Sask. Charolais operation embraces the world

HODGEVILLE, Sask. — Either way you look at it — from Hodgeville to the world or the world to Hodgeville — Garner and Lori Deobald’s impact in the beef business has indeed been worldwide.

From Garner’s first trip to China in 1995 to hosting guests from Estonia after the most recent Canadian Western Agribition, the Deobald name is synonymous with promoting Canadian beef genetics.

The family has been honoured many times over within the Charolais breed and earlier this year were awarded a Saskatchewan Livestock Association honour scroll for their contributions to the industry and their community.

“You never expect or think about things like that,” said Garner.

“We still think we’ve got quite a few years ahead of us.”

However, they appreciate the peer recognition of the time and work the whole family has put in to developing Cedarlea Farms and the beef industry while taking on many other roles.

Garner and Lori live on the farm Garner’s grandfather bought in 1937. Here, they raised son Rhett and two daughters, Bre and Kylie.

Kylie and her husband, Brian Hawkins, have now joined her parents in the business.

Kylie and Lori also run a successful quarter horse business and stand stallion Peptos Boon Shine, who has sired foals used in reining and running barrels or as ranch horses.

The operation comprises about 4,000 acres, including 800 acres of cultivated land used to grow barley for feed or silage.

The purebred Charolais herd includes about 250 females, including heifers, and they also have a commercial herd of 40 that run on a nearby community pasture. Calving begins in mid-January.

The highlight of the year is the annual bull sale, Git ‘R Done, held the first Tuesday of April in conjunction with a neighbouring Angus operation. This year’s sale featured 62 yearling bulls.

The move from a mixed farm to a predominantly purebred operation began in 1980.

“We always had cattle here,” said Garner.

“I grew up with Angus.”

However, Lori’s father, Leo Dayne, was one of the early Charolais breeders and the couple bought his herd in 1980 when they started their own business.

Life quickly became very busy with three children involved in and excelling at sports. Mom and Dad were pressed into coaching and leading 4-H.

“I remember having to be at the rink in Swift Current for 6 a.m. practice,” Lori recalled of the approximately hour-long drive.

Looking back, she said she doesn’t know how they managed to fit it all in and keep the farm going. She is a registered veterinary technologist who still works at the veterinary clinic in Hodgeville.

Garner began working off the farm in 2004 when he became a Canadian Charolais Association fieldman. Three years later he moved to the animal health company Boehringer Ingelheim, where he is responsible for southern Saskatchewan and several veterinary clinics in Manitoba.

He sat on numerous local boards and the provincial, national and international Charolais associations, including terms as president. He has judged cattle shows across the country and conducted bull selection workshops for the province.

The Deobalds have also exhibited cattle at many shows, including Agribition, where they had the RBC Beef Supreme Grand Champion bull, Gridmaker, in 2011. More recently, Rome was the grand champion Charolais bull at the 2016 show.

“We try to AI all of our purebreds, even our commercial cows, to utilize the best genetics we possibly can,” Garner said the day after all the cows went out to pasture for the season.

“Our goal is to make the most improvements necessary.”

Overall, he believes the beef industry has gotten much better at identifying the genetics it needs.

“That’s true for all breeds,” he said.

“And we see that with fewer assisted calvings and C-sections.”

Producers are using expected progeny differences, ultrasound data and other genetic markers to make their decisions, he added.

“Showing cattle doesn’t influence breeding programs as much as it used to,” he said.

Cattle are more alike both within breeds and across breeds.

“Everything is much more uniform,” said Lori.

Garner said this makes it easier to manage.

“Back in the ’80s there was a real disconnect between the seedstock producer and the commercial guy. Now they are much more aligned.”

He said there is a place for genomics in the industry, but it won’t be the “be all and end all” that some thought it would be five years ago.

Garner has taken his knowledge to many countries since his first international trip. In 2010, they formed Hawkeye Land and Livestock to handle an opportunity to assemble up to 10,000 head for Russia.

After three to four years of work the potential buyers abandoned the idea in favour of growing potatoes, mostly due to government policy.

Two loads of cattle did go to Kazakhstan, however.

“Canadian cattle have worked out well for them,” Garner said.

“The Kazakh market was strong when ours was down.”

Buyers there prefer to buy live cattle rather than embryos to build their numbers more quickly, he said. And most of the deals rely on government programs and approval.

“They also have more experience with live cattle,” said Lori.

Kylie and Brian went to Kazakhstan to help teach the new owners about the cattle while they were still in quarantine.

Education and technology transfer both there or with international delegations who visit Saskatchewan are important aspects of the business. For example, Garner held a breeder school for the Estonians who visited last winter.

Last year, as president of the Canadian Beef Breeds Council, he went to China, where there is a strong demand for Canadian cattle but a lack of export regulations since Canada’s BSE crisis in 2003 restricted trade.

“Australia and New Zealand are having a heyday shipping hundreds of thousands of head there,” he said.

“We need to work on regaining that market.”

Garner will head back there this summer as part of a partnership between the council, a Chinese university and the Beef Cattle Research Centre to promote Canadian genetics.

In the meantime, the Deobalds continue to work to produce top genetics on their own farm, collecting data, measuring and knowing where they fit in the system.

Garner said fine-tuning and meeting customer demands are critical to a successful operation.

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