Where Does Canadian Beef Come From?
Cow & Calf
Cows are usually bred throughout the spring and summer, and calves are typically born the following spring. The calves are raised on the land with their moms and their herd. Throughout the rest of the year, they nurse from their mothers before weaning and learning to graze grass pastures. In Canada, we have a lot of space for cattle to roam on large, natural grasslands or traditional pastures, lands that are often not suitable for farming grain or vegetable crops. Grazing lands help preserve the natural integrity of the land.
When ranchers choose the cattle they want to breed, they choose cattle with the best beef genetics. It is necessary and important to pick cattle that will help shape a ranchers herd in the direction they need it to go. The two main breeds that cattle ranchers choose are hereford and angus. These breeds have the ability to gain more muscle mass, making them the best for beef.
Geography, Climate & Pasture
Our four seasons in Canada and diverse landscapes provide an ideal environment to raise the world’s best beef cattle breeds, where they feed on premium quality grasslands and grains. While you may notice that many calves are born in the spring, cattle breeding takes place at all times of the year.
Often times, the land the cattle are grazing has wetlands that would otherwise be cut-down if the cattle were not there. Allowing the cattle to forage the grass protects the water from being disturbed. Environmental stewardship is a priority for ranchers and they strive to protect the natural lands where their cattle is grazing. The grass must be rich in protein and there must be enough to sustain a large herd. The best tasting beef needs fresh water, clean air, and lots of grass.
Farmers and Ranchers
It takes a dedicated person to raise cattle in Canada’s rugged environment. The goal of farmers and ranchers is to ensure a sustainable environment and raise healthy cattle. More than 98% of cattle farms and ranches are family-run and have been operating for generations.
Cattle ranching is not only a source of income, for many ranchers it’s a lifestyle. Taking care of cattle is a 24/7 job, it is the rancher’s duty to ensure their cattle are being taken care of all the time. The personal commitment of ranchers is what keeps this industry sustainable.
Once calves have grown and are ready to only eat grass and hay, they’re ready for weaning. By this point, calves can weigh upwards of 226-360 kg (500-800 lbs)!
When calves are weaned off and grazing on their own, this is when they become what are called feeder calves, meaning they are livestock fed on pasture. After one year, the feeder calves become fed cattle. Most cow-farms can have 117 cows and produce 97 feeder calves per year!
Auction and Breeding
Once calves are ready to leave the ranch or farm, they are often purchased by another producer or buyer at auction. Many of the female calves are kept on the farm or ranch and eventually become mother cows themselves. Some of the best male calves are also kept and raised to become breeding bulls.
The price of cattle can change each week, dependant on supply and demand. Demand for cattle relies on the economic conditions within the industry. If there is a high demand, the prices will be higher. If there is reduced demand, the prices will be lower.Learn More →
The cattle continue to grow and have the opportunity to graze on fields with access to shelter and lots of fresh water. In some regions of the country, cattle may be brought into barns or open-air corrals to continue their growing phase. All animals are regularly checked by qualified caretakers or veterinarians who ensure they are healthy.
While the cattle are in the growth phase, they are given ample amounts of fresh water, grass, and grain. It is essential that cows have the room to continue growth. Feeding cattle grain is an essential step in the industries ability to give the consumer the highest-quality and most flavourful beef.
Feedlots focus on efficient weight gain, nutrition and animal care. Cattle are provided a safe, stress-free and healthy environment, and have plenty of room to move around in open air or indoor pens with access to feed and water. Cattle will typically spend somewhere between 60 and 200 days at a feedlot eating a high-energy diet.
The majority of Canadian beef cattle feedlots are family-owned and operated. Before the cattle are introduced into the feedlot, handlers will identify each animal with a unique ear tag. This track the cattle’s individual identification numbers such as weight, age, and breed. Cattle can then continue to grow in a stress-free environment with round the clock veterinary care and staff to ensure they are healthy and growing appropriately. Should an animal begin to display symptom of an illness, qualified staff will separate, record, and treat the infected cattle without returning them to the herd until a clean bill of health is given by a veterinarian. A high-energy diet ensures the cattle have the nutrition they need, this diet consists of 80% grains and 20% forage.
Ready for Market
Most cattle in Canada are “grass fed, grain finished”, meaning they spent most of their life being raised on grass-based forage, then finished on grain (mostly barley or corn). Once cattle reach an optimal market weight (often upwards of 680 kg/1,500 lbs), they are ready for market. Beef cattle are transported by truck and processed in regulated facilities.
In some cases, cattle can come from other provinces or northern U.S. states to Alberta, where the cattle is fed and processed at facilities. This is because Alberta has the most facilities, making up 40% of the cattle and 70% of the feedlots in Canada. Although the beef coming out of these facilities is “Alberta Beef”, this does not mean that all the beef was exclusively raised in Alberta.Learn More →
Beef Grading and Cut Production
Trained professionals known as Graders will assess several meat characteristics such as marbling, and assign grades in accordance with national standards. The grades of A, AA, AAA and Prime represent the best of Canadian beef sold. Skilled workers then break down the beef into popular cuts like rib, roasts, sirloin steaks and ground beef.
The nutritional benefits of beef include high-quality protein, essential amino acids, vitamins B6 and B12, and high sources of iron. Even though many foods are packed with Vitamin B12, the one found in beef is the most readily available for immediate use in the body. The fat content in lean beef is similar to that of chicken or fish, making it an excellent lean protein.Learn More →
Canada has one of the safest and highest quality food systems in the world. Further, Canadian-made solutions such as RFID tagging, which places a radio frequency identification tag in the ear of each animal, provides mechanisms to trace cattle back to the herd and farm it came from.
To ensure the high standards of the Canadian meat inspection process is met, trained inspectors from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will examine the caracasses for disease, illness, or health treatment with antibiotics.Learn More →
Canadian beef is known for its world-class excellence, high industry standards and emphasis on quality and safety. In Canada and around the world, our beef is sought out by consumers, butchers and chefs.
On Your Table
Once Canadian beef reaches your table, you know you will be fuelling your body with protein, iron, vitamin B12, zinc and other essential nutrients to live a healthy lifestyle.
Quebec has set a new industry standard as they are the first province to implement a complete traceability system. This requires reporting of all cattle movements, from pasture to slaughter facilities. Thus, all stakeholders participate actively: producers, auctions, exhibitions, veterinarians, and slaughterhouses. This means the beef on your table has been thoroughly tracked and ensures it is of the highest quality.