The Speckle Park breed is a Canadian success story and a source of pride for its home province of Saskatchewan.
A funny thing about Canadians, though—whether it’s actors, musicians, authors, doctors, or in this case cattle—Canadians can’t believe they’ve got something good until it gets noticed in another country.
The success of Speckle Park cattle in Australia has shown the Canadian beef industry, as well as domestic consumers, that this gentle, pretty cow has the potential to become a major force in the beef world.
Dale Herbert of Neilburg, Saskatchewan remembers when Bill Lamont asked her and her husband John to winter his 15 cows in 1980, long before the breed was recognized. The 15 cows produced 16 calves, the best calving season Dale had ever seen. She was impressed with the Speckle Parks’ potential.
When a breed association was formed in 1993, John was the first president and Dale the registrar. In ten years the number of cattle grew to the point where Dale thought it best to hand over the registry to Canadian Livestock Records Corporation (CLRC).
“Ron Black from Agriculture Canada came out to meet with us and he asked us who was doing our registry. The board members said well we did our own, and I was the registrar,” she recalls.
“And he said, ‘oh my goodness, you're getting a lot of numbers there to be looking after it yourself.’ So he suggested it was time that maybe CLRC took over the registry, which they did in 2004.
“And then I just stayed on as CEO until 2006 when we became recognized as a distinct breed. I thought I was a good time to step down. We got to the stage we had been aiming at, so it was a good time to let someone else take over,” she said.
Because of the cattle’s size and temperament, they were a hit with young people raising them as 4-H projects. And while show judges seemed at first to ignore the different-looking animals in the ring, there was no mistaking the consistently high quality of their meat.
Dale said her Speckle Park steaks were hands-down “steak challenge” winners at the Camrose Bull Congress shows in Camrose, Alberta for several years.
Gary Kiziak raises the cattle on his operation near Ardrossan, Alberta, not far east of Edmonton.
Before the breed was recognized in 2006, he says, “we were laughed at” by breeders of other purebreds.
Breed status changed the game for Kiziak and set the stage for him to start selling genetics to Australia. He recalls going home after a Charolais International show in Edmonton where there had been people from Australia and Ireland in attendance
While he and his son were cleaning out their truck, their phone rang displaying an Australia phone number. But Kiziak didn’t answer, dismissing the interest as just tire-kicking. After three calls, his son persuaded him to answer.
They arranged a time for the callers to come out and have a look at the herd. They talked a bit about embryos, and Kiziak said he became more interested.
A month later, “I got two calls the same day,” he said. “One was from the Irish people saying, ‘hey, can we do some business now?’
“This is for real now. And then all of a sudden the phone rang again. It was Greg Ebbeck from Australia, and that same conversation took place. So that was our start.”
There remains a steady trade of embryos and genetics between Canada and Australia, and by most accounts the Australian herd is bigger than Canada’s. While the breed may be Canada’s gift to the beef world, Australia is playing a huge part in its spread.
“I believe the breed has grown with leaps and bounds. Brazil will be the next hot spot, there's cattle on the ground in Brazil right now,” Kiziak said. “And the fellow who got the cattle on the ground in Brazil is an Australian from Wattle Grove. The hundreds of thousands of dollars that he's put into getting these cattle into Brazil, it’s phenomenal.”
Among the Speckle Park’s many attributes is its tolerance for extreme temperatures. They thrive as well in Australia’s heat as they do in Canada’s cold.
Far from Dale Herbert’s experience of seeing Speckle Parks ignored in the 4-H show ring, or Gary Kiziak saying they used to be laughed at, Canadian Speckle Park Association (CSPA) president Janice Harasymchuk says they are now a mainstream breed with enormous potential.
It’s not just the growing recognition, she says, but the way the herd has developed over the generations.
“It's phenomenal the changes that have been made. This breed is progressing very, very fast and has become mainstream,” Harasymchuk said. “When you go to a show, probably 75 to 80 per cent of the people that come internationally are coming to see the Speckle Park breed. It is that popular worldwide.”
Not long ago, she said, you would find maybe two good yearling bulls in a show ring. Now it’s not uncommon to see five or six. “The animals are just continuing to get better and better and better, and in a very short time. The breeders are doing a very good job and so is the association,” she said.
The breed is being introduced into new countries every year. A group within CSPA is selling embryos and semen in Argentina, and has just sold an animal to Germany. In the meantime they are cooperating with international groups like breed associations in Australia, New Zealand, the USA and elsewhere, Speckle Park International, and the American Pet Institute to share data.
“I’m super excited about this breed and what it can do,” Harasymchuk said. “Our goal as an association, besides working with other associations, is to make it a viable option for commercial breeders and to get it into as many places as we can.”
The CSPA, which had been run almost completely by volunteers, now has office space and staff. The association’s growth reflects not only the success of the breed but the growing needs of an expanding membership.
And so the Speckle Park is indeed a typical Canadian success story—ignored at home until it is celebrated abroad. But Harasymchuk says the Canadian beef sector will always see the Speckle Park as their contribution to the global beef industry.
“I would hope that it would, because it was established here,” she said. “But that being said, we do need the other countries too. We don’t want to take all the glory, I think we can share that.”