From Switzerland to Canada … for the love of farming

Alberta is a long way from Switzerland, but for Erskine’s Ursula Corpataux, it was the place she knew — even from a young age

Alberta is a long way from Switzerland, but for Erskine’s Ursula Corpataux, it was the place she knew — even from a young age — that she always wanted to reside.

Corpataux recalled that when she was in Grade 5 in Switzerland, the teacher’s assignment was for the students to write what they saw themselves doing in the year 2000. Corpataux’s answer was — farming in Alberta.

Corpataux said to buy a farm in Switzerland was “pretty much out of the question.”

A limited amount of land was available, and what was, was too expensive.

She got her first glimpse of what Alberta was like in 1984, when she was on a 10-month agricultural exchange to Grimshaw in the Peace River country.

“I liked the wide-open space here — everything is more crowded in Switzerland,” Corpataux said.

Years later, in 1995, her dream was realized when she, along with husband George Corpataux and their two young daughters, Joy and Jill, made the move to Alberta. A son, Brian, arrived after their move to Alberta.

They had looked at various locations in central Alberta before purchasing San Dan Charolais Farm, southwest of Erskine, from Don Pochylko.

Ursula said the Stettler area appealed to them because the land was affordable. Land closer to Highway 2 was too expensive.

The San Dan operation consisted of four quarters of land and 50 head of purebred Charolais cows and 28 bred heifers.

“Don stayed for three years to help manage the purebred operation — he was good to us,” said Ursula Corpataux.

Ursula always had an interest in raising animals. As a youngster, she raised gerbils, then moved on to raising sheep and finally made enough money to purchase a horse when she was 13.

In Switzerland, her family raised dual-purpose Simmental cattle, and she always had an interest in the cattle. Her father encouraged her input in selecting sires for the breeding program.

“Breeding programs have always interested me,” Ursula said.

It was only fitting, when the opportunity arose, that the Corpatauxs purchased a purebred herd.

They have since built the herd up to include 180 to 200 head and have added another two quarters of land.

A bull sale is held each spring and a fall production sale to market females is held every second year. This year’s edition is set for Dec. 8 at the farm.

The purebred Charolais business has treated the Corpatauxs well.

“I can’t complain, we have built up a good commercial customer base and have lots of repeat buyers,” Ursula said.

“Our goal is to look after commercial customers — purebred sales are just icing on the cake.”

Operational duties are shared between the couple. Ursula manages the genetic side and marketing, while George is more comfortable with raising the crops and looking after the feed requirements.

In addition to the cattle, purebred Bernese mountain dogs are also being raised. Ursula said the native Swiss dogs are in high demand. All 11 puppies in the last litter were sold before they were even born.

Canada and Switzerland are worlds apart, in more ways than one.

“The weather is a bigger challenge than I thought it would be,” Ursula said of the move to Canada.

“You can be the best farmer — do everything right — and if it don’t rain, you get nothing.”

Ursula acknowledged farming is different between the two countries — maybe not better in one or the other, but different.

She said the subsidies the Swiss farmers receive give them more security, but their farming practices are highly regulated.

To the Swiss, Canada has the image of being the land of opportunity and choice, with lots of land and room.

“I do like the space — I don’t miss the mountains, at all,” said Ursula, but added with a laugh, “It could rain a little more.”

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