Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay beef farmers have tough time meeting demand

Cattle farmers near Thunder Bay have a tough time meeting the demand for local beef - especially when the market price for beef is on the rise.

Farmers say cost of increasing herd, infrastructure are main reasons for not expanding

Bovine brunch

6 years ago
Cows at Mile Hill Farms near Thunder Bay, Ont., eat hay near the barn 0:34

Cattle farmers near Thunder Bay have a tough time meeting the demand for local beef – especially when the market price is on the rise. 

Many farmers near the city said the demand for locally raised beef is increasing, and farmers already can't keep up.

"Thunder Bay can't actually supply the demand for local beef that we've got right now. The demand for local beef is more than the amount of beef being produced in town here," said Renata Thiboutot, who owns Mile Hill Farms near South Gillies, just outside of the city.
Renata Thiboutot, owner and operator of Mile Hill Farms near South Gillies, stands in one of her fields where a cow grazes for the summer. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Thiboutot said the price of beef is on the rise, which has benefits and drawbacks for local farmers.

She said in some cases, local beef may become cheaper than what can be found in grocery stores. However, an increase in the market price also increases the cost of bringing in breeding stock.

"I had trouble getting a bull to my farm. Normally we breed in ... June, July, and I found that it was hard to find one, every time I called somebody else who I know who had a bull they'd say, 'Oh, we just shipped it last week.'"

Thiboutot said the price of buying a bull at auction has doubled over the past two or three years. 

Barriers to entry

While some may say farmers should expand the size of their herd to accommodate demand, it's not that simple.

Thiboutot said the cost of cows and calves are also high, making it difficult to quickly increase the size of a herd. Even if more cattle are purchased, it can take up to three years before the stock is ready for market.

Bruce Forrest, the owner and operator of Forrest Farms for the past 45 years, said what customers want when it comes to local beef has changed.
Bruce Forrest has owned and operated Forrest Farms for the past 45 years. He has about 30 cows on his farm in Oliver-Paipoonge. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

In the past, customers would be happy to take the whole cow, he said. These days, people are more selective. "There are people that want high end cuts, and there are people that want the utility cuts," he said.

Forrest said one challenge is when restaurants want to order beef, they generally only want specific cuts.

"Restaurants are very specialized in what cuts they use. So, we have to find a home for the rest of the animal. Because if somebody takes all of the t-bones, I've still got 90 per cent of the animal I've still got to find a home for."

Forrest said the other challenge to increasing herd size is the cost of infrastructure. He said the cost of building or expanding barns has increased in the past few years, making it difficult to expand for most farmers.

When it comes to meeting the demand for local beef, Forrest said most farmers are doing what they can.
A cow grazes on grass in one of the 160 acre fields at Mile Hill Farms, near South Gillies, Ont. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

"It's a business that you have to enjoy. The challenge of it I guess is what keeps us going," he said. "So, I'm going to keep farming for another few years."


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