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Pine Haven Colony Builds A Culture Of Food Confidence

A lot of different farm products are sold by Alberta s Pine Haven Colony. Many are marketed directly to consumers or retailers. All of that commerce is based on a simple belief that agriculture today needs to provide consumers with confidence in their product.

Location helps. The colony, just outside Wetaskiwin, Alta., is close to several growing communities, and within easy driving distance of Edmonton. But today, what drives the farm program is a value-added marketing philosophy.

Pine Haven s beef operation is a strong example of that, says William Hofer. It consists of a feedlot that produces 3,200 head annually, and a 400 cow-calf operation. Both beef operations are officially registered with Verified Beef Production (VBP), Canada s national program for beef on-farm food safety.

Multiple beef products are produced. On the ranch side, the black Angus herd is summer calved and producing a forage raised product. Our calves enter our own feedlot. Some may go on specialty programs for domestic or export markets and the best heifers go back into the herd, says Hofer.

The most recent example of beef marketing for the colony is a new value-chain relationship on the feedlot side. Cattle are sourced according to program standards, including no antibiotics, no ionophores in the feed and no implants. That program sells into many niche markets, says Hofer, so it s even more important that production protocols are followed.

The colony also finishes approximately 250 head of cattle a year for beef to be slaughtered onsite and sold through the colony s own meat shop. Those cattle are raised on a special feeding regime designed to appeal to the direct market consumer.

VBP registered

Pine Haven Colony started on the VBP program in 2008, and their experience is a testament to how a well-organized beef production system can easily get involved with the program. The colony joined the program and completed the VBP audit or registration stage all within a few months.

We found that like many producers, we were doing a lot of this already, and what we weren t doing, made sense and was easily added to our management approach, says Hofer.

VBP establishes a set of standard operating procedures or SOPs, designed to ensure that proper food safety procedures are being followed in beef production. The optional validation audit which involves having a third party auditor visit the farm to assess conformance is not onerous, says Hofer, and having good records is essential.

We track every animal that enters and leaves the feedlot and what is done in between, he says. Computer searches are very easy and when an animal leaves our lot we search to see if there are proper withdrawal times and no broken needles. If there are things that are unusual we can catch that before shipping or ensure that the proper paperwork follows the animal.

Verified production

Where possible, production on the Pine Haven Colony is verified. Our whole farm is audited: dairy, hogs, poultry, our feed mill and our meat shop, says Hofer who believes it just makes sense.

A large percentage of the cattle operations in Canada are already doing this stuff, so why not assure the public we are doing all these things, he says. We say Canada has the best beef in the world so why not prove to consumers and our export markets that we do with a third party national program?

If everyone gets on board we should be able to gain more markets.

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