Charolais sector sees youthful addition

It’s a question that comes up frequently in Canada’s cattle industry: who will be the next generation of cattle producers?

That question may have been answered in Manitoba, at least when it comes to purebred Charolais breeders.

“We’re seeing less breeders but younger breeders in the province of Manitoba,” said Darwin Rosso, Canadian Charolais Association president.

“Manitoba is in that transition where they’ve gone from the old generation to the second generation…. It’s happening (in Alberta and Saskatchewan) but you don’t see quite as many second generations taking over yet.”

Two members of the new generation in Manitoba are Shawn and Tanya Airey, who run HTA Charolais near Rivers, Man.

They assumed control of the purebred operation about five years ago, taking over from Shawn’s parents, Harry and Joan.

Once in charge, the young couple decided, almost immediately, that they needed to get bigger to take advantage of economies of scale.

“In the last four years, we went from calving out around that 95 to 100 head and now we’re breeding up to 175,” Tanya said at Manitoba Ag Ex, a cattle show and sale held in late October in Brandon.

“We’ve seen some other (breeders) in the province do the same thing.”

Having increased their herd, the Aireys are now one of the larger Charolais breeders in the province.

But they’re not the largest.

Steppler Farms of Miami, Man., breeds about 400 Charolais cows, Shawn said.

Overall, the number of Charolais breeders in Manitoba has declined in recent years but the size of the herd is on the rise.

That trend will likely persist in the Charolais trade.

“It will be bigger farmers getting (larger) with some smaller ones dropping off,” said Shawn, 40, who is past-president of the Manitoba Charolais Association.

The association has a number of members younger than Shawn and Tanya: a sign that the transition to the next generation is underway.

In addition to raising cattle, the new generation of Charolais breeders is also raising the next generation of cattle producers.

“There aren’t a lot of junior Char-olais kids right now,” Shawn said at Ag Ex, where the Aireys were showing four animals from their herd. “But there’s a lot in the under 10-year-old age…. In five years, there’s going to be a lot of junior Charolais kids again.”

Tanya and Shawn have two kids in that age group: son, Chase, is seven and daughter, Blake, is four. The kids are part of the 4-H Pee Wee Beef Club in Rivers and they’re also involved in the day-to-day operations at the Aireys farm.

Shawn said their kids’ involvement is 25 percent about cows, 25 percent about learning and 50 percent fun.

“They associate fun with cows and they meet other kids with similar interests. That’s what gets them hooked.”

With younger producers expanding their herds and their children learning to love cattle, Shawn is feeling positive about the future of the Charolais breed in Manitoba and in Canada.

“With all the (youthful) enthusiasm here, it’s going to be good for a long time.”

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