Cattle breeders seek quality over quantity

(Editor’s Note: This story has been modified from the original)

CRAIK, Sask. — It started as a farm wife’s dry sense of humour and has become a landmark along Saskatchewan’s Highway 11.

The Riskan Hope Farm sign on the hip roof barn reminds travellers of the precarious nature of agriculture.

Myrna Luther painted the letters in bold, white letters in 1946 to express how she felt about farming, said her son, Dave Luther.

“She said it fit agriculture. It’s the story of farming. You put the crop in and you hope for a good one,” he said.

Dave took over Riskan Hope Farm from his parents in the late 1980s and continues to operate it with his son, Vern, and daughter-in-law, Barb.

The sign has become among one of the most photographed barns in Canada with photos and stories about it in magazines and newspapers across the country over the past 70 years.

It is often cited in tourism articles as a Saskatchewan heritage landmark.

Dave’s grandparents, Robert and Alice Luther, built the barn in 1919 with profits from the $7 per bushel sale of their flax crop. They built the barn for $600 and the house for $1,750.

“We typically don’t have any trouble giving people directions to where we live, or what part of the province we’re from. They tend to associate it with knowing where the barn’s at,” said Vern.

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Barb had no idea about the barn’s fame when she started dating Vern on the internet in 2006. She grew up on a farm at Wadena, Sask., and never travelled between Craik and Aylesbury.

They married the following year and have three children: Jadyn, 8, Blake, 5, and Jordyn, 4.

“Jadyn’s middle name is Hope, named after the barn, but nobody’s Riskan,” Barb said.

Barb and Vern believe their famous barn’s words continue to ring true today.

“Farming’s all risk management. That’s what any of them financial guys tell you. You try to have more hope with less risk,” Vern said.

“We still have risk. We can buy embryos and hope the calf is born alive,” Barb said.

Added Dave: “I think risk and hope is more relevant today with the price of fertilizers and machinery a guy has to put into agriculture.”

In 2010, the Luthers downsized their grain growing operation and gradually expanded into the Simmental purebred business.

With an eye on quality over quantity, they built their herd to about 100 head.

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“I don’t believe you need to have 200 cows to make a living in this business and I don’t believe you need to farm 10,000 acres,” said Vern. “Our goal is to have 10 or 15 really super elite females and sell embryos. Quality sells. Good times or bad, you’re always going to sell good genetics.”

Minimizing risk is top of mind.

“We’re not going to expand. We’re not out to do a bunch more acres.… We’re going to do more with what we have and be satisfied with that,” Vern said.

January and February are their busiest times with calving, but spring breeding is the most stressful.

“What cow do we breed to what bull and what semen do we buy out of what bulls,” he said.

“These purebred cattle are worse than having a drug addiction because there’s always another bloodline, there’s always another great one that you’re striving to meet and beat. That’s what keeps me going.”

They also try to maintain a healthy balance on the farm.

“I don’t believe you need to sacrifice family time for agriculture so we spend lots of family time together,” said Vern.

Barb works from home as a scientific evaluation officer for the federal government’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency.

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