Returning to Ag Ex is an exciting proposition for longtime competitors who will be acting as judges for this year’s event.
Ag Ex has been an important stepping stone for Andre Steppler of Steppler Farms in Miami, Man. Before last year’s event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a place he and his family could gain practice and earn awards on the trail to the Canadian Western Agribition in Regina.
Not only are the Stepplers returning to the event this year, but it’s a significant milestone for them owing to a multitude of reasons.
It’ll be the first time Andre and wife Katie’s son Declan, 2, will have attended the show and the first time daughter Brynn, 9, and son Brayden, 7, will be full-fledged members of the team, exhibiting three purebred Charolais heifers and black Angus heifer.
"It’s a breed that originated from France way back in the 1960s," Steppler said of the Charolais.
"The identifying factor is that it’s white. If you see any cow that’s white, she’s a Charolais cow. Charolais has been used to increase red meat yield in carcasses as well as improve performance in the feedlots. It’s a good cross with the British breeds that are more focused on the marbling."
The two older kids are getting the week off school, but they’ll be put to work.
"They’re skilled enough and confident enough that I don’t have to hire help this year to go to Ag Ex," Steppler said.
It’s also going to be a celebration of sorts for the family. Last year, the Stepplers were a 2020 BMO Farm Family Award winner and now get to participate not just as exhibitors but as judges, too. It’s also the family farm’s 100th business anniversary.
"Any time we get recognition at that high of a level, it’s always an honour to receive those awards," Steppler told the Sun by phone Sunday. "It’s great to be nominated by your peers in the industry and [to see] they approve of what you’re doing."
Normally the farm manages 500 to 600 head of cattle, but that’s down this year because of drought conditions that have plagued the province. Steppler joked that because of his community’s namesake, they ought to run their annual cattle sale with a tropical theme.
Apart from the cattle, the family also engages in beekeeping to farm honey and grow cash crops.
"I think the first time I went to Ag Ex would have been 1999," Steppler recalled. "We’ve strived to be there every year, as much as possible. I think we missed one or two shows over the years, but it’s been a staple in our advertising campaigns for our farm as well ... my kids are involved in the showing and it turns into a family holiday."
Over the years, the family has had animals win grand and reserve championships at Ag Ex and a reserve championship bull at Agribition.
They’ll judge shorthorns and speckle park cattle at this year’s event.
"It’s always an honour to be selected as a judge," Steppler said. "There’s no doubt the whole year leading up to the show day, all the time and effort is realized on that day.
"It’ll be the judge’s opinion who wins the show, so the judge who comes in has to be confident, has to be competent, to be able to evaluate the cattle and do an effective job of it. It’s a lot of time and effort to walk into that show ring, so we want to make sure it’s a great experience for everybody."
As the Sun previously reported, this year’s Ag Ex is going back to its roots by only featuring cattle and not the horse and rodeo events that joined the roster later in its history.
"It’s gonna be a lot of fun. Everybody’s looking forward to being there and the regulations are what they are, but everyone who’s coming wants to be there," event chair Dallas Johnston said Monday.
Johnston estimates the show will have approximately 300 exhibitors and 260 heads of cattle. He acknowledged this was lower than previous years, largely because of the COVID-19 regulations in place and the drought conditions in Western Canada.
"People are busy trying to line up feed for the winter. They’re not worrying about showing cattle right now," Johnston said.
He highlighted the Supreme Championship being held Friday evening featuring the winners of all breeds and Saturday’s kids’ day as potential highlights for visitors.
Continuing the hard work the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba has put into staying solvent as most of their big events were cancelled, a fundraising raffle for a new Polaris Ranger utility vehicle will have its grand prize draw on Saturday.
Until then, people interested in buying a $20 ticket can pick them up at the head office at the Keystone Centre.
» Twitter: @ColinSlark