Wednesday, 10 August 2016 11:19

Del Bonita family earns Farm Family accolades for Cardston County

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The Gruninger Family were the BMO Farm Family winners representing Cardston County at this year’s Calgary Stampede. The Gruninger Family were the BMO Farm Family winners representing Cardston County at this year’s Calgary Stampede. Photo courtesy ShowChampions

Albert and Shirley Gruninger farm and ranch two miles west of Del Bonita, in southern Alberta.
Albert came to the area with his family in 1950 and married Shirley in 1963.
The consolidation of several small operations into a few larger ones has made a significant change in the area.
“Our community has really gotten little,” Shirley says. “We used to have 90 post office boxes out here. Now, we’re lucky if we have 30.”
Still operating on the same land more than 60 years after their wedding, the Gruningers are the BMO Farm Family of the Year for 2016 representing Cardston County.

According to Shirley, the Gruningers came from Germany in the mid-1920s. Some of the family settled near Warburg, in Central Alberta, but Albert’s father rapidly grew weary of clearing brush and moved down to the Magrath area soon after.
Albert came to Del Bonita with his mother and brother, Julius, and worked with them until they passed away.
Today, along with their son Justin, the Gruningers have a 350-head cow/calf operation on 1,800 acres of pasture, and another 1,200 acres of cropland.
Raising wheat, barley and oats in a no-till operation, the disposition of the crops is changing. While the wheat is a cash crop — “if we ever get it out of the bins,” Shirley says — the oats and barley are being used by the operation itself.
“We’re getting so many cows that we need it for green feed and we’re starting to swath graze,” she explains.
No-till and continuous cropping have made a difference to the Gruninger operation.
“We’re at a very high elevation here,” Shirley says, noting they had a 10-inch snowfall in early May. “Mother Nature’s our irrigation. We summer-fallowed until six or seven years ago. Out in this country, it blows like crazy. We have a lot of gravel out here, so all we’d have left would be rocks. We used to have to stay home all summer and summer-fallow. Now we don’t.”
The Gruninger cow herd is mainly Red Angus commercial cows which they breed to Charolais bulls.
“They have yellow calves and we find they turn out well. We’ve been doing it for quite some time now.”
Before they went to the Angus/Charolais cross. Shirley says, “We used to have every colour cow there was and our auctioneer would laugh at us because we had all these different breeds.”
Albert and Shirley still live on the ranch, but the other principle operator, their son Justin, commutes.
“Justin and his wife moved to Magrath,” Shirley says. “They had four kids and they were going in four different directions. Justin decided he’d rather drive out to work than have Billie Jo on the road with the kids.”
The grandchildren do, however, help out frequently on the ranch. Justin’s two sisters also live off the ranch, but their families are still involved in agriculture one way or another.
“I guess it wasn’t too bad around here,” Shirley quips.
The Gruningers have also been very involved with their community. Albert was a 4-H leader and was a volunteer with the fire department and the athletic association. Both he and Shirley also volunteered at the Del Bonita Hall.
“We’ve been into quite a few things,” Shirley says. “It’s been a good community. The ones that are left, if you want to keep anything going, you have to do it.”

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