Alta. family lives quiet life among the cows

Purebred Charolais and commercial cow herds are easy to handle and provide cash flow throughout the year

RYLEY, Alta. — William and Christa Winsnes get instant gratification marketing halves of beef off their six-quarter farm at Ryley.

They enjoy finishing their purebred Charolais with grain and barley and hearing consumers say it’s the “best beef ever eaten.”

“You can charge a premium for that,” said William, who likes the breed because of its ease of calving and rate of growth.

The added bonus is that their purebreds create cash flow at different times of the year than just the fall.

They also have a 60 head commercial cow herd, which they hope to increase this year to hit economies of scale and remain economically viable.

William strives to keep his herd quiet so they are easy to handle and safe for the family, which includes his seven-year-old son, Douglas.

“We want the little guy to walk into a pen. You’ve got to be mindful but not afraid,” Christa said.

She said they don’t rush chores.

“We give ourselves enough time.”

The cattle are pail trained and walked among regularly with attention paid to breeding for desirable traits.

“If a cow is wild, we don’t keep her. We like it when we shake a bucket and they come running.”

The farm wasn’t always in beef cattle. William’s father operated a dairy before switching to 1,800 acres of grain.

William’s father had sold two-thirds of the herd in the 2002 drought and sold the rest when BSE hit. Christa and William took over the farm in 2006 when he retired.

William said no infrastructure was left, so they had to build everything new and strike a deal with a neighbour, who gave them heifers instead of rent on pastureland to allow them to acquire cattle.

Cattle are kept on native pasture, and they swath graze oats, peas and barley in the winter.

The Winsnes family bale hay when they can, which was challenging this rainy summer in Alberta. They also buy hay from Christa’s parents.

William has shown his purebreds at events such as the Stockade Roundup in Lloydminster and enjoys the social side of the cattle business. Douglas, a 4-H member, also shows cattle.

Christa, a horse trainer who keeps nine horses on the property, and Douglas both enjoy rodeo events. She does barrel racing while he is learning to ride mini broncs.

Douglas’s horse, Scarlet, is housed in a coral near where the family was preparing to move a new home onto their land this fall.

Christa works off farm at a clothing store in Camrose. In the new year, she will teach an agricultural finance course at Lakeland College in Vermilion, Alta., where she will live on weekdays.

She said that knowledge is helpful on the farm in managing and servicing debt, growing slowly and putting more infrastructure in place.

“My background is a little bit of everything,” said Christa, who has worked in marketing, in sales with the Little Potato Company and in teaching for the Alberta Farm Safety Centre. She was also a distributor for a horse boot used in competition.

She said the work keeps her engaged.

“It keeps us current, engaged in the community. Sometimes when you are working on the farm with your head down, you’re not engaged,” said Christa.

William’s involvement off the farm has included Alberta Oat Growers.

“I want to make a contribution and not sit belly aching at the coffee shop,” he said.

The farm’s location on the edge of Ryley allows for easy access to major roads.

“We’re half an hour to 45 minutes to anywhere from here,” he said.

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