Steer stars: P.E.I. family prepares for this year's Easter Beef Show and Sale

Barns across P.E.I. are abuzz with activity this week as beef producers prepare their best-looking steers for the 2018 Easter Beef Show and Sale, the 67th year for the event.

MacQuarrie family took home grand champion honours in 2017

Red gets a wash and blow dry at the MacQuarrie farm in preparation for the Easter Beef Show this week. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Barns across P.E.I. are abuzz with activity this week as beef producers prepare their best-looking steers for the 2018 Easter Beef Show and Sale, the 67th year for the event.

The MacQuarrie family of Winsloe, P.E.I., took home the grand champion honours last year after more than a decade competing in the show.

"It takes a lot of time, these boys here have been working at them steers for the last two months pretty well every night, three or four hours every night so the last couple of months they've been at it steady," said Myron MacQuarrie.

"They clip them and wash them and rinse them and blow them out every day to get their hair going good." 

It is a fair amount of pressure — I'm used to it now but you've got all eyes on you.— Colby MacQuarrie

The first step in the process is selecting a young animal that they think could become a winner. The entries have to be in by December, then each animal receives a special Easter beef tag. 

"We look for different things, like the type of the animal, the width of their backs, length of them, if they're a good-looking animal," MacQuarrie said.

A steer named Carl

Last year's grand champion was a steer named Carl, shown by Mryon's son Colby, 26.

The MacQuarries, right, celebrate their big win with the Grand Champion steer Carl in 2017. (PEI Easter Beef Show & Sale Inc./Facebook)

"It depends on the judge and what he's looking for, but he was a good steer and the judge liked him," MacQuarrie said.

The younger MacQuarrie was the one in the ring with the grand champion, completing a dream that started when he showed for the first time at the age of 12.

"It is a fair amount of pressure — I'm used to it now but you've got all eyes on you," said Colby MacQuarrie.

"I like to do well for my father, he set me up doing this so I like to impress him."

'The big slap'

The MacQuarries came close in 2015 with the runner-up, the reserve grand champion.

The steers are washed and clipped and brushed for months leading up to the show. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"It doesn't come easy but you've got to keep trying," said Myron MacQuarrie. 

"The judge walks around and looks at them all, he goes around and checks out the champions, then he makes his decision," said Colby MacQuarrie.

"It's quite a feeling when he comes up and gives you the big slap," that indicates he's chosen the winner, he said. 

'A lot of feed'

Raising a winning steer takes time and deep pockets.

Lucky is one of four steers that the MacQuarries will have at the show this year — he already weighs more than 1,400 pounds. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"It takes a lot of feed to get them where they are today," said MacQuarrie.

Each of the MacQuarrie's four entries is now getting 40 kilograms of feed per day to fatten them up for the show — adding up to an extra cost of about $1,000 per animal.

Most of the steers are 13 to 14 months old, and most will weigh between 1,100 and 1,400 pounds. Last year's grand reserve champion was 1,325 pounds.

The payoff for all the hard work comes Friday, the day of the sale. The highest price last year was $7.35 per pound.

"You're always wondering, you're hoping to do well, you can't really do it without the buyers," Colby MacQuarrie said. "You have to have buyers there to get the price up."

First-time competitor

 This year, Colby's son Ben, 9, has been getting his own steer ready for the show.

Ben MacQuarrie, 9, has been training his own steer for this year's show. (Submitted by Colby MacQuarrie)

"There's quite a story behind Lucky, he was out on the road and got hit and we thought we were going to lose him but he came back pretty good," said Colby MacQuarrie.

"This is Ben's first year, he's a little nervous but I think he'll be okay."

As for this year's chances, the MacQuarries admit a repeat would be nice.

"I wouldn't mind at all, that'll be up to the judge though I guess," said Myron MacQuarrie.

The MacQuarries have been buying at the Easter Beef Show and Sale since it started. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

The MacQuarries have another connection to the show and sale, too — the family has been purchasing animals at the event for decades for the family business, MacQuarrie Meats.

"My father used to buy at it and we've been buying at it ever since it started," said Myron MacQuarrie.

"It's good for the farmers and it advertises the Island beef pretty good and we always supported it."

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About the Author

Nancy Russell

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water rowing, travelling to Kenya or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca