For Rusty and Agnes Bellamy, pastures aren’t just for cattle. You’ll find pigs, turkeys, laying hens and broiler chickens roaming the range on Big Coulee Farms, which the Bellamys run with their extended family near here.
Rusty Bellamy says their philosophy is to raise the best-quality food and sell it at the highest prices. He uses direct marketing to sell his products at a booth at the St. Albert Farmers market.
“You spend about 95 per cent of your time in the market educating people about your products,” Bellamy told a recent tour for members of the West Central Forage Association.
He says most of the consumer education focuses around the definition of terms such as “free-range” and “organic.” He also spends time instructing his customers on proper cooking methods.
“The secret for grass-fed beef is to turn it and turn it and turn it. Use tongs or a spatula. Don’t ever stick it with a fork.”
In addition to selling at the market, Bellamy attended trade shows in Fort McMurray to promote his products. The trade shows attracted local clients who spread the word to family and friends. Each month, Bellamy or his friends drive to Fort McMurray to meet their clients at a central meeting point to distribute the products.
Bellamy’s animals are raised on two quarters and are housed in areas surrounded by electric fences. His heritage black pigs are fed a little bit of grain, but also graze on pasture. Last year, the group of 10 pigs was used to level a hill, capitalizing on their rooting behaviour.
The laying hens spend the winters in the barn and the summers outside as they will not produce eggs if they are kept in temperatures lower than about 10 C. Their shelter is equipped with a solar panel, which electrifies a fence designed to keep out predators. Their flock of about 199 birds lays about 91 eggs a day. The area in which the birds are housed is moved as the birds eat and wear down the grass. All birds need to face east so they get the light of the day.
Bronze turkeys are raised in another area. Bronze turkey meat is generally darker and quite juicy. Toms and hens are raised together, as they don’t reach full breeding maturity before they go to market. The turkeys are processed right before Thanksgiving.
The Cornish giant chickens stay in pens with elevated tops, tin covering along the back and a sloped roof. They live in the barn for about three weeks until they have grown a few of their own feathers. Following this, the chickens are on pasture for about five weeks. The chicken pens are moved every day and birds are processed at around four or five pounds.
Bellamy also has a small herd of Red Angus cattle that are rotationally grazed. Fertilization comes from composted manure from all the animals as well as sawdust from the chicken pens.