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Family puts heart and homegrown produce into pet food business

Faces of Ag: Roger and Theresa Giesbrecht put years of livestock nutritional knowledge into formulating dog kibble and treats

The Giesbrechts’ Chesapeake Bay retriever Chaska loves to dig her own garden carrots.

Poncho was a “neighbourhood combo” mutt with short legs and a long body.

Legs churning, he’d come within inches of the three-wheeler tire time and time again as the grandkids puttered around the farmyard.

Poncho is long in the “happy hunting grounds” but he lives on in every bag of kibble that bears his name.

Pluto was the black Labrador retriever that followed six boys, including a young Roger Giesbrecht, around the family farm. Whether herding pigs, swimming in the river, or playing hours of ‘fetch,’ he was “the best friend of any young boy.”

Pluto is also immortalized with pet food of his own.

Ostlund Falls Company is a pet food company owned and operated by Roger and Theresa Giesbrecht of Elma, Manitoba. It’s named after the small set of falls along the Whitemouth River, which flows past the farms on which childhood neighbours Roger and Theresa grew up.

Today, the Giesbrecht family raises broiler chickens and Roger grows about 2,500 acres of crops with his brothers.

Much of what they grow — corn, spring wheat, eggs (from a family member’s farm), even carrots from their garden — goes into their pet food products.

“If we grow it, if we handle it, we know the quality, we know how it’s been stored, so we feel that’s an advantage,” Roger said.

They formulate the food in the farm’s feed mill, and then extrude, dry and package the products in their on-farm shop.

The family feed mill was where Roger’s interest in nutrition began. As a youngster, Roger worked alongside his dad on the chicken farm and mixed feed for the birds.

Chesapeake Bay retriever puppy Dasha is the namesake for Ostlund Falls Company’s puppy kibble. photo: Ostlund Falls Company

Some 25 years ago, their farm nutritionist told them, “you’ve got to make pet food,” Roger said. He doesn’t remember why the man said it, but he never forgot it.

After many years of mixing chicken feed, reading about nutrition and working alongside nutritionists, Roger and Theresa finally took his advice.

The research process began about two years ago. Roger travelled to pet food trade shows in Atlanta, Georgia and Cologne, Germany. He gathered contacts and information.

At home, they tinkered with products and sent them to labs for testing.

“We use our pets as tasters,” Roger said.

It’s not easy to source equipment or ingredients for a small pet food startup, said Roger. Packaging also proved a challenge as many companies wanted them to order a minimum of 10,000 or more of one size of bags.

“There’s so few people doing it, that you can’t just research online or find people to talk to who have experience in it,” he said.

In March 2020, Ostlund Falls Company was officially incorporated. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic created some delays — for instance, packing supplies and labelling materials got hung up in transit as borders and services closed.

However, less than a year later, Ostlund Falls pet food has spread all over Manitoba.

They deliver orders of kibble and meatball treats to customers in Winnipeg once a week. They deliver to Brandon and Portage la Prairie customers every three weeks. Their products are in stores in Steinbach, Stonewall, Beausejour and near Neepawa.

The pandemic has spurred more people to buy local, which has been a boon. Word of mouth and social media (featuring cute shots of family pups Chaska and Dasha) have also found them new customers.

In the future they hope to expand their sales throughout Manitoba and get their products into more stores, but, “the real goal is to have happy customers,” said Roger.

About the author

Reporter

Geralyn Wichers

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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