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Family celebrates 100 year partnership with Hereford

Partnerships of any kind can be a tricky thing, and this is exceptionally true for business partnerships. The changing demands of the market alone can often put strains on partnerships that can be enough to tear them asunder.
The Lees family from the Arcola area are marking this year as their 100th year of ranching Hereford breed cattle. Coinciding with the Canadian Hereford Association's 150th anniversary of the breed in Canada, the family of Duncan Lees held at Hereford Field Day at their farm on Saturday, Aug. 21. From left in the photo is Chris Lees, George Lees, Canadian Hereford Association general manager Gordon Stephenson, and Duncan Lees.

Partnerships of any kind can be a tricky thing, and this is exceptionally true for business partnerships.

The changing demands of the market alone can often put strains on partnerships that can be enough to tear them asunder.

Members of the Lees families were therefore excited beyond statement when, at an event hosted on the land of Duncan Lees, the family celebrated the 100th anniversary of its partnership with the Hereford breed of cattle.

The families, which consist of families of brothers Chris and Duncan Lees, as well as the family of cousin George Lees, all trace their roots back to three brothers who first settled in the area northwest of Arcola, in the foothills of the Moose Mountains, back in the dim days of 1882.

More than a century later, the family is still represented on the land, and the now-century long involvement with Hereford is such an intrinsic part of the family identity that even those who move away and pursue other fields of work manage to keep a small number of the animals around.

Recently, the families came together to recognize their long involvement with the popular breed of cattle by hosting the annual South East Zone Hereford prize show, part of the greater Canadian Hereford Association.

The Hereford association itself has also been marking over this year 150 years of the Hereford breed being in Canada.

Known and bred as a specimen of cow that could grow well on a diet of just simple field-grass, the first of the species were imported into Canada in 1860 by an enterprising farmer near the present-day city of Guelph, ON.

The modern-day association representing the producers of the breed traces its lineage back to 1890, when it first started registering the breed in Canada.

"We have been collecting information and registering Hereford cattle for 110 years now as an organization," said Gordon Stephenson, the general manager of the Canadian Hereford Association (CHA), who was on hand for the event. "Out of the families that have been registered with our organization, the Lees families have been among the longest memberships."

"The family with us the longest has been the Reid family near Moosomin," Stephenson said. "Then it is the Jones family in Alberta."

"The third longest, uninterrupted membership belongs to the Lees family."

The crowd of more than 60 people moved back and forth through the yard at Duncan Lees' farm, as cattle were paraded out to be judged by the other Hereford producers in attendance.

The fine weather and bright sun added a summer feel to the event, appropriate when considering how many milestones were being celebrated by the gathering.

"We're at 100 years with the breed in my family, and 150 years for the breed in the country," Duncan Lees said. "It is a busy day because we have a lot to celebrate."

Sitting down with Duncan and George Lees, along with CHA general manager Gordon Stephenson, one of the first questions that came to mind was, why Herefords?

"Oh, it has to be the temperament," Duncan said. "The breed is really even-tempered and comfortable around people. That makes them easy to deal with."

"Also, they tend to be really fertile as far as that goes, and it isn't often you have one come back in from pasture vacant," Duncan said. "They calve pretty good, and I'll admit I'm pretty lazy about that time of year. I go in at 11 p.m. and don't go out again until 7 a.m. and there has never been a problem."

"Finally, they seem to do really well on the fodder in the pastures around our land," Duncan said. "Just eating grass, they gain good weight, and that reduces out input costs quite a bit."

Duncan's cousin George shared Duncan's appreciation of the breed, highlighting the same qualities plus one other.

"It is just a really mild animal, and easy to deal with," George said of the Hereford stock. "They're fertile and they grow quick. They're easy to cross too, if you want to, and that makes them pretty versatile."

The Hereford seems to have some extremely dedicated adherents, according to Stephenson.

"The Hereford has as one of its traits a real adaptability that makes it well suited to the Canadian climate," Stephenson said. "That, their temperament, and their ability to do well on light feed makes them a popular choice for a lot of ranchers."

"We register around 15,000 new head every year," Stephenson said. "Easily 9,000 to 12,000 of those come from Saskatchewan and Alberta."

"On the consumer side, Hereford beef is some of the tenderest cuts you'll find," Stephenson said. "There seems to be a correlation between temperament and how tender the beef is, and you will have a hard time finding beef cattle with gentler temperaments than the Hereford."

With a century and counting of Herefords in the Lees' herds, the family has a familiarity with the breed that is second to none. But what about other cattle breeds?

"We did try some other types of cattle back in the 1970s," Duncan said. "We were seeing if some other types of cattle would do as well. I guess the easiest way to say it is to point out that nowadays, we having nothing but Herefords in our herds."

As the family has grown over the last century, the connection between the Lees' and the Hereford has remained strong.

The youngest members of the family represent the sixth generation of the family, and both Duncan and George have children that plan on taking over their farms when they retire.

As for the wider family, even those who have moved away, a large number keep Hereford herds, even if farming isn't their primary method of employment.

"The family is really dedicated to the breed, and the breed has been good to us for 100 years now," Duncan said. "The community of producers who deal with Hereford stock functions a lot like one big family, which is a nice part of all this."

The Lees' commitment to the breed is such that the family has representatives at several levels within the CHA, strengthening their close connection to the breed, as well as the wider community of producers also involved with the Hereford.