KILLDEER, Sask. — A custom sheep feedlot operation is allowing the Pituley family to remain tied to the land and to each other.
Elwood Pituley and his wife Debbie, along with their son and daughters and their spouses and seven grandchildren, farm and live in close proximity near the U. S. border.
“The sheep feedlot was the economics behind keeping the kids and the grandkids here,” said Elwood Pituley.
“You can send the kids off to the oilpatch and make them work for six months of the year and be gone from home, or we thought this sheep feedlot might work and it’s been doing well.”
The operation, which includes cattle and cropland, sits near the Grasslands National Park and Big Muddy Badlands.
Since marrying in 1983, Elwood and Debbie focused more on the quality of their family life than maximizing their earning potential.
“When we got married, we said we could raise our kids here and go broke,” said Elwood.
The Pituleys insisted that their children work off farm for a time before deciding to return to the home place.
Jeremy moved to Regina to work at a bulk fuel and fertilizer business. Natasha and Kirsten spent a year travelling in New Zealand as part of a sheep shearing crew.
The idea was to help each one gain some perspective and wisdom away from the family unit and find out if the farm was what they wanted.
All three returned home encouraged and focused to work together.
“Knowing that you want to come back. You don’t know that unless you leave,” said Debbie.
Beef cattle constitute the largest part of their operation, but the sheep feedlot has seen steady financial growth since it was started four years ago. It’s currently the third largest sheep feedlot on the Prairies.
Elwood said sheep are undervalued and there are not enough lambs or people willing to work with them in the province.
“We need more people to be standalone sheep producers. We need to make it so that’s all they need to do to make a living is run sheep. Not run sheep and have a job,” he said.
Elwood said the big advantage of sheep is their smaller size and ease of handling compared to cattle. Chores such as weighing lambs can easily include his young grandchildren.
“It’s not about the money. It’s not about the rest of it. It’s all about that family being out there,” said Elwood.
Debbie said the family’s faith is tested while calving and lambing in snowstorms.
“Without faith, I don’t know how people could handle it,” she said.
Their Christian values guide them, said Elwood.
“We might not live a fancy high lifestyle financially, but by gully we are the richest people in the world with our kids and grandkids,” he said.
“I’m sure this is why God put us on the earth is to be here right now.”