November 5, 2018
Don Pochylko, born in 1938, was the son of a Polish immigrant who landed on Canadian soil on June 6, 1929 with just a one hundred dollar bill in his pocket. After renting several farms Steve Pochylko purchased the long standing family homestead in 1945, boasting a commercial cow herd of 100 cows and a moderate feedlot for the time of 400 head.
When Don Pochylko was just 22 years old, he established SANDAN Charolais Farms with his wife Sandra. They started a dynasty in a breed of cattle that was uncharted in North America.
Back in 1961, Don and his brother Andy operated a small feed lot and a small herd of commercial cows. That fall, Don purchased five half-blood Charolais bred cows for $285 each and decided to get into the Charolais business, with limited funds and a very nervous banker.
That same year, Don was a founding director of the Alberta Charolais Association and remained a director until 1983. He was also President 1975/76. He volunteered thousands of hours, especially in the early years as they were inventing the Association.
The 1962 calves convinced Don to eliminate the commercials and go “Charolais all the way.” His bull calves in 1964 grossed $12,000 and he was launched and hooked.
The following year they succeeded in getting two import permits and that got them in on the ground floor of the first importation of French Charolais. Don selected a female and a young bull “Aiglon.” His first calf, Aiglon Jr., sold for $19,000 and 8 months later resold for $100,000! Aiglon Jr. then went on to be the most successful bull on the U.S. show circuit. That was 1967. In 1968 the sale of an Aiglon daughter for $42,000.00 set a Canadian record at the World Sale in Calgary.
A little earlier they had dealt a half-interest in Aiglon to the Michaelis ranch in Texas in exchange for 16 purebred Charolais females. In 1969, they purchased 12 Michaelis purebred females from the Louis Coq herd in Mexico. “It was the only way to get females.” Don Explained. “We wanted to broaden our genetic base and by getting a bloodline completely different from anything in Canada.”
In 1969 at the World Show in Calgary, six head were sold for $128,000.00. This was the start of the most exciting and profitable 10-15 year period in the history of the cattle industry in North America, and perhaps the world. SANDAN was in the big leagues, Don was taking a leadership role and he knew how to make the best of it. This was also the year Cabotin was added as the next herd sire to breed the Aiglon females. Jaguar would be the next.
In an article by Journalist Don Sylvester in 1972 Don was quoted, “The goal I’ve got in mind is to produce a superior product to anyone else in the Charolais business in the world. Through progeny testing and selection I think this can be achieved.”
Annual open houses started at the farm in 1970 attracting over 400 visitors annually. They involved touring the cow herd as well as the best of the best show cattle on display. Races for the kids, pillow fights for the adults and of course beef and refreshments. The event evolved into the place where the Alberta Charolais junior show took place as well.
SANDAN attended up to ten shows in the summer months in Alberta and Saskatchewan as well as Vancouver PNE. In the fall there was Calgary Round UP, Edmonton Farm Fair, and Agribition. Sandra was very talented at fixing the tails into the perfect ball for show. Don, Dan, Duane and Pat Dinsmore all were astute with a show stick as well as Ken Cox and many other individuals too numerous to mention helped the highly successful show cattle. Don continued showing cattle into the 1990’s.
In 1975, Ken Cox wrote “The very important Breeders Herd class, has been won 42 out of 43 times shown, under approximately (30) thirty different judges in the last few years.”
Annual production sales began the first Sunday in December of 1974 in the newly built state of the art facility dubbed the “cowplex.” The 6000 sq ft sales arena boasted an in-floor hot water heated veterinary area of 1600 sq ft, as well as an upper floor with fully equipped kitchen and recreation area used for meal preparation. Don always cooked the beef because it “has to be the best in the world.” Don also believed “the beef tastes better if the booze is free.” Over the years cattle were sold to 28 states, 6 Provinces and New Zealand.
In 1975 Don bought Poker King Jr. and set out to ‘modernize’ the breed. The bull was twice champion in Agribition and Denver Stock show 1975-76. Poker King Junior was also Grand Champion at the Calgary Stampede at 14 months of age.
