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Cattlemen’s Young Leaders – for Jun. 13, 2011

“Leadership is about one’s ability to inspire others,” says Cattlemen’s Young Leaders (CYL) graduate, Samantha Sperber. “All young people are more interested in and excel at some things more than

others in life. The CYL program helps us focus on our own areas of interest and find ways to inspire others.”

Sperber is definite about her interest in agriculture, especially in beef cattle, and has set her course in life on taking full advantage of having grown up on the family’s mixed farm near Rimbey, Alta. “There are lots of opportunities in agriculture in the business sector,” she says, “but it’s very difficult to become a farmer if you haven’t been born into it. That’s why I feel it’s so important to take advantage of the opportunity I have.”

Her plan is to complete her bachelor of science degree at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton and work into farming full time. She already owns some commercial cows and says it’s neat to think that it all started when she was three years old when her grandmother gave her a heifer calf that went on to live for 15 years.

Her grandpa and dad mentor her on the commercial cattle and crop side of things, so her initial goal when applying for the CYL program was to learn as much as she could about the purebred industry. However, the program also opened her eyes to the whole wide world of the beef industry beyond the farm. It has motivated her to do more to encourage others to take advantage of opportunities to be in agriculture and share her knowledge with those who don’t have that chance or inclination.

Her mentor, Jordan Buba of Lewis Farms, committed her time to the CYL program for much the same reason. “I love agriculture. I knew right from the time I was nine years old, picking and halter breaking my first heifer that I wanted to farm. I can’t imagine doing anything else and I think it’s important to help young kids have the best chance possible to be in agriculture.”

Buba, who is still within the age limit to qualify as a CYL candidate, says it was an honour to be asked to be a mentor considering her age and of all of the other purebred breeders who fit the bill. Many of whom, she adds, are among the network of industry people who influenced her along the way.

She doesn’t have to look far to find mentors when she considers how her grandfather has managed through the ups and downs without having to take a job off the farm and still remains active in the farm today. Then there’s her uncle who introduced purebred Simmentals to the farm, and another who is a vet.

Lewis Farms, located near Spruce Grove, runs a purebred operation with Simmental, Black Angus and Red Angus cattle, a feedlot and a grain operation specializing in seed potatoes. She and her cousin, Kyle, are the fourth generation to be involved full time with the farm, while her brother will be attending Lakeland College at Vermilion next year and her sister and cousin pitch in whenever they can fit it in with their university studies.

“Lewis Farms didn’t start out big and today it is so well run and so successful. It was so inspiring to hear their story and see how all of the family is still involved,” Sperber says. The experience has given her confidence to go ahead with her own purebred operation by starting small, focusing on quality, and showing as much as possible to get her name out there.

She and Buba met face to face at Lewis Farms for five mentoring sessions and between times to cover everything from genetics, breed attributes, expected progeny differences (EPDs), feeding regimes to meet specifitargets for all classes of purebred and feedlot cattle to marketing savvy. She also had a chance to visit the family’s exhibition stalls at Farm Fair and Agribition, where she saw how they set up the show string she had learned about back at the farm, as well as all of the work required to show and market cattle at premier events.

The shows were a great place to start making the connections that are so important in the purebred industry.

It didn’t take her long to put her new understanding of genetics and EPDs to work when she attended the SanDan Charolais purebred sale and in a roundabout way managed to purchase her first purebred heifer. Sperber says it was really encouraging to see the breeders go that extra mile and be so excited to have youth involved, which again goes to show that there are leaders and mentors at every turn if you are willing to ask.

The CYL program also provided opportunities to learn more about the commercial side with student tours of Western Feedlots and the Cargill plant at High River as part of the International Livestock Congress (ILC) in Calgary, and to King Sooper’s case-ready plant in Denver, Colorado, as part of the Five Nations Beef Alliance Young Ranchers Program during the International Livestock Congress and National Western Stock Show.

Those events and sitting in on the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association semi-annual meeting during the ILC, and attending the CYL Fall Forum were great opportunities to hear leading industry people address topics about which she had little prior knowledge.

Sperber recalls Temple Grandin telling the Five Nations group that young people are most influenced by other youths and how important it is to spread positive stories out about the people who dedicate their lives to producing food. Since then, Sperber has been busy posting pictures and links to informative videos and articles on her Facebook page and says it’s surprising how many kids really do read them and comment.

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