Del Giles grew up on a quarter section farm west of Brooks with Hereford cattle, milk cows, hogs and poultry. His parents Harry and Helen Giles had purchased the farm in 1949 because of access to school and irrigation.
When Del graduated from high school, there wasn’t any land for sale in the area so he partnered with Ford Works and opened a tire shop in town. They ran the shop for eight years before selling it and Del used the proceeds to purchase 360 acres of grass to begin his own cattle operation.
“I liked the Hereford cows, but my dad always complained that while he got good money for steer calves in the fall, he never did as well with heifer calves. I started with Herefords but because of their pigment, they had too many cancer eyes. And the white bags and spring snows just didn’t mix well,” says Giles.
“I tried Beef Booster bulls on these cows for a few years but then switched to Angus bulls in the late 1970s. They were good crosses. Over the years, I kept replacements and eventually the Hereford-cross cows have been bred up Angus and herd numbers increased.”
The average cow weights are in that 1,300 to 1,400 pound range and the family selects yearling Black Angus bulls that are long and deep. They maintain 45 to 47 bulls and replace about 20 percent annually.
“We purchase most of our yearling bulls from Cudlobe Angus and Spruce View Angus. We select bulls with good milk and high rib eye and marbling numbers. We also want birthweights in the mid-80s and lower. If you are careful about picking the right bulls, you can save yourself a lot of work,” says Del.
In order to sustain the operation during BSE, the Giles family kept their steer and open heifer calves in their 1,000 head ranch feedlot and fed them to 750 – 800 pounds.
“We didn’t know what to do once the border closed,” remembers Jason. “Looking back, maybe we should have just sold the calves right off the cow, but, we did what we thought was best to try to get the most money out of them. We sold them on the grid and were fortunate that they graded well.”
Today, the steer calves are sold at weaning and the heifer calves are kept over winter. One hundred heifers are kept as replacements while another 100 heifers are bred and sold at Bow Slope each December. The rest of the open heifers are sold in the spring.
Even after Del purchased his first half section, good grass land at home was still tough to find. In the late 1980’s, wanting to increase his cattle numbers, he found some grass two and a half hours from home north of Halkirk. Over time, those grass acres have increased to just over 2,200 acres. Added to that, is another 2,800 acres with 14 pivots which have been added near Brooks. They also lease some Eastern Irrigation District grass land.
“The Eastern Irrigation District (EID) manages the water from the Bow River which is piped to all the pivots on our land allowing us to not only irrigate 500 acres of hay land but some of our grazing land. We also grow 800 acres of barley and oats for silage, canola, and corn,” says Jason.
“Much of our grass land is prairie grass and it takes about 30 acres to graze one cow, so pivots are needed in this country. The average annual rainfall of 11.9 inches is not enough.”
The family purchased a cattle liner this year to do some of their own hauling. They will haul out cow-calf pairs to Halkirk, to the EID lease land and the rest of the herd is trucked out to pastures closer to home.
The Giles cattle are let out on full quarters and bigger pastures. Depending where the perimeter fences are located is where the cattle graze.
“Once the cows are trucked to Halkirk and the bulls turned out, we check them once a week with quads. We refer to it as our summer holidays when we spend a day up there,” laughs Jason.
Between the 15th of May and the beginning of June, the family seeds three quarters of land into 2,500 heat unit corn with an air drill. They use one quarter for silage destined for the feedlot, and the other two quarters of corn feeds the cow herd over winter.
“Last year, the cows were turned into the corn November 15th and we didn’t start feeding till April. We don’t section off the corn, but turn them out into a full quarter for winter grazing,” says Jason.
“When the cows come off corn, they are in better shape than if they were fed hay all winter.”
Calving begins in early April and continues into early June. The cows and heifers are calved in separate fields and this year, the Giles only had to pull one calf from the heifers.
“We’re able to run the day-to-day operation with just the three of us. Family and friends lend a hand during branding, weaning and preg testing time. We’ve decided that the cows need to also be our hired hands,” says Jason.
In order to operate with just family members, they hire out the corral cleaning, silaging, spraying and a few other odd jobs. When it comes to harvest, they get help from daughter Heather and her husband Curtis Harbinson and grandson Jayme. The Giles plan to stop the cow numbers around the 1,000 mark and although bred heifer prices and calf prices are currently higher, Del remembers that pre-BSE bred heifers were selling around $1,800. He says they are now just crawling back up to that