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Beef & Business

Off Label

Some things need warning labels. Hopping onto a roller coaster, for example, warrants a cautionary tag, as does applying pesticides, or walking on unstable terrain too close to the edge of a cliff, smoking a cigarette (real or electronic), or driving your tractor near an overhead powerline. It could even be argued that perhaps some people should come with a warning label. We all know That Guy who can turn a quiet evening of drinks at the local tavern one minute into an international adventure that involves an airplane trip the next. Spending time with those folks can lead to lasting side effects, and unsuspecting people deserve to know.

Some things do not need warning labels. Ground beef and pork do not need warning labels.

The rationale behind Health Canada’s proposed front-of-package warning label for ground beef is simply not sound. It seems they want to help shoppers avoid consuming products high in saturated fat and are willing to slap a label on ground beef and pork. Meanwhile, other animal-derived products – and more alarmingly – other highly processed, high sugar/high sodium/high fat products such as chips, cookies, and pop, are not affixed with labels at all.

These labels concern me deeply as a consumer, as a mom trying to feed my family the most nutritious and economical meals I can, and also as a rancher who raises commodity beef and direct-to-freezer products.

Does beef contain saturated fat? Like all animal products, it sure does. However, did you know there are three types of fats including unsaturated, saturated, and fatty acids? Unsaturated fats, like poly- and monounsaturated fats, are considered “healthy fats” which provide your body energy and help metabolize fat-soluble vitamins including A, D, E, and K. More than half of the fat that beef contains is unsaturated. For people, including myself, who do want to reduce fat content during meal prep, I can simply drain my ground beef after browning it, like more than 90% of Canadians report doing. Or, I can grill my burgers, which again reduces fat content by up to a third.

You know what else beef contains? Heme iron. What’s that? It is the most bioavailable form of iron you can find in a food. This means your body can get ready-to-absorb iron in a smaller serving of beef with fewer calories than other iron-rich foods like spinach or legumes. This is a reason why Health Canada themselves suggests beef as a first food for babies.

Another nutritional nicety of beef is that fact that it can synergistically boost nutrients absorbed from other foods. For example, adding beef to a meal with plant-based proteins (think chili with beans) bumps up the absorption of iron from both the beans and the beef, compared to legume-only chili.

Here’s another fun fact: beef and other meats are considered complete proteins. That means they contain all the essential amino acids we require in our diets, unlike plant-based proteins which don’t contain a full set of amino acids and require mixing and matching in order to meet nutritional needs.

I also could continue to say that beef is an important source of zinc, Vitamin B12, selenium, magnesium, riboflavin, pantothenate, phosphorus, potassium, and so many more nutrients too numerous to mention. And let’s not forget that gram-for-gram, ground beef is the most economical, nutrient dense source of protein currently available in Canada.

Canadian consumers deserve economical, safe, highly nutritious, easy-to-prepare protein foods that are not processed. Ground beef checks those boxes.*

*beef also supports sustainable/functional ecosystems and provides habitat in a way that non-animal protein foods do not but there is not time to address that in this article, okay, thank you.

Worried about labels? Visit https://www.dontlabelmybeef.ca/

Looking for more science-based information on nutritional qualities of beef? Check out:


Beef & Business Ranch & Real Life

When the Going Gets Tough….

It’s hard to think about much else right now other than the dry conditions that so many of us are faced with. Across much of the Prairie Provinces and the Northern Great Plains, farmers and ranchers are dealing with drought, water shortages, and pests. Years like ’61 and ’88 are often referenced at the coffee shop and around the kitchen tables of producers who are old enough to remember those times.

The summer is speeding by, yet somehow things also feel like they are at a standstill. One day stretches into the next, another pasture is checked, another scratchpad filled with numbers and figures and plans, another dozen phone calls are made. Tangible and timely solutions are hard to come by yet there is an abundance of questions. How will we get through the year? What about next year? What will the winter be like? Will there be any help?

I’m an (annoyingly) optimistic person and even I’ve become discouraged at times. I don’t have any answers to the hard problems everyone is faced with, but when things seem bleak, I try to shift my focus on what I can control. It’s not precious bales of hay, or tonnes of silage, or subsidies, or even rain that will pull us through (although sign me up for all of that, please and thanks). I’m learning that the most valuable resource we have and need is right in front of me – people.

When the going gets tough, find the helpers. Some people complain and some people figure things out, but now is the time to dip into your network, identify your problem-solvers and stick with them. It’s very easy to get sucked into a vortex of worry and “why me?” but for every fool out there, there’s actually a positive person lurking too, you sometimes just have to work a little harder to find them. There are many farmers and extension folks who are willing to share their experiences, provide insight or tips, ask a question you haven’t considered before, or provide simple reassurance. Putting my energy and time into talking to people who have fresh, innovative ideas or the wisdom that comes from decades of experience has been a good return on investment so far.

When the going gets tough, get a puppy! Okay, perhaps this is not sound advice. Perhaps you should consider visiting family and friends regularly as a feasible and intelligent alternative. But I’m not going to lie, our new border collie that arrived this month has been a welcome distraction. I’m almost at the point of being an obnoxious dog mom, which is highly unexpected behaviour for me. We have also been lucky to connect with some non-furry family members this month, allowing us to recharge our batteries and provide us with some much-needed grounding.

When the going gets tough, focus on what you do have. Low yields and dwindling water might pull our attention toward what we don’t have, but we should remember what really matters. Do we have our health? Are the people we care about safe and well? I’m keenly aware that we are fortunate to check those boxes, but not everyone is. Do we have enough food in our pantry to sustain ourselves? Past generations of farmers who dealt with harsher conditions had to make do with less. We are lucky to not have those worries.

Without a doubt, this year will leave a permanent mark on farmers’ memories and be a defining time for many. As the old saying goes, every drought ends with a rain, and someday, this one will be over too. But the people will endure.

Gelbvieh cattle grazing a pastures in southwest Saskatchewan that is limited by stock water.
Gelbvieh cattle grazing a pastures in southwest Saskatchewan that is limited by stock water.
Beef & Business Critters & Kids House & Homestead Ranch & Real Life

WFH Woke

Well friends, these are some unexpected times, aren’t they? Life has changed with #COVID19 and recommendations for social distancing (although for ranchers, self-isolation is a normal and usually welcome practice). Schools and day-cares are closed and employers have transitioned to telework where possible, as society pulls together to minimize the spread of the disease that will potentially overburden our health care system.

I’ve been working from home (WFH) among a menagerie of children, cattle, and laundry for seven years. Most of my work is writing, analysis, and developing content, and I’m fortunate to work remotely although my approach is a bit unconventional. I’ve captured interviews in my truck from the Wal-Mart parking lot, simultaneously giving my kids the “mom eyes” to will them into silence. There is currently a soundtrack of Paw Patrol (“we’re on a roll!”) playing in the background of all my video and conference calls. I wear the abstract WFH wardrobe (hi there, ugly 17-year-old cardigan and Video Conference Head Band). And yes, I’m guilty of buying work time from my children for the sum of an unending supply of fruit snacks and the promise of binge-watching Dude Perfect on YouTube.

I’m not perfect. Nobody is, but working remotely for me is my everyday reality. Now that friends, family, and colleagues are unexpectedly riding the work-from-home wave, I’ve gotten a chuckle out of their experiences. Here are a few ideas and tips I’ve put into practice over the years:

Manage your expectations. And your guilt. At first, I was disappointed when I didn’t get a solid eight hours of “work” in each day, but I’ve grown to realize that it’s not realistic for me right now. I’ve also learned to cut myself some household slack because when I am in work mode, my house will be messy and other parts of my life will feel disorganized. Unfortunately, the mom guilt is real and I still struggle with explaining to my kids why I am distracted and not able to give them my full attention at certain times. There is also work guilt that creeps in when I ignore emails and undone projects in order to focus on other important things in my life.

There are no rules. I do have dedicated home office space that moonlights as a guest room but thanks to the nature of my live-in kinfolk co-workers, the boundaries are very porous. Sometimes my office works well, but I’ve also learned that perhaps I can get more done when I set up my laptop in a common area and become part of the general chaos. Plus, I can keep an eye on things (Put down the scissors! No more juice boxes! Why is there a cow herd in the front yard?!).  

Do not underestimate yourself. You will surprise yourself with how much work you can get done especially if you are under a little pressure. While I don’t advocate putting pressure on yourself, somehow the work that needs to get done, always does. (Why, yes, I am a procrastinator).

Prioritize. Each morning, I take a moment to mark down the essential family, ranch, or work duties that need to get done that day, plus a few nice-to-do tasks in another column. I also try to go with the flow, and work on creative tasks that require my full attention when the spirit moves me. I save perfunctory jobs for times when I don’t feel as focused.

Put your phone down. No, really. It’s a vortex, especially now with constant updates and alerts, and it can put a real damper on your productivity, not to mention your mood. Avoiding my phone is tricky because part of my work is to curate social media accounts like Twitter and Facebook. However, there is a fine line between uploading a disciplined professional work post and accidentally spending 45 minutes trying to identify desert range plants on a friend’s Facebook feed. I have adjusted the screen time settings on my phone to set a time limit on social media apps, which helps. I also place my phone out of reach. I can still hear it and respond as needed, but it’s a little more difficult to get distracted.

