CHARLIE AND HIS SONS CRAIG AND ANTHONY
Charlie is adamant that the Weisgerber ranch in Ponoka, Alberta is all in the family.
The homestead and heritage barn, built circa 1919, are nestled in the hills outside of Ponoka in central Alberta. It’s only a short jaunt from town, but it feels like a world away. It’s just the Weisgerbers and their animals – and that’s the way Charlie likes it. With his wife Patricia and adult sons Anthony and Craig, their 500-head cow-calf operation is both their business and their passion.
Carrying on the family name means something a little different for the Weisgerbers. Charlie was raised on a farm in southern Alberta but moved to the Ponoka area 27 years ago. Still, although the Weisgerbers are no longer farming on generations-old land, they are carrying on the family name in their own way – through their hot-iron brand. Charlie says, “I’m quite proud – My father’s brand is what I carry on with, and now my son Craig is taking it over, so that’s the third generation. We’re not necessarily on the same land where my father and grandfather started, but that’s one of the things that came with us. That’s heritage,” Craig adds, “Some people look at it as just a mark on a cow, but to me, it’s my whole life. It’s what our purpose is. People see a T7 bar and they know it’s a Weisgerber brand.”
WATCH: CHARLIE TALKS ABOUT WHY HE TRUSTS METACAM® 20* IN THE CARE OF HIS CATTLE
In addition to being a lifelong rancher in his own right, Charlie has also spent several years in charge of herd health at a Ponoka feedlot where he did a lot of pen checking and treating cattle. “It’s a learning experience more than anything. You get to be able to read the cattle. Cattle are a lot like humans. When you’re sick, you withdraw and are lethargic and not wanting to do much of anything. Cattle are much the same.
“Cattle have a breaking point, [and] if they cross over that point then you have to realize it or these animals aren’t going to survive. The main objective is to try to get them before they get to that point. We give them Metacam® 20* to make them feel a little better. And if you make them feel a little better, they’ll eat. We also use Metacam® 20* for processing time, for branding the calves. We’ve found that Metacam® 20* helped with recovery by the next day. It’s worth it because if you can get those calves up and going faster, then they gain and they don’t miss a beat.” Craig adds, “At the end of the day, it helps them keep their weight on, which ends up showing up in the pocketbook.”
This deep knowledge and “sixth sense” about herd health is something that Charlie is trying to pass down to his sons. “My dad is very knowledgeable, and a lot of it is following around and watching what he can do. He can look at cattle and know if they’re sick before they’re even sick. It’s hard to pick up, but I’ve learned a lot about reading the herd and management of the feed. I’m very lucky to be able to learn from that, because it’s information you can’t get in a book. It’s hands-on experience. You learn to do it by doing it. I think that’s what I’ve learned from my dad – to work hard and learn from the cows every day,” says Craig.
For the Weisgerbers, cattle ranching is in their blood. Charlie says, “I was born on the farm, we always had cattle, and I’ve always had cattle. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do. I tried working in other occupations, but I hated every minute of it. I know there’s better paying jobs out there than this, but life is too short to do something you don’t like to do.”
For Craig, ranching is not only the family business, but there’s a higher purpose too. “It’s a way of life that’s drastically changing. The older generations are trying to get out, but there’s nobody there to pick it back up. I want to do my part. I’ve seen my dad work hard to make this all work, so I don’t want to let him down. I want to take it on and move it on down to my kids. It’s a very important role in society. It’s making food for people. If we have nobody who’s going to pick that up, then what are we going to do?”
WATCH: CHARLIE AND CRAIG TALK ABOUT HERITAGE AND WHAT THEIR FAMILY BRAND MEANS TO THEM
For the Weisgerbers, cattle ranching is everything – their family, their business, their livelihood. Says Craig, “Real farming is a lifestyle. This isn’t a punch in-punch out kind of operation. People can take Christmas Day off to be with their families, when we can’t just decide ‘Well, we’re not going to feed today,’ because you’ve got to get the jobs done. Real farming is living it. It’s hard to be fully sustained working on the ranch, money-wise. To make a go of it and only have your income coming from the ranch. We’re special to be able to do that.”
For the Weisgerbers, this is real farming.