Cariboo Ranchers Return to Schools

BC farmers are always striving to maintain a competitive edge and increase their profitability. Take a group of Cariboo ranchers determined to produce high quality, environmentally sustainable, grass-fed beef for the BC market.

Cariboo rancher David Zirnhelt says the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association wanted to help its members produce a superior product at a reasonable price. This means paying close attention to costs, continuously advancing the management of their resources to improve ecosystem health and produce quality finished carcasses.

“Increasing our knowledge of practices for finishing cattle on forage was important to us,” says Zirnhelt.

Building on a 2011 analysis of market demand and logistics for Cariboo-raised, grass-fed beef, the association worked with Thompson Rivers University to launch a producer field school series to develop producer capacity in three main areas. First up was controlling costs. A two-day session provided an overview of the grass-fed beef program operating in Manitoba, including a full day focused on their enterprise costing model.

“Manitoba’s grass-fed program taught us to build a business model that works for the kinds of forage we have here,” notes Zirnhelt, who is also the project’s administrator. “It opened our eyes to the economic advantages of finishing at 24-plus months rather than trying to get sufficiently high grades on yearlings.”

Next, they looked at managing water, soil and forage resources for improving beef quality, as well as profitability and environmental stewardship. Four ranch visits allowed participants to discuss the resources characteristic of each ranch and consider recommendations on how best to improve soil and forage health and optimize profitability. The Cariboo cattle region is very diverse. “Walking dryland, wetland and in-between pastures with our peers and the experts helped us build our knowledge and improve our practices,” Zirnhelt adds.

The series wrapped up with a session on optimizing carcass quality. The group reviewed several live animals that had just come off grass, with the emphasis on what to look for. This helped reinforce the message not to harvest too early. By coming together to learn and share their experiences, the Cariboo’s grass-fed producers also increased their confidence in their abilities to meet the challenges ahead.

Funding: $29,750 through the Canada-BC Ranching Task Force Funding Initiative. (RTF012)

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