Back up yo’ files. Get to know your external hard drive. Appreciate it. Become one with it. While having things available on shared online folders or “the cloud” is a revolutionary way to share resources and collaborate virtually, make sure you download the files you really need to do your work. I’ve learned this the hard way thanks to rural internet challenges, but no one is immune to technical issues. It is frustrating when you get focused and ready to work, except you can’t because your material is inaccessible.

Budget your energy. Parents all have the grand scheme to maximize work during our kids’ naptime. This is a great strategy…if your kids get the memo. Which they never do. In order to enjoy the luxury of a quiet workplace, I used to pride myself on being able to stay up late and get lots of hours in. Then sometimes I would try and get up extra early to get a few hours in too. All this extra time did allow me to accomplish some work, however it came with a nasty side effect of me becoming a burnt-out crazy person, so I had to dial that back. I still occasionally will get up early OR stay up late, but then I try to budget my energy accordingly for the rest of the day.

While the COVID-19 situation is challenging everyone in an unprecedented way, it may also be an opportunity to show employers that working from home, even with kids around, is possible. Our families can learn more about the work we do while we spend less wasted time (and money) commuting. Plus, we can spend less time listening to Felicia from Human Resources drone on and on about her dog’s babysitter.

Now get off your phone, put on your office blanket-disguised-as-a-sweater and get at ’er. You can do this. We can do this. We truly are in this together.

Beef & Business Critters & Kids Pastures & Prairie Ranch & Real Life

Beyond Meat is Beyond Me

It’s hard to beat a beautiful Canadian summer! Fun in the sun, beach time, lake days, and of course, the sizzle of a grill as you barbecue a simple patty comprised of twenty-one ingredients, like bamboo cellulose, vegetable glycerin, gum arabic, and pea protein isolate…just no actual meat. Yeah, I’m talking about the Beyond Meat sensation that is on the news, in your Facebook feed, featured in advertisements, and speculated about on Wall Street.

When it comes to food preferences, I’m not opposed to options. While I enjoy serving and eating ranch-raised beef, I also eat other proteins, so long as they aren’t in disguise. I make a mean lentil chowder, serve baked beans at many large meals, and have been known to eat an entire container of hummus at one sitting (don’t judge me).

Diet diversity is important for what it is – diversity. However, some Beyond Meat proponents make false claims, saying it is “healthier” or more “environmentally friendly.” Well my friends, the devil is in the details, and when you look at the fine print, these claims are wrong.

Myth 1. Plants are always healthier… right?


I took a minute to compare nutritional parameters between beef and peanut butter, our other handy household protein source. A small serving of peanut butter (32 g) had less protein, more calories, more fat (including saturated fat) and zero iron, compared to 75 grams of cooked lean beef. I’m not going to cut back serving either to my kids but I’ll admit I was a bit surprised that when it comes to packing a nutritional punch, beef handily surpasses an old-fashioned PBJ.

What about looking at how the Beyond Meat burger compares with a beef burger? According to this article, a 113 gram Beyond Meat patty has 250 calories, 18 grams of fat, 390 mg of sodium and 20 grams of protein. Health Canada rates 113 grams of lean ground beef as having 292 calories, 16.5 grams of fat, 105 mg of sodium and 33 grams of protein. If consumers need a nutrient dense, high protein, low-sodium diet, real beef is the healthier option. If people are worried about consuming processed foods, a faux meat patty made from 18-21 ingredients is the much more highly processed option. A ranch-raised beef patty served here isn’t processed at all, unless you consider the four pairs of helping hands that went into forming it.

Myth 2. Plant-based protein is better for the environment.

No! NO! This is wildly inaccurate.

I’m not sure exactly what inputs are required to extract bamboo cellulose or derive pea protein isolate, but I do know that grasslands and beef cattle support natural wildlife habitat, preserve fragile land, and make use of marginal land incapable of producing other crops. No other agricultural enterprise in Canada supports natural biodiversity or maintains sensitive ecosystems as well as beef cattle. Grasslands provide habitat for thousands of species, including many species at risk such as loggerhead shrikes and short-eared owls. Grasslands also provide dozens of ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, groundwater recharge, soil protection, and nutrient cycling, to name just a few. Does gum arabic do that? What is gum arabic? Beef is truly the ultimate plant-based protein and the beef cattle sector continues to make positive strides to become more efficient with water and energy. Plus, innovation and research is enabling beef farmers to make use of human-inedible by-products like ethanol distillers grains, potato peels, and even leftover beer-making ingredients.

At the end of the day, I am just a mom, standing in front of her hungry kids, trying to feed them a well-balanced, healthy diet. If they want a healthy, environmentally-friendly juicy burger that looks like beef, tastes like beef, has the same texture as beef, and smells like beef – I’m going to serve beef!

Beyond meat is beyond me.

Additional reading:

Isn’t Beef Canada’s Ultimate Plant Based Protein? Beef cattle Research Council

Vegan Beyond Meat burgers are just ultra-processed patties that can be bad for our health National Post

Why Canadian beef? Canada Beef

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This short-eared owl, a species at risk, looks on as cattle graze at Lonesome Dove Ranch.

Beef & Business Critters & Kids Ranch & Real Life

Calving Certainties

People are pretty particular about how they raise their cattle. The breed, colour, size, temperament, horns or no horns, registered or commercial, roped or tabled.… The list of variations, and associated opinions about different methods, can go on for a country mile.

Calving season is one example of how different farms and ranches can be. Do you calve in winter? Or wait until spring? Are the cows out on grass, or in a pen? Do you have a short calving season, or does it have stages? Do you tag your calves or not bother?

When it comes to preferences around cattle, I’m more of a “you do you” sort of person unless you ask – then I will tell you! It’s easy to get caught up in the differences, but I’ve been thinking a little about some of the similarities too. Regardless of breed, season, or herd size, there are some calving facts that apply to every cow-calf operation.

They Move on Their Terms

It is remarkable to watch newborn calves stand up right after birth. At first they might wobble a bit, but with a nurturing mama and a belly full of milk, they are quickly bucking around. Until you want to move them into a different pen, that is. Sure, these calves were racing with their cohorts a minute ago, but now that you want to move them in a coordinated effort, perhaps even as part of a tiny gang, it’s a different story. You nudge them, poke them, and push them in the right direction, one at a time, then start again with the first calf who has already wandered off in the wrong direction. When you get everyone within a hair’s breadth of the gate (or whatever goal you’ve been doggedly working toward), those calves regain their energy and race their buddies…back in the opposite direction so you can repeat this process again.

Fecal Contamination

There is nothing stickier, smellier, or with a greater ability to coat all the surfaces you don’t want it to than fresh, yellow, baby calf poop. At best, you might get away with just a little on your boot or perhaps you kneel in some. At worst, you’ll get fresh poo on your glove, then transfer this fudgy, goldenrod sh*t to the tractor door handle, then gear shift, steering wheel, and finally your coffee cup before you smell its distinctive odour and realize your error. You will encounter this stinky substance both in a corral and in a large grass pasture. No rancher is immune – it will find you.

Flat as a Pancake

With longer daylight comes bright, warm sunshine that is most welcome however also responsible for the emotionally charged job of checking calves. Calves will stretch out flatter than a pancake out in the field to capture some rays. Honking the horn yields no movement, so you are compelled to walk or ride or drive over to check. You get closer and still nothing moves, other than your quickening heart. This was a healthy, live calf last night when you checked! You proceed to get a look at the tag and at the last moment, the calf springs to life, flashes you a “dude, what’s your deal?” look and bounces away, leaving you with a roller coaster of emotions that at least has a happy ending.

Whether you’re all done calving, right in the middle, or haven’t started yet, enjoy this season of birth and renewal…and all the manure that goes along with it.

Beef & Business

Happy Canada Ag Day!

I’ve done the math (ok – I haven’t, but it sounds cool) and I’ve determined that February is arguably our busiest month of the year. It seems especially fitting to me then, that Canada’s Agriculture Day takes place when we are up to our Muck boots with calving and bull sale prep and the latest and greatest weather fluctuations.

The theme for this year’s Ag Day celebration is The Future is Bright. There are certainly challenges within the ag industry as a whole and there are obstacles specific to whichever sector you are a part of. But I see so many reasons for there to be a strong future ahead, especially for those willing to work hard.

The strength of Canada’s agriculture sector is its people. Agriculture is a multi-billion dollar economic force but for the thousands of farmers across Canada, agriculture isn’t exactly a get-rich-quick scheme. Rather than money, what motivates me on our ranch are people who are passionate about their farms and what they do. I’m inspired by people who are moving toward their goals, people who love to improve their environment, their cattle, and their businesses. Meeting people, learning from them and their stories — that is my ag currency.

When I see so many opportunities for young enthusiasts to become involved in agriculture, I know the future is bright. There are numerous initiatives, apprenticeships, and mentoring programs available to help transfer experience from one leader to another. I’ve had many mentors, both formal and informal, and am humbled to be a mentor for the Cattlemen’s Young Leader program. When I visit with my program partner Rachael, I am encouraged to hear how articulate, professional, and keen she is, and I can’t help but feel excitement for what lies ahead for the beef industry!

And of course, I can’t discuss the future without thinking of our children. Our young kids have responsibilities and are expected to help us on our ranch and it’s been enjoyable to see how their own interests are sprouting. One of our kids is a natural with animals, another has an aptitude for numbers, statistics, and pedigrees. Our daughter likes to understand the logic behind our production practices. I guess the baby is the only one that doesn’t show a real preference for chores yet, but so far he’s gotten in on fall run, cattle shows, and now his first calving season, so I suppose he’ll catch on too.

