When it comes to explaining beef farming to non-farmers, being open and direct can go a long way. This approach has been a recipe for success for Bill Sheard, a certified Ontario Corn Fed Beef farmer near Caledon.
Canada Beef Inc. and Canadian Living Magazine staged a public event on Sheard’s Sunnymead family farm in June to give people a closer look at a beef farm.
Canadian Living’s food director Annabelle Waugh demonstrated four beef recipes to the audience that gathered in the hay barn for lunch. They were also treated to tours of Sheard’s farm.
“People are actually very interested,” said Sheard, who is a third-generation farmer. “Some people had never been on a farm before, and we thought that was interesting. They had lots of questions about cattle.”
Sheard talked about making the cattle comfortable and providing the proper ventilation.
The idea is to simulate the environment of cattle being underneath a big oak tree in the summer.
“They do perform better when they’re dry and there’s a nice amount of air exchange,” said Sheard.
The feed demonstration was another highlight of the tour. A few baskets were set out to show the various types of feed that are used in the diet.
Sheard explained that cattle are on forage most of their lives and then receive ground hay and corn silage at his farm.
“Some people think that the animals are fed corn for their whole lives but we explained how the Corn-Fed (program) worked,” said Sheard, noting that the cattle are finished on corn to give the beef its flavour.
In fact, Joyce Parslow, Canada Beef culinary expert, wrote in the Canadian Beef blog that the visitors marveled to see just what cattle ate, noting that most people didn’t realize many farmers work with nutritionists to get their feed mix just right for cattle comfort, optimal health, and performance.
The event wasn’t the first public tour of the Sheard farm. With a location close to Highway 410 near Toronto, he has been a go-to-guy for farm organizations to host events for city folks or foreign delegations.
When it comes to telling his story, Sheard takes the simple and straightforward approach. It works particularly well for touchy subjects like antibiotics.
“Only a very small percentage of cattle are getting antibiotics at all. And the ones that are, we put them in a separate area,” says Sheard. “We showed how they go into a separate area until the residue is gone.”
Sheard said the benefits of participating in these tours include raising the profile of the beef products as well as the role of farmers.
“People are curious. We just show how we’re taking care of the cattle; show that they’re comfortable and well looked after,” said Sheard. “They can tell (when looking at them) the cattle are in good shape and they’re comfortable.”
Sheard, who finishes 3,000 to 3,500 cattle per year, has been on the Ontario Corn Fed Beef program for approximately five years.
When asked about the program, Sheard said the consumer demand for the product has strengthened the cattle basis.
“This local (food) thing has taken right off and Ontario Corn Fed Beef just fits in with that whole profile so we should enjoy the benefits that go along with that,” noted Sheard. “We’re producing a real consistent product and people know they’re getting a high quality product when they’re buying it.”