A number of students researching farm animal welfare and beef supply chains had the opportunity to meet an Albertan cattle rancher on the REES annual farm tour.
The REES farm tour is an annual tradition where students meet local producers in the Kingman, AB area. The event is organized by REES Alumni Will Pattison ’70 MSc (Ag), who is also president of the Kingman Marketing Club. Students and staff saw the effects of this summer’s heavy rains on a number of crops including fava beans, canola and peas. Pea yields in particular are expected to be lower than usual, since this crop is highly sensitive to excess moisture.
This year’s tour included a new opportunity – seeing a cattle ranching operation. In recent years, there has been increased interest from consumers regarding farm animal welfare and concern over added antibiotics and hormones in beef. The result is a willingness to pay more for grass fed, premium beef products.
Ed Lange is a member of a five family farming coop (Walter Farms), and he specializes in raising antibiotic and hormone free beef in Armena, Alberta. Ed and his family manage 850 mother cows, as well as the supporting acres for grazing.
Hormone free beef is defined as “no hormones added,” since there are naturally occurring hormones in the plants that the cattle graze on.
Ed started raising hormone free cattle after “seeing a market for hormone and antibiotic free beef, and to create a business that would have legs for the future.” He currently sells to large scale retailers including A & W and Earls Restaurants.
The issue of farm animal welfare & beef production in Alberta was recently brought to the forefront when Earls Restaurants temporarily suspended purchase of Alberta beef. Earls resumed serving Alberta beef in June after an industry meeting with Alberta beef producers.
“In Alberta, you are getting the best beef in the world” says Ed, citing the rigorous standards of the Alberta Verified Beef Production (VBP) program.
One aspect of the program is effective record keeping. As a producer of hormone free beef, Ed keeps detailed records on the health of each animal, from the time of birth or acquisition, until they are sold.
The current fallout rate for his cattle is 8 to 9%. Fallout rate refers to the percentage of the herd that gets sick, is treated with antibiotics, and cannot be sold as hormone free beef.
Jolien Witte, Anita Laryea and Emilie Bassi are three REES graduate students all conducting research on beef supply chains, animal welfare and ethical production.
“[Ed] offered to take my survey, and he is going to help me get more participants,” said Emilie Bassi, a second year Masters student in Rural Sociology. Anita Laryea also got “valuable feedback” from Ed, on her survey about farm animal welfare and willingness to pay.
Both producers and students benefit from these interactions. Producers get insight into emerging trends that will affect their operations in years to come, and students gain from producers’ real world experience, which adds context to their research.