click image to zoom Kevin Blair sees his family’s Saskatchewan ranch as a crucible for genetic improvement from Alberta to Nebraska and from Argentina to Australia. He also markets the results of his genetic selection to local consumers in the form of retail beef products.
The Blair family operates several separate enterprises near Lanigan in central Saskatchewan. Kevin and his cousin Darren operate Blairs.Ag Cattle Company as a part of Blair’s Family of Companies which also includes a fertilizer, seed and crop-protection business called Blair’s Fertilizer Ltd., with seven retail outlets in the region. In 2006, the cousins added the seedstock business as a division of Blair’s Fertilizer. Blair says the family has roots in beef-cattle breeding, as his parents formerly raised purebred Simmental cattle.
Another cousin and brother operate Blair West and TJ Farms, with 10,000 acres of pasture and grain production and commercial cow herds of 450 Angus-Simmental crossbred cows.
The seedstock business runs 250 purebred Red Angus females, 175 purebred Angus, 40 horned Herefords and 250 commercial cows. They hold an annual bull sale in April and a female sale in the fall.
The Blairs operate in an arid region in Saskatchewan, with average precipitation of about 15 inches. If the winter produces adequate snowfall, spring soil moisture will produce enough hay for one cutting. Sometimes a small second cutting is possible later in the season. The family also relies on snowmelt to fill stock ponds, and irrigation is virtually nonexistent in the area.
Blair says his production environment dictates his genetic selection and results in cattle that will perform consistently in challenging conditions just about anywhere. During January and February, temperatures in the area commonly drop to 30° F below zero, and heavy snows are typical. The short growing season runs from about May 1 to Oct. 1. Cows need to be moderate in size, broadly built and structurally sound with thick hides and good winter hair coats. They need to be able to graze over large areas and have the volume to efficiently convert forage.
Genetic traits that allow cattle to perform in that harsh environment work exceptionally well across a range of more southern geography, Blair says. A narrow, “chisel-fronted” heifer, he adds, will deliver a calf, but only after losing considerable body condition through the winter. He selects against that type of animal, stressing that females need to remain in good body condition through a cold winter on native range and into calving.