Sask. couple ‘flip cows’ to make a living

On the Farm: Jocelyn and Garret Poletz usually average 400 to 500 cows at one time and this winter had about 1,000

The whirlwind of the last few years belies the patience it took for Garret and Jocelyn Poletz to get where they are.

Establishing their own cattle operation south of Biggar, Sask., about halfway to Rosetown, was a process of making plans and then changing them.

Following the arrival of three daughters, three different houses and two feedlots in the last 10 years, they have now settled into a good spot.

“It’s been busy and expensive,” said Jocelyn.

“Now we’re kind of at a point where it would just be nice to enjoy it.”

Each of them has a farm background. Garret grew up on a farm not far from where they are now, and Jocelyn was raised on her family’s farm west of Fiske.

Garret studied power engineering but chose to work on the oil rigs for several years and then in a mine. During slow times he helped cattle producers process their animals.

He began buying land while in his 20s and it came to a point where he had to choose. Although he had once thought he’d never return to farming, he did.

“The more I was gone the more I wanted to come home, the more I wanted to buy and run cows,” he said.

Jocelyn obtained a commerce degree at the University of Saskatchewan and began her career at Cargill, first in agronomy, then sales and then marketing. She moved to Farm Credit Canada in Rosetown for seven years and when the couple moved to Biggar a couple of years ago, she became the agriculture and commercial lender at the credit union.

They established P Cross Ranch in 2011 with about 200 cows, married in 2013, and had daughters Haylee in 2014, Hannah in 2016 and Houstyn in 2018.

They sold some of Garret’s original land, on which he had already built a feedlot, to buy a larger parcel and then built another. They also decided to live in town, with the day care across the back alley, so Jocelyn could keep working and Garret commute the 25 minutes to the farm.

Jocelyn said Garret is the risk-taker and she is the voice of reason.

“We’ve always kind of looked at the next thing and expanding,” she said.

“It’s a no-stone-left-unturned kind of program,” he chimed in.

Added Jocelyn: “Garret always has the good ideas.… As long as it works for both of us from a financial standpoint and from an operational standpoint, that’s how we make our decisions.”

P Cross Ranch is a cow-calf and custom feeding operation with an eye on opportunity.

“We flip cows,” Garret said.

“For some reason we’ll just buy 400 bred heifers and calve them out and flip them. We do a lot of little things like that.”

They average 400 to 500 cows of their own at all times, and this winter had about 1,000. Half of those will calve and be sold as pairs. Typically, calving is in March or April, but that can vary depending on where purchased cows came from.

Their cattle spend the summer on rented pasture, leaving their own land for fall and winter grazing. They own about 4,000 acres and rent a similar amount. Garret said the option to rent summer pasture keeps feed costs down, and their own land base has natural springs that are only useable in winter because they are too swampy in the summer.

Corn production is key to the entire operation. They seed corn for grazing on marginal farm acres and grow corn for silage on land closer to home.

“We can produce enough feed for all these animals off 500 or 600 acres of land,” said Garret.

“Some people have the same amount of land and run 100 cows and struggle to put up enough feed, and we can run 25 times that.”

He said people don’t always see the value in corn. He said it’s worth twice as much as greenfeed, even in a silage pit, and can be fed with byproducts such as lentil screenings and oat hulls.

The backgrounding feedlot has capacity for up to 3,000 head.

“We used to feed our own cattle in the feedlot, but the returns haven’t been there the last three years, so we just let somebody else take the risk,” said Garret.

“The cows, they’re disposable at all times. If there’s ever a money crunch or anything, a cow can go to town, but feeder cattle, you kind of have to shoot for a market or shoot for target weights or you’re wasting your time.”

Another aspect of their ranch is a salt and mineral business they started. They use so much that they thought it would be a good way to diversify. It also is a way of being involved in the community and meeting people.

Both Garret and Jocelyn say it’s critical to be involved in their industry through networking and organizations. Garret is on the Saskatchewan Cattle Feeders Association board and is that group’s representative to the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association. Jocelyn is on the Eagle Creek Watershed Group board.

P Cross employs staff for all parts of the business, including core full-time staff and seasonal workers through the International Rural Exchange.

“We employ mostly women on the cattle end,” said Garret

“They’re more particular. They care more. They take their time more with the livestock.”

Typically, they hire for year-round labour because they found it easier than looking for seasonal help and they don’t have to lay off workers twice a year. The exchange students come for three to six months during busier seasons.

Jocelyn said one thing that has helped them get where they are is that they’ve been on their own, without other family involved. They make the decisions and spend the money.

“It’s our butt on the line,” she said.

Garret said they would never have found out what they could do if they hadn’t started from scratch. Rapid expansion over the last couple of years has taken them to a point where they can now level out and see where it makes sense to go next.

“It’s all a part of being passionate about the industry,” said Garret.

“It’s wanting to learn every nook and cranny. We just love it.”

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