About Char-Maine Ranching
Steve & Darilyn Quinton
Box 1178, Cardston, AB T0K 0K0
403-653-3914 • C 403-653-7228
Brad & Sharaya Quinton
Char-Maine Ranching is in the foothills of southern Alberta, just south of Cardston. The land was homesteaded by Steve Quinton’s grandfather.
Char- Maine has adapted to a changing market in the cattle industry allowing it to sustain itself and thrive. Steve and Darilyn Quinton have raised their family of four, Brad, Brooklyn, Kelsey and Mikela. Brad and Sharaya have two daughters and are the fourth generation on the farm and third generation Charolais breeders.
Steve’s father was one of the first people to have Maine-Anjou calves on the ground in 1972. When the exotic market crashed, they started using Charolais bulls on the herd. They decided they should raise their own Charolais bulls and started to buy some females in 1981. They continued to buy a few Charolais cows here and there until it became obvious, they were going into the Charolais business and started to sell their commercial cows. Steve purchased his first Charolais membership as a junior at the age of 16.
“In hindsight, I would do it differently now. I would buy two or three of the best females I could find and flush them to form a base herd full of maternal siblings giving you consistency right from day one. Buying cattle from a bunch of sales doesn’t give you this opportunity,” Steve explains. “I like consistency, they would all look the same and the calves would all look the same.” This year they are breeding about 300 females.
Originally, Char-Maine started in red factor Charolais. They live in the same area where SBL (Simmental Breeders Limited) was located, so there were a lot
of Simmental cattle around. They started to get a lot of white calves because of the diluter gene in the traditional Simmental cattle. Everybody wanted
to breed to a tan bull to keep more colour in their commercial cows. Char-Maine saw the market and started by producing for that market, purchasing all the tan females they could find to meet the demand. As the Simmental cattle were slowly replaced with Angus based cowherds, Char-Maine followed the demand and started to breed more white cattle. Now there is very little colour in their herd.
“Our customers get paid by the pound. If they start to receive a premium based on other factors, we will provide that. At the moment, it is pounds per live calf.”
For a while, they developed black Charolais. They sold some tan bulls to a black and black-baldie cowherd. The owner told him he was surprised by how many black calves he had. Steve didn’t really understand the colour thing at the time but decided to take a look at the calves. It was at a time when many breeds in the United States were going black – Simmental, Salers, Limousin, Gelbveih. He was intrigued by the notion of having a black Charolais, so he purchased the best black heifer calves and parentage verified the calves and their sires. He knew he would have to prove they were actually Charolais. It wasn’t easy to breed them up to purebred. If you breed a black half-blood to a tan bull, only 25% of the calves would be black. It was a slow process. Then Rasmussens, of HEJ Charolais, had a grey, ¾ blood cow and bred her to a dark red, purebred bull from Char- Maine breeding and got a black bull calf, Coalmine. He was 7/8. “If we used him on our red, purebred females, we would get 15/16 calves. We had three good sons from him and sold them at Red Bonanza for pretty good money. We just kept breeding up, but it was tough because we had a small herd base and small genetic pool from which to choose.” At the peak of the black production, they were calving around seventy females. “Then we flushed a black cow to a black, purebred bull
Syl-Don had. We got one red heifer, one black heifer and a homozygous black bull that was purebred. That was a gamechanger. We bred him to our entire red and black herd and got all black calves. The U.S. thing was at a peak and we cashed in and exported them to Georgia, Florida, Texas, Kansas, and Missouri.
Char-Maine had some commercial customers that liked black bulls, but they found they weren’t getting the premium buff, tan or silver calves would bring. The market demanded the change and they adapted. Steve knows people hated them when they started promoting and developing the reds and it was worse when they started the blacks, but it wasn’t about being liked, it was about what they could do for their customers and their market. ”Having purebred breeders purchase one of our white bulls is a great honour and very appreciated, but the commercial guys are our bread and butter. We have tried to produce what our customers want, what they demand and what works the best.” Over the years, they tried the more popular bulls of the breed, but his
customers preferred the bulls that weren’t mainstream at the time. Steve says he learned his lesson. “Our customers get paid by the pound. If they start to receive a premium based on other factors, we will provide that. At the moment, it is pounds per live calf. They don’t want to touch a calf, they have to be born and get up to suck. Then they have to perform and get as much per pound as possible and that is what Charolais are doing right now. When EPDs came out and guys started talking about them, I knew we had to produce what they wanted.”