Whether or not our kids choose to pursue a future in agriculture is completely up to them. But I do know that their farm background will only support them with whatever path they take and they will be able to explain how and why their food is on the table.

The future is bright for Canadian agriculture today. It was bright yesterday and it will be bright tomorrow too. Happy Agriculture Day, Canada!


Beef & Business Ranch & Real Life

Gender Bender

Recently there has been some discussion surrounding women-oriented agricultural events and groups. Organizations like Women in Ag, and national conferences such as Advancing Women in Agriculture, have sparked debate and even inspired a column in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix about this “dicey topic.” Questions have surfaced…Why aren’t there men-only agricultural events? Are women just creating their own barriers? Why don’t more women join agricultural boards? Should men encourage women to participate more? Or should women just step up to the plate?

I’m a rancher and an agricultural professional and I’ve thought a fair bit about my experiences as a woman in agriculture. I have a heritage of strong, rural women. My fore-mothers worked hard on their farms, raised large families on little, and in some cases, had to navigate new languages. My mother was one of just a few females Agros in her class and later became the first female extension agrologist in Saskatchewan. She overcame gender roadblocks that my generation fortunately never had to encounter. Compared to past  inequalities, I’ve got it made in the shade.

Yet, I still participate in female-focused agriculture events. I’ll never forget the first time I went to a women’s range workshop where I found kinship among women who shared my passion for grass and cattle. We also shared common struggles, discussing how to budget on one annual calf cheque, or how best to physically handle a roll of baler net wrap — these ladies spoke my language, I had found my tribe! I continue to attend women’s events, big and small, specific or general, because I find them useful on a personal and professional level.

When it comes to the old boys’ club rhetoric surrounding industry representation, I admit I’m not doing my demographic justice. I do not currently hold a role on an industry board, but it’s not because “many women just aren’t interested in rural municipal politics” as per the Star Phoenix piece. Noooooo. Ugh. God, no. I would do great things on a board, and perhaps someday I will. At the moment however, I have four kids aged zero to seven, and a board role would cause my family, my ranch, my household, and other community commitments to suffer. My lack of board participation is certainly NOT because I’m disinterested. In fact, I serve in other capacities, and maintain close contact with beef lobby groups, participate in formal mentorship programs, and attend industry meetings (with or without a baby on my hip).

As a rancher and a professional, I look to several leaders that represent both genders and span many generations. I value male and female perspectives, but I still think there are differences between men and women – good, bad or indifferent. If we can have women’s sports organizations, female religious groups, or business women networks, why shouldn’t we have women’s agricultural groups? Agriculture absolutely needs positive events and organizations that build capacity in women and men, in families, groups, and sectors.

Maybe it’s time people stop mansplaining how women’s ag events don’t work and start thinking about how they do.

Beef & Business Critters & Kids Pastures & Prairie Ranch & Real Life

#OurFoodHasAStory…what’s yours?

October is Agriculture Month in Saskatchewan, and friend and fellow rancHER Adrienne Ivey asked me to share my food story as a guest post on her blog VIEW FROM THE RANCH PORCH. Adrienne is sharing a variety of food stories from people across Saskatchewan as part of Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture’s #OurFoodHasAStory campaign. Head over to Adrienne’s blog to read my story and what food means to me… better yet, participate on social media and share your own story!

Beef & Business

Food and (Tax) Shelter

Apparently only two things are certain in life: death, and taxes. The newly proposed changes to federal taxation for small businesses is making the certainty of taxes a little more complicated.

I would like to preface this by saying I am not a tax specialist. I’m sure my accountant (hey, girl!) is wondering what I could possibly even offer on the topic, but my goal is to draw attention to this serious matter, provide information links below where people can read the facts and even sign a petition if they so choose. Official comments must be forwarded before October 2.

Thanks to my upbringing, I know just enough about taxes to be dangerous. That’s okay, because now I can spot danger when I see it, and the proposed federal tax legislation definitely sounds an alarm bell. Because of the way we are structured, the proposed changes won’t affect us in the short term, however these changes have major implications in the way we do business going forward. My gravest concern is these changes may potentially limit our ability to formally involve our children, in more than just a free labour capacity, in our business someday if they are interested.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of Canada and provide hundreds of thousands of jobs for Canadians. For business owners, they provide the opportunity to “follow their dream” and “be their own boss” which sounds all kinds of sweet. In the end, it really involves a major personal investment of money, long hours, no pay/pension/benefits/maternity leave (hey-o!), but lots of stress and big-time sacrifice for owners who are after a different type of currency.

For small business owners, regardless of whether you operate a ranch, a hair salon, or a medical practices, employees and expenses need to be paid first, often not leaving much left behind for the owners. The owners may either choose to pay themselves a wage (ha!) or save the money in a non-RRSP for a crop failure drought tractor blow-up fire flood rainy day. (*Side note: I would totally welcome a rainy day this year). Farmers have to be ready for whatever delight Mother Nature throws at us and we need accessible money that’s not locked into a traditional pension or long-term savings. And if there is extra money, maybe we will go ahead and get ourselves something fancy, like a water bowl that wasn’t fashioned out of five old ones, or a new-to-us set of tires for our fifteen-year-old pick-up. If we are feeling extra devious, we might even fertilize that “moo chew” crop of ours! What a tax shelter!

My concerns with the proposed tax changes are:

Succession planning – proposed changes will provide a greater tax incentive for farmers to sell land to a non-family member or business, rather than to a potentially interested family member (who does not meet the intergenerational rollover definition). This isn’t right. You can sell your land to whoever you want to, but you shouldn’t be penalized for selling it to a family member if there’s a willing buyer and a willing seller. And for farmers who have already started the complicated journey of succession planning and have used existing tax scenarios as a guide, these potential changes are a major hit.

Income sprinkling – around our place, there’s not a lot of income to sprinkle, but there’s a sh*t load of work dumped on anyone old enough to ride a horse, hold a shovel, or market cattle. (At this point, the new infant is getting a free ride, but I’m sure that will change). For small business corporations, proposed changes will limit compensation paid to partners or owners otherwise triggering a large increase in taxes for those people. Also, compensation will be limited to people based on division of labour, financial contribution to the business, or financial risk. I’m not sure how you quantify that…

Capital Gains Exemption – There are also proposed changes to the Capital Gains Exemption, including possibly limiting family members from using the exemption if they have outside jobs or are only on the farm part-time. Last time I checked, it takes money to buy a farm or ranch and having a job is a useful way to make money. If you’re penalized for having a job so you can afford to buy into an all-work-no-pay small business (oops, I meant “live the dream!”), what incentive is there at all?!

Family farms have always been sandwiched in that no-man’s-land between “operating as a business” and “doing it for the lifestyle.” These proposed changes satisfy neither philosophy, but if they do proceed, I’m worried there won’t be a future for family farming.

Sign a Petition to the Minister of Finance 

Review official document from Government of Canada – Department of Finance Tax Planning Using Private Corporations (Page 17 shows you where you can submit comments)

Contact information for Members of Parliament

Tips on writing a letter to your Member of Parliament

MNP Factsheet – Potential Impacts of Changing Tax Regulations on Ranching Operations

Thomsan Jaspar & Associates – Short Video About Proposed Changes- 


Beef & Business Ranch & Real Life

Land Down Under

I enjoy traveling. The whole idea of going to a faraway place, where the surroundings and customs are unfamiliar to you is exciting. Traveling pushes me out of my Type A comfort zone and into a place of adventure and fun. As a self-confessed organizer, going on a trip is one of my best reminders that some of the best experiences come from flying by the seat of my pants. In the past few years, our expanding herd of humans and bovines has made travel a bit trickier from a logistical standpoint. One might not necessarily realize my wanderlust because I typically keep my travel to within a radius of three rural municipalities, or so, but I know that will change too someday.

Ten years ago this month, my Other Half and I embarked on a better-late-than-never honeymoon to Australia for three weeks. This was before the era of smart phones or readily available internet access. I had to book our plane tickets using dial up, and while I did make quite a few travel arrangements via email, there was no Google Maps or iPhone to rely on, and no text messaging.  We boarded our flights with a little Australian cash, a list of phone numbers for people we might know and hope to run into, and a Lonely Planet guide book.

Being interested in agriculture, we planned to mix in visits to different cattle and stud stations with tours to vineyards, beaches, and cities. As we hopped off our long flight into the humid, Australian air on Boxing Day, we were excited to start our ambitious agenda. We holed up in those quaint little spots known as “phone booths” (millennials, please ask a grown-up what that is), and started calling friends, acquaintances, and even strangers before we hopped on trains, planes and buses on our whirlwind excursion.

It was as much fun as we had hoped. We bartered for an already cheap suitcase at China Town in Sydney. We enjoyed beverages in small town pubs, large downtown nightclubs, and small, medium and large family-owned vineyards. We navigated roundabouts and dodged kangaroos in our rental car. We toured the Great Ocean Road in a backpackers’ bus named “Pigeon” along with a Brazilian sugar cane famer, German fashionistas, wandering souls from Romania, ag journalists from Switzerland, and a pair of (very) avid photographers from Hong Kong, among others. I had a rather long conversation about spicy Asian food with a well-meaning tour guide before I realized she thought I said I was from Szechuan, not Saskatchewan. An unwelcome emu ate my sandwich right out of my hand. We unintentionally stumbled across Kent Saddlery, a renowned tack and saddle-building outfit that had an impressive shop and an even more impressive mobile following. We ate schnitzels the size of steering wheels, met up with good friends, and made new ones.

