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Setting the bar high

2012 Agribition was a show to remember at Bar-E-L Angus

Far from the pomp and ceremony of the show ring, Dave and Lynne Longshore grab their touques and head down the lane to start another work day at Bar-E-L Angus southeast of Stettler, Alta. Partway through the daily routine they swing the mix wagon past two small pastures to drop some feed over the fence to a couple of sharp Angus bulls looking that much more striking in contrast to the whiteness of the day.

It’s a scene similar to that played out on thousands of family ranches every morning except that the two bulls happen to be the 2012 Canadian Western Agribition senior and grand champion Angus bull, Southland Thriller 83X, and the junior and reserve grand champion Angus bull, HF Smokin’ Aces 105Y. Seldom, if ever, has an exhibitor captured both of these titles in one breed at this major event.

Dave says they had high hopes for Thriller, a 2010 bull co-owned with Southland Black Angus and The Thriller Group, that he had shown to the junior and grand championship placings last year, but for a bull to win back-to-back grand champion titles is very rare, especially in the Angus breed.

Even though Thriller is maturing, he continues to express freedom of movement coupled with exceptional thickness, masculinity, and character one would look for in a herdsire, he explains.

Like Thriller, Smokin’ Aces, co-owned with Hamilton Farms of Cochrane, Alta., is structurally sound and attractive. His carcass traits, coupling high marbling with powerful rib-eye measurement and lean meat yield, prove that he is exceptional, Dave says. One of the most important attributes of any sire is the superiority of his mother and Smokin’ Aces’ dam, HF Erica 26T, is one of Hamilton Farms’ greatest cows.

Both bulls are two of Bar-E-L’s newest sires and Bar-E-L Naomi 107Z, a 2012 heifer calf sired by Thriller, was named the intermediate division calf champion of the Angus show. The Longshores consider Naomi to be one of their top heifer calves and because Thriller was exhibited, they wanted to show what he could really do as a breeding bull. She sold in the Power and Perfection sale to Breed Creek Angus for $10,000.

“Agribition is important from a marketing angle because of the opportunity to expose your stock and name to so many people that you otherwise wouldn’t make contact with,” Dave says. “You never really know how many people you reach — people often call up a year or two later looking for a bull because they remember you from Agribition.”

For the same reasons, they’ve made the trip south several times to the National Western Stock Show in Denver, sometimes exhibiting cattle, but also to see what’s available in new genetics.

The family has also shown at major Alberta shows including Farmfair in Edmonton and the Camrose Bull Congress, as well as the World Angus Forum hosted in Calgary in 2009. That fall Bar-E-L received the Alberta Angus Association’s breeder-of-the-year award and the following year was recognized as the Canadian Red Angus purebred breeder of the year.

The seedstock business and showing cattle are family traditions for both Dave and Lynne. Bar-E-L is the Longshore family brand passed down through the generations on the farm homesteaded by his great-grandfather in 1905. His dad, Sandy saved up hard-earned pennies from his weasel trapline during the Depression to buy his first cow for $12 when he was a kid. The herd gradually evolved from Shorthorn cattle to Horned Herefords to polled Herefords.

Bar-E-L Angus came into being in 1995 when Dave and Lynne bought their first Red Angus cattle and the Black Angus cattle soon followed. The Longshores started showing Red Angus cattle in 1997 and their bull, Red YY Red Knight 640F, became the national champion that year winning both Farmfair and Agribition. Today their operation includes 225 purebreds.

Lynne (nee Cutler) also grew up raising purebred Horned Hereford cattle. Their children, Dallas, Tanis and Jenna, have been involved with the day-to-day operations through the years and still help out when possible now that they have moved on with their own careers and education.

Clearly, raising quality cattle is the Longshores’ true passion. “We strive to raise the bar on quality and improve our bull pen each year,” says Dave.

Their measure of success is satisfied buyers and repeat customers. Half of their business comes from local producers within a 125-mile radius who regularly return to buy bulls. Another quarter go to buyers a bit farther afield up to a 250-mile radius, and the remainder go to other provinces and occasionally other countries.

“It’s a two-way flow,” Dave explains. “We breed the type of bulls our customers want and our customers know the type of animals we raise.”

What their customers want has remained relatively consistent through the years — thick and muscular bulls that offer calving ease, performance and longevity.

Bar-E-L participates in the Canadian Angus Association’s (CAA) whole-herd reporting program. Birth weights, weaning weights and 365-day weights are submitted to generate the cow herd’s production, progeny performance ratings and expected progeny differences (EPDs) so that they have detailed and accurate information on their cattle to present to buyers.

“Whether they need a calving-ease bull or a bigger performance bull, we always emphasize the maternal aspect of the cow herd,” Lynne comments. “Udder quality and milk flow, and good mothering ability really simplifies the process at calving time when, like most everyone, you are short of help. These qualities remain very important to a rancher’s success.”

These are the qualities they take into account when selecting sires for their own breeding program, whether it be retaining bulls, buying bulls or with artificial insemination. A lot of thought and strategy goes into planning a breeding program and they are constantly looking for bulls that will compliment their herd — they just never know where “the next one” will be.

EPDs, performance data and carcass data are all part of the equation, however, they are firm believers that a bull must first pass their visual assessment test.

A year in the life of a purebred breeder follows a fairly rigid schedule to do a top-notch job year round. The Longshores work together in every aspect of breeding, calving, developing and marketing the cattle, with growing the feed also falling into their job descriptions. Nowadays, they often joke that there is always four of them — Dave has Lynne, and Lynne and Dave.

They have heeded what the land has taught his family through the generations and decided years ago that their land base was more suited to ranching than growing grain. Today, the only crops they grow are for silage, hay and pasture.

The winter feeding season starts with weaning the calves in late September on to some type of cover crop where they graze for about 30 days before going on feed the first week of November. This is when they make the first cut of heifers and bull calves to go into their development program. The market heifers and steers have been backgrounded on the farm and sold privately in recent years.

The rations include chopped hay, rolled grain, silage and mineral delivered through a tumble-style mix wagon to the many pens and pastures where the cattle are wintered.

The new year rings in the final stages of preparation for their annual sale featuring Red Angus and Black Angus bulls and females, with clipping, photographing and taking video footage of each animal.

The videos have been an important addition to their marketing strategy for the past four years, first, for promoting the sale on their website and Facebook page and second, to show on sale day. This has eliminated the need to move the cattle through the ring, which is easier on the cattle, saves on labour requirements, and the buyers approve because they’ve already looked over the cattle before the start of the sale. The auctioneer conducts the sale as usual with the videos of each animal running across the screen.

All of the physical work and attention to detail throughout the year culminates with the annual Bar-E-L production sale, which the Longshores manage with assistance from the auctioneer and sale staff. It’s held at the ranch the second Thursday of March, which puts it on March 14 this year.

For more information, contact the Longshores at 403-579-2394 or visit www.bar-e-l.com.

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