The Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba more than doubled down on purebred cattle for Ag Ex. The fall fair included three national breed shows this year.
Ag Ex typically draws one national breed organization, the most recent being the Canadian Charolais Association last year. This year, Angus, Simmental and Shorthorn all hosted their national shows at the Brandon fair.
Why it matters: Ag Ex is already one of the biggest stops on the showing schedule for purebred breeders in Manitoba, but that reputation got a boost this year with three national shows and a brand new breed, Speckled Park, drawing exhibitors.
Shannon Carvey, cattle show co-chair, said the triple hit marks how much Ag Ex has grown in stature. The fair has jumped from about 400 head years ago to an easy 800-head entry list.
“Once a breed has had a national show here, we’ve almost always got another one a few years down the road,” she said. “I think a lot of times, the thought was that Agribition was the place to have a national show or some of these bigger shows, and we’ve grown to the point now that we are one of the bigger shows too.”
The three national shows translated to higher entries this year. Two hundred Angus entered the ring, about 50 to 75 head more than normal, while Simmental entries jumped from their average 80 to 90 to about 135, according to Carvey.
“Those national shows really boost numbers for those specific breeds,” she said.
Range also expanded, with exhibitors travelling from B.C. on the western side to Quebec in the east.
A shorthorn first
It was the first time that Manitoba’s Shorthorn breeders could stay close to home and still show nationally. This year’s Ag Ex drew Manitoba’s first national show for the breed, according to show organizer and one of the big winners of the day, Russell Thompson.
“It means the world that our Canadian association decided that Brandon was a fitting place to have a national show,” Thompson said. “We’ve had a group of us that have really worked hard to get it here and to see the numbers come out because of it was just tickling.”
The event boasted 13 cow-calf pairs, something Thompson singled out as a highlight and unusual for the show.
The Shorthorn lists had 115 entries in total, according to Carvey, a substantial boost from 80 last year and the largest for the breed at Ag Ex. Thompson says the show has been increasing by 20 per cent every year.
Carvey credited the provincial Shorthorn association both for its work growing the Ag Ex presence and effort in drawing the national breed organization to Brandon.
“They started out with just over 20 head and it just kept going up and up and up,” she said.
Thompson has been a driving force in that process, she added, and one of the reasons that the national show landed in Brandon in the first place. As president of the Manitoba Shorthorn Association and a longtime breed representative with Ag Ex, Thompson was integral in bringing his breed to the fair and has historically organized and participated in the show ever since Shorthorns debuted.
Shorthorns are still a minority breed in Manitoba, although Thompson says there are pockets of breeders throughout the province, including his own area in southwest Manitoba.
The Manitoba Shorthorn Association counts 17 breeders on its directory, all west of Winnipeg and all but two near or south of Hwy. 16.
Local stars shine
The McRae family’s Mar Mac Farms saw more travel advantage than most. The Brandon-area Angus breeders have made the trip to more far-flung national shows in the past, but they have also consistently competed at Ag Ex for decades, this year being no exception.
The farm showed six animals this year, according to Lois McRae. Those numbers are typical, she said, adding that Mar Mac Farms usually brings six to eight animals to compete.
“I don’t know if there’s any ag society that’s had three all at once, other than probably Agribition,” she said. “It’s always nice to have national shows because it brings cattle from all across Canada to the show. It makes the competition better, but it also shows everybody what genetics are available across Canada.”
In another outing that’s been a banner year for the operation, the farm took a spot in the national winner’s circle, with reserve champion bull calf in the Red Angus show. That honour comes on the heels of being named purebred breeder of the year by Manitoba Angus.
The national show did draw in extra crowds, but numbers could have been even higher, McRae said, citing the weather.
Thirteen Manitobans walked away with a national banner from Ag Ex. Carvey’s own Swindon Ranch claimed a 2018 national title after clinching Senior Champion Bull Calf from the national Angus show. The locals from Alexander, Man., were one of three Manitoba exhibitors to take a full championship banner. Anderson Cattle Company of Swan River also rose to the top of its Red Angus class with Senior Champion Bull and also clinched Senior Champion Female. All said, six local Angus and Red Angus breeders earned a nod as champion or reserve champions, while four Shorthorn and two Simmental breeders can say the same.
Next year’s Ag Ex is set for Oct. 23-26, 2019, at Brandon’s Keystone Centre.