The Gibson family divides responsibilities for the cattle and crops while working off farm and raising families
VERMILION, Alta. — Angus cattle used to be hard to sell for the Gibson family, who started raising them in the 1970s.
Today, Ernie and Judy’s perseverance at Everblack Angus near Vermilion has been rewarded — the breed has become one of the most popular and high profile in Canada.
They raise up to 1,000 head and seed 4,000 acres of peas, wheat, canola, corn, oats and barley with sons and daughters-in-laws Ryan and Amanda and Jordan and Kristen. They are also helped by daughter Laramy Barr and her husband, Eric, who work off the farm.
Ernie said free trade was among the reasons for Angus’s improved popularity and the farm’s successful March bull and female sale, now in its 25th year.
“Our meat grading system changed where we were rewarded for marbling and Angus exploded,” he said.
Their purebred bull sales went to 100 animals per year from just a handful.
They grow feed, grazing corn and previously oats, managing them with movable electric fencing. As well, they use marginal land to grow grass.
“It cuts the costs of hauling feed out,” said Ernie.
He said there is good and bad in every breed, but he likes the Angus for the cows’ mothering ability.
The Gibsons calve out one-third of the cows in February and the rest in May and June.
The families own land separately but share equipment and cattle and have two hired men. They market grain to the elevators and crushing plant.
The younger Gibsons all live nearby with Ryan overseeing the crops and Jordan focused on the cattle herd. The brothers also run an oilfield trucking business.
Kristen and Laramy both help with the sale catalogue. Kristen, who operates Kristen Paige Photography, thinks photographing the black animals in sunlight best shows their lines and muscles.
This day, Amanda tends to the horses while Kristen is judging exhibits at the Vermilion fair.
Amanda, a barrel racer and former specialist in reclamation and oil drilling waste analysis, has been on the farm full time since her preschooler was born.
She said the different jobs keep everyone busy.
“But busy is not necessarily bad. At least we have options,” she said.
“You see more rewards on your own place rather than when working for someone else.”
Kristen saves much of her income from the photography business and works around the farm schedule.
“It’s more of a passion than a making money thing,” said Kristen, who gets help juggling jobs from family and friends.
“Every time I schedule too much and I’m away from the farm, I’m upset I’m not helping,” she said.
The oilfield trucking business was started because the farm was not big enough to support everyone involved, said Ryan.
“We are to size now where we have management in place to do it,” he said as cellphones sound off while the family talks in a coffee room above their machine shop.
Jordan noted the work took them away for 50 percent of their time in past years, but now both have a young child and are taking on more responsibility for the farm from their parents.
“It’s always been like that. They helped us get started,” said Ryan.
Their farm is set among the most highly populated areas for cattle in the province.
Jordan said they manage the herd by culling on temperament and taking their time handling them.
“We work them slow and quiet; that helps,” he said.
Keeping corrals and handling systems in good shape also helps.
He said his mother follows the work of animal behaviouralist Temple Grandin, who encourages seeing things from cattle’s point of view.
“She makes us go through that, and it does help,” said Ryan.
The children learn to move away from vehicles and machinery and stay out of pens, said Kristen.
“They’re taught from a young age to respect cattle.”
She said the Gibsons work well together.
“They don’t ever hold grudges and if something happens, they are fine the next day,” she said.
Having defined roles and valuing each other’s opinions also help, agree Ryan and Jordan.
Ernie had farmed with his father before he and Judy, a former nurse, bought the farm in 1975.
Through the years, the family’s involvements have included the Vermilion Agricultural Society, Angus breed associations and 4-H.
Looking back, Ernie said it took six years for the farm to recover from the BSE outbreak and the previous drought year.
Ernie credits culling the herd, cutting back on expenses and government support programs for getting them through it.
“We lost money but they kept us in business,” said Ernie. “Our breeding programs didn’t change, we just got a lot less.”
Today, Ernie and Judy build their retirement home near the cattle corrals, knowing that their farm will carry on with the next generation.
“If you can make a good living doing what you love doing, it’s pretty good,” said Ryan.