When Ranchers And McDonald’s Spend A Week Together, Amazing Things Happen!!

Many of us have enjoyed a Big Mac or Quarter Pounder with Cheese, but have you ever glimpsed at the business behind the burger? Have you ever wondered how the beef gets from farms and ranches into those juicy, beefy sandwiches? (Are burgers really sandwiches??)

This April, I had a rancher’s dream opportunity. A chance for a behind-the-scenes peek at McDonald’s business. An insider’s view into not only their corporate executive minds, but also a chance to speak with their restaurant owners – those with boots on the ground, literally selling the beef from my very ranch.

In theory, cattle ranchers and the burger giant McDonald’s should go together like peanut butter and jelly – but in reality, there is rarely a direct connection between retails and those who raise the beef that they are selling. As food producers, we have made a concerted effort in the past few years to connect with the people who consume our food, but have somehow skipped over those who are selling it.

Full disclosure, I have been a huge fan of the McDonald’s organization for many years now. They have treated Canadian beef producers in a way that no other end user ever has before. Beyond their commitment to serving Canadian grown food to Canadian people, McDonald’s has done so much more. In a world of fear based marketing, McDonald’s has risen above and embraced the primary producers of food. Their “Not Without Canadian Farmers” campaign has filled farmers and ranchers from across Canada with pride. So, when I was invited to Orlando to attend the McDonald’s World Wide convention, I didn’t just jump at the opportunity – I leapt.

 


The convention itself was a once in a lifetime experience. There were 15,000 people from all over the world registered. To put that into perspective, the population of people attending the conference was more than 23 times larger than Ituna, the town we ranch near. The conference population would have been in the top handful of largest cities in our entire province. It was BIG.


My purpose for attending this massive event was twofold. I would have opportunities throughout the week to meet and talk with McDonald’s executives, their greatest minds who keep the global wheels of their entire organization rolling. From supply chain to communications, I was to have the unique chance to share with them my thoughts on how to bridge the gap between beef producers and consumers. I was also going to spend time in the Sustainable Beef booth speaking with restaurant owners and corporate McDonald’s people about what sustainability means to my own ranch.


From the first session (which happened to feature a surprise performance by Pitbull), I had an entirely new appreciation for their commitment as an organization to sustainability. There, on a stage in front of thousands and thousands of people, global CEO Steve Easterbrook spoke of their Scale for Good commitment. As the largest restaurant company in the world, they saw that they could create positive change in a way that no one else could. They could make changes within their own restaurants, as well as within their supply chains, which could have ripple effects across the globe. He spoke of this with pride, as well as determination. It would not be an easy task, but it was a noble one.


It made me think back to when McDonald’s first launched their Sustainable Beef Pilot here at home. It was a ground breaking approach, for an end user to come to us, as an industry, and say “Here is our goal. Let’s work together to figure out the best way to get there.” By all accounts the project was a huge success, and has now transitioned to being a part of the Canadian Round Table for Sustainable Beef. There is also now the Canadian Beef Sustainability Acceleration Pilot with Cargill and partners like Verified Beef and BIXS, which brings the work that McDonald’s started even further along. All along, McDonald’s vision has not been about creating an elite brand of beef to market, it has been about helping beef producers learn from each other and to grow as an industry.

Being on the enourmous conference floor helped me see McDonald’s restaurant owners in an entirely new light. The scope of their business is not unlike that of a large farm. There were booths for drink dispensers, uniforms, print material, insurance, banking, cleaning supplies, and on and on and on. Chatting with many restaurant owners, it was a complete surprise to find that succession planning was just as big of an issue in their business as it is in my own.

Spending time one on one with those owners, also helped me see that they are as disconnected from food production as consumers are. It was absolutely fantastic to see just how excited each one was to hear directly from a beef producer, and to get a little glimpse into a cattle ranch. Cargill, who makes all of Canada’s patties for McDonald’s, had created an amazing 360 degree video showcasing beef production from ranch to feedlot to processing plant and through to patty plant. It was a huge eye opener for each person to see, and was incredibly fun for myself, to be able to guide them through the video with anecdotes from my own farm. Every single time that I introduced myself as Adrienne, a Cattle Rancher from Canada, I was met with the same huge smile and exclamation of “No way!! That’s amazing!!” It was heartwarming to see not only the excitement of people wanting to talk to ranchers, but also that McDonald’s saw this need, and wanted to make sure that as many people as possible had the opportunity to learn from us. Yes, learn FROM us, not talk down to us. It was so refreshing, just thinking about it now has me craving a Big Mac….

