Commercial Charolais producer Darcy Watson has played with other genetics over the years, but he says those experiments have always led him back to Charolais.
The Watson family has a long history with Charolais cattle. It was the breed his father ran, Watson recalled, and the one that he’s has pursued as he has grown his herd over the last 15 years.
Today, about 175 Charolais-mix cow-calf pairs roam Watson’s farm, on top of the hayland needed to support the herd and just over 3,000 acres of grain production. About 95 per cent of Watson’s bulls are Charolais, an interest he says is driven by the breed’s growth statistics and general ease of care.
“We’ve had them for a long time,” Watson said. “We’ve gone and tried some other breeds of bulls, but we’ve always come back to the Charolais, for the most part.”
That breed loyalty and the quality of animals he sends to market has earned Watson and family a nod as the Manitoba Charolais Association’s 2020 commercial breeder of the year.
The association draws nominations yearly from Manitoba’s list of purebred Charolais breeders. To be nominated, producers must have bought registered bulls from a Manitoba breeder and must be “doing a good job representing the Charolais cross-bred program as a whole, to which Darcy seemed to excel quite well,” association board member Mervin Nykoliation said.
“His cattle are very well presented. The quality’s right up there and he just does an all-round good job as a commercial Charolais breeder,” Nykoliation said, later noting Watson’s general approachability and discerning eye in the sale ring.
“He knows what kind of bull he’s looking for,” Nykoliation said. “He’s an excellent cattleman… I’d say the whole Watson family in general, they know cattle and they know what they’re doing and they’re doing an excellent job.”
A fourth-generation farmer, Watson cannot recall a time when the farm did not have cattle, although herd sizes have shifted over time.
Like most Manitoba cattle producers, Watson’s farm changed significantly when BSE hit in 2003. Unlike most Manitoban cattle producers however, that change increased Watson’s number of cattle.
Watson, whose herd numbers were low coming into the BSE crisis, decided to expand his operation, despite the catastrophic price drops and market backlogs plaguing the sector at the time.
“Myself personally, I ran about 40 cows for a long time,” Watson said. “And then actually, right around the time of BSE or shortly after BSE hit, we actually expanded. We had land that needed to be in hay, hay ground, and we got corn for silage, so we had the feed and we just decided to expand because of some of the cheaper bred cow prices.”
Watson’s herd jumped by several orders of magnitude over the next 15 years as the farm rode the recovering market, eventually building up to the 175 cow-calf pairs they post today.
Their current herd is likely the largest in the farm’s history, Watson said, noting that his father’s herd typically hit around 100 cows. For the last seven to 10 years, the Watsons have averaged around 170 head.
Watson does not foresee any radical shift when it comes to the future of the farm. There may still be some minor expansion in the herd, although the family is generally comfortable with their current numbers. On the other hand, the farm may yet grow their current grain operation.
“We might go up to 200 cows or somewhere in there, but basically we’re just looking at keeping things going the way they are until we can pass it on to the next generation,” he said.