Tracey and Bryan Willms, and their two children Kylie and Owen, own and operate Wilbar Cattle Company, a 300 head purebred and commercial cattle operation near Dundurn. “We took over Bryan’s family’s cowherd,” says Tracey. “Bryan’s grandpa started out with commercial cattle, and then added registered purebred Angus cattle in 1963.”
Tracey is a fifth-generation cattle rancher. “Bryan and I love cattle, and we love improving our cattle herd through our breeding decisions. We really enjoy the seedstock side of things; it’s about two-thirds of our business. (Seedstock is the business of providing breeding animals and bull genetics to other cattle producers.) It allows us to get to know our customers and watch their commercial or purebred operations include our genetics.”
Tracey gave up a steady office job to become a full-time mom and partner in the cattle business.
“Before we were married, I was the General Manager of the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association, and then I worked for Western Beef Development Centre. I was also Executive Director for the Provincial Council of Agriculture Development and Diversification. Bryan and I made the choice for both of us to be full-time cattle ranchers and farmers.”
Farming is a risky business.
“I think it’s really important that people understand that farming is a business. If we want sustainable, environmentally sound, safe, consumable food, then the reality is we need to be profitable in order to continue to use the best practices available. Farmers should not have to feed the world out of the goodness of our hearts. We are willing to assume the risk.
The bottom line is we choose this lifestyle. We choose this as our business.”
For Tracey, sustainability is all about learning, and improving and getting a little bit better all the time.
“We improve in terms of how we manage the grass, how we manage our feed supply, what we choose to feed in the winter, how we manage our water and access to water. I don’t think we are different than any other industry.
The trick is, are you doing the best you can with what you know, and when you know better, will you do better?”
Taking care of their animals is very important to Tracey and Bryan.
“We truly love the land, the lifestyle, and our animals. I believe that animals are given to us for one of three purposes: companionship, service, and nutrition. It’s our responsibility, as their caretakers, to make sure that they are healthy, that they receive proper care, and that their welfare is safeguarded on the road to fulfilling their purpose.”
“My favourite part of farming, what I love the most, is when the cows are out on the grass with the calves right before we wean them. For me, it is the best time to look at the cows, and the best time to look at the calves, and see what we’ve accomplished with last year’s breeding decisions.”
Tracey reflects on the importance of family on the farm.
“Both of our kids love cattle,” says Tracey. “They are excellent young cattlemen. They have a good eye and know our cowherd just about as well as their dad and me. They have their own cows and their own herds started that are part of the family operation.”
“I would say family is everything. I would say it is why we are on this path. It is what our parents, our grandparents, and our great-grandparents did, and it appears that it’s what our kids want to do. For us, it is about a legacy; a legacy of improvement, a legacy of passion and compassion.”