Simmental pioneers honoured

Hall of Fame | The Bates introduced the breed in 1971 and run Sunny Valley Simmentals, a 160-head operation

REGINA —Simmental cattle quickly gained a reputation for packing on pounds of beef when they were first imported from Europe.

Among the early converts were Don and Bea Bates of Hanley, Sask., who joined the business in 1972.

They started infusing their British cattle with the new genetics and went from weaning a 400 lb. calf to one that tipped the scales at more than 600 lb.

They also started to change the look of the Canadian cattle herd.

“You could pick out every Sim-mental in the herd,” said Bea Bates.

That contribution to the continental breed earned the couple a membership in the Canadian Simmental Hall of Fame, which happened Nov. 26 during the Simmental sale at Canadian Western Agribition.

They were also presented with an honour scroll from the Saskatchewan Livestock Association in 2005.

Importing the breed was risky and controversial because the changes to the beef herd were so dramatic.

“Some of my family thought I was nuts. In hindsight, we took a chance,” Don said.

He took an artificial insemination course in 1971 so he could breed his cows with Simmental semen.

The Bateses also imported red and white females from Switzerland.

It was a heady time to be in the cattle business: unproven cattle traded for thousands of dollars and fortunes were made.

“I knew guys who turned down $45,000 for a cow. It was ridiculous.”

There were also mistakes.

Calving problems occurred when newborns weighed 100 to 115 lb.

“We would go to the bull stud in Airdrie, (Alta.), and pick out the biggest, strongest bull, and we would breed the cows,” Don said.

The calving problems started to ease with each generation. By the time the cattle were 7/8 Simmentals, they were roomier and the calves came down in size.

“We learned the hard way,” he said.

“I always liked big cows. The commercial man didn’t want their cows that big.”

The operation was named Sunny Valley Simmentals and has evolved into a 160-cow operation run by their daughter, Linda, and her husband, Wayne Libke. Son Tyler, daughter Amanda and their spouses are now the third generation of Simmental breeders on the farm.

The Bateses also helped develop the Canadian Simmental Association, and Don sat on the provincial board for three years. Bea was a member of the women’s group, the Simmental Belles.

They also joined a group of like-minded cattle producers to start the Hanley Hilite Simmental Breeders in 1975.

This group has hosted tours, entertainment and sales to promote the breed. They were also involved in other major Simmental sales events, such as the Prairie Partners Sale in Regina and the Simmsational Sale.

That involvement took them across Canada and inspired their four daughters to remain in the agricultural business.

The Bateses, who have been married for 60 years, retired to Saskatoon to let the next generation take over.

Their 26-year-old grandson, Tyler, and his wife, Erin, are part of the third generation who still believe in Simmentals. Tyler studied livestock production at Lakeland College in Vermilion, Alta., and returned to the farm three years ago.

“The love of the cattle and the people brought me back,” he said.

“I really enjoy the people side of the business. It is a people business first and a cow business second. You make lots of great friends. It’s easy because you all have similar interests.”

Today’s breeding plan focuses on cow families. They have an extensive program that includes embryo transplants and artificial insemination to introduce new blood lines.

“We focus very much on cow families and build around those top cows,” he said,

“We try to buy top herd bulls to complement that AI program.”

They bought a bull for $190,000 two years ago, and its progeny is now on the ground and winning awards.

They brought four head to this year’s Agribition show and won reserve senior calf champion bull and reserve senior calf champion heifer.

They also sold a heifer at the open sale for $9,500 to Ashworth Farms of Oungre, Sask., and won the people’s choice award.

The family tries to attend shows such as Agribition because of the advertising value it provides for purebred cattle.

“It is a great way to advertise,” Tyler said. “It is a very good marketing tool for us.”

barbara.duckworth@producer.com

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