 

Corporate Executive VP, Francesca DeBiase believes in beef producers. She made me feel as though we are on the same team.

I was amazed with how much their corporate executives wanted to chat with us ranchers, and how much they valued our opinions. We sat down with many of their corporate staff to share our views on how we thought McDonald’s could continue to do business with beef producers. The idea that they not only wanted to bridge the gap between their beef producers and their customers, but wanted our opinions on how best to do that, gave me goose bumps. These people, including the Corporate Executive Vice President herself, Francesca DeBiase, as well as many other vice presidents, directors and managers of McDonald’s global business, deeply valued our boots on the ground experience.

 

Corporate VP, Sustainability Keith Kenny walked the trade show with me, highlighting Scale for Good sustainability projects.

From McDonald’s Canada’s CEO, Chief of Marketing VP and General Council VP, each were thrilled to meet and chat. I met a man  who works in their HO treasury branch. I asked him about how they hedge markets and peg currency to lower their risk. He was shocked and amazed to hear that farmers need to be experts in these areas as well, and that we, as producers, need to be constantly managing our exposure to markets. He had never thought of agriculture as that kind of business before. It was a great conversation.

It was a week that filled me with pride in the food I am producing, as well as excitement for the future of the beef industry. In my eyes, those golden arches are glowing pretty bright these days, in ways that this country girl would never have expected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#OurFoodHasAStory Post 13 A Day In My Ranch Life (Adrienne Ivey)

One of the most frequent questions I am asked as a rancher is, “What do you do in an average day?”. This is also the hardest question I am ever asked. You see, every day is sooooooo different for me! And I don’t just mean seasonally. Of course a normal day is different for every farmer in seeding vs harvest, or in calving vs weaning. But because I am the secondary rancher here, some days I do ranch work. Some days I am more of a stay at home mom. Some days I feel like I am a professional organizer of randomness.  Any given day is a total spin of the roulette wheel. So today I decided to track my day, and give each of you a real glimpse into my life.

(6:30am) Alarm goes off. I immediately grumble – no morning person here! I wake the kids and chat with hubby. Once they are fed and clean and off to school, I feel like my real day has begun. (9:00am) I spend some time on email and social media, concentrating on #OurFoodHasAStory posts.

(10:00am) Phone call with a reporter from the Tisdale Recorder. We chat about Ag Month, being an agvocate, and how Tisdale’s old slogan Land of Rape and Honey started me down the path of talking about agriculture.

 

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10:30am – I bundle up because we are moving one of the herds of cattle a few miles onto some rented stubble land (land that has been combined, but we send cattle out to graze the slough grass and fencelines. This is like upcycling, because it would otherwise be wasted.). As I head out, I peek at the weather. -3C. That is freaking cold with a bare face, going full speed down a road on a quad with no windshield.
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10:40 – I fill up my ranch pony with fuel. I’ve learned to never trust a fuel gauge on the farm… the hard way

 

 

 

 

11:00am – We head out down the back roads. It. Is. Freaking. Cold. Unlike the other guys on the ranch, who work outside everyday, I have not developed my winter skin yet. Ok, who am I kidding, I never do. -3 bombing down the road, I can only imagine what the wind chill is. Too much for a big wimp like me, this early in the year.

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11:10am – We stop and formulate a plan. “We” is a loose term. More accurately, I wait patiently to be told what the plan is. My memory (or lack thereof) for gate placement and paddock shape means I am more of a point and shoot type of helper. I’m the digital camera of ranch help.

 

 

​We move cattle a lot. A normal cattle move is like a well oiled machine… and then there are “Those” days. This was one of those days. After an hour of trying to get the cows and calves moving, we needed to stop, regroup, and start all over again. These experienced girls were convinced that they needed to go east. They were adamant. 600 head of stubborn bovines can be frustratingly hard to convince they are wrong. “The Plan” was to go west.

​Eventually those stubborn ladies got on board with the boys plan. In the end, I kind of thought they were right – we should have gone out the other gate, but shhhhh… don’t tell the guys!

