VERNON – Three BC ranchers were selected as semi-finalists for this year’s Canadian Cattle Young Leaders program.
Cassie Marchand of Vernon, Kayla Shallard of Hixon and Brett Squair of Lumby, along with 21 other semi-finalists from across the country, are invited to attend the annual CYL selections competition taking place during the Canadian Beef Industry Conference August 15 in Calgary.
Each of the BC representatives hopes to take away something different to advance their careers and passions in the industry if selected to be paired with an experienced mentor.
Cassie Marchand helps with marketing and social media at her family’s Clifton Ranch in Keremeos and raises cattle in Vernon with her husband and his family.
As the fourth generation on the Clifton Ranch, Marchand is thrilled to be bringing up the fifth generation in the same sort of family-oriented environment.
“It was how I was raised, and we did everything together. We didn’t really even know we were working but we were just spending time together and learning things as we go,” Marchand says. “So that’s probably the thing I like the most, is that it’s how I grew up, being with my family with my grandparents, and then raising my kids in that same way.”
Marchand learned about the CYL program through her friends Erika Strande-Stewart, Laura Code and Andrea van Iterson as well as her sister Megan Clifton – all previous program participants.
“They all had really good things to say about it. And it’s just a good way to build network and … have a chance to meet new people across the country that are kind of the same mentality,” Marchand says.
Because of her work on the education and public affairs committee with the BC Cattlemen’s Association, as an agricultural lender with the Bank of Montreal and her experience as a cattle rancher, Marchand would like to focus on beef advocacy and public trust if selected as a finalist.
“I have all these clients that I advocate for now and for our families and just wanting to like dive a little bit deeper into that and see how we can bridge the gap between consumers and producers, and just connecting people,” she says. “As we go forward, we’re getting further and further removed from people having access to farms and understanding where their food comes from.”
Most recently, Marchand participated in BCCA’s Meet a Rancher event at her local Save-On-Foods store.
“It was great. … We had a lot of people come through and [had] some good discussion with them,” she says. “And then we did a fundraiser for the BC Children’s Hospital and we sold our hamburgers, so it was just a really good afternoon.”
Starting from scratch
Also a beef producer and agricultural advocate, Kayla Shallard of Hixon’s KMS Land and Cattle Co., looks towards continuous improvement on her ranch.
“Before this, I had managed some other agricultural entities – beef, dairy, you name it. And then started having kids, and it is hard to do that kind of stuff with kids,” Shallard says. “I took a plunge on 60 leased cows three years ago and was able to make it work. I jumped in with both feet and haven’t looked back.”
Today, Shallard manages the ranch full-time raising 200 head of cattle, pigs, lambs, chickens and turkeys.
“It’s pretty hard to make it on just cow-calf these days, so we’re pretty creative,” Shallard says. “We do a lot of direct-to-consumer [sales] and farmers markets to sell our products. Grass-fed and grass-finished pasture-raised meat is kind of our thing.”
Shallard was introduced to agriculture through the Prince George 4-H club in which she was a member for nine years and a leader the last five.
Indeed, creativity is one way Shallard has been able to grow her operation. As a young first-generation rancher, land and capital are hard to come by. So, she has leased land from Prince George to Quesnel, leased cattle, participated in hay shares and worked with Young Agrarians.
“That kind of generated a little bit of enough cash flow to actually present something to Farm Credit [Canada],” Shallard says. “Lots and lots of hustling for lack of better terminology. We’re full, full, full-tilt every day.”
As a previous Cattle Young Leaders program semi-finalist, Shallard is eager to build on the skill set she’s acquired in the five years since last applying. Between then and now, she’s been involved with the Prince George Cattlemen’s Association and BC Young Farmers, raised three boys and established her ranch.
“I’m pretty excited to get back at it because my career has definitely blossomed in those five years. And I even remember, last time I was in that position, you know, people always ask you like, where do you see yourself in five years?” Shallard says. “This is definitely not it.”
Shallard imagined herself managing someone else’s farm or some sort of office job in agriculture.
“But not running my own farm, not owning my own farm and farming every day. It’s definitely been an uphill battle but it’s been good,” Shallard says.
She looks forward to the beef conference this month because she says industry meetings “restart the fire.”
Without an engaged younger generation, she says there won’t be anyone to fill the gaps left behind by those aging out of the industry.
If selected, Shallard would like to be paired with a mentor who has also started a ranch from the ground up and can offer some of their insights.
“I find I go through everything kind of on my own and you fail and at times it sucks,” Shallard says, hoping to be paired with someone whose faced similar challenges as she is.
Part of the solution
Brett Squair of Lumby has also identified some challenges that the beef sector faces and wants to be a part of the solution.
The third-generation farmer, along with his dad and a hired hand, runs about 500 head of cattle. As a partner at Davidson Lawyers in Vernon, he and his siblings are “weekend warriors,” helping on the ranch whenever they can while also pursuing off-farm careers.
“Calving season is my favourite time of year. I’m a night owl and an early bird,” Squair says. “So I actually love being up at all times and working with the cattle.”
As a practicing lawyer for the last seven years, Squair has noticed that the beef sector and agriculture industry in general lack sufficient succession planning. It’s something he’d like to address if named as a finalist.
“I find that lot of the industry is sort of with an older group of people. And they’re not really putting much thought into succession planning or thinking about how to effectively transfer their properties, my own family included to a certain extent,” Squair says. “And so, my goal for the program … [is] being appointed with a mentor who focuses sort of on working with agricultural groups with their succession planning.”