Drive EX­TRA SAFE - it's Hal­loween!

The new look of farm­ing

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, St. Hermenegilde

Afew months ago, when I was shop­ping in my lo­cal depan­neur in St. Hermenegilde, I was pleas­antly shocked to see that I could buy both ground beef and sausage there that was made from an­i­mals raised on a farm just down the road. Awak­en­ing

the ‘lo­ca­vore’ in me, I quickly snapped up a few pounds of each.

Now, there’s noth­ing like beef that comes from an an­i­mal that spent most of its life graz­ing idly in the pas­ture com­pared to beef from one raised in a jam­packed feed­lot rub­bing shoul­ders with about 40,000 oth­ers and, hon­estly, I was thrilled to find such a nearby, re­li­able source.

Hav­ing the choice at al­most all gro­cery stores of only beef that’s been shipped here to the Eastern Town­ships all the way from the western prov­inces, when we’re sur­rounded by beef farm­ers strug­gling to make a liv­ing, just never made any sense. I’m happy to no longer be a part of that sys­tem.

“We started sup­ply­ing the depan­neur with just ground meat and sausag- es at the be­gin­ning of the sum­mer. We wanted to start slow just to try it out,” said Do­minic Ager who owns the Ranch St-Hu­bert along with her hus­band, Se­bastien Des­gag­nés. The cou­ple bought the farm five years ago, start­ing out with twelve Blonde d’Aquitaine cows, a breed well-known for its par­tic­u­larly lean and ten­der meat. “We knew farm­ers in St. Isi­dore with Blonde d’Aquitaine. It was work­ing well for them and we wanted to try a new mar­ket,” con­tin­ued Ms. Ager.

At first, the cou­ple only sold veal to large restau­rants, with dis­crim­i­nat­ing chefs, in Montreal. They con­tin­ued this for a few years as they grew their herd, then be­gan mar­ket­ing their own beef last Jan­uary. “Peo­ple just call me and give me their or­der, big or small. It started work­ing our right away and now we have a wait­ing list for our beef.

Blonde d’Aquitaine, a breed that was de­vel­oped in France, is a mus­cu­lar type of bovine. “Cows, like peo­ple, have both red and white mus­cles. In Blonde d’Aquitaine the white mus­cles are more de­vel­oped, that keeps the meat ten­der and tasty,” men­tioned Do­minic. Hav­ing their beef hung for three weeks at the abat­toir also adds to the ten­der­ness.

Al­though raised com­pletely with­out hor­mones and in a nat­u­ral, healthy en­vi­ron­ment, their beef is not cer­ti­fied or­ganic. “I like the idea of or­gan­ics but I’m a ve­teri­nary tech­ni­cian and if one of my an­i­mals gets sick, I want to be able to use some­thing that will help my an­i­mal. It’s eas­ier to be or­ganic with veg­eta­bles.”

Or­ganic or not, rais­ing their beef herd as ‘nat­u­rally’ as pos­si­ble is a pri­or­ity. “Our veal calves stay with their moth­ers and drink from them when­ever they want.” Point­ing out a small group of young bulls in the clean barn, Do­minic added: “We don’t cas­trate our bulls be­cause it stresses them and plays with their hor­mones.”

Given that there seems to be such a de­mand for more nat­u­rally raised meat, and this was be­fore the XL Foods con­tam­i­nated beef re­call, I asked why, in her opin­ion, more beef farm­ers don’t mar­ket their own beef. “It takes a lot of en­ergy and you have to like the sell­ing as­pect of it; I like deal­ing with peo­ple.”

Be­sides the beef busi­ness, the Ranch St-Hu­bert is also a horse-back rid­ing cen­tre and a Bed & Break­fast, three dis­tinct op­er­a­tions that com­pli­ment each other nicely. “Of­ten peo­ple who stay at our Bed & Break­fast end up go­ing home with some of our beef.” Fron­tier Lodge, the Chris­tian youth camp sit­u­ated on Lake Wal­lace, be­gan bring­ing their campers to the Ranch for rid­ing lessons and now, they or­der all their ground beef from the farm.

This di­verse en­ter­prise, unique in its com­bi­na­tion of of­fer­ings, is per­haps a good ex­am­ple of to­mor­row’s fam­ily farm.

photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

photo cour­tesy Marika Szabo’s work at Up­lands

Here’s Bruno Cas­tonguay, still able to stand af­ter reach­ing the top of Mt. Kil­i­man­jaro. could live on that. He said ‘Yes’. They don’t ask for more which is very dif­fer­ent than the so­ci­ety here. Here you have to won­der where it’s all go­ing to end; we don’t re­ally need more.”

Asked if he would re­peat this kind of ad­ven­ture, Mr. Cas­tonguay re­sponded: “I would like to – I loved the ex­pe­ri­ence. I didn’t reach my limit!”

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Ranch St-Hu­bert owner Do­minic Ager, seen here with a few of her Blonde d’Aquitaine cat­tle and a Parthenais with the black nose, does her best to raise ‘happy’ bovines.

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