A first-hand look into a farm-to-plate operation
This summer we met Dylan Biggs, the owner and operator of TK Ranch, at a low-stress cattle handling workshop. Upon meeting Dylan, the opportunity to visit his ranch for a day came up and without hesitation we took it!
TK Ranch has been operating since 1956, and today three generations live and work on the ranch. For over 50 years TK Ranch has been committed to producing sustainable, quality beef for Albertans. The ranch was started by Thomas Koehler Biggs and is located in the endangered Northern Fescue Grasslands of east-central Alberta.
As things in the agriculture industry started to change, both Dylan and Colleen were faced with the possibility of getting off-farm jobs to make ends meet. Dylan was busy working 14-hour days on the ranch and Colleen had to look for an off-farm job, “It didn’t take us long to fully understand that the only way to make a change in agriculture was to become the change itself”, said Biggs.
In the 90’s, direct marketing in the agriculture industry was almost unheard of. When Dylan and Colleen contacted Alberta Agriculture to get more information on starting a direct marketing operation, they were told it wouldn’t work and that they would fail. That’s when they decided to take the risk and became fully invested in the direct marketing of grass-fed beef.
TK Ranch has evolved from just the raising of livestock to being involved in every step along the marketing line. In 2016, TK Ranch built a fully functioning abattoir where they process their own cattle and pigs. This addition is what makes TK Ranch a true pasture-to-plate operation. Dylan and Colleen decided to make this expansion in their operation because they wanted to ensure that their animals were being treated with the greatest level of respect at slaughter.
Along with selling natural, dry-aged, grass-fed beef, they expanded their program to include grass-fed lamb, heritage pasture-raised pork, and free-range chicken.
TK Ranch has received many awards and recognition for their livestock practices over the years, the most recent being Alberta Farm Animal Care’s ‘Award of Distinction for Industry Leaders’ at the 2016 Livestock Care Conference. Dylan and Colleen were recognized by Alberta Farm Animal Care for their long-term commitment to animal welfare and producing food in a sustainable way.
Biggs is also known for hosting clinics on low-stress livestock handling and promoting best practices for ranching. During our visit to TK Ranch, we learned that he first found his passion for low-stress cattle handling from Bud Williams and has never looked back. We spent the day on horseback, and saw first-hand Biggs’ low-stress handling techniques.
The lessons about cattle handling that Biggs taught us will never be forgotten. His calm demeanor was contagious to us, the horses, dogs and cattle.
“In the horse world, we have no problem with the concept of training, because we need them to trust us; this is the same in the cattle industry.” Biggs is a big believer in having the cattle trust you, and that’s something that you can’t force
“As ranchers, we have an expectation that cattle should do what we want, when we want, but that isn’t how things work. We can’t force cattle to do what they don’t want to do, and we can’t force them to be calm. When working cattle, you must know what calm cattle look like to get calm cattle, and most ranchers and farmers get into trouble when they try to control upset cattle.”
TK Ranch is Animal Welfare Approved, which means they are audited in a number of areas to specific standards set by A Greener World. As well, their cattle and sheep are certified grass-finished, also by A Greener World.
With the standards that Dylan and Colleen have set on their ranch, they hope to create a transparent industry that consumers can trust. If you would like to read more about TK Ranch and find out how to order their products visit their website at www.tkranch.com