Exposure at shows | Couple takes over family farm and hope their children follow in their footsteps
CARSTAIRS, Alta. — Every morning Jill Mader can see the Rocky Mountains from her kitchen window and think how lucky she is to be part of a successful Alberta ranching family.
“I think the mountains are beautiful and these guys look at the grass,” she said.
She and her husband, Ryley, and his parents, Randy and Ronda, are equal partners at Mader Ranches in central Alberta.
It’s a purebred Simmental operation where the second generation of Maders is taking over and building a brand name while creating a lifestyle for themselves and their two young children, Stella, three, and Hawkin, one.
Randy was raised in Regina and Ronda came from Carstairs. He started in advertising with a beef magazine and they met at a sale while he was working the ring taking bids. The couple, who also has two daughters, eventually worked at EP Sales before finding their farm.
“We like to think of it as four legs of the table because without one of the four it would be difficult,” Jill said.
She and Ryley met through 4-H and kept in touch over the years. Jill was from Sedgewick so the move from the dry, flat country to the chinook belt of the foothills was a big change.
Ryley went to school in Olds studying the land agents program and she studied marketing in Edmonton.
“You have to follow where the demand is. Ten years from now, it might be a different breed,” Ryley said of the cattle business.
“If we want to continue to farm, we better adjust,” he said.
The family marked its 25th annual bull sale by hosting it at the ranch.
In addition to farm work, Jill also finds time to run a marketing business from home, handling advertising projects and live internet broadcasting for sales, picture and video editing.
The couple recently installed calving cameras in the barn to monitor activity for the spring and fall calving programs. Jill also created a streamlined online record keeping program.
Randy was an early adopter, making sure there was an environmental farm plan in place as well as working with bull test stations to select the best sires possible.
As a board member for the Canadian Simmental Association, he has been involved in the breed’s research projects from the beginning. He also sells real estate.
“Marketing is pretty high on our list,” Jill said.
“We try to get to a lot of places and a lot of sales because there is nothing like face to face interaction with people,” Ryley said.
They run on-farm tests on all the potential sires and replacement heifers and weigh and assess them monthly. They also see genomics as important.
“The future of the cattle business is going to be based around those numbers so just starting to think about it and becoming active in it, is something you have to do if you want to be successful,” Ryley said.
Their business is selling bulls and the quality needs to be top notch and reliable.
“We should sell the top ones into the purebred and commercial world because they affect the entire beef industry,” he said.
The family entered the show ring in 2007 and achieved success by 2008.
This year, they won championships and had strong sale prices at Olds Fall Classic, Farmfair International and Canadian Western Agribition.
“We came home with the most banners we have ever brought home from all three shows,” Jill said.
This exposure is part of their marketing plan.
“Our biggest push is promoting things with the Mader name. We outsource genetics all the time but there is nothing more rewarding than putting your own name on the sire and dam, on something you are selling,” Ryley said.
For them, it is all about branding.
“The more people repeat that name, the more they remember it,” he said.
They run about 200 cows that include a large transfer program, implanting about 80 embryos a year. The top heifers are put up for sale, but they still have full siblings to continue working in their program.
Their location near the Calgary–Edmonton highway works well because they are on paved roads and are close to the Calgary airport.
Randy encouraged them to buy property as an investment so the family bought land and had the opportunity to subdivide some of the property. That cash infusion enabled them to buy into the home place and be almost debt free.
“It was important to us to have our own identity. At that point, we didn’t know where farm succession would go so we had options,” he said.
Their two children accompany them whenever possible.
“We were brought up going to sales and sleeping under the table at a sale and our kids are doing the exact same thing,” he said.
They also judge cattle shows as a couple.
“We have learned to be pretty critical on our own cattle. If you aren’t, you don’t have the right to be hard on other people’s cattle,” he said.
The Simmental breed attracts young farmers and for the younger Maders that is a plus.
“We have a large group of friends who are all doing the same thing and they are within 25 minutes of us rather than an hour or two away,” Jill said.
“We all got the opportunity from our parents to be there,” she said.
Ryley and Jill hope to see their children take over the family business in future.