hereford, Gelbvieh and Limousin on the site.
The cattle are held in large open pens, and all animals are vaccinated. The bulls are weighed once a month and the data is sent to a veterinarian who uses it to assess how well the bulls are using feed.
“For purebred cattle, people are expecting a little more care and attention than commercial cattle,” he said.
“The things we try to concentrate on here is lots of straw in the pens and bedding. They don’t have tag and manure hanging on them and they are looked at all the time.”
Jonathan checks the cattle every day and is able to offer personal care.
“I told customers to be prepared to pay for bedding because I can’t stand cattle with tag on them,” he said.
The family adds canola straw to the bedding pack because it sheds moisture.
The Scotts also have a large purebred Angus operation, and some of their bull customers have asked them to take care of their commercial heifers as well.
This facility once housed Holstein bulls that were being held before they went to the Western Breeders centre for semen collection. The site is licensed under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as an artificial insemination bull housing facility.
Earl started with Prairie Breeders in southern Alberta and then moved to Western Breeders at Balzac, north of Calgary. He ended up as vice-president of operations, supervising 80 staff and 600 bulls.
He also worked as an artificial insemination instructor.
“I likely trained 2,000 people in the prairie provinces,” he said.
That background has prompted customer requests to hold onto their cows while they wait for embryo flushing.
A project with Alta Genetics in-volves holding Brahman type cattle that are going to be flushed for embryos. These are implanted in recipients to produce more bos indicus type cattle. The resulting genetics will be shipped back to South America.
This site was engineered in 2002 and was among the first to be built under Alberta’s Agricultural Operations Practices Act as an intensive livestock operation.
“We broke the ground. We had more red tape to go through than anybody else because we were the first,” Earl said.
“When we decided to build this, we went around and talked to all our neighbours and told them that we weren’t running 10,000 head here. It is a small, hands-on facility.… Our goal isn’t to be like a big feedlot.”
The company has also developed an environmental farm plan and is ready for whatever the cattle industry requests.
“You never know what is coming down the pike. We are on a small land base … we are not into grain farming. We like cattle,” Earl said.
“If we can’t make money looking after cattle, we are open to facilitating whatever the client may have.”