Cattle show numbers may have been down at this year’s Ag Ex in Brandon Oct. 23-26, but the show’s newest breed bucked the trend.
About 400 cattle entered the ring this year, down from just over 500 in 2018.
This year marked the first Ag Ex in several years without a national breed show. Brandon hosted Canada’s Shorthorn, Angus and Simmental breed associations last year during Ag Ex, while the event hosted the national Charolais show and sale the previous year.
Why it matters: Ag Ex usually boasts at least one national breed show and drew three last year. The lack of one this year dropped entries, although Speckle Park breeders still saw a marked jump in participation.
The lack of a national show ate at cattle show entries, Provincial Exhibition general manager Ron Kristjansson said.
“We had three last year, which was a real spike for us, real exciting,” Kristjansson said. “The national shows tend to bring a little extra numbers to our show and obviously, it was a real tough year around Western Canada this year, so that’s impacted our numbers a bit, but we still have a lot of exhibitors here, a lot of great cattle and they’re all happy to be here.”
Ag Ex is one of three fairs put on by the exhibition yearly, alongside the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair and Manitoba Summer Fair.
The show saw a marked increase in Speckle Park breeders, despite the overall slide.
The breed made its Ag Ex debut last year with 18 entries. Those numbers more than doubled this year, growing to 41. One barn of the Keystone Centre was devoted to the breed.
Last year’s show drew a lot of interest to the smaller-framed breed with its distinctive white and black speckle coat, Rob Harasymchuk of INC Cattle Company in Saskatoon said.
“It still actually surprises me when people come into the barn and go, what are those? They’re one of the only breeds in Canada developed here,” he said.
Breeders argue that the breed is low maintenance to keep, has good marbling in their meat, mother well and cross well with other breeds.
Until last year, the breed has been more centred on Alberta and Saskatchewan, where it was initially developed. The Canadian Speckle Park Association lists five breeders in Manitoba.
“There are some great breeders in the Yorkton area where it’s closer to Brandon than it is to go to shows in Saskatchewan,” Harasymchuk said, describing Manitoba as an “untapped market.”
The Brandon show gives a better option for local breeders and has also drawn participation from long-established breeders upwards of 900 kilometres away, he noted.
This year also marks the first for the Central Prairie Speckle Park Alliance. The alliance formed seven months ago with a mission to promote the breed in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
The breed has seen little promotion in Manitoba until this point, the alliance’s president, Anthony Wilcox of Wilcox Livestock near Treherne, said.
Wilcox was among those working to bring the breed to Ag Ex last year, having been a longtime exhibitor of Simmentals at the show.
The breed has since seen success at shows elsewhere in the Prairies, something Wilcox says has contributed to the increase of exhibitors at Ag Ex.
“They competed really well at Agribition, which surprised a lot of people, I think,” he said. “It’s a good show to get ready for Agribition, get them all settled in and through the routine.”
Wilcox expects the breed to return next year, although he expects that participation will likely remain similar to 2019.
“It’s a breed that’s up and coming,” Kristjansson said. “You see cycles in everything where the numbers are up in one thing… but some of these breeds that hadn’t been large in numbers, to see them growing — our Shorthorn breeders went through a similar process about five years ago and they’re right up there with one of the highest numbers in our breed show. Some breeds, their numbers go down a few years. It all depends on the exhibitors that are breeding and showing those animals.”
Travel conditions added an additional level of uncertainty to Ag Ex this year.
Southern Manitoba got an early taste of winter over the Thanksgiving long weekend, with a historical storm dropping up to 74 centimetres of snow, matched by wind gusts over 80 kilometres an hour and unprecedented power outages, some of which had yet to be resolved over a week later.
The now melting snowbanks, mud and flooded pastures formed an additional workload for local exhibitors who planned to attend the show.
“I met with an exhibitor here today where they have hundreds of cows. Most of their cows left home a couple of weeks ago during a blizzard. They’ve been gathering them up for about a week, 10 days and he said, ‘the only ones that we knew exactly where they were, were the ones that we were bringing to Brandon because we had them in the barn,’” Kristjansson said.
The show forms a big part of many breeders’ marketing plans and provides a significant social element, Kristjansson said, pointing to the number of exhibitors that still made the trip.
It is far from the first time show participation has been threatened by weather, he also noted.
“It could be June; we can have weird weather at our fair,” he said.