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Family builds on Agribition traditions

Show preparations | Entire family pitches in to feed, groom, clip and show cattle for the Shorthorn show

REGINA — Every year, dozens of farm families pack up kids, tack boxes and livestock to head out for a week at Canadian Western Agribition.

For the Moellenbeck family of Englefeld, Sask., it has been a family tradition since 1983. Richard Moellenbeck was a teenager then, coming to the show with his parents, Arnold and Elizabeth.

Now he and his wife, Rhonda, and their four children, Ryley, 23, Raylene, 22 Russell, 20, and Royce, 13, head to Regina at the onset of winter to show and market their Shorthorns under the name Bell M Farms at Canada’s premiere livestock event.

Agribition was open to the public from Nov. 24-29, but the exhibitors moved into town over the weekend and got to work.

The cattle had to be clipped and groomed so that they were show ready by the time traffic increased and events started in earnest.

“The main reason we are here at Agribition is to promote our herd and our bull sale to get potential customers, not necessarily this year, but next year,” said Richard.

The three eldest children are adults working off the farm, but they take time off and come help.

Royce is in Grade 8 and missed a week of school, but his parents hope he learns lessons about hard work, agriculture and business during his time at Agribition.

Everybody pitches in.

The work day starts at 5 a.m. They rouse cattle out of the tie-up area, take them back to the barn to blow off snow and chaff and, then take them to the wash racks for an early morning shower, even though the outside temperature is – 23 C.

Some families are up at 3 a.m. to prepare on show day, but the Moellenbecks prefers a later schedule for their own benefit as well as for the welfare of the cattle.

“The cattle are tired by the time they go to show,” Richard said.

“They have put in six or seven hours. They are tired of standing. We find they are a lot fresher.”

This year’s show string consisted of two bulls and five females. The children own most of the cattle, including a bull that was named grand champion at the Lloydminster show earlier this year. The win qualified it to enter the RBC Beef Supreme at the end of Agribition.

“Everybody will be showing at one point in time,” Richard said the day before the Shorthorn show.

“The kids are a lot better at getting the cattle ready than I am.”

As the week progresses, they win some ribbons and talk up Shorthorns with everyone who visits their stall.

The Moellenbecks are descended from two German brothers who came to Canada more than 80 years ago and settled at St Gregor, Sask. The original farm left the family’s hands for a few years, but Ryley recently bought it back.

Richard’s father bought the first purebred Shorthorn at Agribition in 1975, and more foundation females were added over the years to the sprawling farm. Five brothers work together on 5,000 acres of cropland, but Richard oversees the family’s 200 Shorthorn cows. Most are registered cattle.

The purebred industry needs dedicated volunteers to keep the institution going. Richard sits on the Saskatchewan and Canadian Shorthorn association boards and is president-elect of the national organization.

He and his brothers started to learn about the cattle business as youngsters in 4-H. He learned how to groom and show cattle and picked up the social skills needed in the purebred business, where presentation and marketing are major parts of the job.

Shorthorns are a traditional British breed and may be red, white or roan. The colour is distinctive, but the Moellenbecks prefers to evaluate cattle on the basis of good conformation. Fads come and go in this business, and they see a renewed interest in what used to be Canada’s mainstream breed.

“People are looking. Maybe they have used one breed for too long and they want to try something different. They still remember Shorthorns,” Richard said.

Commercial customers are their mainstay.

Performing well at a show is rewarding, but it is not always the best indicator of what the market wants.

“We want commercial guys to look at our cattle. They look at them differently than the judges do,” Richard said.

“The show is one thing and it is great to win, but ribbons haven’t really paid a mortgage yet.”

Agribition is also a preview event for them to show off what they will sell at their spring bull sale. As well, they contribute cattle to a fall sale for the Saskatchewan Shorthorn Association.

The family has managed the Agribition sale for last four years.

Moellenbeck does not personally sort and select cattle for the Agribition consignment sale.

“I trust the breeders’ integrity that they are bringing their best ones,” he said.

The sale had 26 lots that totalled $117,625 to average $4,524. They sold a red polled bred heifer for $5,500.

Richard and Rhonda started their purebred sale in 2004, just after BSE had been found in Canada and started to demolish cattle markets.

“We started in probably the worst year,” he said.

“It took a lot of perseverance in the early years. The last four or five years have become a little more predictable and guys are getting quite comfortable with the sale.”

They have sold bulls across Canada and the United States.

Cattle prices have soared in the last year, but there is often a lag between the commercial and purebred sectors.

“It seems to take almost longer to hit the purebred end of it than it does the commercial,” he said.

“The purebred guys are not clicking that they will get more for that calf.”

By the end of the show Nov. 29, the family was feeling tired but upbeat.

There was a lot of interest in the cattle, particularly their bulls.

“It was good advertising for our sale this spring,” said Rhonda, who was also ticking off a list of chores that needed attention once they returned home. Laundry needed to be done and preparations were needed for Christmas, calving and the sale.

As the mother of the clan, she also watched over her brood, who worked hard and ate irregular meals. She kept plenty of juice on hand and kept reminding everyone to use hand sanitizer.

The result was a good show and better yet, “nobody got sick this year,” said Ryley.

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