(2:00pm) I got back into the house (even colder due to the fact I dropped a glove somewhere on the move. The throttle hand glove, of course), just in time to take another call from a reporter. This one from the Estevan Mercury. Again, we chatted Ag Month, agvocacy and blogging. I love taking the chance to brag that we are the only province that doesn’t just have a day dedicated to agriculture, not just a week, but an entire month to show just how much Ag means to Saskatchewan. (2:30pm) I then spent some time planning a minor hockey overnight weekend. Complete with the all important parent hospitality room, of course.

I spent some time digging in the fridge planning what to feed child #2 in between school and hockey, as I was going to be busy driving child #1 to her daily riding lesson (4:00pm). When we finally got home from the barn (6:30pm), I fed child #1, and finished planning the hockey weekend for child #2’s hockey team.

And now, as I sit here writing this post (9:30pm), with a GIANT glass of wine, I am realizing exactly why I find it so hard to explain to people just what it is I do. Am I a rancher? Am I a stay at home mom? Am I a blogger? A communicator? I am all of these things. In the same day.

I guess when it comes down to it, that IS my food story. Balance. My food story is cool and eccentric. It is varied and full. My food story includes raising beef, feeding it to my family, and speaking to the masses about it. My food story is so fulfilling. Thank you for sharing in it with me.

 

 

 

#OurFoodHasAStory Post 2 Kylie McRea 

My first guest blog post was written by a good friend of mine, Kylie McRea. Kylie and Darren Ippolitto have been a huge part of our ranch success, as we buy the majority of our bulls from them. Their genetics, as well as their experience and wisdom have helped us improve our cattle herd year over year. As a new mother, I was looking forward to reading Kylie’s food story. Enjoy!!

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Thank you Adrienne for the opportunity to submit a blog post in celebration of “Saskatchewan’s Agriculture Month”.

My name is Kylie McRae, and I am part of the team at Moose Creek Red Angus {check them out here!}, a family run purebred and commercial Red Angus cattle operation at Kisbey, Saskatchewan.  

How lucky can a gal get… to be a part of Saskatchewan’s Agriculture industry. On a daily basis I get to work outside on the land, take care of animals, work with family, grow food for my family, and now I get the opportunity to raise our son Kord here on the ranch. 

 Kord was lucky enough to be born at the beginning of our calving season, February 21st. With this being our first child, it was suitable that I was giving birth in sync with the heifers (first time calvers). So from an early age he has been helping me on the ranch, everything from checking calves, bedding barns and feeding cows (those Ergo baby carriers sure are handy) because let’s face it, there is always work to be done. I think that exposing him to different types of animals, hay and other farm smells at a young age will reduce his risk of major allergies to pets, dust, hay etc. as he gets older.  

Kord is the lucky one now. He gets to grow up on a ranch; surrounded by his family, pets, livestock, friends and Mother Nature. I will be able to tell him to “get outside” and not have to worry about him staying in a fenced yard, or strangers… although I may have to put a sign in our yard to slow traffic down… but regardless growing up in the country is definitely a blessing. 

 I was lucky enough to grow up on a farm, and I am thankful that my parents chose to raise me there along with my siblings. The family values it instilled, lessons in teamwork, and close relationships we were able to form with grandparents and extended family was something I am truly grateful for.  

There is a strong sense of pride growing your own food, and you gain extra satisfaction at every meal. We are lucky to have a freezer full of beef and pork we raised, chicken from our neighbour, and fish from a northern fisherman. The beef may or may not have had added growth hormones, and maybe at some point it had to be treated with antibiotics for an ailment, but it really doesn’t matter to me. The food safety standards of Canadian beef assure me that by the time these animals are butchered, they are safe to eat. It is safe because the proper length of time has passed for the withdrawal periods, meaning any added hormones or antibiotics have long since left the animal’s system, so you are not eating them in your meat. All the fear marketing occurring these days is really just fear mongering without any science to substantiate claims. I ate beef all throughout my pregnancy, and I had a healthy happy pregnancy. The first meat Kord has tried, now that he is eating solids, was roast beef. Healthy, nutritious and safe to eat, Canadian beef is my protein of choice! Tonight for supper Kord got to eat a variety of foods raised right here on the ranch, beef, apples and beans! Now that is food with a story. #OurFoodHasAStory


 Supper for 7 month old Kord, made with homegrown beef, beans and applesauce from our ranch. #OurFoodHasAStory


 Kord enjoying his supper made from food all grown here on the ranch. #LoveCDNBeef #EatBeef #nomnom  

             

Easy Peasy Tomato Sauce

If there is one thing that I cannot live without in my freezer (besides beef, of course!), it is my homemade tomato sauce. This recipe is the base for the vast majority of my ground beef recipes. 

