CROSSFIELD, Alta. — For the Taks, the Master Farm Family Award from their county is affirmation that they are doing something right.
Peter Taks, 90, still takes an active interest in the multi-generational operation near Crossfield. His son, Murray, and Murray’s wife, Reba, work with their sons, Kevin and his wife, Amy, and Ryan and his fiancee, Kendra. Kevin’s two young children, Harlan and Decker, are the next generation.
Another daughter, Julie Taks, works in Calgary.
Murray said there were succession plans in place from his early days on the farm.
“We were always working and thinking the boys would be where we are at now,” he said.
“I love it. I couldn’t wait to start farming,” said Murray, who began farming after graduating from high school.
The family moved to Strathmore from Holland in 1928 and bought the farm at Crossfield in 1936.
“There was nothing here,” Peter said.
Today the 5,000 acre farm grows wheat, barley and canola. High elevation, a short growing season and extreme weather dictate how this land is managed.
They also have a 1,000 head backgrounding feedlot. The cow herd has grown to 320 cow-calf pairs from about 200, with 420 yearlings on grass. They hold back heifers for breeding each year.
The family works together and avoids conflict with defined re-sponsibilities for each member.
While Murray likes to be involved in all areas, the boys had early preferences. Ryan prefers managing the crops while Kevin, a former rodeo steer wrestler, loves the beef side of the business.
“I always wanted to farm. You have to like it,” said Ryan, who conceded family support is needed to get into farming.
“Someone has to start it or you have to have a lot of money to get going,” he said.
Their involvement brought big changes for Murray and Reba, who were the bosses for a long time.
“Everybody has good ideas and bad. It was tough but enjoyable,” Murray said.
Alberta has suffered from drought this year, but the Taks received timely rains that kept pastures growing and crops looking good.
Technology has allowed them to make improvements such as managing the cow herd better and making informed decisions on the farmland.
Kevin and Amy accessed government funding to add an on-farm scale, build a barn for processing cattle and add the computer program CowBytes to manage the herd.
This database allows them to record all activities like rate of gain, rations, vaccinations and marketing plans and help with culling decisions.
“You get a good picture of your herd,” said Amy, originally from Saskatchewan.
Amy nurses part time at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary but handles the data entry and paperwork.
The herd is a commercial Angus base and over time the ranch has adjusted calving times to April 10 from March 10. That’s partly to manage the spring workload and hopefully avoid cold March weather.
Dugouts have been fenced, solar pumps provide water and swath grazing was introduced about 10 years ago. They grow their own feed and in recent years took advantage of forward contracts and market cattle via video sales.
On the crop side, the family was an early adopter.
“We were probably one of the first guys around here to adopt auto steer and variable rate and we do an extensive soil testing program,” said Murray.
They also hired an agronomist.
“There are more services available. When (Murray) was growing up and farming, we never had an agronomist. You went by what the chemical guy told you,” said Reba.
Soil tests are done each fall to help make fertility decisions and monitor quality. It comes at a cost but yields have improved and they know what’s going on in the field. For them, farming has become more about data entry.
“With commodities going up and down, you can really maximize yields. I know my bottom end pretty well and you can see if you make money,” said Ryan.
The information helps them organize because plans for next year are underway before this harvest is in the bin.
The extra knowledge is valued.
“We are just tweaking a lot more and all the test stuff we have been doing helped us make gains,” said Ryan.
Information from the tractor goes directly to a tablet or computer, but Murray still keeps his notebook and pen handy.
“I like to see us on the machines as much as we can. When you are running a combine or the machine, you see so much of what is going on out there,” he said. “I think it is really important to have hands on.”
Murray admits he would be lost without computers however.
“It is a small world now. You push one button and you know what is going on in Russia. Maybe some days it is too much information.”
The family prefers life without the Canadian Wheat Board.
“I like to handle my own fate. I can market better than them and if I make a mistake that is my problem,” Ryan said.
As for the future, the plan is to continue working together.
“I would stay here forever,” said Murray, who now spends more time with the grandchildren.
“We have got good machinery and technology that I half understand. To me, it is really fun right now.”