This ranch family stays the course

It’s pretty easy to be optimistic during a record high in the cattle industry. But still everyone knows that one day –in this cyclical industry –the shoe might/will drop.

But, when four generations work together on a ranch near Olds and are all (but the pre-schoolers) involved with raising good cattle –that’s something you can take to the bank. 

The Smith/Gardner family dynamic includes grandparents Gary and Donna Smith, son Rob, daughter Tami and son-in-law Roy Gardner and their children Tracey, Brody and Tyson. Roy and Tami Gardner and their daughter Tracey and son Tyson work off ranch but continue to hold up their end of the cattle chores. Roy Gardner has been with Exon Oil for over 40 years and Tyson and his wife Lisa live in nearby Olds where he is an electrician.  Rob lives on the ranch and works as the CEO of the Canadian Angus Association.

The Diamond T Cattle Co. was created when Gary and Donna moved from Calgary in 1970 selling most of their possessions to make a down payment on land near Olds. While they worked off farm for another couple of years, they increased their livestock holdings to include milk cows, hogs, chickens, turkeys and beef cattle. By 1973, they were able to devote all their time to the cattle business and were one of the first Alberta ranch families to import Pinzgauer cattle from Austria. Eventually their seedstock cattle numbers grew to about 400 cows. 

Only a few years later, daughter Tami married Roy Gardner and they bought a half section of land across the road.

The Pinzgauers were successful in the show ring and in the sale ring but the family had their eyes on the up and coming Angus breed. After a couple of purchases, the family to switched genetics. Rob left the family ranch to work overseas with an oil company and his mom, dad and sister continued to build a strong Angus herd.

The Smith’s grandson, 29-year old Brody Gardner is a walking talking passionate advocate of every aspect of the cattle industry. Alberta Beef Magazine featured Brody in 2010 in their 4-H profile series. He was a good example of how far 4-H can take you.

Twelve years ago, after winning a 4-H provincial livestock judging contest, his prize was a trip to the Denver Stock Show. While there, he met a livestock judging coach for Oklahoma College and was offered a scholarship.

“I went to junior college at Northeastern Oklahoma and finished my degree at the University of Georgia. When I returned home to the ranch at Olds, I worked at the Rose Hill Auction cap services so I could learn even more about the industry. I even went down to Billings, Montana and got my auctioneer’s certification,”says Gardner.

Today, Brody is married to Justine (from a Hereford ranch family) and they are awaiting the birth of their second child. They are in the process of taking over the day-to-day management of the family’s 130 purebred red and Black Angus cowherd and the 75 commercial Simmental/Angus cross cows managed under a low maintenance strategy in order to develop the cattle as naturally as possible.   

The purebreds calve in January and February while the commercial cows calve in March and April.

The family believes it takes a good momma cow to raise a sire since the truth be told – it is the bull calves that proudly carry the Diamond T Ranch name to purebred and commercial cattle ranches across Canada and the U.S. At sale time, the cows are penned next to their bull calves to show the functional, fleshing ability of the cowherd along with the potential for future heifer calves.

“We had 35 yearling and two-year-old bulls in our February bull sale this year and held the sale for the first time on the ranch. We don’t grow these calves on silage but prefer a dry matter hay base and a textured ration of oats, barley and corn. We want to develop these bulls for longevity –not fattening,”says Gardner.

“Our commercial customers tell us many of our bulls continue to perform up to seven and eight years. Our commercial cows which are half and three quarter blood Simmental females are a good example of possible cross bred combinations with top ranch-sourced Angus genetics. We raise these cattle the same way our commercial customers raise theirs.”

“We sell purebred and commercial heifer calves online in October. We have found it a good way to promote to younger producers.”

Gardner led the live cattle evaluation at the first ever Carcass 101 event hosted by the Canadian Angus Association and held at Olds College in June of 2014. He says he had learned a lot about carcass quality while on the U.S. college livestock judging team evaluating sheep, hogs and market steers. He also continued his tutelage while working at the local auction market.

“On our ranch we try to follow the calves in our commercial customers’programs to see how they grade. That way, we see how our genetics perform in various cross-bred situations”, says Brody.

“Following up with performance analysis, feed intake and production records are methods the ranch uses to assist our buyers while gathering information on large groups of calves sold to feedlot and backgrounding situations. We then extrapolate that material to improve the genetic base of the cowherd at Diamond T.”

“Producers are paid on quantity rather than quality under our grading systems and we need to work towards changing that.”

Even with their constant attention to improving their genetic base and marketing their cattle, the family has always given back to their community and the industry by generously volunteering at the local Olds regional exhibition, Calgary Stampede, provincial and federal Angus Associations, and many youth and community organizations.

Tami and Tracy currently work as the events coordinator and general manager of the Olds Regional Exhibition. Rob Smith has served as president of the Alberta Angus Association while Tracy followed her uncle into service as a board member.

Being such a tight knit family, the Smith and the Gardner families openly discuss cattle and succession planning over Sunday dinner. There are no free lunches and each member must pull their own weight by helping to manage and promote the cowherd. They are all super pumped about the future of the industry.

“After the firestorm of the BSE years and the downturn in the economy, many producers that held onto their “cull”cows instead of marketing them were ready to make an exit. The ones that stayed, are very progressive breeders and running cowherds that are of exceptional quality,”says Brody. “But even in this high market, bull buyers continue to purchase genetics by the old adage that it takes four or five calves that sell in the fall to replace that herd sire.”

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