Industry involvement keeps cattle producers busy

GRENFELL, Sask. — Finding the entire Hextall family at home on any one day can be a feat.

Jack and Kim are involved in industry organizations, participate in educational opportunities and work to promote the beef industry — all things that take them away from home often.

But these are also things in which they see value.

Jack, the fifth generation on his great-great-grandfather’s 1882 homestead, is currently chair of Canada Beef. He recently ended a stint on the provincial Agriculture Development Fund.

Kim is on the Canadian Western Agribition board of directors and a director of the Verified Beef Program.

Their son, Andy, is on the local co-op board. Their daughter, Jessica, has an agriculture degree in animal science and was instrumental in establishing the University of Saskatchewan range team.

There are many other organizations with a Hextall name attached to them.

Jack said it started about 15 years ago when he was asked to get involved with Pipestone Feeders, a feedlot built by local investors that has since been sold.

The more they learned, the more they wanted to learn.

“One thing seemed to have led to another,” he said. “At a certain point, it just got totally out of hand.”

That point was when he was heading the new Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association and representing the province on the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

Kim, who works part time as a nurse at the Broadview hospital, was an environmental farm plan facilitator, on the provincial check-off committee and involved in developing the national beef code of practice.

“When you ask questions, people think you’re interested,” she said. “We found out there are still more questions than answers.”

One of the biggest questions looming for the family is how to formally integrate Andy and Jessica into the farm. The mixed operation includes 55 purebred Angus cows, 270 commercial cows and enough land to grow their own feed and “play” at grain farming.

“We raise just about all of our own bulls and sell a few privately,” said Jack. “We’ve never sold a purebred female.”

The intention is to improve both herds through their own females.

“The poor ones aren’t worth selling to give yourself a bad name,” said Andy.

The purebreds calve in mid-March in the yard and the commercials at the end of April on grass.

Kim said that’s one area where Andy and Jessica have influenced their parents.

“We used to calve in February,” she said.

They keep their calves all winter and background them until mid-March when a load of steers usually goes to the Pound-Maker feedlot at Lanigan.

“We grass everything else until the beginning of September, keep the best replacement females and sell the rest of the grassers in a pre-sort sale,” Jack said.

They take a few head to Agribition and for the past couple of years have set up in The Yards, where they find they can have serious conversations with potential buyers.

The Hextalls tried swath, bale and corn grazing in winter. Fortunately they have a lot of natural shelter on their pasture and leaving cattle out through the winter hasn’t been a problem.

When the family did their environmental farm plan, they constructed holding ponds to contain runoff from their yard. A creek and sloughs offer water management throughout their land.

Environmental sustainability is important, but so are economic and social sustainability. Without them, they don’t have a successful business and that makes it harder to include another generation.

On the one hand, it’s simple.

“It’s something we’ve done here a long time,” said Jack. “Before me, they’ve always made it work.”

But on the other, it’s challenging. Kim said it’s about matching expectations with what the operation can realistically provide.

They are just beginning to do more formal work with Andy and Jessica now that it’s clear they both want to be involved.

Andy said communication is key.

“Sometimes there is a lack thereof,” he said, to which his parents nod. “But it can better everybody’s situation.”

“Family is family,” added Jessica. “But business is business.”

The kids recognize the operation has to sustain itself. Kim said they don’t want everyone to have to work off the farm to sustain it.

Land prices are a concern going forward and factor into expansion decisions. The money to pay for more land would have to come out of the rest of the operation.

“You have to be pretty conservative in how you spend your money and the amount of risks you’re able to withstand,” Jack said. “We’ve probably passed up opportunities that weren’t part of our long-term vision. The long-term vision here has been more of a family operation that continues.

“It’s not mine. I’m the keeper until the next generation.”

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