Nov. 5, 1938 – Sept. 2, 2018
Don Pochylko, Stettler, in his own brusque and boisterous way, was the leader of the Charolais breed for the better part of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Don, 79, died September 2, 2018.
While other breeders worked to top a $4,000 sale average, Don’s SanDan Charolais (named for wife SANdra and first son DANny) productions cleared $8,000. He was a top-notch marketer, promoter, breeder, and Charolais ambassador. Occasionally, SanDan’s sales featured diamond ring giveaways to buyers of high sellers.
Knowing that a tossed magazine can easily land back-cover up, Don bought that spot in the Charolais Banner for a decade. His ad, always noticed and always debated, promoted his cattle into the Charolais forefront. But Don added to that. He attended Charolais events and sales throughout western Canada – meeting people, selling the breed, and selling his cattle.
Don also sold beef. In 1989 at a Charolais banquet at Agribition in Regina, he first bawled out the chef, then chased him back into the kitchen. The transgression? The chef was carving the hip of beef “with the grain” instead of against it. “Who wants stringy beef?” Don asked. He then found an apron, gave the hip half a turn, grabbed the knife, and proceeded to carve beef for the next 30 minutes. Properly cut, the beef fell apart nicely on the plate – and on the palate.
His feisty personality served the early days of the Canadian Charolais industry well. The Charolais history book, “White Gold,” tells of a March 1971 Ballroom Sale held at The Winnipeg Inn. In order to enter the ballroom, the cattle had to come up through a freight elevator and walk through the kitchen. Don was on the halter leading the way, walking a bull past the stoves. He even commented to the bemused chef, “Here are your steaks Papa!”
An accompanying photo showed Don, complete with Elvis-style sideburns, in the crowded kitchen milling around with the white cattle.
Actually, Don was rarely without a comment. At Charolais meetings, his lyrical speaking style, emphasizing individual words, his cadence speeding up then slowing down, could turn a roomful of breeders towards his opinion. His pronouncements had the betterment of the fledgling breed at heart.
Don knew he was leader. When he would bid on cattle in the auction ring, other bidders joined in knowing Don had spotted a good one. Their bids would drive the price higher. Don would then disguise his intentions to passive action: “If my feet are crossed, I’m bidding – if they’re not, I’m out” he told a ringman.
Often, the bidders focused on the bloodlines or the progeny of Poker King Jr., Don’s industry-leading Charolais bull. From about ’80 to ’85 Charolais breeders couldn’t get enough of the highly promoted bull. Many suggested Don rode the wave of the bull’s popularity. The more astute knew that Don created that marketing wave.
In his later years, now retired to Red Deer, Don was still involved with the purebred cattle business. He cooked up beef in big ovens, and catered events and sales. He suffered a stroke several years ago, which slowed him, but did not diminish his spirit. He was often on the phone giving opinions or gathering them.
Don was successful by many standards in the beef business. His Stettler funeral attracted hundreds from western Canada. He had no magic formula for his success. One of Don’s favourite sayings was “the harder I work, the luckier I get.”
But more importantly, he helped others along the way. “I’ll say this – a lot of people learned a lot of things off Don,” said Hazel George, a former Alberta Charolais secretary and fellow breeder at Airdrie. Don’s “rising tide” lifted all Charolais boats, she added.
To those he knew, Don accepted the nickname of “Pooch.” Like a lovable dog, he was there for his friends – which included a large section of Charolais cattlemen. They were always stronger and more courageous with him on their side.
Don passed away while leaning against a fence looking at calves and chatting about them at a friend’s place near Innisfail.
– by Mark Kihn, Calgary. Mark was with the Charolais Banner magazine for 11 years, 1982- 1993, including many as managing editor.