On the Farm: Sask. couple started their Gelbvieh ranch only four years ago but have already made a name for themselves
In the four years since Twin View Livestock started appearing on purebred show lists, the Gelbvieh operation has established itself firmly in the championship category.
Joe Barnett and Aaron Birch earned national titles, winning both the female and bull championships at Canadian Western Agribition in Regina in 2019, and world titles after the most recent Champions of the World competition.
They say that’s good for their Parkbeg, Sask., farm but also for the breed.
They are very much about promoting Gelbvieh and look for all possible ways to do that.
“We’re not one of the big breeds so we have to make a conscious effort to put our breed at the forefront,” Barnett said.
Birch, currently the Canadian Gelbvieh Association president, grew up at Twin Bridge Farms in Lomond, Alta., a cow-calf and grain operation. He was involved with 4-H and the junior Gelbvieh association and obtained an agriculture diploma in production and management at Olds College.
He was the push behind the family’s establishment of a purebred Gelbvieh herd and says the devastation of BSE actually allowed him to buy females at a reasonable price and build his herd quickly. One two-year-old cow he bought produced 11 calves and a national champion grandson.
Barnett grew up on his family’s City View Simmentals near Moose Jaw, Sask., where he and Birch still own cows and are involved in breeding decisions. He also was involved in 4-H and junior programs before heading to North Dakota for university where he earned a teaching degree.
He taught full time for 12 years, both in the United States and Canada, and worked for the Canadian Simmental Association for a year.
These days, because they are so busy on the ranch, he is a substitute teacher and also drives a school bus route to Chaplin.
“Lots of days I pick kids up, park the bus, teach them, load them up and take them home again,” Barnett said.
They chose the Parkbeg property because it was fairly close to family and friends and situated in cattle country, although Barnett said the property chose them.
“It was the first and only place we looked at,” he said.
They arrived for a viewing to discover they knew the sellers and were able to negotiate tools and equipment along with their land purchase. This allowed them to get their feet under them quickly, they say.
They also acquired neighbours who help when they are away by doing chores and feeding their laying hens and dogs.
Birch and Barnett own seven quarters of hay and pasture land and rent the same amount. There, they run 130 cows, which began calving in mid-January.
All are artificially inseminated or have embryos implanted. They spend a good chunk of time on grass.
Last year, their cows gave birth to seven sets of twins and only two died, which led to more calves than the cows could handle so they bought Genevieve the Jersey to help mother the calves.
Twin View markets bulls and females both on and off-farm.
“The nice thing about the breed we have is they’re very versatile and there’s a big demand for both the bulls and the females,” said Birch.
Each March, they and Fladeland Livestock hold a bull sale, and in fall they host Function and Finesse, a female sale they created with other Gelbvieh breeders. Steers and heifers they aren’t keeping are sold direct to a broker as a package in the fall.
“We actually bring the cattle here ahead of time, so they’re here from July until the sale in the middle of October,” Birch explained of Function and Finesse. “We develop them all here. They’re fed the same way, they’re pictured the same way, they’re clipped the same way so that when people come and look at them they’re all managed the same and they can really compare them nicely,” Birch said.
This type of sale has brought them and the breed some attention.
But standing out is exactly what Barnett and Birch want, and they say more young people are choosing Gelbvieh because they are seeing the cattle presented at a high level.
Birch said producers of other breeds are taking note.
“For example, someone seeing a bred heifer might say, ‘she’s good.’ Not just, ‘she’s good for a Gelbvieh;’ ‘she’s just good’, ” he said. “That’s what we kind of strive for.”
COVID-19 halted the 2020 fall show season, but Birch and Barnett marketed through social media and virtual shows.
They participated in the Canadian Western Agribition Evolution Series, where a win qualified them to enter the Champions of the World.
Gelbvieh doesn’t have its own breed show so their cattle competed against more than 1,800 others in the Other Registered Breeds category. Judges from Europe, South Arica, South America and Mexico deemed Twin View entries the best in both the female and bull shows.
“A lot of people could very easily say this competition doesn’t mean anything because it is virtual. It is judged solely on an image,” Barnett said. “But it’s really very humbling.”
Birch said they have already sold some genetics as a result.
He said while many people took the year off, they decided to get some cattle ready and get as much exposure as they could.
They also participate in Verified Beef Production Plus and BIXS to create consumer assurance.
Birch and Barnett know they may stand out as an openly gay couple, but say that has never been an issue in their business and isn’t a focus for them. They prefer their cattle do the talking.
That said, they realize they may be role models.
“We know a lot of young people similar to us who wonder if there’s a place for them in this industry and we hope that we are an example of, ‘yeah, there’s a spot for everybody here and if it’s something you want and it’s something you’re passionate about and something that’s important to you, there’s a spot,’ ” said Barnett.
“You just have to make sure that spot is yours.”