Like many in the beef industry, I was sorry to learn this
week that Saskatchewan rancher Neil Jahnke died, Monday, Nov. 26 at his ranch
near Gouldtown, north of Swift Current. He was 70.
I didn’t know him well, but I had interviewed him over the
years, and certainly knew his name, and I knew him to
see him at livestock
conferences – a very western/rancher-looking guy with big moustache and a
And as I look around the Internet, several industry leaders
are posting their tributes to Jahnke who has been an active rancher all his
life, and a strong advocate of the Canadian beef industry for more than 40
Jahnke was a past chairman of the Saskatchewan Stock Growers
and the Canadian Cattleman’s Association. From the 1980s through to 1996 he was
involved with the Canada Beef Export Federation and the Beef Information
Centre. And he continued to be involved with provincial and national livestock
Harold Martens, president of the Saskatchewan Stock Growers
Association said Jahnke was a great leader and played an important role during
the 1993 BSE crisis.
“The prices were poor. He was a stable influence in all of
that period of time. I think that was a tremendous asset to the cattle
industry,” said Martens.
And long-time Saskatchewan producer Brad Wildeman who worked
alongside of Jahnke during the BSE crisis said: “I know even in the darkest
days of BSE he always said ‘look, this will pass and our industry will still be
I remember going to the Jahnke ranch once in the late 80s or
early 90s. I tried to look up the story in the old bound copies of Country
Guide, and as usual I can never find things when I want.
But it was mid winter — likely January or February — and I
don’t even recall if I was there talking about beef industry business, or it
might have been a beef production story.
I remember we talked at the house for quite a while, and
then we went by pickup out onto winter pasture to look at his Longhorn cattle.
They looked after themselves. They grazed 365 days a year. And in winter they
spent most of their time within the shelter of the coulees that angled off
down to Lake Diefenbaker.
The cattle weren’t neglected. But the breed was very
self-sufficient. Jahnke had developed a herd that didn’t need much attention
even at calving.
After looking at cattle, it was back to the ranch house,
where Jahnke and his wife Marilyn insisted I stay for supper — a steak dinner.
And that was excellent. But by this time it was dark and I still had to travel
on to Outlook. (The artwork at left, is a sketch made of Neil Jahnke when he was inducted into the Saskatchewan Agriculture Hall of Fame).
I could take the long way to Outlook, by permanent,
solid-ground road, or as Jahnke suggested, I could trim off miles and time by
crossing Lake Diefenbaker on the ice road at Riverhurst — I believe that was
the crossing point. I wasn’t fussy about the idea but it would save an hour or
two of winter driving. I got to Riverhurst — which has a ferry crossing most of
the year — there was the ice road marked by the occasional orange pylon.
There wasn’t much traffic as I recall — in fact none. And my thoughts of
course, there was probably a big fiissure in the ice out there in the darkness
and any vehicles traveling on this ice road have plunged into the icy waters of
But I really didn’t want to spend another hour or more
detouring around on the main road, so I pointed my little red Nissan truck
north, followed what appeared to be tracks on the windswept ice road, and away
I went. Not sure how wide the crossing is right there — probably took 10
minutes, but it seemed like an hour. Finally, I reached the far shore of the
frozen lake, connected with Highway 45 and on to Outlook.
So that was my Neil Jahnke/Gouldtown/Riverhurst/Outlook
experience. I was thinking today it might be a good year to revisit that area.
Unfortunately Neil Jahnke won’t be around to cook me another steak, but it
would be good to see that part of the country again. Maybe there are still some
Longhorn cattle grazing those slopes.
Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in
Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]