It is calving season for beef farmers, and the crew on Blackhawk Simmentals Farm are knee deep, calving, tagging and needling.
Blackhawk Simmentals Farm in Stratton sees about 160 calves per season, between late January and the end of March. It’s a hectic season of round the clock vigilance and hard work, but for Blackhawk Simmentals owners Jeff and Kelly Teeple, it’s a lifestyle they’re proud of.
The farm was started by Jeff’s parents, Gary and Lisa Teeple, when they purchased the land in 1979. It was little more than an old fallen-down barn, operating as a hobby farm, until 2008.
“That’s when my dad passed away. We had about 40 cows at that time,” Jeff said. “We decided to keep the farm, and at the same time needed to expand to justify having it. We’ve been expanding over the years since 2008.”
Today, the farm is a robust operation, with four full-time employees: Luke Ruppert, Evan Ruppert, Timothy Krahn and Earl Martin.
To make the farm viable, the Teeples focus on the calf end of the industry, producing high quality calves for sale into the industry. To take advantage of the early calving season, they expose the animals for a seven-week period, starting on April 15, in order to set them up to calve this year.
“It works better for us,” Jeff said. “Our main source of revenue is this spring calf crop that will get sold in the fall. They are born now and they get sold Oct. 1. Only steers are sold; heifers are kept. We keep the main cow herd. We usually keep 40 to 50 heifer calves for replacements every year, because we’re always constantly culling anywhere from 25 to 30 animals a year just for productivity.”
After eight months, Jeff said they get weaned and pick the ones they are keeping for replacement. The rest go to market, along with cows that did not get pregnant. Anything that gets retained is a bred cow with a calf, and the replacements for next year, he added.
Blackhawk Simmentals has a land clearing division as well where they help local people improve their land to maximize what they can get out of it with the price of land.
“We do have some outside avenues to help subsidize the farm because there is not a lot of money in farming right now,” Jeff said. “We do custom fabrication. We have a fabrication shop where we fabricate handling facilities for agriculture for farmers.”
The Teeples have three children, who also help with daily farm chores: Jessie, 12, Landon, 11 and Morgan, 9. The most involved is Jessie, who sees herself taking on the family farm in the future.
Depending on the weather, Jessie checks the calving cows in the barn. If it is -40, she would go out every hour and update Jeff.
“It’s super fun,” Jessie said. “When the babies are born, it is a proud moment when you pull them. Helping feed them is also fun. I learned how to drive a tractor two years ago, and I packed one field. When calving is done, I start working with my steer and getting him ready for the fair in August. I see myself doing this in the future.”
Jeff said Jessie’s help has been very noticeable, especially this season. If he is feeling a little ragged after supper, he relies on Jessie to do the hourly checks, which gives him a few minutes, sometimes hours of rest.
“If something’s going on, she comes and gets me and we take care of it,” Jeff said, adding that if a water bag is visible, it could take 20 minutes to two hours for a calf to be born. If nothing happens after two hours, Jeff intervenes.
“I usually do all the night shifts,” Jeff said. “The guys come at 8 a.m. and they work until 6 p.m. They take care of the day to day stuff feeding, needling and tagging. I’ll take over at 6 p.m. The weekends are a little crazier, because the guys leave at 6 p.m. on Friday night and come at 8 a.m. on Monday so it’s just me and Jessie for the weekend.”
Landon and Morgan also help over the weekend, when all Jeff’s hired hands are off.
At Blackhawk Simmentals, 85 to 90 per cent of calving goes without intervention, and that is a figure the Teeples take pride in.
With Kelly working full time as a registered nurse at La Verendrye General hospital in Fort Frances, and Jeff working as a part time consultant to Resolute, the family has a lot to manage.
Jeff adds that although it can get mentally draining, especially at this time of year, they always find balance, and priorities are always met.
“Family is first and hockey is a priority. We’re making a family trip next week,” he added. “It’s a different lifestyle. It’s not for everybody, but it is a good one. It teaches the kids life skills and responsibilities.”