Just west of Calgary off of highway 1 on the way to Banff, but before you hit the Rocky Mountains, you will find some of the best cattle being bred in the country.
CL Ranches is one of the few cattle ranches left in Western Canada. I had the chance to go out on a tour with the folks at Canadian Beef to actually see where my food comes from! Other than the cows I see at the Calgary Stampede or the cattle I drive past on road trips, I’ve never actually seen a ranch operation in person. The trip really brought home the “farm-to-table” experience that is often touted at restaurants when I eat out. Alberta and Canada has an outstanding reputation for its amazing prime and AAA Canadian beef and its ranches like this that are part of the equation.
At over 4800 feet above sea level, the family-owned CL Ranches is now on its 4th generation with their cattle grazing on the same beautiful grasslands for over a hundred years. Cherie Copithorne-Barnes comes from a long line of ranchers and is the latest generation helming the herd of cows at the family ranch. She shows us around the land, explains some of her family history and how CL Ranches doubles as a movie set from time to time!
At CL Ranches, they are lucky to get 90 grazing days without frost, but after decades refining and honing the land, water and crops, they’ve got it down to a science. Just as the “terroir” can directly affect the flavours of a grape for wine, the land and the climate can make or break the tenderness, juiciness, flavour and aroma of beef. Oddly enough, Canada’s cold winters are ideal for raising hardy beef stock. And our high-latitude summers with long sunny days provide the nutritious grains and grass needed to feed the livestock.
The ranch is known for their CL Super Cross breed of cows. There are over 40 breeds of cattle in Canada largly based on the Bos Taurus strain which the Super Cross also come from. They are a darker colored herd to help protect the cows from sun burn (who knew that animals could suffer the same human problems?). It’s a clever solution since chasing down cattle to put on sunscreen is a bit impractical. And practicality is what the ranch is all about with cows made specifically for grazing on the land. Only the best cows are kept at the ranch and will reach over 1300 pounds when mature.
The practicality lends itself to all aspects of ranch life. CL Ranches stays away from hormones and chemicals when it comes to its cattle. But sometimes, the animals get sick and will require treatment. In one case, a young calf become ill and had to be given antibiotics to treat it. But now that animal was no longer valuable to continue as part of the regular herd. With a bear problem on the ranch, the young calf was left out as an offering to the hungry carnivore so it wouldn’t attack the rest of the herd. I felt pity for the poor calf, but understanding the circle of life and how the food chain lies, it made absolute sense to deal with nature in this way.
As a city girl, I have that common ‘disconnect’ for where my food actually comes from as I can easily pick up all my eats at a grocery store. But to see firsthand our food source in person and the land they are grown on is something else. The next time I’m at the butcher counter picking up my steaks to barbecue, I will remember the long road it takes to bring this food to my table.