Trust your people, dare to be different, and know your numbers

Those are just three key tips from four innovative entrepreneurs 
who shared their methods for boosting productivity

Increasing productivity by 15 per cent by 2020 is one of the pillars of the National Beef Strategy, which was created by beef organizations across Canada and released in January 2015. During the recent Canadian Beef Industry Conference, four experts shared how they increase productivity on their operations.

Darren Bevans

Darren Bevans

Darren Bevans

Darren Bevans, general manager of Deseret Ranches of Alberta Ltd., Raymond

Deseret Ranches has vertically integrated ranches in Canada and the U.S., a feed yard, and two centres where top genetics are developed, with bulls used on commercial cows.

We identified the priority traits to focus on, used the technology, and thought long term. When we have questions, we call the researchers and the professionals and ask.

When times are tough, that’s when focused management pays off. Productivity is an everyday progression to keep moving forward. We looked at our system in terms of efficiency and productivity, and decided to adapt our practices to better use the resources along the way.

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We looked at our old pastures and saw pastures that were underperforming, and looked at improved technologies and forage mixes. We’re improving the resources to produce more with the same resources. As I look around the industry, I know that there are opportunities for forage improvement. And there are some really easy wins there, if we’re willing to do it.

(Because of our integration), we’re no longer fighting for our part of the profitability sector. We’re taking cues from the hog industry and its integration and trying to work closer together. I’m convinced that some of the biggest opportunities from the Canadian beef industry are to work closer together and find ways to capture the value all the way through, rather than fight against each other. The people south of the border think Canadians have an advantage in working together and sharing data and I hope we can capture that.


Leighton Kolk

Leighton Kolk

Leighton Kolk

Leighton Kolk, president and co-owner of Kolk Farms Ltd., Iron Springs

Kolk Farms grows irrigated and dryland crops and its feedlot operations produce 20 million pounds of beef annually.

When it comes down to efficiency and doing a good job and being productive, it comes down to the people. Without them, you can’t be productive.

We changed our pens to a roller packed concrete flooring. Mud costs us a lot of money. If there are mud and wet conditions, it’s taking about 10 to 20 per cent of our feed efficiency off the animal when it has to fight mud.

For data collection, chute side, we have a computer program that gives us instant data and captures everything the day the animal comes in. It ties it all to the RFID tag and it’s all in there.

This gives the staff instant access to what they treated the animal with and how much the animal weighed. If the animal is not being productive, they can take that animal and send it on a different course.

Pain control is important. Today it’s like Frank’s hot sauce, we use that sh#t on everything. We use it dehorning, castrating, and in surgeries; for any painful procedure.

We monitor our feed trucks. They’re hooked up to a system and tracked with GPS and we can track the feed rations. We also test our dry distillers (grains) and feed pellets. We teach low-stress cattle-handling techniques. It’s not a rodeo or a stampede when we work cattle. It’s a low-stress approach. We use low-stress cattle-handling equipment — which cost us a bunch of money initially — but now when cattle come through, they go back in the pen, and go (right) back on their feed.

Every heifer is preg checked on their arrival.

Genetics is one of the fastest ways we’re going to get efficient in this business. When we’re putting this much bark on the back of an animal to make it a Choice or Triple A, and then we’re cutting the fat off and throwing it out or selling it for four cents a pound, that’s terribly inefficient.

We have to think of productivity as industry groups or organizations. We need to get away from doing things twice. All of us working for the industry need to be better at reducing duplication, using information flow, leveraging promotional dollars and evaluating our goals to make sure they are relevant to our industry.


Kevin Blair

Kevin Blair

Kevin Blair

Kevin Blair, CEO of Blairs.Ag Cattle Company, Lanigan, Sask.

Blair’s Family of Companies is an agricultural retailer of crop inputs and owns a herd of purebred Red and Black Angus, Hereford, and commercial genetics.

We’re in the beef business and we need to stop fighting each other and work together. I want to challenge people about how they think about productivity. Our beliefs are part of what we do, which is part of productivity. We need to respect the past, but we should never compromise the future for the past.

People are important to the business. You can’t be productive in your operation if you don’t trust people, give them room to operate, and let them make mistakes.

You don’t need to look like everyone else. Don’t do what everyone else is doing because there’s no competitive advantage there. Productivity increases can be achieved through diversity at the seedstock level. An old commercial guy told me to remember that at your bull sale, everyone wants to see 100 bulls that look the same, but everybody doesn’t want to buy 100 bulls that look the same. Pick a type.

Don’t be so concerned about frame. Think about smaller, lighter versions. Listen to your customers and understand what drives them.

If the seedstock industry is going to survive, we need to be educated and focused. The seedstock industry needs youth in science, marketing, and branding. We need highly motivated people if we’re going to increase productivity by 2020.


Matthew Heleniak

Matthew Heleniak

Matthew Heleniak

Matthew Heleniak, manager of Norpac Beef, Norwich, Ont.

Norpac Beef has a processing plant, distributes boxed beef, and feeds 2,500 to 3,000 cattle at feedlots. It also has a small cow-calf operation.

Getting bigger isn’t better. We decided to have our own niche by doing different things. This makes it so we don’t have to compete with big packers. We have processing lines, we sell burgers, hotdogs, and ground beef, which allowed us to grow our business quite substantially and stay off the radar of some of the bigger companies.

We feed Limousin cattle with a corn ration with a high-end pellet. We use 24-hour feed and free-choice bunks with high-quality bedding.

We’re a numbers-based company. We tag every individual with weight and know what each individual animal gains on a daily basis. All feed is computerized and run through a computerized system. We know what each animal is eating.

There’s a lot of loss of productivity in the beef industry because of meat that isn’t tender. This can include dark cutters and carcasses that aren’t an enjoyable experience for the end consumer. As weird as it sounds, if someone gets a tough steak, it hurts the productivity of the whole business and people eat less beef.

To maximize tenderness at our plant, we make sure that cattle are in our facility 24 hours before slaughter. They have free-choice feed and water. We play Led Zeppelin and AC/DC on the radio, so they hear clamouring and banging and aren’t startled by gates or different voices.

Our main goal is to reduce stress on the animal so we get a more tender carcass. We have a good handling facility and different lighting systems so that cattle are as calm and quiet as possible.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, she has also published two collections of poetry and a biography about a Sikh civil rights activist. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications across Canada.

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