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Couple grows farm, family on Gelbvieh operation

PARRY, Sask. — Trevor and Amber Burks aren’t ones to let the grass grow under their feet.

They want to produce the best Gelbvieh cattle and they want to do it sooner rather than later.

Trevor established Twisted T Gelbvieh in 2011 and by 2013, the year he and Amber married, they were showing champions. Their first national champion female, Reba, won the banner at Regina’s Canadian Western Agribition in 2014.

“Being a seed stock producer was always a pipe dream for me,” Trevor said after another successful Agribition for Reba.

It was that show that led him to Gelbvieh in the first place.

After five years at a transport company and three years managing one of the largest Alberta feedlots, he had some prospect steers to show and some cash to spend.

Walking through the barns, the Gelbvieh stalls were his last stop.

“It was like 40 guys saying welcome to the family,” he recalled. “The next day, I bought my first Gelbvieh cow, the reserve junior champion female from McCoy.”

They went on to buy every direct daughter from that cow line they could and Trevor isn’t shy about saying they were buying their way up.

“I didn’t want to spend 20 years getting from the back of the pack to the front,” he said.

Seven years in, cattle with their own prefix are now coming into demand.

They will calve 78 head this year, including seven Balancers bred to their main bull.

“There are 26 in the replacement pen and 20 bulls in the February bull sale,” he said. “We’re producing solid, sound, functional cattle.”

The females will calve within 38 days of one another and the Burks aim to narrow that to 30 days to obtain the most uniform group possible.

“The goal is to be done before the bull sale,” said Amber.

This February sale marks the fourth overall and the second in their new yard south of Regina.

They looked at 75 farms over 18 months to find the right property for their operation. They want to eventually expand the purebred herd to 200 cows and possibly establish a commercial herd if they have enough land.

Currently, they own eight quarters and lease another two, plus hayland.

Trevor was raised in southern Ontario and moved west in 1999 with his parents. Land at that time was $16,000 per acre in their area and there was no opportunity to expand. Trevor’s parents still run 600 cow-calf pairs at Asquith, Sask., but there was no room for another generation.

Amber was raised on a mixed farm in the Hanley-Kenaston area south of Saskatoon and became a medical administration assistant. She works at the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency in Regina.

“It’s one hour each way, on good roads,” she said of her commute.

Being further from family since moving in 2015 has given the Burks independence and the opportunity to establish new friendships and business relationships.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” said Trevor. “But it’s been a good move. It made bull selling easier.”

Well, maybe except for last year’s sale.

It was 17 C on sale day and the yard went from a foot of snow to a foot of water, he said. The cattle were moved to flax straw on the driveway to keep them out of the water. And this came after the farm recorded -53 C in mid-January, he said.

This summer brought drought and the Burks watched their water table drop nearly four metres. There are six dugouts on the home half-section and two are empty.

The house uses dugout water and the family is hoping for snow and runoff or they will have to consider a well.

Feed supplies are also tight this winter after the dry summer. There is carryover but the cattle will be on feed earlier than usual.

The herd usually eats a high silage diet but will have to adjust. The same fields that produced 1,100 tonnes of silage last year produced just 22 tonnes this year.

Calves were weaned a month earlier, which turned out to be a good decision for the cows in preparation for winter.

The Burks have had other challenges as well, such as losing animals to injury.

But the bright spots have included the arrival of daughters Isely, who is three, and Ivy, 18 months.

This means an extra drive to Pangman for daycare and dance lessons.

Isely has already shown Reba in the junior show at Agribition and her dad says she is “cow crazy.”

Indeed, she knows that the bull named Dylan is in Missouri doing what bulls are supposed to do.

Each daughter received a bred heifer when they were born and are building their own cow herds, even if they don’t quite realize what that means.

Amber said there is a small but strong community of young families in Parry who are working toward leaving a legacy for their children.

She has to work off the farm for now but she and Trevor say they are in a good situation.

“It takes 10 years (to establish a solid business) and we’re halfway there,” said Trevor. “We have never stopped growing.”

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