Kelly and Jeff Yorga won big recently at a major livestock show, but they say their commercial success is what counts
FLINTOFT, Sask. — Success in the show ring is great, but success in the sale ring and ultimately calves on the ground are what drive Limousin breeders Kelly and Jeff Yorga.
The father and son team’s most recent experience with the first came at the National Western Stock Show in Denver in January with their Division 3 champion bull, JYF Dead Head 296D, in the open breeding show, known as the show on the hill.
Jeff said the North American Limousin Foundation thinks he is the first Canadian bull to ever win a division in that event.
They also had the reserve champion pen of three bulls in the yards, the outdoor show, which is the first Canadian pen to win the reserve title.
Not bad for their second year at the show.
“We don’t show to win banners but it’s something they can’t take away from you if you do,” said Jeff. “It’s a positive thing for us and for Canadian breeders.”
But more importantly, J. Yorga Farms is gearing up for its annual production sale Feb. 26 at the farm.
The family has been selling bulls for decades; Yorga relatives were among the first to import Limousins in the 1970s.
Kelly and Jeff are the first and second generations to devote themselves to the cattle business, however. The farm at one time was a grain and hog operation but has focused on Limousin cattle since the early 1990s.
They began selling through an auction in Swift Current, Sask., but moved to their own sale barn in south-central Saskatchewan seven years ago.
They focus on selling Limousin bulls that offer muscle, marbling, yield and good weaning weights — traits for which the breed is known.
“People are starting to remember that they need to cross breed,” said Jeff. “They need a terminal sire that provides calving ease. When you’re running 500 to 1,000 cows, you don’t have time to doctor calves when they’re born.
“We don’t sell the 1,000-pound weaning weights. We sell live calves.”
The Yorgas sell two-year-olds and long yearlings and developed their own docility rating system, so they’re confident they are selling what their customers want. Each time a bull is handled, it is rated, and because they sell aged bulls, they have been well culled.
Typically, the Yorgas sell about 70 bulls annually and would like to increase that to 100. But three years ago, weather conditions caused feed shortages and they were forced to cull cows, resulting in a lower number in this year’s sale.
They haven’t sold a female in five years as they work to expand the herd, Jeff said. They plan to breed 300 cows this year. In 2017, they implanted 67 embryos, up from 32 the year before.
Calving occurs in April and May.
Kelly said they need to grow more of their own feed but are restricted by their land base. Grain farms lie to the north and cattle operations to the south with not much ability to work together on possible solutions like bale grazing because of a lack of infrastructure.
Dry conditions last year, which continue in their region this winter, also resulted in a lack of feed. Their cows are wintering in Carnduff, Sask., and the heifers and heiferettes are near Gull Lake, Sask.
Kelly said there are always challenges, and points to a photograph in the barn office of a bull he brought home from the United States just days before the Canadian border closed after BSE was discovered in Canada.
But both are bullish on the Limousin breed and the cattle business overall.
They also give back through their involvement in organizations. Kelly was a director of the former Beef Information Centre, finance chair of the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association and on the Canadian Limousin Association board.
Jeff is the current SSGA finance chair, a graduate of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association young leaders program and currently on the boards of the Canadian Beef Grading Agency and the Saskatchewan Limousin Association.
Kelly said the operation would be far from what it is without Jeff. It also wouldn’t function without his wife and Jeff’s mom, Norma, who handles the office work.
Jeff, who played a season with the Toronto Argonauts, has degrees in finance and economics and worked in finance for five years. He now works as a broker with Global Ag Risk Solutions and said the seasonality of that work fits perfectly with the cattle business.
Asked why he returned to the farm, he said, “because there’s an opportunity do something big.”
It’s also an opportunity to work in an industry that, while competitive, breeds great friends and neighbours. Davidson Gelbvieh and Six Mile Red Angus are both perennial Denver exhibitors who helped show the Yorgas the ropes.
“They say it takes three years of going down (to Denver) before you really start to see a shift in your business,” Jeff said. “We’re excited.”