Atlantic Beef and Sheep, is an experiment testing a theory that cattle and sheep in Atlantic Canada and the farmers who raise them have enough in common that one magazine can be relevant and helpful to both parties. It addresses the reality that we are bit players in “the industry” here on the East Coast and the best way to hang on is to hang together.
We welcome stories, opinions, photos, news, drawings, and letters from sheep and beef farmers. Notice “farmers,” not “producers.” We’re hearing more of that recently and about time. The reality is “farmer” is not, as must have been thought for years, a dirty word. “Product” is what economists call anything manufactured. Farmers, the ones we care about, are growing food, a very different thing with very particular challenges and rewards.
And notice I said rewards and not profits. “Ay,” to quote Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “there’s the rub.”
Will the beef and sheep experiment satisfy everyone or no one? In large, part the answer will be found in the response from readers. Let us know, please, by mail, phone, or email. We may even have a twitter account, which can be found by searching for @DvLPublishing.
In the 1970s my father-in-law was partner in a packing plant in St. Joseph, Missouri. Seitz Packing was, at the time, a successful small operation that grew in the shadow of companies like Swift and Armours. Elmore Yokum Lingle, known to family and friends as E.Y., told me it was difficult wringing a profit out of killing beef. Whatever they managed was squeezed from “the fifth quarter;” the offal – hides, organs, glands, hooves.
Things have not changed, and it is one of those critical factors we are trying to ignore in Atlantic Canada as we wrestle with finding profit anywhere in the red meat “value chain.” In fact, to use “value chain” anywhere in the discussion seems a contradiction in terms. If any link finds profit it is going to be at every other link’s expense.
That’s pretty harsh, but after last summer’s experience with a couple of head of cattle on the Cape John community pasture I think it is just. The steers were bought in May, sold in October, at a loss of more than $500. I’d be precise with the numbers were it not for the fact the paper trail is murky. Exactly how much did the cattle bought at the market in Truro weigh going on and coming off pasture? After five months I'm still waiting verification from Perennia of the weight of my critters coming off pasture.
There are so many far more important questions begging straight answers about the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture's commitment of millions to study grass feeding, finishing, and marketing beef. We have yet to see a report Department Executive Director Linda MacDonald promised two years ago on results of the the first grass feeding "experiment" with six or seven head of cattle; a report that would direct further investigations. The thing is, none of this is new. Work here and around the world has been going on for years, results of which could tell us everything we need to know about the potential advantages farmers might realize if they focus on forages rather than imported grains to feed and finish cattle. There aren't brains enough within the Department or at the Agricultural College to mine existing literature and from it develop an Atlantic Canadian protocol?
Returning to the argument, and assuming the cattle in my name were the same ones going on pasture as came off, my $500 loss, I figure, was made up elsewhere in the chain linking calf to retail. Which is probably why we do so much better raising beef at home and taking it ourselves from calf, to slaughter, to retail.
And yet, how wasteful home and small-scale slaughter has become in our fussy culture that would as soon pass on a carcass aside from steaks, chops, roasts, and ground meat. Sheep farmers, at least some, are better at full use of their animals as they work the wool, and even a few, like the late Edith Zillig, tan the hides. I am assuming, but do not know, that at least a few sheep farmers in the region are tanning their own hides.
Ted Devitt, manager of O.H. Armstrong in Kingston, Nova Scotia, reinforces what E.Y. said about the fifth quarter, saying “what goes down the gut shute” at a small abattoir like the one they ran represents significant value for big players. The offal from a hog plant (eyes, snouts, skin, back hocks, and the like) can be worth as much as $2.75 a kilo, he says, which he estimated would translate into $10 to $15 per pig – if you can get it to markets. An abattoir like Olymel in Quebec killing 160,000 hogs a week can capture that offal market by shipping entire container loads across the continent and beyond.
With imagination and government help (initially) maybe a regional gathering and sortation system could be put in place. Rather than rendering everything higgledy-piggledy into a low-value soup, this company or companies could direct rail-car loads of sorted by-products to higher-paying destinations – anything but animal feed!
“Follow the money,” journalist Bob Woodward was told by his snitch, “Deep Throat,” as he and Carl Bernstein unraveled the Watergate Affair. As we pull together an issue of this magazine we look for what’s behind stories in the news. It’s not Watergate, but you might think so the way information, like poker hands in a high-stakes game, is kept close. This time around April seemed to be coming up an important month for decisions. But why?
“Follow the money,” it dawned on me today, after someone hammered into my skull that Agriculture and Agrifoods Canada’s Growing Forward II with billions to spend is just around the corner!
Good luck vying for a piece of the action. But don’t forget to contact us with sheep and beef stories, and as for beef farmers, see you at the Nappan breeding stock sale April 6. It is going to be interesting to see if and how GrowSafe data will be reflected in the bidding. DvL