Stewart and Doreen Ainsworth and their children and grandchildren operate a family farm that has been supplying exceptional genetics for bull customers for more than 50 years.
Although they’ve ranched for many years at Mayerthorpe, north of Edmonton, Stewart and Doreen both grew up near Byemoor, Alta., southeast of Stettler. Stewart graduated from Vermilion College with a degree in animal production, then worked at Prairie Breeders Bull Stud. In the spring of 1967 he helped collect semen from Parisian, the first imported Simmental bull into North America.
Stewart and Doreen were married in September 1967 and lived in Lacombe. She had some Hereford cows, and they bred those cows AI to Parisian, to produce some of the first half-blood Simmentals in North America. They recall selling two half-blood heifer calves the next year for more money than they could have gotten from an entire load of commercial calves, and the half-blood bulls were sold by private treaty.
They then started the Hanna AI unit, and spent summers doing AI for ranchers in the surrounding area and cows at the Bull Pound community pasture. Bull Pound was the first community pasture to use AI in Alberta. In 1971 Stewart and Doreen added their first fullblood Simmental female from Switzerland. They purchased a larger farm at Endiang and this allowed them to expand the cow herd.
They liked the growth and milk production of Simmental cattle and purchased more females from the U.S., bringing some of the first solid-coloured red and black Simmentals into Canada. They later added red and black Angus to their herd and today produce all polled cattle — solid coloured, either red or black. “We were selecting females for calving ease, volume, sound functional cows that produce more pounds at weaning,” Stewart says.
Their three children (Greg, Donna and Grant) were born in 1968, 1970 and 1974, all grew up helping with the farm and cattle and showing cattle in 4-H, at Farmfair in Edmonton and Canadian Western Agribition in Regina.
Ranch starts at Mayerthorpe
In 1977 the family sold the central Alberta farm and moved near Mayerthorpe to start a seedstock operation. This area had higher rainfall, more cattle, and thus more market for seedstock. Most of the cows are purebred Simmentals.
“Today we also sell Beefmakers, which is a Sim-Angus cross,” says Donna. “They make phenomenal cows. They are feminine, deep-bodied, sound and efficient, with good udders and longevity, generally producing well into their teens.”
Calving season is February to early April. After fall weaning the cows run on pasture, crop residues and hayfield regrowth until the snow gets too deep, and then are fed hay and silage on cropland to add manure to the soil.
Donna says the best females are kept as replacements, the next cut is sold as bred heifers, and the rest go with the steers to fatten. Carcass data is retained and utilized to help guide genetic selection of the herd. “We invest in the best herd bulls the industry offers, and retain semen on our best home-raised sires. We sometimes purchase outcross genetics to complement our cow herd.
January sale marks 50 years
Their annual bull sale, January 26, 2019, featuring more than 200 bulls, will mark their 50th year of producing and selling Simmentals.
“We also offer several buyer benefits, including a free wintering program,” says Donna. “Customer can buy bulls at our January sale and we look after them until spring and deliver them to central points in Western Canada. Most of them are in western provinces but we do ship some bulls to Eastern Canada.” They also offer a payment plan. For more information on the ranch and upcoming sale visit the Lazy S Ranch website.
The ranch operation grows their own feed. “We crop about 1,500 acres, and produce hay on another 1,500 acres. Everything we grow is for feed,” says Stewart. “We put up lots of silage; most of what we seed goes in the pit. This year hay crops were really short. Our grain and silage crops were pretty good, however, and we had lots of feed carryover, so we’re in good shape. We do all our own seeding, haying and silage, with our own equipment.”
Lazy S has been feeding their own steers since 1974, providing a good indicator of how their genetics program is working. And their program is delivering results. Donna says the last group of steers graded 100 per cent AAA and Prime.
“Our whole program is unique,” says Stewart. “The cows look alike, as do the bulls. At our sale we have pens of look-alike bulls. Uniformity and consistency is what we offer. Right from the start we tried to breed cattle with a lot of volume, good fertility, calving ease, soundness, disposition and hair coat. They have to be right. We’ve been able to make huge improvements by retaining all of our heifers and then keeping the ones that best fit our program. We calve 150 to 200 heifers each year and retain the ones we want to go back into our program.”
Lazy S Ranch believes there is value in working cattle with horses. “We use horses to sort cattle, bring the cows in for AI one at a time, sort breeding groups, moving and gathering in the summer,” says Donna.
“This is so important,” says Stewart. “Many ranches handle their cattle with horses, and if the bulls are used to being worked with horses it’s so much easier. Now and then we bring in a bull that’s never seen horses, and it’s a challenge.”
The family has about 10 horses. “Some of the older ones were raised on the ranch, but we bought some of the younger geldings and my husband breaks them,” says Donna. “They grow up here and are trained the way we want them.”
Grandkids learn to ride on the older ranch horses. “Stewart’s old buckskin is 29 years old. My girls learned to ride on him and a little bay that’s now well into his 20s. Now they are riding younger horses and the younger grandkids are riding the old guys.”
All of the family is involved with the ranch but have their own cattle and land base as well. Greg and Tracey (and their 17-year-old son Jade) raise Red and Black Simmental, Beefmaker and Black Angus. Donna with her husband Larry and two girls (Shaylyn, age 15, and Lindsay, 13) raise Red and Black Simmental, Beefmaker and Red Angus. Grant and his wife Claire, with sons Carson (eight) and Jace (six) have Red and Black Simmental and Beefmaker cattle. All the families live within eight miles of the main ranch and are able to share farm equipment. The grandchildren enjoy the cattle and help with feeding and other chores.
“When our kids each turned four we gave them a heifer of their own, and we’ve done that with the grandkids as well,” says Stewart. This gives them a start for their own cow herd and they are excited about it.”