“We look at every catalogue we receive. We scour them for what we want. Now I have learned to look at the EPDs first. When I find one with the numbers I like, then I look at the picture and the pedigree. Now I will look at the videos first, then go back and look at the EPDs and pedigrees of the ones I like.”
“Most of our customers look at EPDs. It is important to them and it is a talking point for us. I just want the opportunity to talk to prospects. EPDs is one thing I can discuss. We have digital scales in each barn, and we weigh everything born in the winter. We can’t weigh our summer calvers out on grass, but we do write in the book if they are bigger. When a customer asks us what bulls they should buy, we go through the catalogue and cross out the bulls we know won’t fit their program. Some of them actually say, why would I pick out a bull when you know them better than me. The customers gain confidence in our program because we are confident in how our cattle will calve and perform.”
“We will step out and buy a bull outside our program, but we must see the dam and the granddam, if possible, and a couple of crops of milking females. The numbers and production must be proven. I like to buy proven sires not calves. I like to know what they are going to do in my herd. I watched Ledger for a few years, then tried some semen and he was a game changer. He and LT Lanza allowed me to market bulls into commercial Angus herds. When I first started talking to producers of commercial Angus herds, I told them if you buy a Lanza son, you won’t have a problem, and it worked. I had the confidence in the sons because I had the consistency in my herd and could see the consistency in the progeny. The bulls calved and the producers are back, starting to bump up their performance. Many of them have wondered why they didn’t make the move sooner, but it is simple. They had to get over the stigma they were being told about having calving trouble, and big dumb calves that won’t get up and suck.”
“One day I was sitting in a room at the auction mart and I could hear an Angus breeder telling a guy he would have a wreck with Charolais bulls, and the
calves wouldn’t suck. The commercial guy actually told him, “Well that’s funny, I am using his Charolais bulls (pointing to Steve) and my Charcross calves actually get up and suck better in the cold than my Angus calves. The hybrid vigour allows them to handle the cold better.”
“It is fun to listen to them talk. You go to a branding where neighbours help neighbours and you hear them say, “Oh, you have some Charolais calves, when were they born, a month or two earlier?” The producers will say, “No, the same as the rest.” They are that much bigger they just stand out. The next question is invariably, ‘did you have much calving trouble?’ and the answer is “less than my Angus calves.” The word starts getting out and we start selling more bulls to commercial Angus herds.”
Steve works at the S.A.L.E. (Southern Alberta Livestock Exchange) and it provides him with numerous opportunities to meet and visit with producers. Every fall in Lethbridge, Steve promotes his customers calves in a video sale. Over 35,000 calves are marketed through this ballroom event. Large screens are in place and all the buyers are given front-row seats. There are pre and post sale socials and food is served throughout the event, including a steak supper. The sellers come to watch their cattle sell and they sell by groups. Each year the groups rotate. Char-Maine’s customers are always among the top sellers. Last year they were the last group to sell and some of the sellers were worried about the sale order, but it didn’t make a difference. When the demand is there, the price will be as well, sale order is irrelevant. “When I deliver my customers’ calves to the yards and the buyers are happy, that makes everything worthwhile.”
Char-Maine has commercial producers that will push purebred breeders up to $20,000 on bulls in their sale. They know what they can produce and will not skimp to buy the right bull for their program. They know what performance is worth in their calf crop. Some people tell Steve that no commercial bull is worth $12,000, but Steve’s reply is simple, ‘why do they keep paying it?’ Brad witnessed one commercial producer actually explaining to another commercial producer, “I paid $12,000 for my bull and you paid $6,000. Not to brag, but my calves are also about 100 pounds heavier than yours. You add that up, and he rattled off the numbers, and ended by saying, you are the one that is getting ripped off, not me. We are basically paying the same, but I am making way more money.”