Also, it is super easy. Because when it comes to big batch cooking, I am super lazy. And I hate canning. So it needs to be easy, delicious, and freezable. Another bonus – it uses up all the questionable (but pre-moldy) veggies in my fridge that I probably wouldn’t use otherwise. Oh, and the other best part of this recipe? No recipe! I have never once measured what I put in. And it has never failed. Yet. 

Every fall, I make a half a dozen batches of this sauce as my garden tomatoes ripen. I use Roma style tomatoes, because they are less juicy and more meaty, so you don’t have to boil down your sauce for as long, and their sugar content will give you a better tasting sauce. 

Here is what is (very approximately) in my pot today:

  • 12 cups tomatoes
  • 2 cups carrots
  • 2 onions
  • 2 cups red pepper
  • 6 gloves garlic
  • Handful of mushrooms

Other than the mushrooms, this is the standard base. If I didn’t have these things on hand, I would go and buy them. Other veggies I may add include:

  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Zucchini 
  • Spicy peppers
  • Kohlrabi 
  • Whatever else cranks your fancy


I chop everything up and throw it in a stock pot. Under medium-low, I bring it to a boil and let it simmer for a couple hours. 


Once it is all smushy, and even the hardest veggie (usually carrots) are soft, transfer to your blender. Yep. Blender. None of those hand crank torture devices known as tomato presses. They suck. And you lose all the really good-for-you fibre in the veggies. And they make a mess. And I am lazy. 

Blend on high for a few minutes until there is not a chunk to be seen. Because eeww, chunks. 


Put back in a pot and add a 1/4 cup or so of Italian spices. I also add my favourite garlic mix, Johnny’s. Add salt, pepper, and a few table spoons of sugar. 

If your tomatos are on the watery side, you may need to low boil until you reach a good consistency. 

Cool, freeze in baggies, and you are done! 

Now you are prepped to make hamburger soup, lasagne, spaghetti and meat sauce, and on and on. 

Enjoy!! 

Environment Canada’s Devisive Take On Farming

Environment Canada recently tweeted a link in honour of World Food Day. It seemed like a nice thing to do, they even said “Thanks Farmers” which seemed sweet. Sweet enough that I was shocked and dismayed when I followed the link to read the tips suggested on how to keep our planet healthy and productive. Two of their suggestions specifically were a slap in the face to the many farmers who not only work extremely hard to raise food for Canadians to eat, but also fund Environment Canada through their taxes. 

I was upset enough to not only tweet them, but also wrote them the email below. If this upsets you too, feel free to do the same. Their contact info is here

Dear Environment Canada,
I recently followed a link you recommended on Twitter regarding how we can each do our part to “keep the planet healthy and productive”. 

 
As a hardworking farmer, as well as a tax payer who funds your department, I was shocked at the misinformation that your link propagates. Specifically there are two points that I must dispute. 

1) Buy Organic 
There are many types of farming in Canada. While organic has often been portrayed and marketed as the more environmental way, this is absolutely not always the case. Farmers are dependant on the health of their soil and water to continue to not only make a living, but also to keep their farms sustainable to ensure they are able to pass their farm onto the next generation. Environment Canada does absolutely no good in pitting farming methods, as well as farmers themselves, against each other. To feed a growing population, we must have many ways of farming, as well as new technology to improve not only what we grow, but how we grow it. 

2) Diversify Your Diet

“Try to eat an all-veggie meal… instead of one meat meal a week. Millions of acres of rainforest are slashed and burned in order to turn land into grass pastures for livestock including cows.”

The very idea that Environment Canada is endorsing this statement is not only wrong, it is downright slanderous to the thousands of Canadian cattle producers that raise some of the best beef available in the world. We do not cut down our trees here in Canada to raise our beef, in fact treed land is highly sought after to provide shelter from the wind and cold in the winter, as well as provide shade in the summer. Beef production in Canada is some of the most sustainable in the entire world. To endorse the idea that you should refrain from eating meat is in direct conflict with the vast acres of grassland here in Canada that not only provide habitat for countless wildlife and bird populations, but also sequester significant amounts of carbon. These grasslands are also not suitable to grow the options suggested, such as lentils or chickpeas, but provide an excellent capability of turning inedible forage into high quality protein. 
I hope that this tweet was sent before the link was fully vetted and examined. I hope that you did not intend to offend and even belittle the thousands of farmers that will see it. 
I look forward to your response in this matter, and would enjoy any opportunity to further this discussion. 
Sincerely,

Adrienne Ivey 

Evergreen Cattle Co. http://www.viewfromtheranchporch.com

I understand that the Internet is a vast black hole full of misinformation, but the idea that our very own government is spreading and promoting it is reprehensible to me. They must do better. 

