‘Energy is positive’ at Manitoba Ag Ex

The buzz of clippers, air dryers and excited conversation filled the air on the first day of the 49th annual Manitoba Ag Ex at the Keystone Centre in Brandon.

Starting Wednesday and running until Saturday, this year’s event features 150 more cattle than last year. It’s the first year since the COVID-19 pandemic that things have returned to a pre-pandemic normalcy for the Ag Ex. The show was cancelled in 2020, and last year vaccine restrictions and mask mandates meant some exhibitors and attendees chose to stay home.

As the Sun reported on Saturday, the number of people putting on exhibitions at the event have gone way up, said Dallas Johnson, chair of Manitoba Ag Ex.

“There’s people that, with the [COVID-19] vaccination rules, weren’t able to come, so that hurt our numbers a bit last year, but we’re pretty much going to be full this year,” Johnson said.

It was exciting for Darla Sauter, who has been showing her Speckle Park cattle at Ag Ex since 2018, to see more people attend the event this year.

This includes the students who participated in MooMania, a school-based program offered through the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba and Ag Ex for students in grades 3 to 5 in southwestern Manitoba.

“The educational portion of what they do here at Ag Ex is really important because there’s not necessarily a lot of opportunity for city kids to see a cow or be close to one … or understand what we do,” said Sauter, who farms in Fairlight, Sask., 135 kilometres west of Brandon.

Even Sauter’s own family members are sometimes taken aback when they hear about all the work she and her family put in to bringing their cattle to the show. From getting up at 4 a.m., to beautifying their cattle with hairspray, it’s a side of farming not a lot of people are knowledgeable about, she said.

“Even people who have animals don’t understand what goes into a show like this, so it’s great to teach people.”

Keith Troop has been showing cattle at Manitoba Ag Ex for around 20 years. This year the producer, who farms near Portage la Prairie, 129 kilometres east of Brandon, is showing his Hereford cattle.

Troop is relieved that COVID-19 health restrictions aren’t a barrier this year.

“It’s nice this year that we don’t have to be dealing with that.”

The biggest change in the event Troop has noticed over the decades is how cattle producer families are growing, with new generations getting involved in the show.

“I think it’s great. With showing cattle, you’re not going to get rich at it, but it’s kind of … a family thing.”

Now 35 years old, Scott Baron, who runs Hidden Lake Stock Farm in Carberry, 51 km east of Brandon, started showing cattle at Ag Ex when he was 14.

“Now I’m here with my wife and kids and we have our own herd here,” Baron said. “We bring our kids. It’s a family thing.”

The youngsters are more eager than ever to exhibit cattle after the pandemic, with Baron’s six-year-old daughter showing in the Charolais Junior Show and the Showmanship Class, and his two-year-old son showing at the Showmanship Class event.

“These kids really want to be showing. They’re so excited come Saturday when it’s their turn to show,” Baron said.

A lot has changed at the Keystone Centre since he first started showing cattle decades ago, and Baron is impressed with not only how far the show has come but how the facilities have improved since then.

“I’ve been to Edmonton and I’ve been to Regina, and in terms of facilities, there really is no better place than right here in Brandon.”

Being able to gather at the Keystone Centre again in a world where pandemic restrictions have been lifted is a great feeling, said Shannon Carvey from Swindon Ranch in Alexander, 27 km west of Brandon.

A longtime exhibitor who has been showing cattle at Ag Ex for decades, Carvey said everyone is happy to be back.

“There’s a lot of cattle here. The barns are full, the energy is positive, and it’s really great to be back with our peers and marketing our cattle.”

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun