Ever since she was a young girl growing up on the family farm at Solsgirth, Amy Bonchuk has made a name for herself. Whether showing cattle as part of a 4-H beef project or at an elite show, or more recently making a presentation at Manitoba Ag-Ex’s Taste of Beef event this past year, Bonchuk is known as a woman creating her own niche in the purebred cattle industry.
Operating under AJB Livestock, which she runs with partner Devin Saley near Rossburn, Bonchuk says, “Without some amazing mentors and fellow breeders accepting me in my natural state of cow crazy for decades, I wouldn’t be doing what I love. A lot of people doubted my commitment and authenticity; simply because it’s not traditional for a woman to raise livestock independently.”
While her partner is crucial to the operation, as a mechanic, plumber, welder, and the calm to her intensity… Bonchuk does all her own work – processing, breeding, vaccinating, treating, halter breaking, etc. Operating a purebred Simmental and Gelbvieh cattle business takes grit.
“Working with cattle is hard, but so is having to always prove your life’s work to strangers,” said Bonchuk. “I have had numerous people come into my yard looking for the man who is going to sell them a bull and show them cattle… to then have them find out it is really just me here working with my cows.”
Bonchuk has been farming independently for six years, beginning northwest of Rossburn in the winter of 2011. The herd has expanded from the original 23 head to her breeding 93 females this year. The 2017 show and sale season was a great success, winning Reserve Little Lady Jackpot Champion at Manitoba Ag-Ex and President’s Classic Bull Jackpot Gelbvieh Champion at Agribition.
“I market our elite show females at Shades of the Prairies in Brandon in December, as well as the Harvest Hoedown in Neepawa. We sell all our bulls out of the yard private treaty,” Bonchuk said.
“It is crucial for the youth of our industry to have an accessible outlet to participate and learn more about the bigger shows that are held in the same style as Ag-Ex. It is one of Canada’s most impressive livestock events; with a barn culture that welcomes new people with open arms and allows for greater possibilities in learning,” she said.
Learning over the years, Bonchuk knows that showing cattle is a talent, but it’s the clipping and fitting that she defines as an art form. While she used to love to show, she now watches from ringside as someone else takes the halter, taking immense pride in hearing AJB being called on the loudspeaker, regardless of the placing.
Bonchuk is a huge advocate of 4-H, and having completed the program, she has been a leader of the Foxwarren-Solsgirth Club. “My addiction to showing cattle hit when I was 12. Meeting more ‘hard-core’ cattle enthusiasts through 4-H, I attended conferences, junior shows and then, once I attended my first Manitoba Ag-Ex, I got truly hooked on the art of showing cattle,” she said.
Bonchuk developed her skills growing up on the family farm (Bonchuk Farms) at Solsgirth. Her father Dave let her operate the chore tractor, and gave her the chance to calve cows when she was very young. Her Uncle Wayne taught her how to artificially inseminate and develop critical herd heath protocols.
BSE shifted the entire axis in which the beef industry operated. She knew, as a young woman, that no bank would lend to a female who wanted to get into the industry, so as a backup plan she went to Culinary School for four years at Assiniboine Community College. Bonchuk feels that only recently the industry has regained some equilibrium.
“While prices are decent at the auction; I remain continually cautious, as all it takes is one day, one cow, one bad test to have the entire economy come crashing down. Being in the startup phase of a new business, we would not be as resilient to a market crash like the one that redefined the entire beef industry in 2003.”
What advice does she have for someone wanting to become a beef producer? “I will be honest; if a young person doesn’t have an existing herd, or an investment partner, this business is damn near impossible to break into. Especially as a female! But despite all that, my advice remains: for every person who tells you no… just try harder.”