Canadian Cattle Being Moved By A…… Beaver?!?

Here on the ranch, we are on the verge of calving season. We calve the heifers first, because they have no practice at being mothers yet, and often need more help than an experienced cow. 

On Good Friday, when Aaron and I headed out for a mid-afternoon check, we came over a hill on our ATVs and were surprised to see all 150 heifers crowded around in one tight group. 

We expected maybe a new calf, but what we actually found was possibly the most Canadian thing we have ever witnessed on our ranch. 

You see, the heifers were following none other than a beaver happily leading the herd around the pasture. 

It is not unusual to see wildlife on our ranch. We are proud of the fact that our cattle share the land with all sorts of wildlife and waterfowl. White tail and mule deer, moose, coyotes, wolf, badgers, skunks, geese, ducks and eagles are all usual pasture-mates. But this level of herd/wildlife interaction is not something we see everyday. 

Because heifers are young, they are very curious creatures. They were absolutely enthralled by this wayward beaver travelling across their stomping grounds. Enthralled, but wary enough to keep their distance. 

As for the beaver, we have many sloughs and wetlands on the ranch, so beavers are common place. This is the time of year that beavers may find themselves looking for a new wetland to build their home (beaver hut) in. This particular beaver was quietly minding his own business when he caught the attention of the herd. 

Have a peek at the most Canadian of all moments on our ranch. The time that a beaver took control of the herd for a day…


I’m sure this will make you smile as much as it did when we first witnessed it. Happy Easter from this Canadian Beef Ranch!! 

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. 

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.

cows sunset

See the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association statement here

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.

This Morning I Jinxed Myself…. Ranch Wife Style

This morning I woke up in a GREAT mood. I got the kids off to school, managed to remember to send them both with lunch, books, backpacks, and skates, helmets and hockey gloves for school skating. I was looking forward to a day of straightening up the house, tackling the mountain of laundry, and having uninterrupted time to tackle some computer/office needs. Apparently I was looking a little TOO forward to it, because I did that thing us ranch wives should NEVER DO – I not only said it out loud, I proclaimed it.

I am NOT leaving my yard today!

And wouldn’t you just know it, not 30 minutes later, isn’t Jake (our main Shop Man Extraordinaire) at the door with those dreaded words.

“What are you doing today?”

Followed by:

“Parts Run”

The worst part was that I had no one to blame but myself. I had irreversibly jinxed myself. Before I knew it, I went from looking at my shrinking “to-do” list to staring at this:

Followed by this:

 

Lesson of the day: You are 100% more likely to be given a speeding ticket when pulled over in a brand new Honda Pilot than an old junky craptacular Dodge Mini-Van.

To add injury to insult, once home, we realized half the parts they sent me home with were ones we had ordered 4 months ago. I am sure the parts guy will be shocked to learn that we have no need for swather parts in January.

Real Numbers for Beef’s Environtmental Footprint

Last year on Earth Day (April 22nd), my local paper published an article on how to be more “green”. In it, they suggested going meatless for some of the time because of beef’s poor environmental footprint. I wrote an article to counter this idea, as I see every day what beef’s actual footprint looks like. Read that post here

While doing some research for that post, I spoke with Tracy Herbert from the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC). She pointed out that while there has been quite a lot of research done in this area, there had not yet been an effort to pull the data from all those studies together to come up with one over-all consensus, but that they were working on it. 

I am happy to report that the results from phase one of that study are in, (see it here), and things are looking very positive for the beef industry! Over all they have found that we are producing significantly 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). 

  
While I only have to look out my front window to see first hand what beef does to (or for) our environment, this study that puts exact numbers on what we do is very exciting. We can only improve if we know where we started, and every farmer I know only wants to improve how they farm. I can’t wait to see where we are in 10, 20 and 50 years from now! 

For more info, visit the BCRC’s website, here. Or read Real Agriculture’s article on the study here

  
 

Cattlemen’s Young Leaders – Angela Kumlin

As I mentioned in a previous post here, Aaron and I are currently acting as mentors to a young agricultural professional, Angela Kumlin, as part of the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders program. As part of our journey together, I have asked Angela to write a guest blog post about her experience thus far. Take a moment to read her story below, and welcome her to the vast (and amazing) world of the beef industry!!

IMG_4035

Hello there!

My name is Angela Kumlin and I am participating in the 2015/2016 Cattlemen’s Young Leaders Program (hereafter referred to CYL). Through this program I have been matched up with Adrienne and Aaron Ivey as my mentors, so Adrienne asked me to do a guest blog post to tell you all about CYL.

I heard about CYL through some friends who had been involved in the program. They had nothing but good things to say about it, although they did seem to have trouble putting into words what was so awesome about it. “It’s just…awesome. You should do it.” I heard this several times, so in January of 2015 I sent in my application! I hope I can articulate it well enough to justify how awesome this program really is.

The application process was quite simple, although took some hard thinking on my part. “Describe your involvement in the cattle industry” – easy enough, but then throw in some doozies like “In 250 words or less describe your goals in the cattle industry.” 250 words! If you haven’t figured it out already, my thesis prof described me as “quite verbose”, so I had trouble keeping my thoughts concise.

