“I think we were perhaps more open to doing things differently since we had no generational model of enterprise to live up to.”
We felt that if we did not pursue our dream of owning a cattle ranch before we turned 40, we likely would never do so,” says Stan Harder.
It was an unlikely dream for Stan and Frances Harder. Both had spent their young adulthood in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia where their families had owned small acreages. Frances worked in the jewelry department of Woodwards and Stan had been employed in a food manufacturing and distribution company.
Still, they dreamed of owning a cattle ranch. They did not have high expectations of actually fulfilling the dream, but in 1975 they bought ranch land near Glendon, Alta. He was 38. She was six years younger. “We expected to be broke in five years and return to the city,” Stan says. “There is actually immense comfort in knowing your enterprise will fail in financial terms. You don’t worry about losing money. You expect to. This is not to say we didn’t try to become financially viable. It was just an assured realization we would not.”
Being completely inexperienced in animal husbandry, the Harders started with commercial cattle in order to gain sufficient knowledge to switch to higher value purebreds.
“Losing a $200 cow is one thing. Losing a $2,000 cow is another matter entirely,” says Stan. “Fortuitously we got in during the cattle market crash of ‘75 and bought some excellent crossbred cattle at very concessionary prices. Among others, we bought four Maine Anjou/Hereford bred heifers at $400 per animal. Their owner had paid $2,500 each for them as calves. We paid as little as $200 for young bred cows with proven records and another 10 years of production potential.”
But the Harders could not produce the volume of crossbred calves needed to become financially viable. They were persuaded they could earn an equal living with one third the cow numbers if they switched to purebred.
“Aside from association and related fees, operating costs for purebred were no higher than for commercials,” recalls Stan. “No vet or trucker ever asked if the cow was purebred or commercial when they tallied up service fees nor did feed suppliers offer a discount if products consumed were for non registered stock. Added costs were for stock inventory alone.”
When the Harders were ready to make the switch to purebreds, they favoured Black Angus but there was a huge bias against the black colour in their area at the time. So in order to raise Angus, they went with the red breed.
Their five-year “go broke” deadline came and went. They stayed on the ranch at Glendon for 12 years. It was not their earlier anticipated financial issues that caused them to sell both land and cattle. Fran’s mother had contracted a terminal illness and desperately needed someone to provide home care. “We were the only family unencumbered enough to make that commitment,” Fran says.
When her mother died three years later, they returned to Alberta and bought a quarter section near St. Brides, where they started back into the cattle industry.
“We bought heifer calves, some from our own previous blood lines, in the fall of ‘90. This gave us the opportunity of initiating our own breeding schedule and provided some symmetry within the herd by reducing the number of blood lines,” Stan says.
When asked why they wanted to go ranching in the first place and return to it a second time, they said “it was just something we wanted to do while age and circumstances provided the opportunity.
It wasn’t that they were disappointed with their lives before. They just wanted to follow their dream.
OFF-FARM EXPERIENCE IS VALUABLE
Stan and Frances came into farming with a business background. “The principles of business apply in any circumstances involving exchanges of goods and services,” he says.
A background in farming has its obvious benefits. Stan credits “exceptionally wonderful” neighbours for providing the practical ranching help they needed. “The lack of ranching background would have become the fulcrum issue in a very early failure had we not had these neighbours,” he says.
But not having a farming background has its own set of benefits. “I think we were perhaps more open to doing things differently since we had no generational model of enterprise to live up to.”
GLAD THEY DID IT
“We enjoyed raising cattle and meeting the people in the industry immensely. They are a fraternity of very distinct people and we were very privileged to have been a part of that even though we came into the game rather