By George G. Ross, Aden, Alta., chairman, National Council of Canadian Beef Producers
The recognition by the Department of National Revenue of permanent herds of livestock as capital investment with the returns from dispersal sales of basic herds treated as return of capital and therefore free of income tax, paves the way for oldsters to sell out to younger people and retire on the lifetime savings they have stored away in these permanent herds. This process is always taking place, the old turning the work over to the young, but now it will be much more pronounced due to the decision of the department and to the fact that the older fellows carried on during the war longer than they would ordinarily have done had the boys been there to take over.
In many cases this will be the third generation of ranchers taking over. Actual ranch operations have seen great changes. Practically gone are the days of the old roundup wagons that were out all summer, their work starting with moving the cattle from the winter to summer ranges, branding, dipping, shipping them back to winter quarters. One hurried to finish one job to get at the next. Now each one of these jobs is finished up in a few days and generally the riding is done from the ranches. No more are the cowboys with their bed, saddle, dufflebag and string of saddle horses, who were insulted if asked to even fix a fence. No the ranch hand is a jack-of-all-trades from riding the horse, through driving the tractor, to flying the plane to town to get repairs. I notice it is still hard to find one to milk the cows.
Hay is put up by a three-man crew without using a pitchfork and one man feeds it out in the winter, four times as fast as in the old days, and with less effort.
Yes, we have seen great changes in the last three generations, but there is one problem that will face the young fellow just as it did his grandfather and this is one that he is never finished with. We can be thankful that it is an interesting problem and that the satisfaction one receives from improvement will repay him. If this were not so I shudder to think what our breeding programs would be. The great diversification of cattle breeds in Alberta is proof to me that no one in the last 60 years has made a complete success of his breeding program and has come out with the ideal beef animal for this country. If he had, most of us would have switched to that breed. So here is the challenge. And what a challenge it is! We like to brag about the quality of our Alberta cattle but what grounds have we when, if we bunched the cattle at any one of our selling centres, we would find every kind of colour and conformation from good to bad, and sad to say a lot of bad. If our breeding problems were solved it should not be necessary to look at the bill of lading to tell where they came from. We have seen individual herds of cattle come up until they were almost perfection. The problem then is where to go from there? We have seen these same herds deteriorate for lack of that knowledge. It is not too difficult to breed a herd of cows up but it is very difficult to hold them there after they have reached a certain grade of perfection. The scientific breeding of corn has increased production tremendously per acre and further increases are predicted. What a revolution in the beef production business it would be if a breed or cross were found that would increase the weight for age say 20 per cent and the dressing percentage 10 per cent.
These are not fantastic figures; no one could say they were impossible to attain. Let us see what this modest gain would do for production of beef in Canada. The grower who is now getting an 80 per cent calf crop would get the equivalent of 100 per cent in weight.
The beef steer that now weighs 1,000 pounds and produces 580 pounds of beef would weigh 1,200 pounds and produce 816 pounds of beef. An Alberta cattle ranch running 1,000 cattle is now producing per year 250,000 pounds of live cattle or 145,000 pounds of beef. The new strain would produce 300,000 pounds of live cattle or 204,000 pounds of beef. In short, if this goal was reached the production of beef in Canada would be increased by 40 per cent per year with the same number of animals. Surely this is an objective worthy of the combined efforts of our producers and government agriculturists.
If it were found that a certain cross would do this but that further crossing would deteriorate, one can visualize specific operators raising heifers to be sold to ranchers and farmers where the final cross would produce the required type of animal. These heifers would be replaced for the specific ranchers much as corn seed is now.
Individual breeders all over North America are experimenting, trying to produce better beef-producing animals with varied results. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has some extensive tests underway and the Canadian Experimental Farms Branch under Dr. E.S. Archibald has done a lot of work in crossing cattle with buffalo. The branch has experimental range stations in Alberta and British Columbia, and is well equipped with qualified men to lead in this work.
What a wonderful future lies before the young fellows who are taking over. Not only to raise cattle in the best country in the world, but to get busy and in co-operation with very willing and able government people, develop a strain of cattle that will be particularly adopted to Canadian conditions and will do a more efficient job of processing our feeds and forage into edible beef.
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