Couple’s hard work a ‘labour of love’

Manitoba cattle producers striving to improve and expand herd, minimize workload and enjoy family life

LAURIER, Man. — Manitoba’s Outstanding Young Farmer nominees know the value of hard work.

“Everything we have, we’ve worked for,” said Clint Desjardins, who operates Cattle Drive Ranch east of Riding Mountain national park with his wife, Shannon.

“Clint is never happy unless he’s doing something. He needs to be busy,” said Shannon, citing how her role in the daily farm work has decreased since their girls Brooklyn, 6, and Alexa, 7, arrived.

They started with nine cows in 2002 and nine bred heifers on six quarters of land, and bought four more ranches over the past 11 years.

Together, they have 800 head of commercial cattle and feed production on 1,600 acres of land. The purchase of a 99-year crown lease gives them another 24,000 acres of pasture land 100 miles to the north.

“We’ve grown it together,” said Clint.

The couple shares decision-making for the farm, with Shannon overseeing the farm’s accounting.

She is currently the secretary-treasurer for the Turtle River school division, while Clint’s past off farm work included five years in the oil patch. To supplement their farm income, Clint does custom cat work in the winter and is getting into the custom silage business.

This year has been good to the Desjardins. In addition to the OYF nomination, the weather has helped them produce good feed for their herd. Past years of flooding and rain reduced pastures to fields of cattails and ruts, they said.

They live in a refurbished home where Clint grew up and on farmland best suited for raising cattle like his grandfather, Tony, and father, Alexis, did.

In his youth, Clint swore he’d never farm, but today he calls livestock his passion.

“I go to bed thinking about cattle,” he said. “If you enjoy what you do, you never work a day in your life. The rewards outweigh the challenges,” said Clint.

Through the summer, they check on cattle up north every few weeks, placing bales in the fall to round them up by horseback, ATV or on foot.

Their cattle are trucked both ways, with Clint and a neighbour flying over their leased land to locate any strays in the fall.

Back at the Laurier farm, the cattle are sorted, fattened and marketed at the nearby Ste. Rose du Lac auction mart.

“The margins are thin so you better sell a lot of calves or a lot of bushels of grain,” said Clint.

“At the end of the day, you can put seed and fertilizer in the land but the Good Lord gives you the rain to feed the cows and the crops.”

He prefers the auction mart to farm sales, saying it’s better to have six guys in a ring bidding up to the best price possible.

“Two extra bids pays for the commission,” he said.

Ste. Rose du Lac calls itself the cattle capital but Clint sees cattle numbers down from past years.

“Everyone wants to grow grain. It’s a lot easier way to make a living,” he said.

A scarcity of farm labour is another factor, said Clint.

He relies on help from local retirees but knowing that labour pool won’t last forever, he is trying to make herd improvements each year. That includes creating low maintenance animals, calving in April and minimizing the workload.

The Desjardins’ management strategy for their operation involves expanding when cattle prices are low.

“BSE was great for us. We bought heifers at $800,” said Clint.

“When cattle prices are high, we invest in land, equipment. When it’s low, we invest in cattle,” he said.

Shannon said they manage costs and seldom take more than a trip in the RV to a nearby lake.

“We don’t go on holidays, we invest in this operation,” she said.

That suits her girls, who both enjoy farm life.

“The oldest would rather be here any day of the week,” said Shannon.

The Desjardins have travelled to attend the OYF awards event, where they were runners-up, and cattle association meetings to learn more about their industry, but Clint said much of his education has come from the success of older ranchers.

The children know the borders of the property, they know not to approach a moving tractor or to go in a pen without an adult, their parents said.

Most Sundays, the Desjardins can be found enjoying time together at church and riding horses on the farm.

“This is what we do, it’s a labour of love,” said Clint.

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