We toured eleven ranches in four different states, ranging from small mom-and-pop operations right up to some of the top purebred studs on the continent. We caught up with farm friends that we had hosted in Canada and have been fortunate to host many others since in return. We spent New Year’s Eve with a delightful Canadian/Australian farm family that treated us as their own, and spent the next day at another top notch farm that was most welcoming. Along the way we got to view one of the best, and dare I say, most efficient, mobile embryo transplant laboratories in action.

When I think back on the trip, the people were phenomenal. Everyone was friendly, welcoming, and totally stopped what they were doing to show us around during a busy time of year. The people you meet are what makes traveling so valuable to me. And while I can’t argue that it’s nice to enjoy a trip to a warm climate during a Saskatchewan winter, we’ve met some pretty great people on quick jaunts to Medicine Hat, AB, or Outlook, SK, or Havre, MT. And those trips don’t usually involve retrieving a suitcase thoroughly soaked in Bundaberg rum from an airport …

Beef & Business

Is it actually cheaper to buy beef from a farmer or a grocery store?

Depending on the type, age, and finish of the animal that you are buying meat from, the total amount will vary, but below is a recent example of actual cuts yielded from a heifer in January, 2017.

One yearling feeder heifer yielded 365lb meat/side or 182lb/quarter. This is the HANGING WEIGHT, and what the butcher bases their costs on and what farmers base their price on. Once the meat is cut and wrapped to a customer’s specific requests, the resulting meat will weigh less, about 60-65% less to be exact, after excess bones, fat and other trim has been removed. This is referred to as the DRESSED WEIGHT. When you buy meat in the grocery store, you pay by the pound of dressed weight. When you buy from a farmer, you pay by pound of hanging weight. But doesn’t that mean I pay for material we don’t even eat? Below are some calculations that demonstrate even by paying on a hanging weight, you save $280+ compared to purchasing your meat in individual packages in a store.

Each butcher is different, but a relatively consistent fee that we have seen from the butcher we use is approximately $250/quarter for cutting and wrapping… it will cost more for specific cuts like making patties or tenderizing cutlets.

You can choose to cut and wrap meat in any way, and below is just one example of how you can specify cuts.  You will see that there are few round roasts but lots of round steak, because that is how I chose to have it cut. I also didn’t choose any cutlets or stew meat, but you can. You’ll may also notice that I had steaks cut into rib steaks and tenderloin (because tenderloin is THE BEST!) instead of T-bone and porterhouse steaks, but you could choose differently.

In this example, this quarter (a split half of front and hind quarters) yielded the following:

Buy Individually from Superstore* Buy Split Side From a Farmer
70 lb ground beef @ $4.99/lb = $349.30 182 lb x $2.55/lb current rail price = $464.10

You get 70lb ground beef, 2 pks sirloin steak, 2 pk rib steak, 1 cross-rib roast, 2 round roasts, 1 tip roast, 1 sirloin cap, 3 pk round steak, 2pk striploin, 3 pk tenderloin

2 pk sirloin steak (4 per pk) = 9lb x $6.80/lb = $61.20
2 pk rib steak (4 per pk) = 9lb x $16.33/lb = $146.97
1 – 4 lb cross-rib roast = 4lb x $6.48/lb = $25.92
2 – 4 lb round roasts = 8lb x $7.99/lb = $63.92
1 – tip roast = 4lb x $4.26 = $17.04
1 – sirloin cap = 1.5lb x $11.34/lb = $17.01 Cut and wrap at butchers = $250
3 pk round steak (1.75 lb per pk) = 5.25lb x $6.80/lb = $35.70
2 pk striploin (2 lb each) = 4lb x $13.60/lb = $54.40
3 pk tenderloin (1.75lb each) = 5.25lb x $43.35 = $227.59

*Accessed prices January 14, 2017 from Superstore Canada

If you buy the beef piece by piece at the store, you will end up paying $999.05 for the same product, when you could save $284.95 by purchasing beef by the quarter from a local farmer! In addition to the savings, you will have the convenience of having a freezer full of beef for your entire family to enjoy for six months or even a year, depending on how much beef you consume.

Purchasing a quarter of beef at once is a large investment, but it is one that will save you a lot of money and time in a year!

Beef & Business House & Homestead Pastures & Prairie Ranch & Real Life


Entering into the ranching business is not cheap. It takes work, planning, mostly lots of luck, and to be perfectly honest, capital. Without money, you can’t buy grass. Without grass, you can’t buy cows, and if you want to buy cows, guess what you need? For this reason, I have almost always worked off-farm in some capacity. Lucky for me, my off-farm employment revolves around prairie management, forage, beef, and communication, which is a pretty nice complement to my on-farm life too.

I used to drive to an office every day to work full-time. This was okay for a while, but three babies later, I decided to live the dream – ranch full-time…and work from home too. How hard could it be? Other people seemed to successfully work from home so why shouldn’t I? Blissfully ignorant, and I was looking forward to achieving the elusive (and annoyingly cliched) “work-life balance.” There were some myths that I quickly and systematically busted after just a few short weeks.

Myth: you will never again have to brave 105 kilometres (one way) of slippery roads, making the trek to the office in blizzard-like conditions. You’ll be safe and warm at home and weather will no longer impact your work like it once did.

Myth-buster: on beautiful, sunshiny days when you would love to be outside with your other ranching peers, you’re slaving away in your basement office tapping out your next report that is due in 47, wait… no… 46 minutes.

Myth: working from one’s home, you’ll surely be able to pop a quick load of laundry in the dryer while you run upstairs to grab a home-brewed cup of java, after which you can throw some supper in the slow-cooker. You’ll have well-planned meals and the cleanest home ever, all the time.

Myth-buster: your ice-cold coffee sits untouched until your alarm rings to go pick up the kids for music. You realize you haven’t yet brushed your teeth, so you do and run out the door, ignoring the mess in your house that accumulates because you are now in your house all the time. But hey, you got that last project submitted 3 hours before it was due!

Myth: you’ll get so much extra work done without the hassle of extended water cooler breaks and random chit chat. You won’t ever have to deal with office politics. Also, the flexibility of working from home means you can take off a bit early to get the kids to those music lessons, as long as you make the time up somewhere along the line.

Myth-buster: When you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, you realize you’re looking at the craziest woman you’ll ever share an office with. Wish you had someone to run a concept or idea by? Want a second opinion? Good luck finding a colleague that’s willing to chat at 11:52pm on a Friday evening when you’re making up for lost time.

Myth: with careful organization, you will at time create large blocks of time (during the daylight) to get a jump on work deadlines. Free from distractions, there is no reason you can’t put a good dent into your project.

Myth-buster: You’re focused. Wait…is that a knock at the door? It’s a traveling salesman, wanting to show you his wares. You send him on his way and just as he drives out, you hear the mooing of an errant bovine (or several) rambling through your yard. Once you put them back where they belong and return to your desk, the phone rings and it’s your long lost friend you haven’t chatted with since 2013. Then it rings again and you are needed out in the field. A quick four and a half hours later, you are back at your computer, smelling like diesel, but more focused than ever. Time to get some work done, people!

As the saying goes, if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I’m lucky to love my ranch work and “home/work” and enjoy the privilege of doing both. However, I can definitely say that I continue to learn a lot about that work-ranch-life balance. Some days the grass may seem greener on the other side, and sometimes it’s greenest right under your feet.

Beef & Business

The Struggle is Real

I purposefully try not to use my channels of communication to complain, because the world already has enough negativity in it. I am also apprehensive to say anything bad about living in rural Saskatchewan. The opportunity to operate an agricultural business and raise our family on a farm in the southwest is something I’m thankful for every day.

But…I have to get something off my chest.

Rural internet sucks.

For thousands of people across the province, this is hardly a secret. Rural internet has been a challenge since the advent of the internet itself. To set the record straight, I’m not annoyed because I’m missing out on some apparent thing called “NetFlix.” Nor do I have to referee internet battles among our kids because they don’t use the internet yet. My frustration is borne out something simple: I just want to operate my business.

When I first left the bright lights of high speed and moved to our ranch after university, we didn’t have internet service at all. I would head to a library or “borrow” the internet at work during lunch or coffee breaks. It wasn’t handy but our fledgling business was young and the internet was still pretty fresh too. Eventually we signed up for a little air stick device that promised to bring high speed internet right to my ranch office….sort of. It was inconsistent, slow, and I often couldn’t get a signal in spite of having a cell tower directly out my front window. If the internet Gods were with me, I could manage to pay a few bills online, check emails, and research cattle, equipment, or market information. This temperamental little unit soon quit working. We upgraded to a similar device and that thing quit working (and not because I chucked it at the wall in frustration, I promise). I investigated satellite internet options to find that we only qualified for one brand which garnered poor reviews from neighbours so we decided not to invest in the infrastructure. Fast forward to the present day where I alternate between four (ahem, not cheap) data-capped cell phone “hot spots” to operate our business.

