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Thursday, 24 November 2011 14:07

French delegates learn more about southern Alberta beef production

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By Rose Sanchez
Southern Alberta
A group of 20 delegates from France were able to learn more about the cattle industry in southern Alberta thanks to the hospitality shown by area ranchers, businessmen and the Feeder Associations of Alberta.

At the end of September, Harvey Donahue, vice-chairman for the Feeder Associations, received a call from a group organizing a tour for the French residents.

“No one really knows,” says Donahue, about how the group got hold of his contact information, although the assumption is it was through the Feeder Associations. Donahue operates a small mixed grain and cattle farm north of Fort Macleod. He is also the Region 1 zone director and chairman of Fort Macleod Feeder Association.

He received an email, three-quarters of which was in French. Once translated, he learned the group of delegates were interested in learning more about cattle operations in Alberta, including slaughter facilities.

Once he had the approval of the other board members, Donahue spent about two weeks organizing some southern Alberta stops for the 20 delegates and their wives.

The group arrived in Calgary on Oct. 22 and stayed until Oct. 31. Their time was spent with about 20 various organizations and companies in southern Alberta including Calgary, Lethbridge, High River and a couple of days sightseeing in Banff.

Donahue first met the group Oct. 23 in Calgary. He and his wife Marlene road the tour bus and headed to Highway 21 Feeders at Acme. Delegates learned more about the 20,000-head feedlot, before heading to Olds College where they toured the biofuel plant.

For the next week, the Donahues met with the delegates off and on — depending on what was on that day’s agenda.

He was involved with the touring of a feedlot near Claresholm (Claresholm Beef Producers); Bouvry Exports in Fort Macleod; Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump; and Hilltop Dairy of Fort Macleod. They also made time to see the ranches of Dr. Bill Newton and Raymond Nadeau of the Spring Point area west of Fort Macleod.

The delegates met with Randy Kaiser of Second to None Meats and toured one of his butcher shops; Western Feedlots near High River; Perlich Brothers Auction in Lethbridge and the Lethbridge Research Station.

Five of the French individuals also travelled to Lacombe to speak with a representative of Canadian Premium Meats. It is a small slaughterhouse which is European Union Certified.

One particular area of interest for the group, says Donahue, was touring the Granum Hutterite Colony.

“They were very interested there. The whole concept was new to them,” says Donahue.

They seemed intrigued by the culture, but also amazed by the magnitude of their farming operations. A Hutterite colony doesn’t specialize in one area of agriculture: instead, there are usually poultry, beef, and hog operations.

The delegates also appeared interested in the tour of the horse slaughterhouse in Fort Macleod — Bouvry Exports. One of the areas they were especially interested in when the tour was being arranged was seeing beef packing plants, says Donahue. Unfortunately tours couldn’t be arranged for either XL Foods Inc. Lakeside Packers in Brooks or Cargill Meat Solutions in High River, but Bouvry seemed like the next best alternative.

“Claude Bouvry set up the tour for us quickly,” says Donahue. An added bonus was Bouvry speaks French, so he could communicate easily with the delegates without using the translators.

One of the surprises for many of the French producers was in Alberta, cattle aren’t kept in barns all winter even though temperatures can be bone-chillingly cold. The size of the operations was also a surprise to some.

Although there is a difference in cultures and the approach to raising beef, the delegates and local producers are alike in wanting a high-quality end product.

Donahue is glad he was able to help the delegates learn more about cattle production in Alberta.

“We did it as a goodwill gesture and wanted to show them some good southern Alberta hospitality,” he says.

He’s also appreciative the local producers were willing to open up their operations to the French.

“There wouldn’t have been a tour if we didn’t have the co-operation of these businesses and individuals,” adds Donahue. “We can’t thank them enough. They opened their doors and said come on in, this is what we do.

One of the French (delegates) said it opened their eyes because they weren’t expecting that kind of hospitality. They had heard we were entreprenurial and business-minded, but they didn’t expect the kind of open arms and open doors (welcome) they received.”

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