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Genetics make the difference

Edie Creek Angus is a farm business built around a minimum-maintenance Angus cow herd thriving in a forage-based environment

If you want your cow herd to thrive on Prairie forages, don’t start with genetics from animals accustomed to having grain buckets chained to their chins.

That’s the hard lesson Jonathan Bouw learned a few years back after their farm stopped buying feeders and began keeping only their own calves to finish.

Bouw, his brother Stefan, and father, Herman, are owners of Edie Creek Angus, specializing in grass-fed beef genetics on their mixed cattle and sheep farm of approximately 1,500 acres near Anola.

But back in 2001, making his first Angus purchases, Bouw said he didn’t know if what he was getting would survive “in the real world” conditions of their farm — and they didn’t.

The first animals they bought had all kinds of problems calving, milked themselves into hat racks, and lost condition without grain.

“Go to a fat feedlot and you can’t really tell which one of them had a mother that could thrive on forages,” he told the Manitoba Forage Council pasture tour visiting the farm July 24. “We found that out the hard way.”

That’s why he ended up in a workshop on sustainable beef genetics, learning how to match an animal to the land it lives on.

“I was hearing about animals that would thrive naturally in their own environment. I set out to get that for me,” he said.

One herd prefix in Angus pedigrees kept catching his attention as he did his research — OCC which stood for Ohlde Cattle Company out of Kansas. Here were the forage-friendly Angus cattle he was seeking, said Bouw, and in 2006 some OCC-influenced cattle came up for sale.

He brought home 36 bred cows. The rest, as they say, is history.

Foundation stock

These animals became the foundation stock for Edie Creek Angus, the 120 purebred Angus cow herd, with approximately 30 developing yearling bulls and 30 bred heifers the Bouws now possess. These animals have proved their worth, said Jonathan. They thrive on a lower-quality forage and finish easily on grass, at carcass weights typically between 500 and 650 lbs. The Bouws now direct market grass fed beef.

The specialization in genetics also has them selling about 30 two-year-old bulls per year too. And they’re not that age because they didn’t sell at last year’s sales.

“We looked at the market,” Jonathan said. “Everyone sells yearling bulls that are pushed hard and a lot of times they melt and many don’t recover from that first breeding season. We wanted to do things differently, and offer something that other breeders typically didn’t.”

Their bulls are developed slowly on milk, grass, and a forage-based ration with less than .05 per cent of their body weight from grain to promote longevity. They market these bulls for their natural genetic value.

More pounds per acre

The Bouws’ mixed species certified organic pastures, meanwhile, have recently become sheep pastures too.

Sheep arrived two years ago after Stefan Bouw saw their potential to raise more pounds of meat per acre. The number of commercial cows they would need to produce the equivalent wasn’t feasible, he said.

“We didn’t have the land or the feed to do that so I looked around and got sheep,” said Bouw. “And they make more money per animal than the commercial cow right now.”

The Bouws’ flock lambs are indoors in May then spend their year on pasture fenced off with five-strand high-tensile wire and electranet fencing, with llamas and guard dogs keeping the coyotes out.

They have 165 ewes right now but plan to double the number this fall.

“They’re a good fit for our farm,” said Stefan. “They’re going to be something that sticks around for quite a while.”

Family enterprise

So will the Bouws. Theirs is an approach that’s a mix of pragmatism and philosophy, says Jonathan.

“We are trying to fit what we grow to the environment we have,” he said.

They know they’re a relative rarity, as a father and two-son duo to be continuing a farm their grandfather started in the late 1950s, he adds.

“I consider it a privilege to be doing so.”

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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