The Canadian beef industry is renowned for its cutting edge technologies, innovative marketing and decision tools, and a highly advanced traceability system. Without internet access, it is tough to operate a modern-day cattle ranch. On our farm I spend more time in cyberspace than I do in the saddle, although obtaining that elusive connection feels a bit like a lottery most days. I file government paperwork, register cattle records, obtain forms, and look everything up because apparently “all the information you’re phoning about, ma’am, can be found on our website!” I use social media and our website to promote our cattle, acquire new customers and maintain contact with existing ones. We purchase and sell cattle through online auctions. We edit and upload hours of video footage to promote our livestock and tell the story of our ranch. All of these legitimate business practices burn through precious, sweet gigabytes of rationed data faster than a fence-crawling cow can detect a broken wire.

I understand providing high speed internet to rural and remote locations is hard and expensive. I realize I made a conscious decision to live in a rural location and that we are just one of thousands of rural entrepreneurs struggling with sub-par internet. But I do know that Saskatchewan’s economy is built on sectors like agriculture, mining, and energy development, and these businesses don’t operate in places where you can enjoy free Wi-Fi and a vente latte. Our lack of consistent high speed internet is holding us back.

Our province is home to hard-working, smart, talented and resourceful people. City or country, Saskatchewan is the best place in Canada to operate a business. Now is it too much to ask that we all have fair access to the World Wide Web?

Beef & Business Ranch & Real Life

East or West

We have several friends and cattle customers down east that my Other Half and I have been wanting to catch up with. In late May the stars aligned, or to be more specific, the clouds gathered and it rained, which afforded us a few days away. Travelling is always a good opportunity to recharge and regroup, but more importantly for us it is a chance to learn from others. This trip was no exception and below are a few of my observations:

Canadians are Canadians: We did spend a bit of time in Canada’s largest city. Being modest country folk, I was expecting the people in the GTA to be busy, bustling and distracted with their own agendas. That they were, but it turns out they were also friendly, courteous and helpful. People held doors open for us and returned our smiles. And, after noting my dear husband’s cowboy hat, only one person on Yonge Street asked if we were from Texas.

Do as the Romans do: when we travel, we usually spend minimal time taking in the culture, entertainment or sporting events of an area, and spend maximum time focusing on cattle. For this trip however, there was a Blue Jays game starting an hour or two after our plane landed so I bought a couple tickets and we joined in the fun, following the wave of blue people heading toward Rogers Centre. We cheered right along with our seatmates (who also happened to be from Saskatchewan), we indulged in frosty, over-priced-but-incredibly-refreshing beverages and bought tickets in the 50-50 draw…which naturally amounted to $43,000. (Note: we were not the lucky winners).

Age is just a number: One major difference I saw between Saskatchewan and Ontario was that of history and heritage. In Ontario, most farms had homes that were 150 years old and many had working barns and outbuildings that were of the same vintage. Here at home, my 55 year old house is sometimes considered quaint, but out east, it would be positively youthful. It’s a similar story for generational family farms. My husband and I, both fourth-generation Saskatchewan farmers, were visiting with a fourth-generation Ontario producer…who was five decades our senior.

The coffee pot is always on: at home, if I am craving a fresh, hot cup of Tim Horton’s coffee, all I have to do is drive 96 km to our nearest franchise and purchase a steaming cup. Of course I don’t do that, therefore a hot cuppa Timmy’s becomes a nice treat every once in a while. In Ontario, if you’re jonesing for a double-double, all you have to do is wait five minutes. There are literally Tim Horton’s locations scattered at five to ten minute intervals across the entire province. And they are all busy. And the coffee is all fresh.

Farmers are farmers: there are of course similarities and differences between farms in the west and the east but wherever we went, people were welcoming, very hard-working and generous. Everyone made time in their busy schedules to show us their farms and answer our questions. The farms were efficient and very well kept. Whether we were visiting traditional family farming operations or state-of-the-art enterprises, the animals were all very well cared for and the farmers noticed subtleties between individual animals even on very large operations. No matter where you are located, all farmers deal with challenges including land prices, soil conditions, market volatility, weather fluctuations and consumer pressures and I realized we have more similarities than differences with our eastern counterparts.

As the saying goes, east or west, home is best, but to be honest, I felt at home for the entire duration of our working holiday. East or west, Canada is home.

Beef & Business Critters & Kids

Herd Bound

As our kids grow older, they are gaining independence and observing things around them – which leads to questions. Lots of them. Questions like, “how old were you when you started driving?” and “when did you get your own tractor?” My personal favourite is “how old were you when you got an iPhone?” which I enjoy answering with a confident “twenty-nine.” That usually shuts down the Q&A session while their young minds contemplate my mind-blowing answer.

For several years now, our children have been asking us how old we were when we got our first calf. My husband and I each started our respective herds around the mature age of seven or eight, he with a purebred Gelbvieh female and I with a commercial heifer named Patches. We have descendants of those foundation females in our herd to this day, but what is more, our fledgling herds helped support our education, instill responsibility and business sense, and foster our entrepreneurial interests. Of course, at the time we didn’t really care about all of that, we were just excited to have a calf!

Many ranch families give their kids a calf when they are first born. Having birthed our twins during our own peak calving season, selecting a nice calf for them didn’t make our priority list. Later on, we thought it might be nice to wait until the kids were a bit older and could understand the concept of raising cattle before we arbitrarily assigned them their own calves.

This year, we could no longer ignore their interest in starting a herd of their own. All of our kids tag along on our daily ranch work, but our older two kids in particular have been helping us chase calves, brand, rope, and notice calves that require special attention, even when those calves fly under the radar of the adults around our camp. They are interested and invested in caring for animals. It was now or never.

One evening, my Other Half took our boys out to check cows in the pasture and they returned with a big grin and a list of their top pick plus a spare just in case. (Having had a special Sweet Sixteen birthday heifer that ended up in the deep freeze myself, I appreciated the value of having a Plan B). One of our sons chose a nice stout black heifer calf and the other chose a red commercial heifer with a patch of white down its nose. Special calving books were developed and pertinent information was noted. Names were carefully considered in consultation with their little sister.

Maybe these heifers will help fund whatever passion our kids develop as they grow up, or maybe these calves will be the start of their own ranching careers. No doubt, it will be the start of something big and exciting for them and I’m looking forward to watching the events unfold.

Welcome to the herd, Alice and Lou Lou. I hope you have a long and productive career around our pastures.

Beef & Business

Farmer’s License

Not too many people farm in Canada, yet everyone needs to eat. And these days, you don’t have to look very hard to find a conversation about food or farming. Almost everyone has an opinion on at least one of those topics, and whether or not the opinion is well-informed seems to be of little consequence.

Conversations about food and how it is produced are fraught with a complex list of terms and buzzwords. Sustainability, social license, local, welfare-friendly, antibiotic-free, corporate farming, stewardship, back-to-the-land, free range, Big Farms, labelling, public trust, Big Pharma, certified, natural, eco-friendly, organic, genetically modified, free-from-added… the list goes on. And on. Restaurants and retailers employ no shortage of marketing schemes to promote their products as superior, and in my opinion, sometimes exploit consumers’ lack of understanding or underlying guilt in order to sell food.

In the past, Canadian farmers had an implicit “social license to operate,” meaning the public trusted farmers to produce food without asking too many questions. Perhaps stakeholders and consumers placed their trust in farmers because more people had stronger connections to rural roots and they had an intrinsic understanding of agriculture. Now, thanks to advertising and media as well as a large volume of information available on-line, much of which is unscientific and even downright false, it seems as though the public trust in Canada’s food production systems need to be maintained, and in some cases, earned back.

The concept that farmers need to maintain or work to earn a social license to operate really used to (pardon the agricultural pun here) get my goat. Who do these people think they are, telling me what to do, how to make my living and how best to care for my land and water? Don’t consumers understand how hard farmers work? Doesn’t the public get that we are doing everything in our power to produce safe, high quality food to feed their families while hardly making our own ends meet? Don’t they realize the challenge farmers have to produce more food with fewer resources?


The reality is, most consumers don’t understand modern agricultural production practises because only 2% of Canada’s population is actually tied to the agricultural sector. That leaves 98% of our country’s people whose main interaction with food is through purchasing it at the grocery store, where confusing campaigns, guilt, and buyer’s remorse thrive. No doubt consumers have questions.

But what’s a farmer to do?

It’s hard to expect consumers with no agricultural context to understand what farmers do, unless we explain it to them in a concise and respectful manner. We should not just wait until there is a crisis to address, we need to start initiating regular, everyday conversations with regular, everyday consumers. Start a conversation at the rink, in our schools, at a restaurant, during music lessons, in the waiting room at the dentist’s office, in a grocery store, and with our non-farming friends and family.  These visits won’t be loud and they might not make any headlines, but these conversations are the ones that count. Rather than defend our production practises, we need to explain them, and share the benefits that they offer the environment, our animals, our land, and our water.

When it comes to social license, some would argue that the consumer with their almighty dollar is in the driver’s seat. But farmers shouldn’t be content to ride shotgun. Farmers can and should start navigating the road to respectful and productive conversations about food with the public. There is simply too much as stake and we can’t afford to lose our social license to operate.

Beef & Business Ranch & Real Life

The Year of the Cow

I have had a variety of New Year’s Resolutions over the years. They vary from the unattainable — a couple favourites are drink more water and just be a nicer person already — to the more realistic goal of having more haircuts in 2014 than the solitary cut I had in 2013. (Totally nailed that last one, by the way!). For this upcoming year, I thought I would appeal to my literary side and decided to read more books than I had in the previous year. It seemed like a good plan until not one, but two family members reminded me that I had actually made that resolution last year.

