Producers see roles change with expansion

ITUNA, Sask. — Aaron and Adrienne Ivey are bullish on beef.

In fact, they see a bright future for the entire agriculture industry.

That’s why the couple, both in their 30s, have set deep roots on the family farm about 80 kilometres west of Yorkton.

Along with Aaron’s parents, Bob and Karen Ivey, Adrienne and Aaron operate a 2,500 head feedlot and run a 1,000 head cow-calf operation near Ituna.

For the Iveys, the farmland in this area is the land of opportunity.

Since moving to the farm a few ago, Aaron and Adrienne have built a new house, expanded the land base, helped restructure the farming operation and started a family.

The next generation to grow up on the Ivey farm includes daughter Noelle, 5, and son Cole, 3.

Aaron and Adrienne, both graduates from the University of Saskatchewan’s college of agriculture, are in the cattle business for the long haul, and couldn’t be happier.

Aaron, who grew up on the farm and went to high school in Ituna, moved home in 2001 after completing an animal science degree at the U of S.

At the time, the Ivey farm was a mixed operation that included a small feedlot, about 60 cows and roughly 17 quarter sections of land used for grazing, hay and grain production. In 2002, the Iveys decided to expand the feedlot to 2,500 head.

They also started converting more land to forage production.

By 2004, when Aaron and Adrienne were married, BSE had been discovered in Canada. To many, investing more in the beef industry would have seemed an unlikely choice.

But for the Iveys, the decision made good sense. Cattle prices were low and the farm’s land base was suited for beef and forage production.

After many late night meetings at the kitchen table, the Iveys made a collective decision to get out of grain farming and go all-or-nothing into beef.

Today, about 50 percent of the animals that go through the Iveys’ feedlot are custom fed.

The rest, depending on the year, are bought for finishing or come from the cow-calf side of the operation.

“We had a fair bit of debate over the decision,” says Aaron.

“We just felt that we weren’t as competitive in grain and with our land base and the type of land that we’ve got, it’s just more suited to cattle.

“Management-wise, we were finding that we were spread too thin and that we weren’t doing a good enough job of either.”

In 2006, the Iveys harvested their last grain crop and the following spring held an auction to sell their grain equipment.

Since then, they’ve expanded to 56 quarter sections, about 46 owned and 10 rented. The acquisition of land has enabled the Iveys to expand their herd to 1,000 animals in a relatively short time.

Newly acquired land is sown immediately to a grass-forage mixture that contains relatively high quantities of alfalfa.

Cows and calves remain on pasture year-round. The herd starts grazing on standing forages as soon as the snow melts and plant growth is adequate. Animals stay on pasture as long as the weather permits, usually well into December.

When winter grazing becomes too difficult, the herds are rotated to new paddocks for winter bale grazing.

The Iveys put up about 4,500 hay bales this year.

Ideally, the hay land is managed for two cuts, says Adrienne, who also works part-time from home as a sales and marketing co-ordinator for Brett Young Seeds.

Calves usually aren’t weaned until January or February.

“We’re trying to maximize our (carrying) capacity and we also think it’s a better way to manage the calves,” says Aaron.

“It’s a lot healthier for them and there’s a lot less stress if they’re out there with the cows.”

Adrienne and Aaron enjoy the beef business because it requires managerial flexibility and the ability to generate new ideas. This year, Aaron and Adrienne are having some of their own animals finished in Alberta where feed is cheaper and unit feeding costs are lower.

“This is the first year we’ve done that,” says Adrienne, who grew up on a grain farm near Tisdale, Sask.

“We were always competitive out here in terms of feeding,” adds Aaron.

“Barley has always been a lot cheaper out here, but this year there’s a smaller supply of barley around here and … a lot of it’s moving east into Manitoba.”

With significant expansion over the past decade, work loads on the Ivey farm have increased and demands have changed.

The family recently hired a second full-time employee and Aaron and Adrienne realize their roles and responsibilities are changing.

“I find that I’m spending more time on management and less time feeding the cows and doing hands-on work, so that’s been an adjustment,” says Aaron, who also serves as president of the Saskatchewan Forage Council.

Major decisions are still a family affair with Aaron, Adrienne, Bob and Karen sharing their views and voicing their concerns.

“That’s one of the best things about having four of us involved is that everybody comes at every decision from a different angle,” says Adrienne.

“There’s always at least one, if not three devil’s advocates, involved in every decision that we make.”

And while spare time is rare, neither Aaron or Adrienne has ruled out the possibility of further expansion.

“We ask ourselves that question all the time,” says Adrienne with a smile.

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