Top Quality Beef in Norfolk
Known as Ontario’s Garden, Norfolk County is famed for its horticulture crops. Nestled in the fruit, vegetables and cash crops are cattle producers who raise top quality beef.
There are roughly 134 producers in Norfolk County and approximately 5,700 head of cattle. This makes the Norfolk Cattlemen’s Association one of the smaller county associations in Ontario. Kevin Krakar is the president of the local association. He explained that Norfolk soils and climates are well suited for other higher value produce and row crops, making it hard for cattle to compete for valuable acres.
Beef is also a lower income yielding agriculture product than horticulture or cash crops. Krakar explained there is a tight margin in cattle; a cow typically only produces one calf per year. The demands are also different on the farmer. “Livestock is one of those things where you are always on. You always have to do chores.”
“The beef industry is not like the dairy or chicken industry where you are protected from the border,” he said. “Importers can easily move their product into Canada without the demands of domestic regulations and therefore, there is much more global price pressures.”
Despite the myth-building PR beef producers get from environmentalists, and recently from the United Nations, Krakar said a lot of feed and grass is grown for beef.
“Cattle are actually a net carbon sink instead of a net carbon contributor,” he explained. “If people want to create a biodiverse ecosystem, they should eat more beef.”
There are three basic types of cattle operations. Cow-calf operators own the cattle that are bred to have calves. Backgrounders buy the calves and raise them to the 800 to 1,000 pound range. Once the cattle reach that weight, they go to a feedlot, where they are typically fed a higher grain diet to prepare them for the butcher/consumer.
Typically, many of the Norfolk beef producers have a mix of cash crops, produce and cattle.
“The cattle seem to fit more as a secondary operation here in Norfolk or for guys like me who work off-farm,” Krakar said.
Another feature of the Norfolk beef producer is most of the cattle are pasture raised. Some use managed pasture, while others use native vegetation. Managed pasture is often land planted in alfalfa, clover and grass mixes, whereas native pasture is natural grassland often on more marginal land.
Some of the finished cattle will end up at a local butcher shop. “Norfolk is fortunate to have several excellent butcher shops located here in the county,” he said.
Krakar, operating as Round Plains Livestock, is one of a slowly growing number of niche producers that raise cattle through the full cycle of birth to finish and sell their beef as a finished product. The beef is sold at the farm gate through word of mouth and social media advertising. He also sells some cattle at the backgrounder level.
His operation consists of 35 cows in the cow-calf side and about 150 at the backgrounder level. The 120 acres of his farm is all in pasture, hay and corn. The corn is used over the winter for the cows to graze on.
“We don’t combine it or anything, the cows just go through and graze,” he said, adding this is a technique that isn’t used a lot in Ontario yet. “It’s healthier for the cattle and you don’t have to spread a lot of manure in the spring because the cows haven’t been in a yard.”
Krakar also feeds a lot of cull produce to his cattle when it is available. The cattle receive a smorgasbord of tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, sweet corn, potatoes, carrots and cantaloupe.
“It’s all produce that’s not suited to have commercial value,” he said. “We pick it up and feed it to the cattle. The neat thing about beef cattle is they are nature’s recyclers. Despite what people say, they are environmentally friendly and consume a lot off the ground and turn it into a highly nutritious product.”
That, along with farm gate sales like Krakar’s, brings us back to how the beef producers are complementary, to the horticulture and farm markets in Norfolk.
“People really need to pay attention to where they get their beef,” Krakar said. “We, being the Norfolk Cattle Producers, living in the Garden Capital of Ontario, are putting a little flavour on the salad.”