Recalling the relationship with Ontario cattle feeders and buyers

December 6, 2008

Last night, I received a phone call from George Adams, a cattle feeder in Ontario. George has been a cattle feeder for sometime and he had phoned to tell me about another feeder, Ken Alton, whose health is not good at this time. Both of these men have family operations and have over the years bought many western cattle to feed out. At the present time Ken is in the hospital. His son operates the feed lot where they have had 900 or more big cattle inside on a slotted floor and as the cattle are sold, more are brought in.

George Adams told me that he had just bought several hundred head of feeder cattle through the satellite system. The Ontario cattle feeders have always been very important to us over the years, even since I was a boy back in the early ’30s, as cattlemen who raise feeder cattle. This was especially so after the United States imposed a duty against the Canadian cattle. In the early ’30s prices for cattle were very poor and it was at that time that I can remember Ontario men coming to our area and buying feeder cattle.

The first Ontario cattle buyer I can remember was an army war veteran by the name of Charlie McLean from Essex County. It was a hot day in 1933 at age 13 and I was riding with my Dad, Leonard Anderson, near the Montana border. We were bunching up the cows with the bulls and also Dad was checking the water and grass. The rancher to the west of us was Bob Foster. This day, we saw a car coming over a prairie trail towards us. Dad and I rode over to the gate and here is where I first met Charlie McLean.

Miller time

My dad had a conversation with the two men about grass, water and cattle markets. Our neighbor, Bob Foster, said “it is sure hot, wouldn’t a cold beer go good.” Charlie McLean said “Bob I will buy the beer if you will go and get it” and so the deal was made away down near the Montana Border. Charlie McLean rode my horse and went with Dad. I went with our neighbor, Bob Foster, to get the beer. Mr. Mclean and Dad stayed with the cattle and we were to meet at Dad’s cow camp in the Rock Creek Canyon later on that evening.

The long beer run of 1933

It was 50 miles to Wood Mountain over prairie trails to the nearest beer store. Bob and I took off with his car. We got to Wood Mountain in good time and then Bob got some beer. He met many friends; so, with a drink here and there and after much conversation, our trip back to Dad’s cow camp was delayed. Finally, well after dark we left Wood Mountain and headed out for the cow camp. The car heated up and we had trouble finding water. When we reached the camp, it was turning daylight. Bob Foster had never been to Dad’s cow camp before. However, all is well that ends well. The visit paid off for Charlie. Later on he bought cattle from both Dad and Bob Foster.

The next year Charlie McLean returned to our ranch on Rock Creek and he brought two Ontario farmers with him. Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Kendrick were farmers from Essex County and they stayed with us on the ranch for several days while Charlie McLean went around the country visiting and buying cattle. Dad went with him sometimes. This time they had brought some watermelon and honey with them from Ontario. This was my first experience with the Ontario farm people. Our family relationship with Charlie McLean and the Armstrong’s went on for many years with many visits.

As time went on a feeding industry got started in the west. Manitoba had good production and always fed some animals. Alberta got going with good irrigation and different crops. Packing plants developed in the west and later on consolidation of the packing plants took place. At last in the fifties, the United States market opened up and feeding cattle on the prairies became a big business.

Friend passes

Last night George Adams gave me other news. This was that my old friend Tom Jackson had passed away. Tom Jackson was a farmer, a cattle feeder active in cattle politics, a veteran and strong Legion member. Tom and I were both in the First Canadian Parachute Battalion. We went into Normandy with the Battalion on June 6, 1944 on the invasion. I was wounded and taken prisoner. Tom went through the invasion and stayed with the battalion right through France and into Germany. He was with the battalion all the way and was one of the first to meet up with the Russians on the Baltic Sea at Wismar. Another western cattleman with the battalion at that time was Ross Mitchell from Brandon, Manitoba.

Upon his return to the farm, Tom Jackson became president of the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association (OCA) and was also very active in the Legion. Tom and his wife, Madelaine, were out to our ranch at Fir Mountain several times and they were here when we had the battalion out to the ranch for a branding and a barbecue. We arranged a bus tour to our branding, a bean feed and a tour of the badlands area. That evening at the home ranch, Bernard Belsher of McCord, barbecued 275 steaks for this group. Tom Jackson was the OCA president at that time. Over the years, Tom moved many calves from the West to his farm located just north of the Pearson Airport at Toronto. Tom’s wife knitted a very nice sweater, sold tickets on it and raffled it off at the reunion in Toronto. The fit is unbelievable (I won it). The money was given to the cattlemen’s association.

Tom always fed out cattle and many of them were western calves. Tom and his wife helped organize tours overseas back to the battle grounds. This man led a very busy life and he will be fondly remembered by many.

Sale updates

There have been several bred heifer sales around this area lately. Despite the prices paid for feeder heifers, the sales of bred heifers are surprisingly good. Agribition sold some for $1,500 or more. At a sale at Ken Frazer and his grandson Clayton Gibson’s sale barn, one 143 heifers averaged $1,091. These heifers were quite large and were mostly Red Angus. At Mankota, about 80 heifers were sold at prices from $800 to more than $1,300 dollars. Despite the depressed feeder prices, people in the cattle industry are optimistic.

I have heard of herd dispersals on a continuous basis. A lot of ranchers are having water problems and others are selling down because of lack of feed and high feed prices, both hay and grain are quite high. In our own situation here at home, Lloyd has bought a few bales of hay and he has laid on a good supply of pellets.

Over at the Big Muddy, Ryan and I have bought both pellets and hay. I have also sold some heifer calves to bring the herd down some. A few days ago I was over at the Big Muddy ranch and I enjoyed a good horse back ride helping to round up and corral the cows and the calves for weaning. Ryan sorted off forty of the smaller heifer calves which were taken to Assiniboia and sold.

In the early days, one rancher was visiting his neighbour. They sat down to a dinner of roast beef. The visitor said “my, this is good beef “and then added “you know I don’t eat my own beef anymore.” The rancher replied “you are today.”

Boyd Anderson is a mostly retired rancher from Glentworth, Sask. and has been a columnist for Grainews for many years.

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