Recent History – 1999
Feb. 1, 1999 by Patsy Nagel, Contributing Writer
Typical north country hospitality greeted the visitors from Southern B.C., members of the B.C. Forage Council, who were as well, greeted by typical north country winter weather. Although it was cold and snowy on Friday, January 29, 1999, the atmosphere inside the George Dawson Inn was warm and friendly. The occasion was the AGM of the B.C. Forage Council, which was being hosted by the Peace River Forage Association.
The halls were filled with trade fair exhibits as well as informational displays from the Forage Council, Farm Safety group, the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association, and the Peace Country Bison Association, among others.
An excellent group of speakers addressed the audience during the seminar which accompanied the annual general meeting. These ranged from bankers to feedlot operators and researchers into finishing of beef cattle on forage. Local veterinarian Barry Ross spoke on the importance of herd health to calves in feedlots.
Main speaker for the weekend was Bernie Kotelko, president of Highland Feeders, Vegreville, AB. He told those attending how they had developed their business from a mixed farming operation in the 70’s to a cattle feeding operation where they fed their own cattle to slaughter. They then diversified further, taking in custom feeders and going to silage in their expanded feed lot. They now feed 25,000 head and plan to expand to 35,000 head.
Kotelko advised retaining calves as the land base is here, the feed is here and every time the calves change hands, the owner loses about $50.00. He talked about the ‘Value chain” which allows a group of producers to retain ownership of their animals and market them all together at slaughter time. This requires trust, communication, and coordination, which can be done.
When asked what kind of cattle he likes, Kotelko said that the packing plants want an even-sized carcass and they have found a 50% exotic British cross fits the pattern best. He likes to buy steers at 800 pounds, and heifers at 850 pounds so that they finish about the same time.
Jim Ranta, Royal Bank, Vancouver, B.C. is currently Manager of Agricultural Services for B.C. Ranta told the group that 10% of all loans through his department are agricultural. He feels that agriculture is the best business to be in in B.C. at this time. We are one of only three provinces in Canada where farm sales are increasing.
Ranta advised farmers that they will get the best return on their money by investing in NISA, as the government matches the money farmers deposit. RRSPs are also a good investment. If marketing cattle or grain on the futures, Ranta recommended trying options as they offer prices no lower then the base price.
Dan McKinnon, Airdrie, AB. is with a family enterprise — Three Cross Cattle Co. –which operates a custom feedlot and a crossbred cow herd. McKinnon is a firm believer in education and has taken and still takes courses which will help him learn something new, such as breeding programs, nutrition, and forage production.
Three Cross now uses intensive grazing and they are careful not to over graze the pastures. Since much of their pasture is alfalfa, they are concerned about bloat. However, by moving animals often or by swathing the crop for the cows to graze, they have very little bloat. They practice swath grazing and don’t have to feed very long each winter. McKinnon also uses silage.
Another well known speaker was Dr. Paul McCaughey with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada in Brandon, Manitoba. Dr. McCaughey is best known for his work on grazing alfalfa-based pastures and brought results of trials conducted on finishing beef on pasture.
McCaughey’s data concluded that 70% of cattle will finish grade A or better on pasture. Taste tests showed no difference with grain finished beef, although the fat was sometimes more yellow. Their test also showed that supplementing with barley did not pay. They plan to do more testing in the future and will try to find the best combination for low cost forage. They will also be checking out the health benefits of grass finished beef. It has been found that the yellow fat contains higher beta-carotene as well as the healthy fatty acids.
McCaughey felt that the challenges for the cattle industry are a consistent product and supply, grain-grass substitution, the health benefits of grass-fattened beef, safe food for consumers, marketing of the product, and the environmental benefits of the beef industry.
Barry Ross, local veterinarian and operator of Ross Feedlot Service in High River AB., spoke on herd health and treatment programs for backgrounding calves and grazing yearlings. Ross told the group that whether or not a calf gets enough colostrum within the first 12 hours can affect their health throughout their life.
Ross then went on to elaborate on the best health program from producer to feedlot, and talked about the effect of proper mineral and vitamin supplements for all ages. He also recommended ways in which stress can be minimized when weaning and getting calves on feed.
The other important part of the weekend, was a discussion time when the participants were organized into groups and given a topic to discuss with questions to guide the discussions.
Ten topics were chosen and the results will be used to help the Peace River Forage Association decide on some ways in which they can provide assistance to producers who wish to keep their cattle at home or retain ownership to slaughter.
Most groups identified a need for more information and the tour planned by the PRFA in June of this year should give plenty of food for thought. The tour will go to the Westlock and Barrhead area of Alberta where several operations will be visited. If you are interested, be sure to contact one of the local B.C. Agriculture and Foods offices.
The visitors from the south were also treated to a winter tour to Dave and Don Belchum’s backgrounding feedlot and to Tate Creek Bison Ranch.