2 February 2020

Cober Natural Dry-Aged Beef

Brad and Valerie Cober raise their cattle right here in Wellesley, Ontario. If you’re local, you’ve probably seen their cows grazing contentedly in the large grassy pasture that meanders along the Nith River, behind our local Home Hardware. Brad and Valerie are great neighbours, and they've been a fantastic source of natural tallow for our soaps from early on in this adventure.

It’s my absolute pleasure to share a bit about their operation and why I think Cober Natural Dry-Aged Beef is a fantastic partner for our handmade natural soap company. I asked them a few questions, and here’s what Valerie had to say!

What do you produce on your farm?

We produce natural dry-aged beef from Red Angus crossed Simmental cattle that have been selectively bred and humanely raised on our Wellesley farm. Our cattle are raised naturally, and we don’t ever use growth hormones or any other stimulants. Our beef is Ontario Government Certified AAA for both taste and tenderness. We also grow food-grade soybeans and wheat, as well as forage for the cows including mixed grains, barley, cattle corn, and grass/hay.

When did you start farming?

Brad actually grew up on this Wellesley farm, so it’s played a big part in his life. When Brad’s mother and father operated the farm, they raised pigs, but Brad had his first cow when he was still in high school. Brad officially took over the family farm in 2003, which is also the year I joined the farm – the year we were married!

Why did you start farming?

Brad grew up on the farm and always knew he wanted to farm; his parents and extended family all farmed, and he got various types of farm experience and loved it. When his parents were no longer actively farming pigs, they encouraged him to explore other options until he found what he was most passionate about. That turned out to be beef cattle, and he hasn’t looked back.

What practices do you use to preserve or improve the health of your land?

Brad and I take our responsibility as stewards of the land seriously, and have adopted some key approaches to maintain and improve the land.

  • We have an active environmental farm plan; this is a voluntary agricultural program that is important to us!
  • We have approved manure storage to prevent run off.
  • We use crop consultants to assess our soil & crops and advise us so that
  • we never overspray or spray unnecessarily (and when we do have to spray, it is with precision application only)
  • we take crops out of rotation if there is any erosion and plant hay to combat the erosion, and
  • we plant cover crops and use them to actively control erosion and rejuvenate the land.
  • We participate in Grand River Conservation Authority projects for water protection on our farm, including well-water protection, and water protection at pasture as well.

What practices do you use to ensure your animals have a high quality of life?

We care deeply for the health and well-being of our cattle, so we set high standards for their care. Our cows have free range of large pastured areas from May to October, when there is lots of sun and plenty of grass to eat. They also have access to a large treed area where they can find shade when it’s really hot. During the cold winter months, the cattle are kept near the barn so they have ready access to a sturdy shelter; we further protect them from the elements by keeping them indoors when the weather is too cold. The cows always have free choice for water and hay, and when in the barn we provide some really comfy bedding to keep them dry and happy, which we change regularly.

We also take great care to ensure the health and well-being of our cows when they calve. We intentionally have our cows bred at pasture to ensure they calve while closer to the barn (from February to April) so we can monitor the birthing and provide assistance if necessary. And during calving season, we feed them at night so that they birth during the day – this helps ensure that we will be able to monitor and assist if needed. All new calves get a preventative dose of vitamins and probiotics for extra nutrition and protection from illness. And each fall when the cows come home from their summer at pasture, they and their calves are examined by the veterinarian to assess the health of the herd:

  • cows are checked for pregnancy (and how far along they are) so we can more closely monitor specific cows nearer to their birthing time;
  • cows receive scheduled vaccines; and
  • calves are checked for overall health.

And finally, we employ bio-security measures to keep our cattle protected from sickness and disease. We want our cattle to be healthy, happy, hearty and hale:)

What is the biggest challenge you face today?

Everything we do is dependent on the weather. Too-wet weather may mean that our food-grade crops stay too wet for too long or even get washed out, both of which result in a decreased yield and a big loss for our operation. And if we have a difficult crop season, and we have to purchase feed and bedding for the cattle, chances are our neighbours have also had a difficult season, and demand (and price!) will be higher. The calves can also suffer and become more susceptible to illness when it’s constantly wet and rainy. And with a 9-month gestation period and even longer to raise the calves, it’s difficult to predict what the market will be when you’re ready to sell, especially if in that time the weather has affected both crops and cattle. The changing climate is causing more variable weather patterns, and it’s definitely a huge challenge for small farms like ours.

What do you really want people to know about what you do?

Although people are more conscious of what they’re eating and where their food is coming from, there still seems to be a disconnect between the field and the table. The food we eat is produced on farms! And while we definitely want people to know about what we’re doing on our farm – our natural dry-aged beef is a speciality niche product that we’d love for you to try – there are many small local farmers like us struggling to care for our land and animals while producing food for our communities. Choosing to support your local producers means that these farms will remain viable and will be around to feed us all for generations to come.