Getting started in the cattle industry can present a daunting challenge for even the most determined young adults. High input costs, traditionally volatile markets with no guarantee of return on investment, and the physically and mentally demanding nature of spending 365-day a year raising cattle are just a few of the major hurdles that a young person faces.
The 2011 Census of Agriculture says only 9.9 per cent of farms in Canada are operated by someone less than 40 years of age. Although the sheer lack of young producers in the cattle industry is worrisome, the individuals who are getting involved make up for their lack of numbers with their passion and drive for success.
One such couple is Lance and Shari Leachman, of Maidstone, Sask. who are putting their respective backgrounds and education to work on their purebred Hereford operation, Big Gully Farm.
Lance attended Dodge City Community College and Kansas State University and competed on the livestock judging teams at both institutions before moving on to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia where he completed a masters of science degree in animal breeding and genetics and coached the livestock judging team for three years. He returned to the farm in May 2010 to assume the management and daily operation of Big Gully Farm from his parents, Buddy and Frances Leachman.
Shari grew up on a mixed farm near Hamiota, Man. where she was involved in 4-H and a member of the Canadian Junior Angus Association. She attended Lakeland College in Vermilion, Alta., to obtain an agriculture business diploma. While attending Lakeland, Shari was introduced to the carcass ultrasound through a beginner’s course offered at the college. She was intrigued by the business opportunity and decided to complete the advanced training and CUP Lab certifications through visits to Athens, Georgia and Ames, Iowa. Simultaneously she purchased her own equipment and founded Ultrabeef Ultrasound Services.
“Starting your own business can be intimidating based on the investment, market circumstances or negative feedback you may receive, but if you believe in the venture, see the benefit it can offer and work hard to satisfy your customers, you will likely enjoy success,” she says.
Besides operating Ultrabeef Shari also broadcasts cattle sales online as a western Canadian sales representative for LiveAuctions.tv and sells Mary Kay Cosmetics as a senior sales director with the company.
The couple met in the spring of 2011 when the Leachmans’ regular ultrasound technician was unable to visit their farm and instead recommended Shari as a replacement. You could say the rest is history. They married on July 5, 2014 at Big Gully Farm and have been operating the 3,000-acre farm and purebred Hereford cattle herd, as well as a small Angus herd ever since.
Typically, 165 females are turned out at breeding with 125 of those kept to calve each year. They synchronize and artificially inseminate all of their heifers. All cows that cycle within the first 21 days of the breeding season are artificially inseminated on natural heats. Pregnancy testing is done via ultrasound and each year they implant around 10-12 embryos. The Leachmans’ merchandise yearling and coming two-year-old bulls along with a select group of heifer calves and bred heifers at a December online and on-farm sale.
They are strong proponents of performance testing through the utilization of expected progeny differences (EPD) and more recently genomically enhanced-expected progeny differences (GE-EPD). All of their bulls will sell with GE-EPDs this fall, which gives them, and their customers, greater confidence in the true genetic merit of the livestock at a younger age. They ultrasound all of their yearling bulls and heifers for carcass merit and are working to moderate frame, improve udder quality, enhance muscle, add centre body dimension and transmit pigment in their Hereford cattle while maintaining structural integrity and a quality appearance. For a number of years now they have dehorned all of their bulls so they are easier to handle and easier on the facilities which keeps them competitive with bulls of other breeds.
To promote their breeding stock Lance and Shari called on some talented friends to come up with a new logo and advertising scheme for the operation as well as a website. To back up their advertising, they believe they have to service their customers beyond simply delivering animals, which includes farm visits to see how their bulls are performing.
Both Lance and Shari have participated in the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders program, Lance in 2013 and Shari in 2014. Lance was mentored by David Bolduc of Cudlobe Angus and Shari by Denise Lafrentz of Wheatland Cattle Company.
Their commitment to the Hereford breed is clearly evident from their involvement with the breed. Lance is currently a director of the Saskatchewan Hereford Association and sits on the breed improvement committee of the Canadian Hereford Association. He also enjoys judging cattle and has adjudicated numerous shows in seven provinces, 10 states, Denmark and Australia.
In 2010, he and Shari established a Youth Breeding Cattle Judging Clinic and Contest that is held annually on the first Saturday of October at the farm. This clinic and contest allows Lance to pass on his passion for judging by teaching young people about anatomy, terminology, performance data, selection criteria and presenting oral reasons for your rankings.
Their plans for the future include enhancing the average quality of their herd, selling a slightly higher number of bulls each year and expanding their list of satisfied customers. Certainly the additional cash being generated from the current market provides a real opportunity to upgrade a herd’s genetics through the purchase of quality breeding stock.
It’s a good time to get started, says Lance.
“Any opportunity young people seek will present itself in the cattle industry — if they are willing to work hard, listen more than they talk, be honest and tirelessly try to improve themselves, no different from any other profession.”