Rancher Approved Steak Marinade

You can probably guess that we take our steak real seriously around here. Our entire ranch system revolves around producing the most flavourful, tender, mouthwateringly delicious high end cuts of beef. Because we always have a deep freeze (or two) full of beef, you can bet we spend a fair number of summer afternoons barbecuing. Steak is most definitely not reserved for special occasions around here! 

For company, and special occasions, I kick our steak BBQ up a notch with this fail safe teriyaki marinade. Seriously, I have never met anyone who doesn’t love it. This is my most asked for recipe, hands down. If you BBQ steak, you need to try it. 

First off, start with good beef! Here in Canada, Canada Prime is tops for quality, but will cost you significant $$. The next level of quality, and more easy to find is Canada AAA. It will be well marbled, and from a young animal. If you are grilling beef, it is really worth it to buy high quality. 

What about the cut? Choosing the correct cut of steak is as important as the quality. This marinade will tenderize as well as flavour the meat, but it cannot work miracles. Round steak is best left to braising or slow cooking. Rib steaks are so heavily marbled, they are rich and full of flavour with just salt and pepper. I use this recipe on tenderloins (they are tender on their own, but lean, so can use the extra flavour), sirloins (to tenderize and flavour), and tbones (which are a combo of sirloin and tenderloin). If you want to know more about cuts, check out Canada Beef’s website here

The recipe:

In a medium sized pot mix the following on medium heat:

  • 1c soy sauce 
  • 1c white vinegar 
  • 1c brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp corn starch. 

Mix thoroughly, cook until it bubbles and thickens. 

Let cool and then pour over steaks. 

  
Marinate for at least 2 hrs. I usually leave them in the fridge overnight. 

Then grill ’em up!! 

  

And to give credit where credit is due: like many great things in the country, this awesome recipe came from family friends and farm neighbours, Sharon Walker. A grain farming family to boot! And now, I gotta go. I have a juicy steak calling my name….

  

Earls Restaurants Has Opened the Door to Canadian Beef… Now What?

My Twitter feed exploded this morning with the news of Earls latest beef announcement:

“We made a mistake when we moved away from Canadian beef.” says Earls President, Mo Jessa.”We want to make this right. We want Canadian beef back on our menus so we are going to work with local ranchers to build our supply of Alberta beef that meets our criteria.”

See their full press release here.

This comes after an uproar over Earls decision to source all of its beef supply from Kansas based Creekstone Farms, in order to “Ethically Source” from a Certified Humane supplier who was also 100% antibiotic and added hormone free. I wrote about this decision last week here. Cattle producers across Canada were outraged by the insinuation that Canadian beef is not raised humanely. The hashtag #boycottearls was born, and farmers and consumers united to show Earls just how important Canadian beef is to them.

When I first heard the news, I did the kind of awkward happy dance that you pray that no one will ever see. The idea that the Canadian beef community not only has a voice, but also how incredibly supportive Canadian consumers were (and are!) filled my heart with joy. Knowing that my voice helped create this change was icing on the cake. But me being me, I had to look closer at what this actually means.

Earls posted this on the their Facebook page:

Earls fans, we’re listening to you. We made a mistake and we’re sorry. It was wrong to move away from Canadian Beef and we want to make it right. Earls will get Canadian Beef back on the menu. We are going back to Aspen Ridge and will work hard to source as much ‪#‎CanadianBeef that meets our criteria as possible.

For anyone that read my post that went a little viral last week, you will know that my biggest beef (no pun intended!) with Earls’ decision was the lack of integrity in their marketing. Conciously using words like “Humane”, putting emphasis on “antibiotics and added hormones”, instead of postive promotion of great food, is what is what I had issues with. From their statement above, this has not changed. They say that Canadian beef will be back on their menus, but are only willing to work with one small supplier in order to maintain their marketing buzz word sourcing. Earls themselves have said that Aspen Ridge cannot supply enough beef to fully service even one of their Alberta restaurants. Can we consider this move of opening the door a crack to allow a small amount of Canadian beef into their restaurants meaningful change? Or just more meaningless marketing jargon? Only time will tell.

