Returning to the Keystone Centre show ring for the first time in two years, cattle producers from across the Prairies are competing at Ag Ex this week.
Blair McRae of Mar Mac Farms served as an announcer at Ag Ex, introducing the class and competitors for the Little Lady Classic, Jackpot Bull and Simmental shows.
Getting back to Ag Ex was “like riding a bike” and a welcome return to the critical annual event, he said, adding a highlight of the week has been the opportunities to connect with longtime friends who have been attending Ag Ex for years, but the show also offered an opportunity for commerce.
McRae has been showing with Ag Ex since it launched in 1974. He is grateful to be back at the barns in the Keystone Centre because the show is an opportunity to promote his cattle.
“It’s a marketing thing for us. People get to see what cattle we have,” McRae said. “We’re having a sale this fall. The cattle that we’re showing are going to be in that sale, so we’re promoting that.”
It takes many years of hard work to prepare an animal for the cattle show, involving careful breeding for generations. Mar Mac Farms began breeding purebred black Angus in 1955, then introduced Simmental genetics in 1976 and red Angus in 1983.
“It’s a longtime commitment,” McRae said, adding building a client base has also been an essential part of the farm’s success.
Ag Ex has been an essential part of the business and ensures they can connect with others. McRae said they have made friends from coast to coast in Canada through the cattle business.
Events like Ag Ex play an important role in allowing producers to build connections with potential buyers because it lets them meet, sit and talk cattle.
Missing out on Ag Ex in 2020 due to COVID-19 public health measures was a lost opportunity to showcase his product, McRae said, but the farm found success moving online.
While he was worried COVID-19 would impact his ability to show and sell his cattle, the internet helped mitigate these potential threats.
Sales have done well over the last two years, and he is seeing people become more comfortable with the idea of using online technology to bid and view cattle via video.
The online showcase was an opportunity, he said, but in the end it is always better to be able to attend in-person events like Ag Ex.
“It’s always better for people to be able to see the cattle live, so I think going forward it should get even stronger,” McRae said. “You can see things in-person that you can’t see on a video.”
Mar Mac Farms chose to showcase its Angus cattle at Ag Ex, although the ranch is home to Simmental cattle as well. They decided to focus on Angus because the black cows will be dispersed in the fall and McRae wanted a chance for potential buyers to see them on the Ag Ex stage.
Cows appearing at the show are for the most part calves born in 2021, yearlings born in 2022 and some cattle that are two years old.
It was a busy summer in the lead-up to Ag Ex, McRae said. Mar Mac Farms began preparing cattle for the event in July — this involved careful feeding to get them at peak performance conditions, more than two months of halter breaking and choosing the cream of the crop to bring to Brandon.
McRae said they bred 280 cows in 2021 and carefully selected the best possible representations of the herd for Ag Ex. McRae brought three head of cattle for the show, but in the past has brought as many as 15 head of cattle.
“It’s a lot of work, a lot of physical labour to get to this point,” McRae said. “For us, the reward of being able to meet the people and to promote our cattle is worth it.”
Having Ag Ex will help the Manitoba cattle industry, he added, but will also serve as an important boost to the economy because it brings people from across the Prairies to Brandon. The show brings visitors from Alberta, Saskatchewan and parts of Manitoba to town, booking hotel rooms and buying gas and meals, aiding the Wheat City’s economy.
“As much as a benefit it is for the cattle industry, I think it’s going to be a real benefit for the city of Brandon,” McRae said.
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun