Ranch family shares sense of responsibility

On the Farm: Wade and Jolene Watson shared a desire to own their own ranch and bought all their land themselves

SEVEN PERSONS, Alta. — It’s a family in which each member has followed their dreams and found success.

Wade has always wanted to be involved in agriculture and be his own boss.

Jolene fell in love with law enforcement and has always loved cattle.

Sage, 25, is passionate about track and field, runs professionally for Nike and is an Olympic-level hurdler.

Waylan, 15, played on the Canadian Little League World Series team last year and has an egg business he started at age six.

And all of them are also involved in Watson Cattle Company, a ranching operation near Seven Persons, Alta.

Jolene and Wade, parents to Sage and Waylan, are the driving forces behind the cattle operation, where they raise purebred Black Angus and Red Angus cattle. Their 200-head cow herd and 150 yearlings graze for nine months of the year on 4,000 acres of land in parcels spread between Suffield, Dunmore, Elkwater, Manyberries and Seven Persons.

“My goal is to raise great kids and great cows,” said Jolene.

She and Wade were both raised on farms in the area and have been married for 29 years. Wade trained as an appraiser and owns his own business in that field with offices in Medicine Hat and Lethbridge.

Jolene has a degree in sociology, which led her to a 15-year career in law enforcement, most of it in the forensics unit for the Medicine Hat police department. After Waylan was born, she devoted all her time to raising the kids and raising the cattle.

Wade credits the family’s success in large part to the lessons learned from his grandfather, a man who lived through the Great Depression and knew the value of hard work and hard-earned dollars.

“I would say our philosophy is to be responsible. Be responsible to the land. Be responsible to your customers. Be responsible for your actions. That’s what we live by and that’s what I want to teach my kids too,” said Wade.

He and Jolene shared a desire to own their own ranch and used the proceeds from their respective jobs to accomplish it.

“My husband and I had to purchase all our land on our own. That’s why it’s kind of spread out everywhere. Even though our families have been in the cattle business, life has a way of changing everything that you do. This is our passion in life so we just started purchasing property and cattle and kind of grew it from nothing to where we are today,”

Watson Cattle Company sells bulls all over Western Canada, having established a niche in the purebred business.

Though they used to participate in cattle shows and had an annual sale, they’ve since moved to private treaty augmented by a website itemizing each animal’s genetics and pedigree.

“We went to private treaty and the reason that we did that was strictly because we were so involved in supporting our kids and their lives with their athletics,” said Jolene.

She is a believer in promoting agriculture and helping others understand it so she regularly posts photos to Instagram showing the workings of the ranch.

Social media can be a two-edged sword, however. Jolene said she was surprised at the feedback she received after posting photos of the tattooing process on their purebred cattle.

“I find that so bizarre because people tattoo their bodies all the time. And they get massive tattoos. All we’re doing is putting little tattoos in the ear.”

However, such minor critical feedback does not discourage her.

Sage, left, Waylan, Wade and Jolene Watson have been able to pursue their own dreams while also making the Watson Cattle Co. a success.

“I really believe in what we’re doing at our ranch and I really believe in the lifestyle that we live. It’s very positive and promotes ranching and agriculture… I wanted to share that with everybody.”

The current pandemic hasn’t altered ranch operations too much, although it did bring Sage home from her training in Arizona and will prevent Waylan from playing junior varsity baseball this year. And it meant that the four of them branded all 200 calves in one day, rather than holding their usual larger-scale branding party that often included urban guests.

“I think agricultural people are uniquely prepared for something like this,” Wade said about the pandemic.

“If you’re calving and you get scours, that’s a medical crisis. You adapt and you change and you deal with the situation at hard. So, I actually think people in agriculture are very well prepared to deal with some of this stuff.”

For her part, Sage continues to help with cattle duties but has also set up a weight room in the ranch shop so she can continue her training in preparation for the next Olympic Games. Jolene recalls that Sage’s love for track began early.

“I was big into running because I was a police officer. She would always beg me to go running.” School athletics and participation in the summer games followed and Sage’s passion earned her a full scholarship first to Florida State and later to the University of Arizona at Tucson. She now has a degree in business marketing.

Waylan became an entrepreneur at an early age when Jolene got him started in the egg business. When he turned 14, he had earned enough money to buy himself a Jeep and he has a learner’s permit in hand. He is also an accomplished guitar player and horseback rider.

Wade said he wouldn’t have predicted that he and Jolene would create such athletic and ambitious children.

“We all learned to have the work ethic to get what we want. That translates into my kids and their successes, having that eye on the goal and being able to work toward that goal and to focus and not be distracted.

“We encouraged them. We gave them the opportunities in multiple sports and activities. I think that’s the goal of a parent is to support. We don’t always have to agree but we should support and we should give them encouragement and sound advice.”

Though current conditions prevent travel, the whole family has attended Sage and Waylan’s various athletic events in the past. That has taken them to Spain, France, China, Colombia and all over the United States. They also like to take their fishing boat out on area lakes.

“We’re really enjoying what we’re doing right now,” said Jolene about ranch operations and life in general. Wade shares her view.

“I think we’re the luckiest people in the world to be able to continue our lifestyle through this whole (pandemic) disaster,” he said.

“I’m very grateful every day that during this COVID thing, our kids were home and they were able to go out and do things. … They weren’t locked in the house like some poor unfortunate souls in New York that are stuck in their apartments.”

The wide open spaces of southeastern Alberta have always retained their appeal for him and Jolene. They still own part of the original family homestead near Dunmore, as well as Grandpa Watson’s old tractor.

It still runs. So does everyone in this busy family, one way or another.

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