Sask. cattle producers return to their roots

Randy James checks one of his purebred Angus cows.  | Christalee Froese photo

On the Farm: Randy James made the decision to leave the business for which he had so much passion but then found a way to come back

ARCOLA, Sask. — It all started with 4-H.

At the age of eight, Randy James joined a local beef club. It was a fateful event that has taken him to cattle shows around the world.

Growing up on a mixed farm with a commercial herd, it wasn’t a natural fit for the family to have a son who was so passionate about showing cattle at such a young age.

“My parents really weren’t into it but I just persisted and found a way to stay at it,” says the 50-year-old James, pointing to mentors like Tom Warnyca and others who taught him about the purebred cattle business.

After high school, James started a clipping and fitting business that took him throughout North America and Australia prepping 2,000 to 3,000 cattle a year for the show ring.

By the time he was in his 30s, and had a family of two boys with his wife Laurie, he had settled back on his home farm in Arcola and was working as a supervisor in the oil patch. In what was a tough decision, he and his wife sold the family farm in 2006 so that James could focus his efforts on the booming oil economy of southeastern Saskatchewan.

“It got to the point that I wasn’t able to manage both because the Simmentals were taking so much time and so was my oil-patch job,” said James.

He managed to make a good living in the oil patch, but he never stopped feeling the pull of the cattle business.

These yearlings are some of the offspring of champion Brooking Countess 7077. | Christalee Froese photo

“When we dispersed our herd in 2006, we were on the rise not the fall, so I just always had this feeling that I hadn’t finished what I always wanted to do in the cattle business.”

In 2015, the James’ began dabbling in cattle again under the Dusty Rose Cattle Company brand, purchasing a number of elite purebred Angus and Simmental cattle with price tags in the $30,000 to $50,000 range. The buying decisions came easy because James’ natural interest in cattle led him to keep his finger on the pulse of the industry just for enjoyment.

“It was a bit of a midlife crisis time in my life and I just wanted to get back a little of what we could have had,” he said.

Those early investments stoked the internal fire that had been lit when James was just eight years old, so he continued to buy shares in top cattle. With the children having left home, he and his wife started following the purebred circuit again, watching their cattle being shown in Edmonton, Brandon and Regina.

James even tried his hand at clipping his own cattle for show after a 30-year sabbatical, but to no avail.

“That’s the most fun thing to do in the cattle business but I’d just been out of it for too long—it’s a young man’s game.”

In 2019, a two-year-old purebred Angus by the name of Brooking Countess 7077 started to attract attention after it earned the title of Supreme Champion at Edmonton’s Farmfair International. It continued to win every show it was entered in, including the coveted RBC Supreme Challenge at Canadian Western Agribition in Regina.

The animal’s offspring were suddenly in high demand and James began experimenting with IVF flush, a method that allows for more calves to be produced in a shorter period of time. Conventional flushing requires the donor to be open before the collection procedure because fertilization of the eggs occurs within the animal. But with IVF flushing, eggs can be harvested while the cow is bred. That makes the turnover rate faster because eggs can be collected every two weeks versus the six weeks it takes with conventional IVF.

One of 7077’s first calves to be shown, Brooking Dusty’s Countess 9026, a 20-month old Black Angus heifer, went on to win the Supreme Champion title at Stockade Round-up in Lloydminster in November.

“That’s a bucket-list kind of thing to have that happen after just three years back in the business,” said James, explaining that while his cattle were extremely successful, he still did not have a farm to raise them on.

Brooking Countess 7077 was the winner of the all-breeds RBC Supreme Challenge at Canadian Western Agribition in Regina in 2019. | Randy James photo

James, who lives in the town of Arcola, had been keeping his ears open for an area farm where he could centralize his cattle operation and expand his IVF flushing program. He approached retiring farm couple Paul and Maureen Cameron, who ran a large feedlot near Arcola.

The Camerons told James they weren’t interested in selling their century farm, but a week later the couple proposed the lease of the entire feedlot area, pastures and equipment. The deal included the couple keeping their home on the farm.

“It was a win-win,” said James, who drives just a few kilometres from his Arcola house to get to his leased cattle operation.

“The Camerons have been amazing. They’re as interested in making this work as I am and they love having the cows here, with none of the chores.”

James has about 260 head on his leased farm that he cares for with a hired man. He has continued to work in the oil patch, but his passion remains in growing his cattle business. He now focuses on super-ovulating his best females, harvesting the eggs and fertilized embryos and either selling them or implanting them in recipient females. With his showing success, live calves sell for up to $34,000 with eggs going for $1,000 and embryos selling for up to $4,000.

“My goal is to just break-even but to raise the best cows in the world because for me, it’s the lifestyle of cattle that has always been what I’ve loved.”

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