Admitting you are wrong is never easy, and is a huge step for any company. I give full credit to Earls for taking that first step. But that is not the end. This is one win in the war against fear based marketing.

Earls has opened the door, just a crack, to Canadian beef. It is now our job as Canadian beef producers to open that door wider, engage in meaningful conversations with both Earls and consumers, and discuss the realities and truths of Canadian beef production. Let’s not let this storyline ride off into the sunset – we need to keep up the important work of talking with consumers and restaurants alike about how and why we are raising the best darn beef available in the world.

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See the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association statement here

This Canadian Rancher’s Take on Earls’ Beef Campaign 

Earls Kitchen and Bar has set the Canadian farming world all a-twitter.  The restaurant chain has recently launched a new marketing campaign promoting their latest development in beef  – “Certified Humane” raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones and steroids.

*Sigh*

I don’t (didn’t) mind Earls as a dining option. Up until now, they sourced their beef for their 56 Canadian restaurants here, in Canada. They have great summertime patios, and they make fantastic Caesars. Their head office is in Vancouver, and their first ever location was started in 1982 in Edmonton, Alberta. Sounds good, right? Then suddenly their marketing took a turn that just doesn’t sit right with me.

Their first words of their sourcing strategy label their beef as “Certified Humane”, which struck immediate warning bells for me. As a beef producer, I have had the opportunity to visit and tour MANY cattle farms. I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the vast majority of Canadian Beef farms and ranches are raising their cattle in a humane way. We are ranchers for a reason – we like working with animals every day. I have no issue with weeding out the “bad apples” that are bound to turn up in any industry, but these bad farmers are so uncommon, I cannot imagine the need to base your entire purchasing decision around them. I visited the http://certifiedhumane.org website and most specifically their producer page. On the page directed towards the farmers who would use their certification process, there was zero information on what they considered “humane”, zero mention of how becoming certified humane would benefit a farmer’s animals, zero mention of ways to make a farm more humane for it’s animals. So what was the producer page for? Sales. It was touted as a way to sell more product. End of story. Andrew Campbell wrote an article for Real Agriculture about what exactly certified humane means… not much. To top this one off – Canada already has steps to make sure our animals are raised humanely. The Canadian Beef Code of Practices is something each and every one of us take pride in, something we follow because it is the right thing to do, not because we get paid more money for it.


So there’s that. I moved on a few words to “without the use of antibiotics”. This is perhaps the most terrifying marketing catch phrase in my mind. Why? Because this directly impacts animal welfare. I fully believe that healthy animals begin with prevention. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is completely true. The problem is that all sickness cannot be eradicated with prevention alone. Just like people, animals get sick sometimes, it’s a fact of life. Any program that rewards the decision to withhold medication has the potential to have a huge negative impact on animal welfare. Last year, Subway in the USA announced it was going to start sourcing only meat raised without the use of antibiotics. There was an uproar from the agricultural community, explaining the need for (and ethics in using) antibiotics. Subway soon saw the error in their strategy, and reversed their decision. Perhaps Earls could learn something from this. I will stand by the fact that just as I would with my children, if an animal on our ranch falls ill, I will give it the necessary medicine. It would be cruel if I didn’t.

And finally, “no added hormones or steroids”. This I have spoken about many times. With the use of proven  safe methods, including hormones, Canadian farmers are now able produce MORE beef (32% more), while using significantly LESS resources (24% less land and 29% less breeding stock), and creating a significantly SMALLER environmental footprint (15% less greenhouse gasses). I wrote about this HERE. Can we produce beef without hormone implants? Sure. But why choose to do less with more if it is a proven, safe, efficient method? To learn more about hormone use in beef read here or here.

