Alberta cattle breeder likes to keep it simple

When Mac Creech talks bull, people listen. And no wonder.
The former veterinarian from Alberta—one of two guest speakers at the Rainy River Federation of Agriculture’s annual meeting Saturday at the Millennium Hall in Stratton—brought with him 34 years of experience in the cattle industry and some sound advice.
And a bit of good news, too.
Creech and his family own and operate M.C. Quantock Livestock Corp. out of Lloydminster and the first thing he told his audience of 85 RRFA members and guests was that he feels their pain.
Alberta ranchers probably have been hit hardest by the fallout from the “mad cow’ crisis, but Creech feels things will recover if people can just hang on a little longer.
“Things will get a lot better,” he assured the audience. “It’s just going to take a little time.”
How to make the most of that time was the main thrust of Creech’s presentation. He said breeding cattle need not be a high-cost, labour-intensive operation—provided the farmer learns how to keep it simple.
“First, we need to get our cows in tune with nature,” he explained, adding that requires little of the farmer other than to let cows do what they do best—eat and gain weight.
“The beef cow is a low-tech machine and that’s the beauty of it,” Creech remarked. “She’s the garbage collector of agriculture. She knows how to be successful as a cow, which makes her smarter than most scientists.”
In order to put that principle into effect, Creech has done some things that are completely backwards. For instance, he believes bigger is not necessarily better (in his experience, the high-fertility cows usually are a little smaller than what people might expect).
In fact, he says the most profit usually is made before the cow reaches maximum weight. His reasoning is simple.
“A cow is a reproduction animal, not a production animal,” he stressed. “Reproduction rate is more important than weaning weight.”
Creech also breeds his cows in the winter so they calve in late summer, rather than in late winter as is usually the case here. Again, his reasoning is simple. He produced charts that showed cow fertility rates are directly related to day length.
“The trick is to work with nature, not against it,” he said. “Let nature do the high-maintenance, high-cost stuff.”
Creech has found cows that calve in the summer come back into heat sooner—sometimes in as little as 40 days. And during that time, they are out to pasture, eating grass instead of expensive feed.
“Just let them graze. Let them go to the feed rather than spend money bringing it to them,” he stressed, adding diesel fuel never put an ounce of weight on a cow.
Creech said he saves his best and most expensive feed to prepare the cows for breeding in early winter. Then he lets them lose as much as 200 pounds by the time the previous year’s calf is weaned in April.
“We feed the cows really well for 60 days during breeding season,” he remarked.
Creech said the cow has no trouble putting that weight back on once she gets back out on good grass and can, in fact, gain as much as four pounds a day.
He insisted the weight fluctuations do the animal and her calf no harm.
Again, Creech’s emphasis is on the cow, not the calf. He said he’s not concerned about weaning weight, since in his experience, that has little to do with the long-term performance of the calf.
But Creech’s real expertise is in bulls. He currently has 650 on his ranch, plus another 550 on breeding contracts. He specializes in red and black Angus, Angus hybrids, horned Herefords, and Charolais.
He normally sells 400-500 every year, although this year he only expects to sell about 350 because of the depressed market. Over the years, he has sold about 6,400 bulls—mainly in western Canada.
Creech takes the same approach with bulls as he does with cows. He provides them with the best feed in preparation for breeding, but lets them graze on grass the rest of the time.
He sells most of his bulls as two-year-olds and will deliver them free of charge as far east as Winnipeg. Beyond that, the shipping costs are negotiable.