DONNELLY, Alta. — Frank Cote will miss his cattle once he sells the herd, but he finds solace in the change too. It maintains a long-held philosophy of moving in a direction that’s right for the family.
For Cote, the sale means he can take it easier as he grows older. His feedlot isn’t large enough to have hired staff run it.
“Over the last few years, my arthritis has been kicking in overdrive,” he said on his farm located just outside Donnelly, Alta., in the Peace region, where he grows grain and raises Maine Anjou and Charolais-based, Angus-crossed cattle.
“In the past, I’ve even had a hard time holding on to the steering wheel, never mind anything else. I can’t do anything about it, so I’m re-aligning myself so I don’t have to hire someone to do small chores.”
But he said re-aligning means the family can tap into growing more diverse crops and getting into seed production.
For instance, the Cotes were among a small number of farmers in the area who tried fababeans, a high protein pulse crop.
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He said the trials have worked well.
“I thought it was phenomenal and the potential for it is great,” he said. “The marketing end will be an issue, but it helps with the rotation of crops and it’s something to investigate further. There’s always pros and cons, but hopefully we get more pros.”
He said the farm has faced numerous pros and cons since it was established.
Cote’s grandfather settled the area in 1917, and his dad took over the land in the 1950s, a time when the family farm experienced exponential growth.
They had seven quarter-sections then, which was considered large at the time, and were running close to 200 head in the feedlot and on the pasture until BSE hit.
“When BSE hit, it really hurt us,” said Cote, who took over in 1998. “We had to pull back and we sold the main herd to pay all of our debts tied to the beef-side of the program.”
But the family pushed through.
They were able to maintain the feedlot with a herd they could manage, and focused on selling to local abattoirs that sell direct to consumers.
“I’m really proud to say that they are phoning us and asking us when it’s ready,” he said, noting his cattle are raised without hormones and limited antibiotics. “It’s going to be a different day when they’re all gone. I’m going to miss it.”
Since the 1950s, the family has kept their land base at seven quarter-sections.
He said maintaining the size allows them to find ways to become more productive while also paying more attention to how the soils are doing.
“Because we aren’t as big, where we’re not go-go-go, we can spend a bit more time on our hands and knees to see how things are looking and clean our machines,” he said. “I think that’s really important for our future.”
As well, it’s never been about turning large profits.
“I wasn’t in it to make a hell of a lot of money,” he said.
“If I can come out ahead, so be it, even if it’s $1, it’s $1. If it’s $10, it’s $10. Some days you want to throw in the towel, but you have to sit back and ask yourself, is it better anywhere else? You have to look at the whole picture.”