“Talking to the producers, order buyers and feeders, I learned consistency goes a long way.”
Steve explained, “My father-in-law started buying all our ¾ and 7/8 brothers. It was kind of by accident that we had them. You buy a heifer bull and put it on all your heifers and suddenly, you have a bunch of calves that are genetically closely related. He bred those bulls to his cowherd and his calves were so consistent. The guys who bought his calves were so impressed because they were all the same. He would run them through in 90 head drafts and get paid top dollar. Because I was at the market, I knew where they went, and I followed up on them. The feeders were really pleased with them because they fed consistently. The feedlots liked it, so as I thought about it more and more, I decided we should provide this. Now we take all of one sire’s daughters and breed them to the same bull. Then we take all those half or three-quarter sisters and breed them to the same bull. We want to provide packages of 7/8 brothers or three-quarter brothers that look the same and are genetically the same. Ranchers start buying packages of them and their calves are all the same. Talking to the producers, order buyers and feeders, I learned consistency goes a long way.”
Char-Maine has taken it one step further, line- breeding half brothers to half sisters on both sides. It is a way of locking in the good. It will also show you if there is something genetically wrong in the line right away. “I learned about line-breeding from Emile Carles, Radville, Saskatchewan. He told me that sometimes you can get so tight in your herd, when you send a purebred bull to an outside herd, it is almost like hybrid vigour. It is almost like another breed. Most bulls don’t get used after five years; people move on to the next popular bull. I see things differently. We still get some direct LT Lanza calves because it is working. I am still getting the performance and EPDs I want. Emile told me if you want to find out how good a bull is, breed him back to his dam. I line-breed to get all my bull calves and females to look the same. We are getting them the way we want them, so we want them all to be that way. If you have all your females look the same and all your bulls look the same, then your offspring are going to look the same. We can run three bulls in the sale ring, and they look the same and their EPDs are the same.”
They started flushing again with a female, whose grandmother was purchased at Tim Meier’s Hopewell dispersal sale. The donor female was sired by a bull purchased in dam from Elder Charolais. She may not be the “prettiest” female, but the cow family has proven to be some of the most fertile, producing females in the herd. Every female they flush has proven herself within the herd to be productive with longevity. They have flushed two females extensively, 115Y and her daughter 439B, to four different bulls, so they have a lot of related females in the herd helping them achieve their goal of consistency.
There is a plan being discussed to allow succession of the operation to Brad. Brad attended the last Breeder School which allowed him to meet many breeders in Canada, who have become friends and they communicate regularly.
When Char-Maine had its first Charolais bulls to sell, there were four on offer and two neighbours came and each bought two. Those families are still buying bulls from them showing their customers are loyal. “The big thing about success in this market is having the right cattle and looking after your customers. If you want to keep customers, occasionally, you must be prepared to swallow a loss. If you do that one time and back up your bulls, you have them as loyal customers. I have heard guys say they bought a bull from someone and this happened. I am thinking that guy should have fixed it, but he didn’t and now they are in my yard and they are not leaving my yard because I will look after them. I know our spare bulls cost us some money, but you don’t lose a customer when you can take him a bull when one goes down and just take the bull back in the fall. There was a guy here I was trying to get to use a Charolais bull and he had a bull go down one year. I didn’t have a bull to give him, but because it was a single bull pasture with 25 cows, I took my herd bull to him. They have purchased all their bulls exclusively from us every year for the last twenty-nine years. People appreciate the service. With all our bulls so closely related, it is also easy to make them happy because the bulls all look the same. If you look after your customers, they will look after you and that has been a lot of our success.”
“The big thing about success in this market is having the right cattle and looking after your customers.”
“We have seen people come and go in this business. Some of them get in with a lot of money to spend, but they don’t understand cattle and the cattle business. They don’t get what drives the industry. They don’t see it from start to finish. Often, they get out of the business because they missed some steps. You must have good cattle and you have to look after your customers. You can’t miss any steps and some of them aren’t willing to do this or do that and they can’t survive. I have worked in many aspects of the industry and understand what it takes. We look after our breeding program and our customers to achieve our goals. The industry has been good to us.”