John Smith and Laura Laing raise Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World (AGW) beef cattle…
For over 50 years, TK Ranch has been committed to taking care of the wild prairie and producing quality beef for Albertans. Situated about a three-hour drive southeast of Edmonton, 10,000-acre TK Ranch is located in the endangered northern fescue grasslands of east-central Alberta. Thomas Koehler Biggs established TK Ranch back in 1956; today, three generations live and work on the ranch, raising Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World (AGW) pigs and Certified Grassfed by AGW beef cattle and meat sheep.
Building both sustainability and profitability into the TK Ranch model has been integral to the farm’s mission – and its success. In 1995, with plummeting beef prices, the Biggs family faced some very tough decisions about their future on the ranch, and even if they could continue ranching. In response, they came up with a business model that was almost unheard of back then. As Colleen Biggs says, “Instead of being defeated by the conventional commodity-based system, we decided to create an alternative to the mainstream.” The Biggs decided to stop selling their beef to the commodity market and to explore direct marketing their grassfed beef: “It didn’t take us long to fully understand that the only way to make change in agriculture was to become the change itself.”
Colleen began by approaching a number of restaurants and retail outlets in Calgary to see if they would take their grassfed beef. The response to the quality and taste of the TK Ranch beef was ecstatic: “We began implementing a business plan that would see TK Ranch become a vertically integrated pasture to plate model,” Colleen explains. Following the success of direct selling their grassfed beef, the Biggs soon expanded sales to include grassfed lamb and pasture-raised pork. “Of course, all of this did not happen overnight: It took years of hard work and determination,” Colleen explains.
Cattle and sheep on TK Ranch graze on wild prairie grasses most of the year. “Our native northern fescue grasses are very high in protein and nutrition, and unlike tame grasses, maintain their quality when dried,” Colleen states. “These wild grasses sustained the buffalo for millennia and we are very fortunate to have them available for our cattle and sheep.” When the snow becomes too deep for the animals to graze through, they are moved to their wintering grounds.
The cold Alberta winters can make it extremely difficult to produce grassfed beef and lamb year-round, which is why most producers supplement their cattle and sheep with grain over the winter months. But the Biggs aren’t your average producers: They manage 1,000 acres of hayland specifically to provide winter feed for their grassfed cattle and sheep, baling up the hay each summer for the following winter months. The cattle are rounded up at the start of the winter and moved to this hayland area, where they are fed around 10 round bales per day all winter, with portable wind breaks offering shelter from the winter wind. Colleen and Dylan have also installed energy efficient waterers on the haylands, so the animals have a constant supply of fresh water in the cold winter months.
Like their cattle and sheep, Colleen and Dylan’s pasture-raised Berkshire-Duroc hogs never receive sub-therapeutic antibiotics, animal by-products or chemical insecticides. They are raised the old-fashioned way—with access to fresh air, sunshine, clean water and pasture their entire lives. The Biggs believe this makes a difference not only in their pigs’ lives, but also in the quality of the pork they produce.
Over the years, both Dylan and Colleen Biggs have been recognized for their commitment to the environment, animal welfare and sustainable agriculture. In 2010, TK Ranch received the National Prairie Conservation Award at the 9th Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
As a result of their pioneering work in sustainable ranching, TK Ranch is now a source of inspiration to farmers and ranchers across Canada – and the Biggs’ are only too willing to help them. “Every year the number of farm families that contact us for information and mentoring increases and this is a sign that people are looking for alternatives to the mainstream,” says Colleen. “We openly provide these families with the information they need to begin direct marketing their products. It is only in our best interest to see as many farm families succeed as possible if we are to create a food system that is secure for the future.”
In addition to their own animals, TK Ranch purchases Certified Grassfed by AGW beef cattle from neighboring producers—all of which are sold under the TK Ranch label.
Certified Grassfed by AGW beef and lamb products and Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW pork from TK Ranch are available in several retail outlets across Alberta. TK Ranch also delivers pre-purchased orders to the Calgary and Edmonton areas and ships to Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Fort McMurray. For more information about TK Ranch or to place an order, visit tkranch.com, or call 888-857-2624. You can also follow the ranch on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.