Livestock at TK Ranch seem 'pretty happy' in grassland pastures
By Gail Hall, August 31, 2011
Originally published July 26, 2011
HANNA - For many Albertans buying local is part of the regular shopping experience. But how many of us qualify as the true locavore — as someone who consciously shops locally and is aware of the environmental impact of their food choices from pasture to plate?
For me, it's not just about where the food is grown, it's also about how the food is grown and how the animals are treated and raised. Some excellent books have been written on the subject of how our food industry has changed over the last 50 years. For the curious, I'd recommend two books by Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defence of Food, and a third by Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable Miracle. But another great way to get educated is by visiting an actual farm. I took that route recently with a visit to a producer that I have long respected ? TK Ranch outside of Hanna, Alberta.
TK Ranch began over 50 years ago on the remote grasslands of east central Alberta and today three generations of the Biggs family live and work at this sprawling operation that supports a holistic and sustainable farming model.
In the mid-nineties, Colleen and Dylan Biggs realized that ranching wasn't enough to support their farm operation. They became some of the first ranchers in Alberta to direct market their natural dry-aged beef, fed and finished completely on grass.
"Cattle are herbivores. Simply put, they eat grass and are meant to roam freely in the grass," says Colleen. "Most conventional farming, whether they are labelled natural, organic or certified organic, may finish their animals on grain, not grass. Or they crowd them into feedlots. It creates an unhealthy environment for the land and the animals."
TK Ranch also raises natural grass-fed lamb, heritage pasture-raised pork and free range chickens. Their meat products contain no antibiotics or drugs, added hormones, animal by-products or insecticides.
"The consumer has every right to find out what they are paying for and this may mean paying a visit to the producer," Colleen says.
"We are very proud of the fact we've maintained a ranching model that is ethical and humane and that we re involved in every step of the process of getting our products from the field to the consumer."
Over the years, Dylan and Colleen have received numerous awards that recognize their commitment to the environment, animal welfare and sustainable agriculture. Perhaps their proudest moment came in 2006 when Colleen, Dylan and their four girls were selected to be part of the provincial mission for the Alberta at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. "It was indeed an honour to represent Alberta's farm and ranch families and to share our philosophy of farming," says Colleen.
My visit to TK Ranch on that particular May weekend featured a glimpse of its "maternity ward," the pasture where about 200 pregnant cows were preparing to give birth to their calves. Seems reasonable to me that calves born in warm spring weather would be less stressed than the conventional ranching practise of calving in a cold February winter. I watched as Dylan worked his way to a calf that had just been born. Dylan is known as the "cow whisperer" and travels North America teaching low stress livestock handling methods. His technique was evident as he tagged and weighed the calf quickly and gently under the calm, watchful eyes of mama cow.
That weekend, I also had a hand at feeding the hogs. The animals at TK Ranch looked pretty happy to me. I'm convinced that knowing this first-hand adds to the consumer's enjoyment of the rich true flavour of the meat.
TK products can be bought in the Edmonton area at Planet Organic outlets, as well as Homegrown Foods in Stony Plain. For a full list of TK's products and where to find them, go to their website at www.tkranch.com. Direct delivery is also available. The website also contains a wealth of information on the awards that TK Ranch has won for their farming practices, along with consumer testimonials.
~ Edmonton Journal 2011