Raising Cattle in Algoma District
5 June 2019
Anyone following the Basswood Lake Outfitters blog may have noted the detailing of my quandary in observing so many individual horse owners in the central Algoma area. Now I will turn my keyboard to a similar theme regarding cattle. The difference being, that even though I don’t know a lot about farming or raising horses, I do know why people raise cattle – production of beef and dairy products.
In central Algoma, from my observation, livestock farmers are mostly focusing on raising beef cattle. A website on Algoma farming says that only 700 of the total 3,500 Algoma cattle are dairy cows. Beef cattle seem to be the driver up here and I understand that after the “mad cow disease” occurrence in 2003, which closed the US market to Canadian beef products had subsided, there has been a growth in Algoma cattle raising which really started to energize after 2010.
In fact, a collective of local beef cattle farms, known as Penokean Hills Farms, is now acclaimed for producing very high quality beef for wholesale to the restaurant market in southern Ontario and beyond (Penokean Hills is the name of a band of geologically formed rolling hills resulting from a shift in the earth’s crust many eons ago stretching across virtually all of Algoma – geographically in this locale just north of Basswood Lake). The reason these farms are producing such excellent quality restaurant grade beef is in part due to their high and consistent standards of beef production, but it also may relate to the ability of local soil to support pasture land and cattle feed. This is all in addition to a moderate climate and a relatively long growing season. It’s no surprise then that the most common use of agricultural land in Algoma is pasture or hay production to support the growing local livestock inventories – anyone driving through Algoma will confirm the extensive hay crops being rolled up every summer in July.
In our travels we have seen great specimens of cattle along the fence lines including one “special” cow we noted on a south Dayton farm. I believe from the looks of the animal it might have been a Red Angus with a beautiful gold-coloured nose and a pristine shiny reddish brown hide – we took a photo and marveled at the beautiful animal (see pic on right). We also see some very impressive herds including the Melwel Rd. herd on Highway 17 just up the road from us – usually 50 or more head of fine looking blond coloured cattle grazing on both sides of the highway.
But like Algoma horse owners, there also seems to be many small operators with just a few cattle – again the Amish and Mennonites deal mostly on a small scale often simply for sustenance, however there are others who raise just a few bovines in pastures next to their home or in a more distant field.
I would speculate that this practice may have something to do with having a local abattoir just outside of Bruce Mines – if it was necessary to ship animals to distant locales perhaps the economic feasibility of raising cattle on a small scale would not pencil out.
There are also other local undertakings which support the acquisition and production of livestock locally, the Algoma Cooperative Livestock Sales on the eastern boundary of Thessalon and further north, the Algoma Community Pasture which I understand is available to locals who wish to have a common pasture to graze cattle or horses without having to acquire the full infrastructure to raise the animals.
Cattle and horses are not the only farming interests in this area - there is a pretty sizable sheep farm just west of us down the highway at Sowerby Road, there is a small scale hog farm on the west edge of Dayton, Alpaca farms in both central Algoma and St. Joseph Island, and other families who just raise chickens and turkeys for road side sale of dressed birds or eggs.
Bottom line is that it’s very refreshing to see so many people committed to maintaining a rural and/or local farming lifestyle. This is the direction that people who care about “sustainability” are headed in this country, and it would appear that Algoma has a leg up on the rest of Ontario and Canada with this movement already in full bloom.