My favourite resolution of all time however, was in 2011 when I randomly resolved to do a better job at promoting the beef industry. I would love to say that there was a deeper meaning behind my goal, that perhaps I was concerned about the growing disparity between the farmer and our urban consumer counterparts, or that I had just had an altercation with a vegan, but there was no real method to my madness. It was just a New Year’s Resolution.

But I really meant it. For most of the year leading up to January 1, 2011, I was on maternity leave with my twin babies and on our ranch full time. For the first time, I was finally able to be involved more in the 7am-6pm aspects of our daily ranch life instead of just running a second shift after I was home from my day job. Being more present, both physically and mentally, on our operation reminded me that cattle ranching is important to me and that it’s a valuable part of the food system and our economy as well. Hence my subconscious was thoroughly promoting my beefy New Year goal.

My resolution also coincided with a new program called the Cattlemen’s Young Leader that was just getting off the ground. This national mentorship program, through the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, was accepting applicants to participate in a yearlong journey of learning, leadership and networking in Canada’s beef industry. I was intrigued so I thought I would apply and see what happened. The fact that I actually clicked the online application button with about twenty minutes left to spare before the midnight deadline perhaps would point to a need for a procrastination resolution someday but that might be better in 2017. Or 2018.

I was a lucky CYL candidate and my experience was second-to- none. I was reacquainted with old friends and classmates, met several inspiring people, and toured some amazing facilities. It reinvigorated my appetite for learning and my love for all things beef. I gained a better appreciation for all segments of the beef value chain, from the science behind forage and feed grain production, through to feedlots, packers, retailers and chefs. The experience paired me with a mentor that I’m close with to this day, and she and others continue to encourage me to share ranch stories, including those in this column. The experience also reminded me that when you gather several 18-35 year olds from across Canada with similar interests, a lot of fun can be had. Also, given the spread in ages and demographics, a natural division occurs between those that are excited to stay up all night long and those who are excited to get a full night’s sleep. (As the mom of young twin babies, I totally fell into the latter group).

CYL will be accepting another crop of applications starting on January 1, 2016. If you’re interested or want more information on this mentorship program, visit www.cattlemensyoungleaders.com.

Technically 2011 may have been the Year of the Rabbit. But for me, that year and every year to follow, really is the Year of the Cow.

Happy New Year and all the best in 2016!

Beef & Business

Pedal to the Metal

There is nothing quite like buying a vehicle. Some people may actually view a vehicle purchase with excitement but for the record, I am not one of those people. I can’t help but experience that gnawing feeling that I’m about to drop a lot of money on something that actually loses value the nanosecond I drive away. But like it or not, vehicles are sort of mandatory for ranchers, and I’ve come to accept that purchasing said vehicles are a necessary part of life.

I’ve imported vehicles and exported vehicles, I’ve bought used ones and new ones. Some trucks I truly missed after I traded them in and others I may have burned rubber in an effort to distance myself as quickly as possible.

Over the years, I’ve developed a bit of a strategy when shopping for vehicles. I want to get the most money possible out of my trade-in, while spending the absolute least amount of money possible on a replacement. That’s my big secret. I’ve also made a few observations along the way:

1. Bring a wingman, but choose the right wingman. Having a co-conspirator along is helpful for many reasons. You need someone to buoy you when your spirits flag or provide a strategic distraction when you need a moment to collect yourself. In my case, my little girl and I have successfully purchased two vehicles now so she is my current wingwoman, and will insist on a potty break at precisely the right time.

2. Know your numbers. Do your homework ahead of time so you know what you can and will spend, and write it down. This will save you much pain and confusion when trying to decide if a “Doorcrasher Deal!” or a “Major Blowout!” is indeed the deal of a lifetime when spread over the recommended 96* monthly** payments.

*Nothing is ever a deal when another several dozen months are added on.

**Ranchers don’t get monthly paychecks. Monthly payments can be sort of irrelevant.

3. Communicate what you want. This was a good reminder for me during my last foray to dealerships. I started looking over trucks that the salesman recommended but nothing fit. I asked about a few others in the line and his response was that they were pretty bare bones models. “They don’t even have carpet in them!” he exclaimed. Well now, my interest was piqued. It turned out the basic models he thought wouldn’t suit me were exactly what I wanted. Manure-caked truck upholstery is the bane of my existence, he had me at “no carpet.

4. Don’t look desperate. If you wait until you need to buy a vehicle, salesmen will be all over you like a bloodhound tracking a fox. I learned this little tip while waddling the lots (eight months pregnant with twins) with my husband on a crisp -45C day. We weren’t just kicking tires and boosting test drives, we were there because we weren’t going home until we purchased a vehicle. It perhaps was not the best negotiation strategy.

5. Be ready to pull the pin. This is closely related to the previous point, but it’s an important one. If you’re unsure, indecisive, or waffling even a bit, walk away. You may actually invite a better deal if you start to walk, or you may simply walk away from a ride that isn’t right for you. Either way, you won’t regret it. Just don’t bluff, save this move for when you really don’t mind leaving that vehicle behind.

Our recent truck shopping experience was fruitful and we found something that worked for our family. The only trouble is, it’s so darn clean and the windows chip-free that I’m not quite sure I know what to do with it. My solution? Pack it full of snacks, car seats, a tow rope, chore clothes, stock medicine, my camera, fencing tools, and anything else I need…. and drive it like I own it.

Beef & Business

Party Lines

I normally enjoy following politics. Be it federal politics or provincial politics or an impending election in a neighbouring jurisdiction, I take a keen interest in the issues and policies at stake and the players in the race. These days however, I’m finding it a little hard to do.

We’re slightly over the half-way mark in what feels like the longest federal election campaign of all time. That’s partly because it is the longest Canadian election campaign in modern history. By the time the polls open on October 19, Canadians will have been treated to eleven weeks of promises, announcements, and candidates making awkward attempts at relating to everyday people and posing for cheesy photo opportunities. These are the folks who claim they will be the best choice in leading our country through the next several challenging years. I’m not so sure about that, but if this race were a competition in playground bullying and below-the-belt wisecracks, all of these folks would do just fine.

Social and conventional media continue to play a major role in shaping this campaign and in many (all right, most) ways I’ve been disappointed. Today’s political news headlines are becoming eerily similar in focus and quality on both sides of the 49th which is disconcerting. Maybe I’m struggling a bit because I haven’t heard anything concrete regarding issues that impact me and our ranch, yet I’ve been subjected to the intimate details about former candidates and how and when they urinate. To be fair, the “Peegate” scandal I’m referring to brought forward a useful point about the importance of parties vetting candidates before allowing them to represent their values. But, it was a little too much information. Let’s keep it classy, Canada.

I want nitty gritty policy details about agriculture, more about parties’ stances on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, climate strategies to deal with drought and water security, and party views on consumer pressures like GMO-labelling. I’m very worried about the economy and I don’t want finger-pointing, but rather am looking for specific information on parties are going to deal with different economic scenarios. I’m not interested in media sensationalizing two- and three-year old tweets made by campaign managers, which simply reminds us all that the Internet never forgets. I would, however, like some information on positions about the grain storage and freight crisis or supporting infrastructure for associated industries.

I guess I still have more questions than answers with respect to this election campaign. As a small business owner and a parent of young children, I’m focused on the future and I need politicians that are as well. If I’m unclear on certain issues that are important to me, I’d better do some research and make some decisions. I shouldn’t rely on media or anyone else to help me decide which way to vote, the responsibility lies with me as it does with all individual voters.  The stakes are simply too high.

There is an old ranch saying that if you “hang onto the cow’s tail, she will pull you through.” I’m not sure who exactly will be the best choice to pull Canada through the next four years given the tumultuous economy we are heading towards, not to mention other global and environmental challenges that will impact all of us. Whether you’re spending too much time at the back end of a cow or simply trying to follow today’s election campaign, you’ll probably be subjected to a large amount of crap. But this is the hand we are dealt with and the very worst thing the public can do is nothing at all.

Get informed. Go and vote.

Beef & Business

Skin Deep

At Lonesome Dove Ranch, we are all about tattoos. We truly value the role that tattoos play in self-identification and we especially like their permanence. Getting ink isn’t just a part of the culture for our ranch residents, it is actually a requirement for a specific demographic of our population. That’s right, if you are a registered purebred bovine, you must have a tattoo.

To reiterate, I am NOT talking about people. None of the humans that are kicking around our place currently have a tattoo, or nothing stronger than the temporary Ninja Turtle variety. I’m pretty sure it’s against the law to force a person to acquire a tattoo just so they could fit in at our camp, so the only critters around here that are required to sport a tattoo are the furry four-legged kind.

We tattoo our purebred cattle in their right ear with a designated and unique number, along with our registered herd prefix. Ear tattoos are a requirement of managing purebred cattle and this identification helps buyers and sellers do what they say and say what they do. Prior to entering specific shows or sales, cattle tattoos need to be verified, and it is a handy and permanent way of double checking the identity of an animal if they lose other forms of identification, like a drop tag.

Our expert tattoo artist has experience applying high quality ear tattoos in a variety of windy and dusty field conditions on thousands of animals. I don’t think I would request just any tattoo from our artist, no butterflies or maple leaves or anything like that, but his handiwork leaves clear and legible letters and numbers, which is a must in our business.

