There are more than 90,000 beef cattle farms and ranches in Canada, with many of these being small family farms.
A day in the life of Darlene
Darlene Sanford has been working with cattle for over 20 years, coming back to the family farm after graduating from agricultural college. She initially worked with her father, but her husband has now joined them, and their teenage daughter and son help out as well.
“I knew this was what I wanted to do,” says Darlene. “I need to be hands on and I love being outside, so working on the farm is perfect for me. I've always loved cattle, and I enjoy working with them.”
Most cattle don't spend their entire lives on one farm or ranch. They are born on a “cow/calf farm” and then go to what is called a “back-grounding operation” where they are fed until they reach a weight of about 900 pounds. From there, they are sold to a feedlot, where they are raised until they reach their finished weight.
Darlene runs a feedlot operation, and also does back-grounding, purchasing young calves from farmers she trusts to provide healthy animals. For Darlene, the health and welfare of the animals is a prime consideration.
“Our cattle are treated well,” says Darlene. “They have a humane and clean environment. I monitor the animals closely and treat them quickly if they have a health issue. I want to make sure there is no stress on the animal. If an animal is stressed, and not treated right, it's less productive in the end. The animal doesn't grow as well and ultimately that means a loss of revenue.”
The cattle are provided with comfortable shelter with ample space to move about. In the summer months – the shelter is opened up wide to the outside air and sunshine. The shelter can also be closed off to make sure the cattle are protected from the elements during storms or winter. The animals are fed a balanced diet twice a day and a good water supply is close at hand.
Medication, antibiotics and vaccination products are used only as necessary to make sure cattle are healthy and to treat disease. These products go through the same rigorous testing as are any of these types of products used for human use. Guidelines for the administration of these products are government tested as with any drug in the marketplace.
Darlene insists that the cattle be vaccinated on their home farm before moving to her operation in case they have been exposed to any illnesses. But, other than that, she rarely has sick animals, “You develop a great understanding of the cattle,” she says. “You notice the subtleties of their behaviour. It's the same as with people, just before you get sick, you start to feel a little “off”. Well, cattle are the same way. You can see a change about 8 hours before any symptoms. So you move the animal away from the others, so it won't affect the entire herd.”
Darlene starts most days at 5:45 AM and ends around 10 PM. But her job allows her to be close to her children, and she loves raising them in a country environment. She likes the challenge of working in a non-traditional female job, and still gets incredulous stares as she drives her tractor down the back country roads in PEI. She loves the beef industry and as President of the PEI Cattlemen‘s Association works hard to promote the beef she is producing.
“I'm proud of what I do. At the end of the day I can look out the window, and I can see quite clearly what I have accomplished. When my feet hit the ground first thing in the morning, I know exactly where I am going. And I like it.”
A day in the life of the Lanes
The Lanes run Brown Creek Ranch, along with their four children: Ty, Chancey, Cloe and Holly. Their environmental efforts have been recognized by the cattle industry and their peers, through the 2007 Alberta Environmental Steward Award and the 2007 National Environmental Award (TESA). The award recognizes those who are committed to preserving and caring for their land.
“We are pretty blessed to live here,” says Shaunere. “It's a beautiful spot with rolling hills, green grass and cattle.” It was a lifelong dream for Shaunere and Brian to have their own ranch and when they acquired it in 1997 they quickly began making changes to improve the soil, grass and water.
“We did a lot of simple things that are almost common sense,” says Brian. “But if we didn't make these changes, we couldn’t sustain the ranch or our livelihood. We're trying to keep the country the way it was. If you don't look after the land, it's not going to be here for you, nor for our kids.”
The family started by using swath and rotational grazing. This meant they took the cattle to the field to graze, instead of feeding in corrals. This eliminated the need for feeding equipment, which in turn reduced fuel and energy costs. They reduced the impact of grazing by rotating the fields on which the cattle feed – pasture and is inactive at times.
They are also took steps to increase the amount of native grasses on the land, choosing to not grow any tame grasses in their hay, pulling weeds by hand. This created a habitat and breeding space that wasideal for local wildlife.
The Lanes have also developed the natural springs on their property as their main water source. Fencing keeps the cattle away from the spring to avoid contamination. Water flow is directed by gravity so that no energy is required to get the wate to where it needs to go.
Out of this corner of paradise, the Lane's have created a vacation business that caters to visitors from all over the world. Brown Creek Ranch Vacations allows their guests to see an environmentally friendly anch up close and personal.
“We're living our dream life,” says Shaunere. “So it's very special to us share it with other people. When our guests first arrive, they get out of their car, and they just stop and look around. They can't believe how beautiful it is here. By the time they leave, they have become almost a part of our family.”
“We're honoured to represent the industry in our little corner of the world,” says Brian. “It's been anything but easy, but we love the land and the life it provides for us and our family. We plan to keep on working to improve the ranch and preserve its unique environment.”