Friday, October 9, 2009

Ted Perrin, native-grass-fed beef in Saskatchewan

the Missouri Coteau, south of Moose Jaw

From time to time I run into someone who is raising and finishing cattle entirely on grass. Often they are using non-native grass, which is still far better than finishing them on grain in a feedlot--better for birds and other wildlife and better for whoever ends up eating the beef. Last week, though, I met a Saskatchewan rancher whose cattle are raised and finished entirely on native grass.

I was at a Food Secure Saskatchewan conference in Moose Jaw where I had been invited to talk about the importance of grass in transforming prairie agriculture toward a healthier engagement with the land. After one of the afternoon workshops I wandered out to look at the book table and started talking to a man who had every sign of being a cowman. (Most of the other attendees were women, and many of them worked for NGOs and government.) He said his name was Ted Perrin. His land is on the north side of the South Saskatchewan River near Beechy. I must've said something about liking the prairie in that area, because the next thing Ted said was, "We can thank the Texans for it". He smiled, wondering if I knew what he was getting at. "You mean the Matador?" I asked. The Matador Ranch, once a vast holding in that area, was owned by Texans as part of their ranching operations all over the Americas, the Matador Land and Cattle Company. The pieces of it remaining in Saskatchewan include some of the northern Great Plains best examples of well-managed rangeland.

Ted said his ranch is called Castleland, named for the locally famous Sandcastle formation.

the Sandcastle near Beechy, Saskatchewan

From the Cypress Hills to the Frenchman River and Wood Mountain to the South Saskatchewan, you will meet people like Ted Perrin who not only graze their livestock on native grass but know and care about the grass and the other creatures who depend upon it. They know the cattle will come and go, but the grass abides. And they know that if they don't have enough grass for the wildlife on their land they probably won't have enough for their cattle. For the Perrins, though, there is an additional reason to conserve the grass. They finish their cattle on native grass, which means that there has to be enough grass left when the animals are in their last few weeks and getting near to slaughter. Others might be able to graze their pastures hard all summer and count on the feedlot to do the fattening, but when you are finishing them on grass, you have to leave enough in reserve to get them to condition for slaughter.

Recently, the Perrins hooked up with a new processing facility in Tugaske, West Bridgeford Meats, which offers customers an array of meat products and the capacity to trace every product to the producer and animal of origin. West Bridgeford has several grass-finished meat producers it works with and so you can request grass-finished or beef from a specific ranch such as the Perrins.

One of the identifying characteristics of men and women who have learned how to take care of native grass is a natural humility. Ted was open and affable but almost blushed when he admitted that a couple of years ago the Society for Range Management recognized him and his wife Olive for their example and long-term committment to the ideals of good range management.

This is a big deal in the world of grassland conservation so back at home I looked it up and found this story on Jean-Claud Harel's excellent blog about Saskatchewan people, landscapes, and culture. Here is a quote from Ted shortly after receiving the citation:

“I guess the award must have come for our rotational grazing on the summer range. We make six pastures instead of two, and we rotate the cattle around the six pastures all summer long. We try to graze each of them only once. That area is allowed to grow until June. It is all native pasture, mostly cool season grasses, but with a bit of warm season grass in there as well."

A year before that, the Perrins won The Duke of Edinburgh Habitat Conservation Award

The grassland needs more people like Ted and Olive Perrin. It is hard to be grateful enough for the kind of leadership and example they offer, but one way to do it is to contact them directly or West Bridgeford Meats and order some Castleland steaks, roasts, and hamburger. For availability and pricing, call Olive Perrin at 306-859-4925.

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