HARRIS, Sask. — Since her late husband died in 2005, Nita Wilson has learned many tough lessons, particularly in the male dominated banking world.
“Because I was a female, they (lenders) thought I wasn’t serious,” said Nita.
“As a woman, you’ve got to be twice as good as a man at whatever you do to get noticed.… I think that’s why we push so hard to be so good and we are getting noticed now,” she said.
Nita and her daughters, Alana and Kara, run a 400-head herd of Angus-cross cattle and 80 horses on native grass near Harris in west-central Saskatchewan.
Nita’s livestock management skills match her personality, which is straightforward, no nonsense and to the point.
“I don’t believe in graining the cattle. I figure the cattle have got to make it on their own, so for 20 years, we just hayed them,” she said.
“So anything that didn’t grow or was thin come spring were down the road (sold). We kept doing that and doing that. Now our cattle can live on grass and hay and are very efficient,” Nita said.
“We have a good herd.”
She cited the example of a bull that came back to the farm home place on his own.
“He’s been out in the hills with no water and no grass for a month. And he came home fat,” she said.
The Wilsons topped the auction market in Lethbridge in November with their calves.
“Out of all the steer calves that we sold, there were 151 that averaged 660 (pounds) and there were 12 little ones that were under 500, which is pretty good weaning weight because probably 30 to 40 were out of first calf heifers,” she said.
Nita has carved out a frugal, less is more way of doing things.
“I don’t have the equipment or manpower and I try to keep it simple.”
Nita started farming with her husband, Boyd, in 1973 on his family’s homestead farm, which will be a century old this year.
During the high interest rates of the 1980s, with farm bills piling up, they were forced to sell some land, equipment and most of their cattle. Nita went to work for a feedlot.
However, land rent barely paid the taxes and Nita decided the best way for them to get out of the financial hole was to sink deeper still.
“If you’re going to go ahead, you have to take the risk and you have to keep improving and expanding or you’re standing still,” she said.
With debt nipping at their heels and an ailing husband to care for, Nita, at age 40, decided to start over. She quit her feedlot job to farm full time.
“I figured if I was going to work that hard, I would work for myself,” she said.
At an auction in 1991 and unable to secure credit, the Wilsons bought 20 cows using their land rent money. Through the years, Nita has poured every available resource back into the operation.
“When I spend money, it’s never for me. It all goes back into the farm. For 10 years, we basically did nothing for fixing fence or just barely got by,” she said.
Kara said they don’t take vacations.
“There’s no time. The animals are our livelihood. That’s what pays the bills,” she said.
Like many cattle producers, the Wilsons showed a profit in 2015.
“I spent a lot of money fixing things that I hadn’t fixed in 10 years because of BSE and drought. This year, we put in over 10 bundles of posts, a pallet of wire and we didn’t get all that needed to get done,” Nita said.
The years of debt are slowly dissolving, and Nita is happy and thankful that her daughters have stayed home.
“I’d like to see the farm continue. Farming’s everything to us,” said Alana.
Looking ahead, the Wilsons plan to maintain their all female lineup.
They said when it comes to working cattle, females are calmer and take their time more as compared to their male counterparts.
“We are biased to have a female staff because we have worked with guys and seen how the guys rile up the cattle,” said Nita.
“We can go in and walk them through pretty much to the gate. We don’t chase them and don’t get them rattled. It’s just a different energy … if you just take it easy, they actually go faster,” said Alana.
“(During) preg checking, we ran 197 through the one day in three and a half hours,” said Kara.
Added Nita: “I think that’s one of the reasons our herd is so good. It’s because we spend a little more time.”
Kara said a crew of women can be stressful at times.
“We butt heads quite often because all three of us are strong willed, but at the end of the day we’re all good. We go our separate ways,” she said.
“Compromise wins out.”