Breeders stress animals’ gentle side

BENTLEY, Alta. — It is less than a month before Doug and Katie Roxburgh’s fifth annual cattle sale, and there is plenty to do at Dun-Rite Stock and Stables.

The sale calves must be weaned, groomed and halter broken and a video showing the sale offerings must be on the farm website in time for the Sept. 28 event at the Roxburghs’ Bentley ranch in central Alberta.

The couple is selling Maintainer show steers and breeding heifers and bulls. A major share of their market is selling to 4-H members, so they start working with the calves early to make sure they are gentle and will gain well.

“We do a lot for the kids. All the calves when they buy them are tie broke and there is nothing that a junior couldn’t buy,” Katie said.

“They are going to have good luck with them and they are going to enjoy it.”

Maintainers are cross-bred Maine Anjou, and the Roxburghs breed purebred Maine Anjou bulls to Angus cows to produce their animals. They also have produced Main-tainer bulls.

“What we started doing recently is breeding our own half-blood bulls to our half-blood cows,” Doug said.

“Eventually I would like to be just half-bloods and breed them all to half-blood bulls.”

They appreciate the lower birth weights among the crossbreds, which still have the ability to gain well. The steers are solid black and well muscled.

They try to raise the cattle in a low stress environment because many are going to children who need quiet animals. However, they have also found that older ranchers also want easy going bulls.

“Our cattlemen are getting older and it is amazing how many of our bull buyers will say they love how quiet the bulls are,” Katie said.

Many beef producers want purebred beef bulls, but the Roxburghs are developing a growing market for Maintainer bulls on a private treaty basis.

“We’ll sell out of percentage Maintainers way before we sell out of purebreds,” Doug said.

The cattle can be registered with the Canadian Maine Anjou Association as long as they have a minimum of one quarter Maine Anjou breeding. The pedigree includes the complete background of each breed involved in the cross.

“Right down to a quarter, everything is papered here,” said Katie.

They bought their farm seven years ago and purchased foundation cows from the Daines Ranch program at Innisfail, Alta.

They are always looking for good cattle and tend to use Canadian genetics so customers looking for outcrosses can come to them. Show steers are often the result of selective breeding from high level, popular show bulls so they are able to offer something different.

They run 50 cows, and the first calves are born in January.

A couple were born later in the spring last year, and buyers started calling from British Columbia when word got out that smaller calves were available.

4-H achievement days are in late summer and early fall in that province, so the youngsters needed smaller calves for their projects. This year, the Roxburghs deliberately delayed some of their calving for that emerging market.

The 4-H program is popular in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, but few local producers are able to provide calves. As a result, many come to Alberta and Saskatchewan looking for steers.

Doug and Katie came from farming communities about an hour east of Vancouver and met as 4-H members. They attended Olds College in Olds, Alta., and moved to Sylvan Lake, Alta., south of their farm.

Doug is a nutritionist with Masterfeeds and Katie works for UFA. The farm work is scheduled around their jobs.

The Roxburghs are also livestock judges and organize livestock fitting and showing clinics on their farm.

Katie is working on becoming a certified American Paint Horse judge while Doug evaluates youth beef and swine shows. They also judge youth beef shows as a couple.

The 4-H program taught them grooming, judging and public speaking, all skills necessary in the show steer business, which requires considerable promotion and customer follow-up.

Doug keeps in touch with his young customers after the steers leave the farm to provide advice on nutrition and animal care as well as making sure they are satisfied with their purchases.

“They are our steers and we love to see how they did afterwards,” Katie said.

For sale day, the Roxburghs encourage a family friendly atmosphere for the silent auction. They offer a meal, popcorn and a bonfire in the evening. This year, the sale will be online for the first time. In other years, buyers attended the event or bid over the phone.

“We had a mom bidding from hockey camp last year for that hour,” she said.

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