When I was in my early teens, I spent a couple summers working for the farmer across the way. He made his livelihood via 150 acres and a cow-calf operation of roughly 30 cow-calf pairs.
I remember he got a “Century Farm” plaque in ’67. That was an attempt to honour the pioneers who settled this land we stole from the Indians, which is a story for another day. Anyway, his modest beef operation generated enough income that he had a summer place up on Colpoys Bay.
Imagine that; a farmer with a holiday cottage.
That was a fun job for me. I was barely 14 years old and I got to drive tractors, a combine, and the farm truck.
My summer job included dinner with the farmer and his two spinster sisters. After dinner, the boss would take a nap, which gave me a certain amount of licence in my field activities.
Like trying to get the speedometer on the farm truck to touch 100mph on my foray to the back corn field. I never got it to 100, but I passed 80 on a couple of occasions.
130 kilometres an hour in a cornfield when you’re 14 years old really opens your eyes to life’s possibilities…
Fast forward (and in hindsight, it was way too fast) half a century.
This neck of the woods is known for beef farming. That’s probably due to the fact the soil is often too boulder-strewn to be viable for cash cropping. But it makes good grazing land.
Our beef operations around here are old-school. The cows and their babies walk around in the sunshine, eating grass. Yes, they’re being farmed as eventual protein, but in the meantime, they’ve got a good life.
Problem is, for that kind of farming, you’re pretty much limited to a dozen or so cow-calf pairs per hundred acres. When you self off the calves at 1000 pounds and deduct the $400 it cost to keep the cow over the year, you’re left with a profit of roughly $600, or $7,200 for your 100 acres.
Any random 100 acre farm around here typically sells for over a million now. Obviously, nobody spends a million to get a return of seven grand. It’s not farmers buying the farms anymore.
Like my boss fifty years ago, beef farmers are in beef farming only because they inherited the farm. Once this generation dies off, it’ll be the end of grass-fed beef in Canada.
Unless the folks who raise those animals humanely get a much bigger slice of the retail price. The farmer gets two bucks a pound for something that turns into $12/lb at the meat counter at Foodland. Failing that, you’re doomed to feedlot beef going forward.
And that’s where the guilty pleasure of beef becomes all guilt, no pleasure.
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