To Brittany Enns, a 26-year old Peace Country farmer, the hard work, dedication and attention to detail that come with an agricultural lifestyle are nothing new. Farming is in her blood on both sides of her family.
Moving from Carrot River, Saskatchewan to B.C.’s Peace Country in 1986, Brittany’s parents Walter and Dolores Enns started Creek Bank Farms and have grown their business into a diverse farming operation that encompasses grains, oilseeds, pulses, turf grass seed, forage seed, silage and hay as well as a herd of bison.
Today, Creek Bank Farms is a family-run operation that consists of Walter and Dolores, Charissa (and her daughter Maddie), Brittany and twins, Jeffrey and Bailey as well as one full-time employee and seasonal workers. In 2010, Brittany Enns started her own herd of beef cattle (together with her sister, Bailey). Enns felt the need to have something of her own. She says, “I really do love working with cattle and I saw an opportunity to start a herd.” The family has since scaled back the bison herd and it appears as if the cattle may begin to play a larger part in the future.
Enns says her favourite part of being involved in agriculture is the diversity she can experience on a daily basis. After receiving her agricultural business diploma from Olds College in 2009, Enns returned to the family farm and became more involved than ever.
She says, “While going through college, my plan was to continue with buffalo. I believe there are major opportunities in the bison industry, even more so than beef. I am still very involved with the buffalo, but the beef are easier for me to handle and manage. There is less risk [with cattle], but also less opportunity for market development.” Enns has also become very involved in all aspects of the family farm: GPS programming, operating the drill during seeding, running harvesting equipment and everything in between.
Starting the herd
Enns started her herd by choosing the best heifers from two local producers and has grown the herd (together with Bailey and their mom, Dolores) to approximately 100 head of young, quality commercial cattle.
The herd mainly consists of Black Angus cows that are crossed with black Simmental bulls to get a little extra growth without sacrificing efficiency. On heifers, they use Angus bulls for calving ease.
Last year, Enns used artificial insemination (A.I.) to breed a handful of their best cows, performing this task herself after a brief refresher from a local producer. Enns says, “I believe A.I. is a fantastic, economical way of improving a cowherd. Besides not having the risk of a bull going lame during breeding season and the cost of feed, it provides access to genetics that I otherwise could only dream of owning. Synchronizing can also help shorten a calving season to a few weeks, rather than a month and a half.” In the future, Enns plans to A.I. most, if not all of her herd.
Farm life can get busy, especially in spring when both the bison and cattle are calving and seeding is happening. Bison are unlikely to have problems calving, but cattle can be a different story. Bailey (who finished high school in 2014) is largely responsible for the cows during calving as Brittany Enns and Jeff operate the drill, so one of the main focuses in developing the herd is, “maintaining trouble-free calving. This means calves need to be born on their own, get up and suck without any help. Calving ease, especially in heifers, good udders and longevity are all essential.”
After the calves are weaned, they are typically backgrounded before being sold sometime around February or March, depending on market trends. Typically, feed is stockpiled in order to keep options open. By having excess feed on hand, Enns is able to hold her animals back if the market is suddenly lower than expected, or sell earlier if an opportunity arises.
Calves are fed a ration of silage, grain and dry hay until they are sold, which gives an opportunity to find the most efficient animals. Enns firmly believes in the value of keeping accurate records in order to determine feed efficiency and average daily gains in their livestock. Enns says, “In the end, more pounds means extra money in the bank, so the more feed efficient an animal is, the better. With record high cattle prices, I believe one of the main focuses on a lot of farms will be to have more pounds to sell when it comes time to market, so feed conversions and efficiency is a major factor we consider when selecting breeding stock in both the bison and cattle.”
Enns raises a handful of her best bull calves to market to local producers, but in the future, she plans to begin raising purebred black Simmental cattle and has considered embryo transplant as a means of herd improvement. She says, “This would allow me to begin with the best available genetics and build my purebred herd from there. One issue with this is how far away from a major market I am.”
Owning and finishing bison has taught Enns a number of lessons. She says, “Cattle and buffalo are stressed in the same ways. With beef, it’s just not as noticeable. For example, when feeding buffalo in the feedlot, we would move and divide a group into two separate pens and just the stress of sorting and moving into a new pen caused them to cut back on feed to half their normal ration for a week. Experiences like this have shown me how much stress actually affects profits. Every time animals are stressed, you are losing money, whether that stress causes them to back off feed, not gain as well or get sick.”
From her father, Enns has learned to keep her options open and consider everything with an open mind. She is not shy about “talking to other producers about their management practices or doing research and some experimenting to find out what works for our operation.” Seeking to understand, learn and improve is a way of life for Enns, a value she is not likely to abandon in the future.
Author’s note: Although I write under the pen name Stephanie Grace, I am in fact the Charissa Enns mentioned in this article, sister to Brittany Enns.