Shortly after applications were sent in, 26 applicants out of about 70 were chosen for the final selections process in March in Saskatoon. When I arrived I knew a few people already, as several of last year’s mentees were there for their CYL graduation. There were lots that I didn’t know though, and we spent the next two days meeting and learning from one another, competing at round table discussions to vie for a spot in the program, and becoming a great group of friends. The round table discussions were challenging but very interesting, and I learned a lot just from listening to the perspectives of the other applicants. We also had a guest speaker panel one evening where we could ask questions of some prominent figures in agriculture, such as Marty Seymour [CEO of Agribition].

One day after returning home from selections, a friend in the program texted and said, “You’re in, congrats! I made it too!” So we all waited eagerly to hear who our mentors would be. When I first called Adrienne to introduce myself, we spent a half hour on the phone learning about each other’s backgrounds. When my husband came home that evening I told him about Adrienne and Aaron’s ranch and their business and lifestyle. His first comment was “That’s crazy – they picked people who are exactly who we want to be in ten years!”

This became even more evident when we went to visit Aaron and Adrienne in September to meet in person and tour their ranch. Not only do they have an operation similar to what we would love to run someday, but they are great people. I don’t say this lightly – they really are! Gracious hosts, great senses of humour, awesome kids, and a real zest for life, agriculture, beef, and trying new things. We were extremely impressed. We had some great discussions around their kitchen table that have had us scratching our heads, crunching numbers, and throwing ideas around since we left.

As a part of the mentorship within CYL, we are also allowed a travel budget to participate in some educational experiences. Since Aaron and Adrienne were the Saskatchewan Outstanding Young Farmer’s last year, they have invited me to go to that conference this year in Edmonton, which I am really looking forward to. Adrienne and I are also hoping to go to Altech’s Rebelation conference in Kentucky next spring.

Some of my goals with my mentorship this year were to learn about risk management within a ranching business, succession planning, social license and talking to the public about agriculture, grazing management, and employee management. Aaron, Adrienne, and I have set goals and steps for me to learn something about each of these topics over the course of the year. I am looking forward to spending more time on each of these topics! I truly appreciate the time they are spending with us to give us a leg up in this industry. It is a big time commitment and they are busy people, so it means even more when they take the time out of their day to call and chat about what’s going on in the beef industry.

Outside of the mentor aspect of CYL, the program offers a lot of other opportunities to CYL participants. There are competitions within the program to go on trips, such as to the Five Nations Beef Alliance which is being held in Mexico this year. There are also forums every few months where we all get together and go through some training (ex. negotiations training and leadership training), hear fantastic guest speakers, network with prominent figures in the beef industry as well as one another and our mentors, and volunteer to give back to our industry. Several of us will be volunteering at booths during Agribition. If you are interested in the program, be sure to stop one of us to say hi and ask about how to get involved! Applications for 2016 will be accepted between Jan 1st and March 31st 2016. If you are looking for more information on CYL, you can visit their website at http://www.cattlemensyoungleaders.com/.

Funding for the CYL program is made available through its foundation partners: UFA Co-operative Ltd., the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA), Cargill, and MNP. The program also receives support from gold sponsors Farm Credit Canada and New Holland. The CYL Spring Forum in 2015 was sponsored by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Cattlemen’s Young Leaders 

This summer I was contacted by the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders (CYL) committee asking if I would be interested in acting as a mentor in their program. This is an amazing program that aims to create leaders in our top young cattle producers through training, experiences and mentorship.

Although I did not know who my Mentee would be, I was given a list of her goals and objectives to get out of the program, and I was struck by how closely they followed the issues and obstacles that Aaron and I had overcome over the past 15 years on the ranch. Grazing plans, agvocacy, succession planning, and the process of building a cow herd from the ground up were all topics we have spent the past decade focusing the better part of our brains on.

Aaron and I already spend a significant amount of time volunteering for both local organizations and provincial Ag associations, so our first reaction to the mentor request was, “how can we possibly fit this in as well?” But we saw the value in passing along not only our successes, but maybe more importantly, our failures. Although we had a strong network of peers, and were extremely fortunate in coming from incredible farming families whom we learnt a lot from, we never had formal mentors. We see the value in mentorship to the Canadian Beef Industry. In our eyes, the communication of knowledge is one of the greatest barriers within our industry. So without knowing a lot about the program, we took the plunge and took on the challenge.

  
Our Mentee, Angela Kumlin, has impressed us with her intelligence and drive. Our time spent with her has been extremely productive and rewarding. I won’t give away too much of her journey, as I have asked her to write a guest post for this blog. Read about her experience here.

For more info on the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders program look here, or follow them on Twitter at @CYLProgram

Our Thanksgiving Message: Thank You for Choosing Canadian Beef This Year. 

  
These is one absolute truth here on the ranch:

We love raising beef!!

We are incredibly fortunate to be able to make a living doing what we love every day of our lives. 

Canadian Thanksgiving is this weekend, so I though it more than appropriate to share our message  of giving thanks to all of you who chose Canadian beef. 

View our Thanksgiving message HERE

Thank you!!!