Duane Vaags is looking for grass-fed cattle — everywhere and anywhere he can find them.
Vaags started a new job this fall, working as the grass-fed beef program auditor for True North Foods, a federally licensed packing plant in Carman, Man.
Recently, a major buyer approached True North’s owner, Calvin Vaags, with a request.
“The customer came to True North and said, ‘we want grass-fed beef,’ ” said Duane, who lives near Dugald, Man., and is Calvin’s cousin.
At this point, True North isn’t permitted to reveal the customer’s name. However, the beef packer is starting a grass-fed program from scratch to satisfy the client’s needs, so it’s likely a company that’s recognizable to Canadians.
Vaags cannot share how much grass-fed beef the client will need, but True North will require a significant number of cattle per week from across the Prairies.
“True North Foods is going to be actively pursuing farmers (that) have animals that qualify under the program,” said Vaags, who used to raise grass-fed beef in eastern Manitoba.
“I’m formerly an organic farmer, so I know that whole certification process and the audits and everything else.”
True North is still discussing the definition of grass-fed beef and the expectations for producers with the buyer.
“The customer (client) is the one that is setting the bar for what they feel is grass-fed beef,” Vaags said.
For now, he has contacted members of the Manitoba Grass-Fed Beef Association to establish the first stages of a supply chain.
That will secure some grass-fed supplies, but not enough for the buyer’s needs.
“Due to the volume that we (want) to get into, eventually it’s going to be way beyond that (producers in the Grass-Fed Beef Association),” he said.
“We’re pretty confident that (many) farmers have animals (like cull cows) that qualify. How many farmers have animals that come off pasture in the fall … they preg check and that cow doesn’t have a calf…. Instead of giving it a bit of grain to get it to market, they just feed it good quality hay and it still qualifies.”
A PowerPoint presentation by True North Foods defines the program as cattle “raised on pasture, hay, silage or any forage that does not contain starch from cereal grain or corn and was not confined to a feedlot/grain-fed system,” including traceability/segregation.
True North is offering a premium for cattle that meet the terms of its grass-fed beef program, but it will depend upon market conditions.
For more information, contact Vaags at 204-791-5010 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.