The late seventies and early eighties saw the addition of Metric, Superstuff, Expectation and more herd sires. The SANDAN show string continued to dominate the show road. The production sales continued to set high sale averages in North America usually of all breeds.
Over the years, Don and Sandra hosted and entertained delegates/trade missions and visitors from France, Switzerland, Denmark, England, Ireland, Spain, Russia, South Africa, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, China, Japan, and the United States. Many of these tours were sponsored by Agriculture Canada and Alberta Agriculture. As well many Student and 4-H groups toured the farm.
Don was the main speaker at “All Breeds Seminars” in Fournier, Ontario 1975, Brandon, Manitoba 1978 and Olds College 1980-1983. Topics covered in live presentation were line and interbreeding, structural soundness, rib eye ultrasound, fertility, performance, type, walking ability, hoof trimming, cattle clipping and grooming. Don’s expertise in genetics came from studying under some of the top beef scientists in the world; Dr.’s Bonsma, LaCroncey and Airey.
In the dedication department, Don had few equals. When he caught the “Charolais fever” he caught it for a lifetime. Sure the colour has ranged all the way from white through red to black, but it was always Charolais. The shape has changed from short and thick to tall and lean and back to middle. Don was either instrumental in many of the changes or anticipated them early and led the way.
Don had a great eye for cattle of any breed, judging the 1980 national Limousine show, the 1982 Red Deer Simmental show and the 1985 Agribition Hereford show. He also judged nine major USA Charolais shows and the 1982 New Zealand National Charolais show. Don never had any blinders on when it came to cattle and the cattle industry and because of that the industry has been better off for his open-minded input.
SANDAN placed a full page ad in the Charolais Banner every month from inception in 1966 until 1986. Sandra spent hours each month preparing for the next issue. When the Charolais Banner wasn’t up to industry standards Don convinced a group of breeders to purchase it. Once the Banner was thriving it was sold to a group of young employees.
The eighties saw Don and Sandra enter the steak house business with Don and Sylvia Peters, calling their dining establishent the “Town Pump” in Stettler. This was one of Don’s dreams come true.
The herd was dispersed in 1985 due to Don’s health, but six open females remained. Don began the sales management business and started buying more cattle. He founded the Red Bonanza Sale in 1987 which was an all red or black Charolais sale held annually in Red Deer.
In 1996, the entire operation was sold to a young Swiss couple Gorges and Ursula Corpataux, who carry the SANDAN name to this day.
In 2003 Don, Sandra, Dan and Duane received the Canadian Charolais Association Roll of Honor Award for their contribution to the development of the breed.
Up to his passing, Don shared with everyone his knowledge of the cattle business and mentored many breeders. As recent as the summer of 2018, Don had a letter to the editor published in “Today’s Angus Advantage.” The article is about the importance of line breeding in the purebred business. A small excerpt reads, “Line breeding or interbreeding concentrates on particular family lines within a cattle group it is probably the most misunderstood and ignored practice in the cattle business.”
The SANDAN herd was the envy of every Charolais breeder worldwide, both in the pasture and on the show road. Don was the builder of the great white breed of cattle, leaving a history to never be duplicated.
The preceding is a compilation of those who have written about Don over the years.
Donald Paul Pochylko is survived by sons: Daniel (Kim) Pochylko of Red Deer and Duane (Bernie) Pochylko of Saskatoon; grandchildren: Teri-Lee (Reid) of Calgary, Kristi (Dustin) of Unity, Drew and Chase of Saskatoon; great-granddaughter Leighton of Unity; first wife Sondrh B. Lea of Mesa, AZ; brother William Pochylko of Stettler; sisters-in-law Evelyn Pochylko of Red Deer and Judy (Jack) Dinsmore of Donalda; nieces, nephewsm other family and friends.
Funeral services wrere held on September 7, 2018 at 2 p.m. at Stettler Funeral Home. Mdmorial donations to the Alberta Heart and Stroke Foundation.