Alta. family keeps Salers dream alive

The Eigners’ mature cow won grand champion female in the All Other Breeds show held at Farmfair International

EDMONTON — Years ago the Salers breed was fully represented at Farmfair International, but in recent years that has dwindled to a single family.

Russ Eigner of Care Farms at Thorhild, Alta., won the grand champion female with a mature cow in the All Other Breeds show. Working with his daughters, Sarah Eigner and Lani Barnett, they hope their win might raise the Salers profile.

“We like being here with the Salers. It brings awareness and shows we are still here,” said Sarah, an animal science student at Lakeland College.

Sarah and Lani have a combined 23 years of show experience learned through 4-H. The champion is a five-year-old mature female that was a favourite 4-H project for Sarah.

The family has been actively promoting the breed at Farmfair almost since they bought their first Salers.

Russ’s late wife, Carol, worked tirelessly advocating for smaller breeds, and Northlands has created a $1,500 youth scholarship and named the futurity show Legends of the Fall in her honour.

The family has been in the business for about 30 years and maintains a herd of 30 to 40 cows.

Russ worked in the petrochemical business and with natural gas companies while running a small farm on the side. The terrain is rough and they wanted to add cattle.

“I was working shift work and I didn’t want anything I had to babysit,” Russ said.

He wanted calving ease as well as cows that could look after themselves.

He and Carol walked through the barns at Farmfair looking for a breed that could handle rough farmland and be easy to manage. They bought their first Salers heifers from Walter Chesla, who has since retired but continues to mentor them on the merits of the breed.

The Salers may be black or dark red and have curly hair that grows long in winter. Originally from France, they were a dual milk and meat producing animal. The bred arrived in Canada in 1972 as part of the continental rush of new breeds. The Salers Association of Canada was established in 1973. 

The American Salers Association also registers an Angus cross called Optimizer, which Eigner thinks should be promoted more in Canada.

“If you have an Angus-based herd and cross with Salers, you get an Optimizer. You get the frame and muscling out of the Salers with the easy doing ability of the Angus,” said Sarah.

The United States accepts cattle from one-quarter to three-quarters Salers background and both parents must be registered with their respective breed association. A purebred Optimizer is five-eighths Salers. All registered Optimizers must also have performance data recorded with the association.

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