Canadians are in the top ten in the world for per capita beef consumption. We are also in the top ten for exporters of beef to other countries. And while beef is produced in every province, guess which is the leader? Alberta. Alberta and beef go together like nothing else in the country and it shows with a dominant 41 percent of all Canadian beef being raised in the province. In southern Alberta, one area around Lethbridge stands out as the capital of feedlots. It’s why we thought there was no better place to take a look at what a large beef feedlot looks like, how animals are raised and what they eat than with Megan at her family’s feedlot in this farm tour.
We are in beautiful Southern Alberta today, visiting with Megan to show us around Kolk Farms. Tell us about it.
We are a family-owned and operated feedlot business and we’re third generation farmers. We have about 10,000 head of cattle that we feed until they’re ready to go to market.
Third generation. Who in your family is involved?
My grandparents started this farm and now my mom and dad are the owners and then my two older brothers and I are all part of the operation.
Do you have other help as well?
We have about 20 employees who are part time or full time. Some are from within the community and some have traveled from South Africa or the United States to come work here. We’ve had people from all different walks of life here.
We’re standing in the feed pit looking at the feed mill and watching the equipment working. There is a payloader and a truck. What are they doing?
They are starting to build a load on a feed truck. They are mixing a feed ration using the computer feed program to guide them. It tells them which ingredients to add and the weight amount for each ingredient. They are adding the DDGS from the middle bay in the commodity shed. (DDGS stands for “distillers dried grains with solubles”, and refers to the grains leftover from ethanol production)
DDGS – that’s the leftover grains after ethanol production right? So, humans get the fuel and then cows get the rest.
Yes, it’s a good protein source for cattle. In the feed mill, they also add wheat, barley, vitamins and feed additives to give a balanced diet. They would also add in silage.
This tall pile is silage. Is this a main part of the diet too?
For some. For younger cattle, we start them on a ration with a higher roughage content. They’ll start on this and it’s just a good way to promote growth in the animals so that their bodies are growing properly instead of just weight gain. This is where we need some silage for good gut motility and for cattle health. For good marbling, that’s more where the grains like wheat and barley are used.
Based on having different feed ingredients for different stages, there must be quite a science to feeding cattle. There is a precision to it too.
For sure. The computer is recording all the ingredients that are added to the feed. There’s a scale on the side of the feed truck to track the exact amount of commodities as per the feed formula. Everything’s recorded in the computer. We can look up exactly how much wheat we added, how much silage we added, how much barley. We’re tracking that every time we feed.
Megan, we found our first pen of calves. This is a pen of the smaller calves you’ve got here. How much do these animals weigh and what stage of growth are they at?
These are about 900 pounds up to 1100 pounds. They are about a year old now and we just received them a week ago. When the cattle get here, they’re processed, which means they all are going to be vaccinated and a parasiticide treatment (dewormed) and then they’re going to get a growth promotant.
I use a thing I put on the back of my dog to keep parasites off of her. Is the parasiticide you use on cattle kind of the same thing?
Yes. It’s for external and internal parasites like lice and things that you could visibly see and things that you can’t see. It offers them good protection because you don’t want infections caused by parasites.
The cattle pen is pretty firm and pretty dry. Like what kind of area are they in here? What’s on the ground here?
The front portion that is 12 feet out from the bunk feeder is concrete. Further into the pen, we use a product called a RCC (rolled compacted concrete) or fly ash . It’s a newer product that we’ve installed and it does have concrete powder in it and a byproduct from fly ash.
This many calves, they poop now and again, probably quite often. What do you do with the manure?
Yes, they do poop a lot. We will pile the manure in the spring and in the fall we will pile it and then we’ll leave it to dry. Then we will haul the manure out with trucks to our farmland. In the fall, once the crops are harvested, we spread the manure as a fertilizer. It is inexpensive fertilizer, a good use of a byproduct and a good way to manage our manure as well.
Megan, we’ve seen the lightweight cattle; now we’ve got the bigger cattle here. About how big do you think these cattle are?
These cattle range in weight from 1300 to 1600 pounds.
Is this close to market weight?
They should be marketed within the next two to three weeks.
Then where are they going to go?
They will be going to a packing facility, either to Cargill in High River or to JBS in Brooks. Both facilities are about two hours away.
These cattle are on a much heavier grain diet than what those younger cattle were getting. Why is there more grain in their diet?
There is more grain because it’s a higher energy diet, so more barley and wheat in it. This higher energy diet helps with the growth of the cattle. It also improves marbling and meat texture so that the meat receives a prime and AAA beef grade, instead of the lower grade beef. It’s more for tenderness and marbling, and just makes a better quality product.
So, that’s one of the reasons that, for these last few hundred pounds, these animals are not on grass. They’re on grain for that meat texture. For the quality.
It is a much more efficient way to feed than if we’re grazing on grass. These animals can be fed in a third of the time period and get to the same weight. If they were just out on grass, they would not be gaining nearly as quickly and they wouldn’t have as much marbling.
Thanks for the tour, Megan.
View Fresh Air Farmer, Andrew Campbell’s full video here