To top all of this information off, Earls has switched from using Canadian Beef to sourcing 100% of their beef from one operation (Creekstone Farms) in Kansas. While there is nothing wrong with that in itself, it does make me wonder about how consistent Earls quality of choice cuts, like steak, could possibly be. Many restaurants that serve top quality beef will go with a large suppliers top label. Cargill, for example, has their Sterling Beef brand – which has quality specifications (marbeling, grade and aging) so high that under 12 percent of the beef through their plant is accepted. That is a HUGE amount of beef that is sorted through to chose only the best. If you are starting out with a much smaller number, your top percentage will reflect that. Even beef that was raised and fed the same will have large differences in quality – it is an issue within the beef industry. I cannot understand why a restaurant like Earls would choose to limit their options in this way. oh, and did I mention that said Creekstone Farms, while has some feel – good marketing surrounding it, is actually owned by Sun Capital Partners. From their twitter profile: Sun Capital Partners is a leading private investment firm focused on leveraged buyouts, private equity, debt and other investments in market-leading companies. Now don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe there is nothing wrong with outside investment in agriculture, just as much as I believe large farms can be as great as small farms, but that sentence (of truth) gives you a completely different feeling than their logo must intend.

creekstone

So all of this makes me wonder. It makes me question when restaurants and retailers will start marketing their food based on true quality, not catch phrases and gimmicks. When will real, honest, good food win out? Because there is one thing I know about great steak – it speaks for itself.

Adrienne Ivey – Canadian Rancher, Mom and Blogger 

Highest of Highs and the Lowest of Lows on the Ranch

Calving is just getting underway on the ranch. The heifers (first time Mommas) are nicely starting. Heifers are young, inexperienced mothers, so they often need a little help with their first calves. We check them every couple of hours to make sure everything is going well. 

Today on my second heifer check of the day, I had the full range of the ultimate highs and the ultimate lows of ranching. 

I noticed two heifers off behind a bush and knoll that I had not noticed during my check a few hours previous. One was clearly in distress, so I trekked through the trees to take a closer look. Things did not look well for either of them – they were both in distress and having trouble calving. 

I called Aaron for backup as he is our difficult calving expert. Of course, he was on the farthest corner of the ranch, and would take a half an hour to get to where I was. While waiting for him, I had a closer look, and my heart sank. Neither situation looked good for the calf, or the heifer. 

I moved the red heifer up to the calving chute to where Aaron would best be able to help her. As I headed back and got closer to the black heifer, I could see this was a bad situation as well. She was in severe distress herself, and couldn’t get to her feet. The calf’s head and feet were showing, but the bag had not broken. The calf’s nose was swollen, a sure sign that she had been calving for too long. I quickly broke the bag with my fingers, just before Aaron showed up. His arrival startled the heifer – she lurched to her feet and stumbled out into the middle of a small slough (marsh) before collapsing again. 

We followed her into the slough, mindless to the water filling our boots, to pull the calf right then and there. We were standing behind the heifer in thigh deep water, Aaron pulling the calf, while I held it’s head above the water so it wouldn’t drown before it was even fully born. As I cradled it’s head I wondered how many people get to have an experience like this. I am making a difference for this calf. I am helping to save it’s life. It was a moment not completely unlike when either of my children were born and first placed on my chest – all the commotion around me faded away as I stared into the calf’s eyes and fully embraced the moment.  We managed to get the calf free and hauled it out to dry land, where it snorted and chuffed and sneezed the fluid out of it’s nose. It gasped for breath and looked up at me with one eye, seemingly to say “what the heck just happened!”. It took every bit of our skill, teamwork and energy, but we did it. We saved the calf. 

  

My momentary high was cut short when I realized we still had the other difficult situation to deal with. My heart sank to the bottom of my stomach as I knew the likelihood of saving the next calf was slim.  

We got her into the chute, and my fears were confirmed, the calf was dead. As much as I knew it wasn’t farm girl tough, I choked back tears. In all the years of farming, these are the moments that make you question if you are cut out for this job. This life lost is the lowest of the low – not when you make a marketing mistake and lose  hundreds of thousands of dollars, not missing your child’s first ball game or horse show because you were too busy farming, not when you lose a crop to frost, or BSE hits and you lose the majority of your livelihood. This life lost cannot be regained – and the worst of the worst – it was my fault. It was preventable. If I had spotted her on my first check, it would have been an easy pull. Healthy calf, healthy mom. But I didn’t, and it wasn’t. 

There are over a thousand calves born on our ranch each spring. Logic tells me that there will be lost calves. As hard as we try, there is no human way to save each one. But this moment of a lost life due to pure human error – that stays with you. Even now, hours later my stomach is clenched. It is a moment I have to live with. The only good I can find from this is that next time I will do better. I will look more closely. I will try harder. I will learn. 

Now as I check on the weak but improving new momma and calf I smile, but as I quad away, it must be the wind causing the tears on my face. I am a tough ranching woman. It’s the wind. It must be. 

