Drive EXTRA SAFE - it's Halloween!
The new look of farming
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!”
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.