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‘They are part of my heart:’ Family cattle business built on hard work and love

WATCH ABOVE: Buyers from around the world are in Edmonton this weekend for Farmfair International. Morgan Black showcases one family's cattle business.

Kailey Wirsta has been a member of her family’s central Alberta cattle business since before she was six years old.

“[My earliest memory of the farm] is forking hay for all the cows with my sister. We’d push up all the hay because we were too young to cut twine with our dad. We’d be sitting there on the bails with the dogs and cats waiting for our dad to come back,” Kailey said.

Now at age 17, she’s preparing to take over K-Cow Ranch in Elk Point from her dad, Kevin and mom, Janice.

“Once I’m done my post-secondary education, I plan to grow my herd and expand… improve what we already have,” she said.

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The prospect of inheriting 260 cattle could seem overwhelming for some young adults, but for Kailey, it’s something she’s been preparing for her whole life.

“It’s a business. Lots of kids in this barn are nine and starting their herds,” Kaily said. “I got my first cow when I was one. She was born on my birthday, so mom and dad gave her to me. That’s part of how my herd started.”

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Yellow, red and purple tags distinguish which cow belongs to which family member. That includes the youngest Wirsta, 15-year-old Lexi.

“It’s very exciting. I’m very proud of my daughters. They are taking over what we feel very dear to us and what we like doing,” Kevin Wirsta said. “With them coming in [to take over the family business] and liking what we do, it’s very rewarding.”
Kailey Wirsta stands by her cattle at Farmfair International in November, 2019
Kailey Wirsta stands by her cattle at Farmfair International in November, 2019 Morgan Black/Global News

The family breeds three varieties of cattle: Angus, Charolais and Hereford. Some of those cows are brought to Farmfair International — one of Canada’s top agricultural shows where international guests come to the Edmonton region to showcase livestock. Kevin admits it can be a challenge to breed all three types, but the payoff is worth it.

“We get the best of the international market,” he said. “We hosted a tour at our [farm] last Monday. It gives you that opportunity to meet and socialize with guests within the breed that’s doing business with you. One year we had 100 embryos shipped to Russia, just because we were here at Farmfair.”

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The family’s hard work is also being recognized by their own community, as they were recently named recipients of a BMO Farm Family Award.

“We do a lot of volunteering. We are big in the 4-H program, we’ve been involved in that for many years. We’re teaching our kids to volunteer and be a part of the community,” Kevin said.

“We are very respectful to the land that we produce. This gives us a great opportunity to feed the world. [Farmfair International] is a prime example of how we do things.”

The care and attention the Wirsta family provides to their animals is a testament to their dedication to farming.

“We take pride in presenting them to the world. We look after these cattle very well and they are very special to our hearts,” Kevin said.

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That means when the cattle go to events like Farmfair, they get the royal treatment before their trip.

READ MORE: Edmonton’s Farmfair International happy with 2018 event despite predicted drop in attendance

“You start with washing them. Then you bring them back to the stall and you blow-dry them, get their hair going in a nice direction, a nice flow. Then you put in a styling spray, to give them some sheen and shine,” Kevin explained.

“I can relate it back to what we do [as people]. On Sunday, we go to church or to a wedding and we always doll ourselves up. If I’m bringing cattle to the public and I’m displaying them, I want them to look the best they can.”

As for the emotional attachment, the heart of the business runs in the family.

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“[I won’t sell these cattle]. I’ll definitely keep these girls. They are part of my heart. I could never part with them,” Kailey said.