Canadian beef producers frequently brave winter weather to attend bull sales and cattle shows. In the stalls and by the sales rings, breeders learn about each other’s operations in the hopes of starting partnerships, finding new genetics and sending their best into other herds.
A western Canadian ranch or cattle show is also the perfect place for Rafael Ramírez González to find the next outstanding Canadian bull to bring something new to his family’s herd. González and his family run a huge multi-species operation, Posta El Cuatro, at Acatic, near Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco in western Mexico. Working with his parents, two sisters and brother, González runs the farm’s beef herd as well as its large hog unit.
The ranch, started by his father, currently runs about 500 purebred females. Most are Angus, but they also raise Simmental and Charolais females.
“We have some commercial cows, too, so we finish all those steers and then sell the meat,” says González. Their steers are fed grain and silage, and they’re working on creating a natural beef program.
Posta El Cuatro’s many products, including beef, lamb, pork, eggs, milk, cheese, avocados and honey, are sold at the family’s numerous retail locations.
“We have seven stores in our town, and we’re just opening one now in the big city, Guadalajara.”
When González wants to import new beef genetics from Canada, he calls on Roger Peters to help get the job done. “He knows everything about it, and it’s been easy for me,” he says.
Peters first became involved in exporting cattle in 1985. “I was president of the Alberta Hereford Association, and our Alberta government sent a group of us to Guadalajara to their expo and fair to promote Alberta genetics,” he explains.
This trip inspired him to work with Mexican beef producers to bring in Canadian genetics, and he formed an export business with the late Gary Smith, a long-time beef exporter from Alberta. When the two parted ways in 1989, Peters started his own exporting company, Peterosa Exports. The majority of his business over the years has been with Mexican clients, and he focuses primarily on live cattle exports.
When a client first contacts Peters about purchasing Canadian genetics, he begins the process by determining what they’d like to bring into their programs.
“I find out what kind of animals they’re looking for, and if they’re willing to come up here and research and look at the cattle. That’s step number one,” he says. He’ll invite them to visit Canada and select cattle in person, though in many cases the trip isn’t necessary, as his clients trust his judgment. In fact, about half of his clients won’t actually see the cattle in the flesh until they arrive in Mexico.
“A lot of people just phone me because of my reputation now and we talk over the phone and establish a price. And I go out and find cattle and do all the legwork and paperwork up here for them, including the shipping and testing, and send them down to them.”
There can be challenges with permits and paperwork required by both the Canadian and Mexican governments to export cattle. Another challenge is that some export rules make more sense for the dairy industry, which relies on exporting frozen genetics in the case of bulls.
“Dairy exporters never deal with bulls. That’s one of my big challenges, dealing with bulls and how to handle them so they can arrive at the other end in one piece.”
Good people and top-quality cattle
Peters and González met more than a decade ago at the annual agricultural fair in Guadalajara. Then, nine years ago, González approached Peters about helping him purchase Canadian cattle.
“He was a 21-year-old kid and he said, ‘I want to buy some cattle,’ and I said, ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Yeah, Dad told me I could.’ So away we went and bought a load of cattle,” Peters recalls. Peters invited him to come to Canada. This gave González the opportunity to visit different operations and learn how beef and hog production in Canada differed from home.
González’s first purchase included animals from Howe Red Angus of Moose Jaw, Sask., KBJ Angus of Westlock, Alta., Maxwell Simmentals of Viking, Alta., and Miller Wilson Angus of Bashaw, Alta. In the last several years González has continued to purchase cattle from breeders in Alberta and Saskatchewan, while his brother has imported dairy genetics from Ontario and Quebec for the family’s dairy herd.
“From there, our relationship’s grown and we sent a lot of different breeds of cattle to him,” says Peters. “I think I’ve sent him five or six different breeds of cattle.”
2018 marked González’s fourth trip to Agribition and was especially noteworthy as he was one of the judges for the President’s Classic Show. Before that, he was on the panel of five judges at Farmfair International’s Alberta Supreme Show. In addition to judging, González was looking for black and red Angus genetics, as well as Simmental and Charolais.
“I really like really functional bulls. He needs to walk good, he has to move, he has to be sound and good reproduction, good testicles,” González explains.
Major fall exhibitions such as Farmfair and Agribition are of great value to both Peters and his clients.
“I think it’s really good for them to come and see the quality of cattle that we have up here. It makes my job easier to sell them cattle when they can come to see cattle of that quality,” says Peters. “The majority of the Mexicans that were at Agribition this year I had invited personally to come there, and that’s the first time that we had a great big group.”
Such shows also offer programs to entice international buyers to attend.
“They have a grant program that the majority of these people could qualify for to come look at the cattle here, so that helps it out to get these people to come up,” Peters says. “I’d say probably half of the people who come on the grant system have bought cattle over the years.”
González, who plans to continue working with Canadian breeders, keeps coming back for the high-quality cattle he finds when he visits.
“They raise really good cattle,” González says. “They’re really consistent and really productive cattle.” Above all, he particularly values the people he gets to work with. “The people, it means everything,” he continues. “They will tell you the truth and are honest, and the cattle are honest. I really like to be here and I’m looking always for something different.”
Peters has found that his other Mexican clients are interested in Canadian genetics for the same reasons. His clients find the cattle quality much higher in Canada than in the U.S. for some breeds. Others turn to Canada for the depth of traditional-looking cattle.
“In Mexico they can’t register red or black Simmentals. They’re looking for fullbloods or traditionals, and Canada still has a good source of them,” Peters explains, adding that he hopes the registration rules will change so his clients will have more opportunities to bring different genetics into their herds.
Similarly, those looking for Charolais cattle are interested in the Full French genetics used in some Canadian herds. “That’s one of the main things they like down there. Most of our breeds still have the original colour they came with,” says Peters.
At the end of the day, though, it comes down to the people involved. “They really like the Canadian people, and that’s one of the great drawing cards for them is coming to see their friends once they’ve established friendships up here, and they’re so welcome to come,” Peters says.
Throughout his exporting career, Peters has seen positive changes to Mexican cattle due in part to the connections between Canadian and Mexican producers.
“I think that the quality of cattle that we’ve sent down over the years to Mexico has really increased their quality down there,” he says, noting that this is especially evident when attending Mexican cattle shows. “It’s a marvellous thing… Today they’re catching up, and people like (González) who are very progressive breeders, it won’t be long before we’re buying genetics back from him into Canada.”