The Ross L-7 Ranch has been recognized for their five-generation commitment to cattle, farming, the community and the rural lifestyle.
The Ross family was presented with the 2012 Farm Family of the Year Award during Estevan's annual Farmer's Appreciation Evening on March 8 at the Days Inn Plaza. The ranch has been in the family for more than a century.
"It's a bit humbling, and no doubt it's an honour that we weren't expecting," said Brian Ross. "It makes a guy feel that it's really nice for the family to get something like this."
His wife, Rosalie, is pleased that the family has been recognized for its hard work and contributions to the cattle sector.
Brian and Rosalie have about 700 pairs of cattle on an operation situated about eight kilometres east of the Port of Estevan border crossing with the U.S. They own about 3,000 acres of land, and lease another 8,000 acres.
One of their sons, Chad, and his wife, Crystal, have about 400 pairs of cattle on a similar amount of land. They live on the ranch's original farmland that was settled more than a century ago, which is about a kilometre-and-a-half east of the Port of Estevan.
"We do a little bit of farming, and seed a little of grain for cattle feed … but we rely on cattle for pretty much all our income," said Brian.
Another son, Jeremy, and his wife, Carol, have about 50 cattle on about three quarter sections of land south of Estevan. Jeremy and Carol are veterinarians who operate the Prairie Animal Health Centre in Estevan and Weyburn.
All three families also have horses that are used in their ranch work, as well as for leisurely riding and team penning practice.
Brian and Rosalie's third son, Mike Ross, and his wife, Zoe, own and operate a veterinary clinic in Dawson Creek, B.C.
The Ross L-7 Ranch was founded by Brian Ross' grandfather, Lester, in 1906. A year earlier, Lester Ross and his brothers had come to Estevan, so they could scour for land to farm. Lester established the farm south of Estevan; his brothers went elsewhere.
Lester and his wife had five children. One of them, Cyril, stayed on the ranch and continued the operation. Cyril met Helen in the early 1940s, and they were married in 1945.
"Mom and Dad were the first ones to start an artificial insemination business with livestock in 1960, and the first ones to import European cattle to this area in 1971," said Brian. "So there were lots of milestones made in Mom and Dad's generation."
Cyril and Helen had four children, including Brian, who, along with Rosalie and their three sons, would eventually take over the operation.
"We put on annual female bull sales," said Rosalie. "We had a pure bread business. And then we switched over to commercial herds in 1991. It was commercial cattle and doing some custom feedings."
Not only have all three of Brian and Rosalie's sons found a way to remain active in agriculture in some capacity, but their seven grandchildren are passionate about livestock.
"They're already interested in agriculture, horses and cattle, so I think there'll be lots of grandchildren to keep the Ross L-7 Ranch name going down the road," said Brian.
Family has played an important role in the farm's success. Helen said they worked together for the same cause.
"I can never thank our family enough for what they've done for us," said Helen. "It seemed as if, whenever we needed help, they came home from university for the weekend, and then they rushed back."
An honour like the Farm Family of the Year Award causes Brian to reflect on the contributions of his parents and grandparents. Cyril passed away in September. But Brian is happy that Helen was able to be around for the honour, since she has meant as much to the operation as anybody.
The future is bright for cattle farmers and for the ranch, he said.
"We're really excited about some of the new management stuff that we're doing with the bale grazing and calving later (in the year)," said Brian. "It's just very sustainable as far as the land and the cattle. We're adding a lot to the top soil of our land, and getting better production. We've cut our expenses a lot."
It's a much brighter picture than the two-year span from July 2003 to July 2005, when the Canadian beef industry was hampered by bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Many international markets closed their borders to live Canadian cattle after one cow was found to have BSE in 2003.
It didn't become much easier after the U.S. border reopened to some live Canadian cattle in 2005.
"There were seven or eight years there that were tough economic times for cattle producers," said Brian. "2001 and 2002 were pretty good times. But it took a long time for that (U.S.) border to open, and then when it did open, there were so many restrictions and extra costs involved in getting the cattle down there that nobody wanted to do it."
Ranchers need good economic times to catch up with the losses they sustained in recent years, Rosalie said.
Importing cattle with European genetics provided a significant change for the industry, Brian said, and cattle farmers continue to reap the benefits.
The Ross family has also been active in the community, through 4-H clubs, riding horse clubs, and agriculture and exhibition associations. They have also been involved in their church, and they competed in many team penning competitions.
"If you're involved with the community, you're always learning from the community, too," said Brian. "You contribute something, but you always get something back for it."
Brian has also been active in what he called "cowboy politics." He was the president of the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association from 2004 to 2006 – a difficult time due to the fall-out from BSE and the U.S. border closure, and the relentless effort to resume live cattle shipments to the U.S.
More recently, he's been involved with co-chairing the Canada Beef implementation team.
"That was a group tasked with merging the Canada Beef Export Federation and the Beef Information Centre, which are the two main beef promotion companies in Canada," said Brian. "But they were separate companies. We needed to get them merged so we could cut some costs and cut some administration charges, and as a result, more money would be directly spent on beef promotion."
There was a lot of opposition and skepticism initially, Brian said, until people understood it. He believes that it has proven to be a positive for cattle producers.
His involvement with Canada Beef will likely mark the end of his career in cowboy politics, he said.
Agriculture also led to business opportunities, not only in the veterinary field. Jeremy and Carol also operate the Cowtown western wear store in Estevan. Crystal operated Ross L-7 Tender Meats for several years, which allowed the Ross ranch to sell their beef during the difficult times caused by BSE.
The Farm Family of the Year Award was one of several highlights from the Farmer's Appreciation Evening. Members of the Benson 4-H Club spoke at the event. Agriculture Minister Bjornerud and Farm Credit Canada representative JP Gervais were the keynote speakers. And the Mad Trapper provided entertainment.