The new face of beef cattle breeding

How does it feel to be young or a woman in an industry that is synonymous with the image of a cowboy with an iconic griss? Today, millennia – and more and more women – are changing the face of the Ontario beef industry.

In addition, growing environmental problems mean that many have made their farm practices more sustainable. For some, this seems like protecting the soil or creating environmentally friendly barns, while others may use the waste material to create completely new, waste-free products. What they have in common is that everything is done to ensure industrial innovation.

We talked to four Ontario farmers to find out more. Here are their stories about life on a cattle farm.

Emma Butler, J&E Meats

Croton, Ontario

Photo: Barnbird Photography c / o Laurel Ysebaert

I am a fourth generation cattle farmer and my husband Josh is the third generation on his family farm since 1939. We grew up 20 minutes apart along the way, but we met at a local John Deere dealership and it was, in a sense, love at first sight. We got together and then got engaged, got married on the farm and were nine months pregnant on the first anniversary. We quickly got two more.

I have always dreamed of doing business. I quickly realized that my place was a farm home. Together we grow cattle, sheep, chicken and arable crops on more than 1,000 acres. J&E Meats started in 2018 as a small regular store. We wanted people to come here, meet us, their farmers, and see where their food came from. We wanted our customers to be part of their food story and journey from farm to fork.

We turned to Facebook and Instagram to promote our business. Too often, the image of a peasant is in an American Gothic country with an older gentleman and fork. That’s how people often imagine! They do not think of a farmer as a woman driving a tractor or feeding cattle wearing a red lipstick. Today’s customers are smart and intelligent and have done their research before it appears. We want to give our customers knowledge and transparency about what we do and how we do it; that’s what makes us different. We are diversifying our operations in a number of ways, one of which is the production of beef residues in the production of J & E’s Camden Tallow organic skin care series.

There is no single way to be sustainable, and sustainability looks different on every farm, but here it looks like a constant pursuit of perfection and efficiency. Our farm uses modern production practices and integrated technologies. We have GPS on the tractors and radio frequency ID tags on the animals. We work hard to reduce our environmental impact by using cover crops and direct sowing practices to improve soil health. We recycle egg boxes, use reusable bags and offer digital receipts. All these things are gradually added together. We are proud of sustainability and proud to be farmers today.

Robert McKinlay, Silver Springs Farms

Ravenna, Ontario

I just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Guelph and moved home this spring. I am on the fifth generation of Silver Springs Farm, where we moved from Scotland in 1888. We went from a 100-acre cottage to about 2,500 acres where we grow crops and livestock.

The farm is located in a fairly diverse area, so it’s almost like we run a different farm. Some don’t even have electricity or a well; we use river water and have installed shallow water crossings and barriers to minimize the impact of cattle on sensitive areas such as wetlands or forests. We can use hard-to-reach land and land that is not rich enough to raise our 400 cows and 30 bulls to graze. Silver Springs may seem old-fashioned at times, but otherwise we are quite advanced. Through genomics and other research conducted at various universities, we have identified which animals are most effective in converting feed and grain into animal protein for human consumption.

We even have land that we have set aside specifically for bird nesting. We carefully postpone hay mowing until mid-July so that local birds can nest and lay eggs. We work around these breeding cycles – not the other way around. Sustainability and efficiency are so important in Silver Springs; our goal is to use less to produce the same quality product for consumers.

Gordon Dibble, Dibbhurst Farms

Ingersoll, Ontario

Photo: Such a life

Dibbhurst Farms is located east of London in Ontario, where my family has been since the 401 motorway entrance. I am here in the fourth generation – I farm with my mother and father, my wife and two boys – although I am a certified welder. , ka. Dad wanted me to have another boss besides him.

Four years ago, we built a new, energy-efficient barn to house around 900 cattle. We worked with the engineers and designed it ourselves: it’s a 120 x 350-foot, fabric-covered roof that acts like a chimney to extract heat in the summer. The wind blows outside and sucks out old and humid air, so there is always a nice wind and there is no smell inside. The sun comes directly through the skylight, so we don’t need extra lighting. We use geothermal heating for the water bowls and the floors are a bit sloping, so the cattle drive the manure away and we just sweep it out once a week. It saves a lot of time and energy. As a former welder, I did all the steel work and gates myself. Even better, the entire barn uses about a quarter of the hydropower than a normal household. When you made breakfast at home this morning, you used more water than we did all day.

Preserving healthy soil is also very important to us. Healthy soil feeds healthy crops that feed healthy cattle and then create healthy food. We keep the soil healthy by doing our best to ensure that manure is responsibly spread back and mixed with the soil to not only improve soil health but also protect groundwater. We will plant cover crops if we can to make the nutrients in the soil better available for next year’s harvest and to help accumulate organic matter in the dirt. All of these tactics play a role in our quest for sustainability.

Sustainability has been important to us for generations and we will continue to do the best we can. My personal “why” is to allow my boys to grow whole soil and feed healthy cattle for years.

Sandra Vos

Brantford, Ontario

Twenty years ago, when I was a public health nurse, my cousin came to me and offered to buy their farm. Although I had been a little helpful on the farm as a child, I did not want to become a farmer. But I loved gardening, and before I knew it, I bought 80 acres of land. I started from scratch, which in some ways is very liberating, because you can make mistakes yourself and think outside the box. I am sure the neighbors had a lot of fun watching the process.

It may have been all years of nursing, but I believe that good health comes from good food that comes from good soil. I decided that the land is a gift and I work with the land and everything else it has. I got cattle mainly because they are the best way to improve and improve the soil. I didn’t tear anything up, almost planted nothing, and left the soil undisturbed. Then it became a kind of adventure to see what I could do for the cattle to do good to the lawn.

People tell me, “You tolerate it, don’t you? What do you have?” The obvious answer is cattle, and I currently have about 30, but the real answer is land. I do not start with crops and bushes, but work the other way around, asking: What can the land do and what can be done to make it even better? Everything has its place here, including me and the 11 table cats, and even that damn skunk who moved in the day before.

For more information about the Ontario beef industry and its local farmers, visit

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