Still judging cattle | Breeder enjoys meeting others in the business
Some of Bud McBride’s dreams are coming true after 75 years of involvement with black cattle.
“In our dispersal catalogue, I wrote a line saying, ‘I can hardly wait to see the pastures turn black,’ and have they ever,” he said in an interview during the recent Calgary Bull Sale, where he judged the Angus show.
That was in 1996, when he and his wife, Barbara, decided to slow down by dispersing the Riverbend Angus herd at Benalto, Alta. They have never left the cattle business.
McBride was born in 1928, and his Alberta roots go deep. His great-grandfather, Alexander McBride, was mayor of Calgary in 1896 and owned a hardware store.
There were four sons, including McBride’s father, Jack, who was born in a small house where the Telus office tower now stands in downtown Calgary.
One of the sons was a heavy drinker and somehow ended up with a section of land west of Red Deer.
“He didn’t know he had it until the tax notice came,” McBride said.
Jack left school and took over the land, which was covered with heavy bush and trees on good black river bottom soil. He cleared it using a Rumely tractor and later a 1927 John Deere pulling a 22 inch breaking plow. The place was named Riverbend Farm, and Bud was born in what amounted to a granary with a lean-to.
Jack spied some Angus cattle while showing a group of Holsteins at the fair in Benalto, Alta., in 1932, and decided he wanted them.
“It is kind of a miracle how we got into them because in those days they sure weren’t looking at Angus cattle,” McBride said.
“They were as unwanted as anything you ever saw.”
Jack registered the first cattle in 1936 and slowly built the foundation cow families called Blacklass, Blackcap, Ellen Erica, Blackbird and Barbara.
McBride started showing cattle when he was 10 and placed last his first time out. Three years later he had the champion steer at the Calgary Spring Stock Show.
He entered a judging competition sponsored by the University of Alberta in 1945 because he wanted to learn what made a good breeding animal. He won that competition over his good friend, Orin Hart of Claresholm, Alta.
“I had gotten an American judging book with lots of reasons, and that really helped me,” he said. “I beat Orin only because I had reasons.”
McBride would eventually judge cattle at 4-H events and large open shows in every province as well as the United Kingdom.
In an effort to expose producers to good cattle, the Alberta government would load the winners from the summer fairs onto 14 boxcars and send them to the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto in late fall.
Many Americans also showed in Toronto, and McBride began learning from them about grooming and preparing cattle for presentation.
“I liked cattle, and I didn’t want anything to get in my way of learning where the good ones were,” he said.
He was a hard worker and eventually joined the crew that looked after the J.C. Penney cattle, which took him to shows in Chicago, Fort Worth, Lexington, Kansas City, Kentucky and California. He didn’t care much for washing cattle, but appreciated the results.
“My job was to send these show cattle to the ring. That was my contract,” he said.
“I loved dressing them.”
He would be part of the fitting and showing crew for numerous national championships, including Penney’s Homeplace Farms Best-10-Head four years in a row in the mid-1950s.
While working for this crew, Mc-Bride was asked to fit a woolly looking black steer for Janice Hullinger, a 15-year-old girl from Manly, Iowa. Named Shorty, it won the grand championship in Chicago.
Hullinger was paid more than $16,600 for the steer and was invited to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1954. The steer was loaded into a crate, and McBride accompanied it on a turboprop plane to New York for the TV appearance. He stayed in a suite at the Waldorf Astoria.
“Just think — from a granary on the farm to the Waldorf Astoria.”
McBride married Barbara in January 1959. She grew up 15 kilometres from his family farm, but they never met until they were adults.
She had finished agriculture college at Vermilion, Alta., and wanted to farm, even though she was raised in the city.
“I always wanted to farm and I just figured I needed to go up north and homestead because I’ll never get there from the city,” she said.
They were offered a job managing a ranch in northern California. Their honeymoon was showing cattle in Phoenix before heading to the new job. A year later, they returned to Alberta to work at Riverbend Farm with McBride’s parents.
A pivotal change was their decision to buy the grand champion bull from the All American bull sale in Denver, Colorado. The bull, named Ankonian of Marwood 1626, or Model, changed their lives.
“We brought him home and he changed the Angus industry in Al-berta,” McBride said. “The power was there and he put us on the road. We won the Calgary Bull Sale twice with sons and the group of five.”
He eventually convinced his dubious parents of the need to buy a bigger bull. He paid $2,500 for a long bodied bull named Camilla Chance 37T, which rode home in a one ton truck. The bull was eventually re-named Colossal.
“We didn’t realize at the time the gold mine we had in that bull,” he said.
McBride’s parents retired in 1967, and the Riverbend herd of 400 cows was dispersed.
“That sale was the second highest grossing livestock sale in North America that year, only with a $550 average, but sales were averaging $200,” he said.
They started again and rebuilt reputation cattle that have been exported around the world, including a shipment to the Dominican Republic for Hays Farm International.
McBride was a member of the boards of the Central Alberta Angus Association, Alberta Angus Association and Canadian Angus Association. He was on the national board when it was agreed after two years of controversy to accept Red Angus into the herd book. He is part of the Alberta Angus Hall of Fame.
He and Barbara have two children, John and Susan, who both attended university in the United States. John sold drilling bits for the oil business and took over the Riverbend operation as the fourth generation of McBrides. Susan received a rodeo scholarship in Wyoming. She married and now lives in Big Timber, Montana, with her husband and children.
The McBrides have since retired to Sylvan Lake, Alta., but take an active interest in the farm.
He is also still ready and willing to keep judging cattle shows.
“To meet the breeders and the cattle, I really love it. I love those Angus cattle,” he said.