Possibly the only drawback of our cattle tattoo parlour process is the ink itself. Livestock tattoo ink is a thick, goopy paste, available in diverse colours and our colour of choice is bright green. While the whole tattoo process takes place in under fifteen seconds, things can get surprisingly messy in that brief time frame. Of course the calf’s ear and head usually get a little green, which later results in any excess paste rubbing off on the corresponding cow’s udder and muzzle. The tip table we use in order to safely hold the calf in place often gets a little ink on it as well. You also need to have a spot where you can set the tube of ink and the ink-covered tattoo instruments down. A nearby tail gate or table usually does the trick, but that means anyone who sets anything down within a two metre radius of said area has the potential to turn green.  Add some busy little helping hands into the mix as well as a few adult pranksters and no one is immune to sporting some creative, personalized ink of their own.

Over the years, I’ve washed ink off of coffee cups and casserole dishes, bathroom sinks and barn doors, and it fades away with time. Depending on how close you are to the tattoo process, it might be a good idea to wear clothes that are already green because you’re going to end up that colour anyway. If all else fails and you feel really committed, you can accessorize your new shade with matching clothes or even nail polish for a week or two.

It’s not always easy being a rancher and it may not always be easy being a calf, but in both circumstances, it ain’t easy being green.

Beef & Business Ranch & Real Life

Pretty Paper

When I was a kid, I knew that I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up. I knew that I wanted to do other things too, but early on I knew that I enjoyed working with cattle, making hay, marketing products, and analysing the weather, all things that I thought would be important for operating a ranch. I did, however, miss the memo regarding how much paperwork and administration that would be involved with farming. I’ve had off-farm jobs in sectors well-known for red tape, paperwork and excessive form-filling, yet not one of those jobs has ever come close to the filing, recording and notation required with running our ranch.

For any farmer and rancher reading this, I’m preaching to the choir here, but if you’re not involved in primary production, the amount of administration and paper-pushing that is required to be a rancher these days might come as a bit of a surprise. The voluminous paperwork really seems to mount at this time of year too. There are bull sale catalogs, contracts and agreements, maps, manifests, forms, registrations, equipment manuals, calving data books, financial records, feed inventories, licenses, statements of net worth, design blueprints, warranties, and advertising to keep track of. Then we have pedigrees…oh the pedigrees. There are dog pedigrees, horse papers, and of course cattle registration certificates for any and all registered animals who currently or have ever called our place home. I’ve dabbled with international paperwork, importing and exporting goods and services like animals and tractors, and possess a filing cabinet full of forms and documents to show for it. I haven’t even brought up the day-to-day book-keeping, bill-paying, invoicing and tax documents that all folks and businesses have.

I would be remiss in this paper discussion if I didn’t include my treasured tape calculator and the pretty ribbons of curled paper that it produces. This handy calculator has assisted me over the years, both on and off the farm, in navigating the murky waters of tax preparation, government paperwork, and dozens of non-profit funding proposals and reports. There is a direct correlation to the length of my calculator tape and the amount of midnight oil I have burned.

Our personal papers add to the fray, and the fact that I’m kind of nerdy doesn’t help my cause. We have a lot of books in our house, including reference books, children’s books and the odd piece of fiction. We also subscribe to many newspapers and agricultural publications and my beloved Rangeland magazine. The very newspaper in which you are reading this column enables the paper pervading my life. And all of these previously mentioned papers combined can only amount to a mere fraction when compared with the depth and breadth of children’s drawings that have accumulated in our home.

Not all of our ranch work involves paper I will admit, and society’s quest to become ‘paperless’ has had an impact. We use our ranch web-site, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube accounts to connect with potential customers and consumers, and if I can pay a bill on-line, I certainly will do that instead of sending a cheque away in the mail.  But time and again, I’ve learned from many wise people that a tiny piece of paper hoarded away can come to the rescue and confirm a detail or prove a fact. Paper does indeed have a place.

I’m not sure I’ll see a reduction in paperwork in my near future, either in work or in play. Perhaps it would be wise to put pen to paper once again, and plan out where to plant a few pretty trees so I can do the right thing and replace all the ones I’ve killed.

Beef & Business Critters & Kids Ranch & Real Life

Reality TV

I must confess, we’ve recently started watching a lot more television in our household. This television watching has coincided directly with the start of calving season and there is one very specific show that we all take great interest in. This show has no commercials. It always features something interesting to watch. It’s (mostly) family friendly and the content sparks a lot of questions from our small fry.

We installed calving cameras.

Sometimes known as cow-cams, these wireless security cameras mounted in our pen and barn transmit live video footage of our calving critters to our TV in the house.  We started talking about purchasing cameras last year, and after pricing a few systems out and finding the right deal, a cumbersome parcel was delivered to our post office just in time for our main cow herd to start experiencing the first pains of labour.

I know excessive television watching isn’t meant to be good for us, but I’m pretty sure excessive cow-checking isn’t so healthy either. Cows don’t like to be interrupted by well-meaning pen-checkers as they’re getting down to business birthing babies. Somewhat like humans, I suspect they don’t want a lot of onlookers.  Most humans, of course, wouldn’t welcome a live-feed video of their birth, however when it comes to cows, I figure what they don’t know won’t hurt them. Besides, it’s a nice technological counterpart to the view I have from my kitchen window of cows having calves.

It is really interesting to watch cows who don’t know that they’re being watched. Even during other times of the year when I’m peeping on them out in the pasture from a quarter mile away with my binoculars, they’re still aware that I’m there watching them. Their prey mentality makes it kind of hard to sneak up on a cow and pull a fast one on her. This makes the cow-cams a bit more fun and we’ve made a few interesting observations. If you catch a cow or heifer in the process of calving, you better not blink because you’ll miss it. The whole process is quick. It’s also really fun to watch baby calves get up just moments after being born. Of course, you can see this in person too, but again, cows are distracted by a person’s presence and they act much differently than when they are left completely alone. I was pretty sure that our calves were quick to get up and nurse, but now that I can watch them in action from the comfort of my home, I’ve been quite surprised at just how quick they are to get up and at ‘em.

We’ve always had a policy of no television in our bedrooms, however because of the orientation of our barn to our house, the closest and most logical room to set up the television is in – you guessed it – our bedroom. When you add a couple TV monitors, a few wires, antennae, and three interested children into the smallest room in our home, it gets a bit crowded, not to mention it becomes an Interior Decorating Don’t. Fortunately the gadgets are temporary and my decorating skills are already pretty inadequate so the effects are minimal. Another beneficial side-effect has been my motivation to keep our room very clean in the event that my Other Half drags some interested person into our room to show them how crisp and clear the video is.

There have been other less obvious benefits to the cow-cam as well. One camera pans 360 degrees, providing a great shot of the entire barnyard, including our horses and our diabolical mule, Dexter. It definitely doesn’t hurt to be able to continuously monitor Dexter via video surveillance especially when his mischief often peaks at this time of year. It can be also useful for me to keep tabs on my Other Half, generally creeping on him at random intervals…. I mean “making sure he’s safe.”

Overall, I’d say we’ve gotten our money’s worth out of the cameras. When we all gather around the television to watch whether High Society, Buttercup or Sabrina are about to go into labour, I realize we’ve found our ultimate reality TV show.

Please pass the popcorn.

Dexter caught on camera.
Dexter caught on camera.
Beef & Business Critters & Kids Pastures & Prairie Ranch & Real Life

East or West

They say everyone deserves a day off now and again, a holiday or a getaway of sorts, to help rejuvenate and renew your soul, inspire your work, even make your work more productive and valuable upon your return. It’s a great theory, but one that’s not always easy to put into practise.

People these days seem pretty busy. There’s a never-ending to-do list of regular tasks plus a whole host of other jobs that get added onto your plate depending on the season. This makes it hard to take time for that coveted vacation. If you have small or medium or even large children, the thought of going on a relaxing vacation where you can put your feet up is almost laughable, especially for some members of the family (*cough* moms). There’s packing and laundry and lists and cleaning and vehicle organization and activity planning that can sometimes (always?) get in the way of having a worry-free holiday. Then when you arrive home, the real fun begins: unpacking, more laundry, vehicle clean-out, more laundry, recovery of lost items, and… more laundry.

Late in the summer, it didn’t look like we were going to get away for a weekend trip anytime soon and that didn’t sit well with me. I’m very familiar with the concept of the ‘staycation’ or ‘holistay’ or whatever the trendy term is these days for having a vacation in your own backyard, so that’s what we did. Except when you’re a rancher, you have a pretty big backyard, and instead of sticking in our literal yard, we ventured down to camp in one of our pastures. It turned out to be a pretty good arrangement. I was happy because I only had to pack whatever was needed for a 12 hour camp out (which is still a lot, but less than what it could have been!), the Other Half was happy because the destination was close and involved cattle, and the kids were happy because when you’re little and you go somewhere, it’s always a fun and exciting adventure. We explored, ate snacks, watched shooting stars and even entertained some good friends who managed to find our campsite in the dark.

More recently, we went on a larger-scale family trip that again incorporated work, play and cattle, something we seem to be adept with here at the Lonesome Dove Ranch. Our family shows cattle annually at Agribition, and after the kids and I sat out for much of this show and others over the last couple of years, we decided it was time to bring everyone. Ten days, three kids, one hotel room, lots of cattle in two different barns, thirty changes of clothes for the children alone… My overarching goal was survival and I’m pleased to say that we achieved that deliverable. Additional benefits included meeting new people, visiting with friends, family and customers, and as an added bonus, we did well in the show too. Some of our kids really cottoned onto the promotion and marketing aspect of showing cattle, some had fun combing, some felt we walked a bit too far, and one child thought one of the black bulls would look better with a pink barrette in his hair. With a little help from friends and family, we had a very memorable time at Agribition this year, albeit a much different experience than what I remember having in the past.

