Les Peterson considers himself fortunate to have been able to make farming his career and to now be bringing a fourth generation into Prospect Hill Shorthorns near Meeting Creek, Alta.
His grandfather settled on the home quarter purchased from the railway in 1910 and his dad was born there in 1913. The family ran a typical mixed farm with cereal crops, a commercial mixed-breed herd along with some dairying and hogs at times until they got into pedigreed seed production during the ’70s and ’80s. Les purchased his first purebred Shorthorn cattle in 1979 when a neighbour who had a few Shorthorns convinced him to attend a purebred production sale in Camrose.
“Today it’s all about cows,” says Les. The family runs about 150 purebred and commercial cows. He and his wife, Shelley, have recently been joined by his daughter, Christy, and her husband, Paul Van De Voorde, who have started their own purebred herd under the Prospect Hill name with the addition of 14 purebreds to their 25-head commercial cow herd. Les and Shelley have been pleasantly surprised that their other adult children and their families have migrated back to the area in recent years, though none have expressed interest in getting into farming.
It’s actually the Van De Voordes’ second entry into the beef industry, Christy adds. They purchased their first Shorthorns shortly after their marriage in 2001, only to have to turn around and sell out in 2003 after taking a double knock with the market situation following BSE coming in the wake of a couple of years of severe drought. They never gave up on their dream of owning their own herd and never had any doubt as to the breed they would choose — in fact, it was Shorthorn cattle that brought them together for the first time when Paul and his dad paid a visit to Prospect Hill to purchase a bull. A welder by trade, Paul has given up his full-time off-farm job to run his own custom welding business from the farm and they have recently added a custom feed-grinding service.
“BSE really hit us hard because our principle income was from female sales,” Les says. “We are starting to see some improvement with more interest from people in buying females last year.” He feels the worst years are behind them though they’ll likely never be able to recoup the losses.
He took a liking to Shorthorn cattle because of their steady, calm temperament and great maternal qualities, which are traits their customers appreciate as well. The cows are attentive but not overly protective of their calves, while the calves are quite trusting and curious about people. That’s always been a top priority for the Petersons with their children and now the grandchildren working with them around the cattle.
As for the bulls, purebred producers generally want the roan colour and commercial buyers prefer the solid deep-red colour. Solid white bulls on black cows can produce blue roan calves. Regardless of the colour pattern of the sire and dam, there’s no telling whether a calf will be roan or solid red until it arrives.
All of the Petersons’ purebred cattle are DNA tested as required by the Canadian Shorthorn Association. It confirms parentage, polled status and the absence of the recessive tibial hemimelia (TH) gene that causes calf deformities. The appendix-free status means that an animal is fullblood without a cross with another breed generations back in the animal’s lineage. The Prospect Hill herd is 100 per cent TH-free and appendix-free.
Prospect Hill sells open and bred replacement heifers and bulls of all ages all year long, with most of the sales made by private treaty. Though he had doubts about the usefulness of a website when the family talked him into it, Les says it has proven to be an important marketing tool. Their site at www.prospecthillshorthorns.ca has pictures and details of their animals for sale with a link to their pedigrees and DNA test results on the Canadian Livestock Records Corporation’s website.
This was the second year they have participated in the Hill Country Classic Speckle Park and Shorthorn bred female and heifer calf production sale held each fall for the past five years north of Lloydminster. They have recently been asked to consign to the 4’s Company production sale in Camrose next December.
The Canadian Bull Congress at Camrose each January has been their main venue for the bulls since about 1995. They have shown cattle at Edmonton’s Fall Fair and in the future hope to be able to show at the Interior Provincial Exhibition at Armstrong, B.C., and Agribition in Regina.
It’s Les and Shelley’s grandchildren who really enjoy showing Shorthorns in the all-breed and Shorthorn junior shows, many of which are held at Bashaw’s top-notch facility. Shelley admits it takes time and energy to keep pace with five peewees getting five animals ready to show, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
They start eyeing up their show string and breeding stock prospects at calving time, choosing good-doing bull and heifer calves that show lots of length and depth. It never fails that about half of those that make the pick in September have been sired by their home-raised bulls. Christy adds that the mid-March start to their calving season does have disadvantages when it comes to showing cattle because the later-born calves can be quite a bit lighter and less developed than those from operations that begin calving in January.
Their land base of 1,000 acres with an additional rented quarter allows them to produce all of their own feed and to pasture the herd in three groups: the heifers, the cows with steer calves and the cows with heifer calves. They split the mature herd by the sex of the calf so there’s no chance the heifer calves will get bred as it’s not uncommon for some to begin cycling around six months of age.
The turnout date can be anywhere from the middle of May into June depending on the forage growth in the spring, Les explains. He likes crested wheat grass and Russian wild ryegrass for early-spring grazing because of their ability to regrow quickly after grazing. Most of the pastures and hay-land are mixes of alfalfa with timothy, smooth brome or meadow brome grasses. The only cereal crops they grow are put up as greenfeed and silage and they buy their supply of feed grain.
The production year draws to a close with weaning sometime in November just as it has for the past century. The year 2010 will definitely go down in history as one to remember — for Christy and Paul joining them in the Shorthorn business — for an upturn in stock sales — for the unprecedented amount of precipitation — and for the big centennial celebration of their family farm with an open house, supper and dance for some 300 guests at the farm on the August long weekend.
Check out the website for more information or contact Les and Shelley at 780-877-2444, or Christy and Paul at 780-877-2161 or email [email protected]
As the runner-up winners of Canadian Cattlemen’s “Cattle Showcase” contest the Petersons received an Aleis Wand Reader from Integrated Traceability and a half-page ad in an upcoming issue of the magazine