Update:

Mom and calf have bonded nicely, and are in full recovery! 

  

Why This Canadian Rancher is Thankful to A&W

That’s right. You read the title correctly. I am a Canadian Rancher, and I am thankful to A&W!

As most people from rural Western Canada know, in September of 2013 A&W, a fast food burger chain, came out with their “Better Beef” campaign. This campaign made claims that their “Better Beef” used no hormones or steroids. They claimed it was raised “sustainably” and “ethically”. Their campaign also meant a shift from the 100% Canadian Beef they were selling to importing the majority of it from South America and Australia. This sparked immediate outrage from the Canadian Beef Industry. These commercials were aimed to spark fear in consumer hearts about the safety of conventionally raised Canadian beef. This was a conscious decision to mislead consumers in order to sell more burgers. I personally was insulted by their in-direct portrayal of the beef that I raise. The beef I raise is neither unsustainable nor unethical. Fellow Canadian Agvocates Sarah Schultz and Andrew Campbell wrote excellent articles on the danger of this fear marketing. Sarah’s post on her Nurse Loves Farmer blog, Fear Marketing: I’ve Got a Beef with A&W, and Andrew Campbell’s piece for Real Agriculture, I’m Done with Fearing Food and Done with A&W do an excellent job of explaining why this is a huge issue for not only us Canadian beef producers, but for a grain grower and dairy producer as well.

But wait a minute…

I just explained why I am furious with A&W for their fear mongering ways. Why I have not eaten a teen burger in three years. Why I continue to be outraged with every product line that they mislead consumers about. Their eggs are from vegetarian hens (even though chickens are omnivores), their coffee is organic (even though organic in many coffee growing areas means slash and burning of the rainforest). I believe in every fibre of my being that this organization has chosen a path of dishonesty and sensationalism as a marketing strategy, and that is something I can never get behind. So how could the title possible state that I am THANKFUL to A&W?

So here it is..

A&W and their misleading advertising has been a call to action for all Canadian farmers and ranchers.

The growing movement of food myths, smear campaigns and out-right marketing lies was sneaking up on Canadian farmers at such a slow pace that it was easy to ignore it. It was easy to tell ourselves that only the granola crunchies were actually buying the crazy stories that were out there. Only the downtown hipsters were ready to believe that us normal, everyday, hardworking farmers would knowingly grow and raise something other than delicious and SAFE food. A&W’s Better Beef campaign showed us just how wrong we were. This huge eye opening moment is something that I am extremely thankful for. Suddenly all of Canadian Ag took a step back to see how badly we need to tell OUR story.

tell your story pic

The hard truth is that people, everyday people, are talking about where their food comes from. They have questions and we can let organizations like A&W tell them their version of the answers, or we can tell them the TRUTH. The truth is that my Canadian raised beef is GOOD! The truth is that knowing, inside and out, exactly how Canadian beef is raised, I will serve it to my own children daily. That is much more than can be said of the South American beef that A&W is importing for their “better beef”. This very blog was born from that campaign, as I had A LOT to say, and needed more space to say it than regular social media would allow.

At a Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan conference I attended this winter, Sarah Shultz was asked what her extended family thought about how much of their farming operation that she shares online. She explained that the A&W Better Beef campaign was an eye opener for her farmer Father-in-law. He, as a grain farmer, could see where this was heading and did not like it at all. It gave him, and thousands of other farmers, the pause needed to fully get behind those of us willing and able to tell the Canadian Agriculture story. The unvarnished farming truth.

So I still will not eat a teen burger. Their vegetarian eggs have gone untasted by me and my family. But as a bigger person, I can give credit where credit is due. Thank you A&W for making yourself the greater enemy that Canadian Ag needed in order to rally our troops, see the bigger picture, and start standing up for ourselves.

every story is complicated pic

Update: I have been told that A&W does not buy beef from South America at this point. I have not been able to get a response back from them directly to confirm or deny that. I want to be completely truthful in anything I write, so will gladly take back the statement about their beef coming from South America. There website does specifically mention three suppliers from Canada (Spring Creek), USA and Australia. Wherever the source their beef from does not change the issue I have with how they are interacting with consumers. I do not like it.

Also, I am always willing to give credit where credit is due. A&W has chosen to take part in, and be very supportive of, the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. I wish they had chosen to go through with this before claiming their beef is sustainable, but I applaud them in this great endeavor.