Our family enjoyed two very different holidays this year in spite of a challenging fall for us. Whether you go far or stay near, whether you leave the ranch or whether you take the ranch with you, embarking on a getaway is important and valuable. They say you will return home from a vacation with a more positive outlook on life, be healthier and feel more connected to your family. They also say that ‘east or west, home is best.’ The hardest part of a vacation may be to leave. The best part of your holiday may be your return. Except for maybe the laundry.

Beef & Business

The Customer is Always Right. Right?!

I recently attended a beef production conference where the messages were positive, the information was credible and things pointed towards a good market in the foreseeable future. After years of ranchers sharpening their pencils down into sawdust, it looks like we might be able to go out and invest in a brand new shiny pencil. That way we’ll be ready for the next cycle.

One presentation was different from the rest and focused on a consumer-driven market strategy of a large retail burger chain. The company’s Vice President was there to shed light on their new free-fromadded-hormones market approach. This approach in itself is a whole different story for another time, but my issue with her message was her statement regarding consumer education. Asked about whether the consumers whose opinions this market strategy were based upon had basic knowledge of beef production, her answer was vague. When pushed a bit, she simply said “it’s not my job to educate consumers.”


Consumers absolutely have a right, maybe even an obligation, to learn about how their food is produced so that they can make informed purchasing decisions. Perhaps at one time, consumers could ask farmers directly for information, or had personal experience themselves which provided a context for where their food came from. Everyone in the entire food value chain — the consumer, the processor, the retail VP, the primary producer – all have a role to play in understanding food production.

Today, consumers are basing their food choices on … the internet? What they see on Facebook? The cost? What their friends are doing? I’m not exactly certain I know what is driving consumer perceptions, but it worries me. In business, the customer is always right, but there is a fine line between responding to legitimate market demands and exploiting consumer innocence.

Recently, a late night comedian created a video of random people being asked about gluten-free (GF) diets. All of the people emphatically confirmed that they lived a GF lifestyle, citing how important it was to them. When their GF-enthusiasm died down, the comedian asked respondents what gluten was. Not one of them could answer. There are people who legitimately cannot eat gluten for serious health reasons and they probably wish like anything that they could. Yet, here was a group of mature adults who were eating a restricted diet without understanding what it was they were restricting or why.

Part of the reason I write this column, or engage with customers and the public on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube (and in person!) is to share day-to-day ranch activities and information about the food we’re producing and eating. Because I’m not just a producer. Like everyone else, I too need to eat in order to survive. I too like to feed my family a safe, balanced and diverse diet to keep them healthy.

Canadians are so very lucky to have a variety of food choices and affordable ones at that. Whether you choose food that is locally produced or imported from another country, organic or conventional, GMObased or vegan, take the time to examine your choice from the field up, starting with the people on the ground who are growing it. If it’s not the consumer’s job to learn about where their food comes from, and it’s not the retail Vice President’s job to educate them, and it’s not my job as a primary producer to do it…. whose job is it?

Beef & Business Critters & Kids Ranch & Real Life

The Birth of a Baby

Calving season is a pretty major deal for every ranch. After all, it’s when you welcome the new critters into the world whose existence is responsible for paying your bills eight or nine months later for expenses that you incurred eighteen months before they arrive. It’s complicated, all right, but the bottom line is, healthy live calves will give you much-needed income.

Calving can also be a bit like an emotional roller coaster ride in that there are several ups and downs throughout its course.

Stage One is the most blissful of the stages, one that I refer to as the Anticipation and Wonderment Phase. Cows are brought closer to home for better monitoring. Ranchers place soft, dry straw bedding in the pens just like an expectant (human) mother might prepare a baby bassinette in a nursery. You anxiously await the first arrival, checking the cows a little too frequently, a little too excitedly and maybe a bit impatiently. You’ve been waiting on these babies for a long time and you are soon to see firsthand the fruits of your carefully crafted breeding plan labors. The stars seem to shine brighter on those numerous midnight walks to the barn. You gaze at the Northern Lights once again and feel just a smidgen of pity for the poor urban dwellers who will never know the magic of the midnight bovine midwifery care that you, the rancher, are so blessed to provide.

Enter Stage Two, the phase I like to call Ticking Time Bomb. By this time, you’ve gotten through the first cycle and probably been dealt a few extreme weather events just for good measure as well. You’ve drank several dozen pots of coffee to wake up in the morning, to keep yourself awake during the day, and to get yourself through until the next check, which feels like it should be 3am but in reality, is only 7pm. You’ve dealt with normal everyday events of calving, big and small, and while things are probably going just fine, the smallest thing may cause you to react a bit… er, dramatically.

Stage Three is the Wrap-Up Phase. The weather’s behaving a bit better, you’re sleeping through the night again, and the edge is (thankfully) wearing off. You can reflect a bit on the past couple of months, and rationally acknowledge the good times and a few bad times too. In the end, you realize you made it through to the other side. You get out your breeding field lists to organize who is going where and with what so you can repeat the whole calving process in nine months’ time.

The other day I was going to run some errands and I checked the calving cows on the way. I had Baby Girl in tow and a schedule to keep and here was a cow that decided she should start calving. I didn’t want to run quickly to town and miss it because Murphy’s Law states that’s exactly when something bad would happen. But I didn’t feel like sitting around for the next 30-60 minutes that it might take for her to expel this bovine fetus. Feeling oh-so-sorry for myself, Baby Girl and I drove through the older calves and their moms for a bit to while away some time. A quick check on the cow showed that she was progressing, but still no baby. Also, she was acutely aware of my obstetrical observation efforts, which often slows the entire process down. By now my baby is sleeping peacefully, so all I can do is hurry up and wait, contemplating my super important errands in their current un-ran state. I reclined my seat and tried to relax for a few minutes, because there really wasn’t much else I could do at that point anyway. After a bit, I snuck around to the back of the pen playing a sneaky game of I Spy. What did I spy but a happy, wet, newborn baby calf! And it was beautiful. Watching the mama lick her baby off, murmuring little bovine moos of encouragement to him as he tried to stand just moments after his birth. All of a sudden, I was taken back to the Anticipation and Wonderment stage. Two months and lots of calves later, witnessing the birth of a calf is still kind of amazing. Which is good, because in about 305 days, we’re going to do it all over again.

Beef & Business Ranch & Real Life

Faster, Higher, Stronger: Calving Olympics

I’ll admit I’m not much of a sports fan, but when it comes to the Olympic Winter Games, I take a keen interest. I enjoy watching sports that don’t normally get a lot of coverage and I feel pride for Canada (and Saskatchewan!) when our athletes do well. Plus, it’s televised at odd hours of the day, which is kind of handy at this time of year when we are awake during those odd hours monitoring our birthing bovines.
It is calving season on our ranch and calving cows is not an official Olympic sport but it can feel a bit like a marathon at times. Similar to the Olympics, there are certain activities or “events” that are symbolic to calving. Below are some common events that can be fun or not-so-fun depending on the weather, the cows and my varying levels of sleep deprivation.

  • Cross-Country Freestyle Pen Walk: Manure, when fresh, is gooey but fairly easy to walk on or through. A cold cow patty is a much different story. Walking across a pen full of these hard, unpredictable lumps is a lot like walking on gigantic marbles, and about as graceful as it sounds. The competitor in this event must employ whatever freestyle moves necessary to avoid falling. To be successful, they must remain focused and maintain excellent balance. I don’t usually score so well in this one.
  • One-Person Calf Sled Pull: When a cow gives birth in the coldest corner of the pen and the wind chill is a brisk -45C, the nice thing to do is move her and her newborn into a warm, dry spot. Putting the calf in a sled and bringing it to a more inviting environment should be a fairly simple job. Factors such as the slippery nature of a newborn calf, the hormonal nature of a post-parturient cow and the aforementioned frozen turds can make sledding a calf quite a sport. Inevitably, the calf escapes the sled at least two times prior to reaching the finish line.
  • Corral Panel High Jump – this event, while sounding ambitious, is actually inspired by laziness. A spontaneous event, the athlete, when checking the calving pens for the 12th time that day, must mentally assess the energy requirements of walking all the way to the gate versus the energy requirements of scaling the panel closest to the exit of their choice. The level of difficulty increases with every additional layer of clothing the player puts on.
  • Coverall-Clad Horse Mount – As the temperature decreases, the layers of clothing one wears to brave the great outdoors increases. These additional layers can complicate matters when the participant is attempting to mount a horse. Immensely popular as a spectator sport, the coverall-clad horse-mount can cause an intense pressure to perform which is tough on competitors. Or so I’ve heard.
  • Bed-to-barn Relay– Every so often, there may be an occasion requiring immediate bed-to-barn mobilization. For this event, the contestant needs to wake, dress and be in the barn in a matter of minutes, if not sooner. Sometimes the player is even encouraged with a robust “Hurry hard! Hurry hard!” although it’s often unsportsmanlike language that may be hollered.

When participating in the calving season marathon, it’s important to pace yourself. A rally late in the game can boost your spirits, and leave you ending the season faster, higher and stronger. Or at the very least remain upright