MEAT LOVERS REJOICE! Our region is rife with hardworking ranchers and farmers dedicated to bringing choice and quality to our plates. Here’s a handful on our radar.

Top Grass Cattle Company

Ask Calvin Raessler of Top Grass Cattle Company why he does what he does, and the answer comes quickly: “I love my land.”

That land just east of Drumheller is some 1400 acres of native grasslands – one of the earth’s most threatened eco-systems and an oft-overlooked key to managing carbon on the planet. Since 2012, Calvin has aimed to be the best possible steward of his land, through careful management of one of that eco-system’s essential players: grazers. In this case, that’s grass-fed, grass-finished beef cattle, raised without antibiotics or added hormones.

“We try to mimic the way bison used to be on the land. Applying regenerative agricultural practices, Calvin moves his cattle through 34 paddocks on a rigorously-monitored grazing plan that provides natural fertilizer and moderate disturbance to maximize grass growth and keep the soil healthy. “Soil health is the foundation to sustainability,” he says, and diversity of plants and wildlife is critical. To enhance biodiversity further, he partners with organizations like Ducks

Cattle ranch

Unlimited and Operation Grassland Community on several projects, including those that examine riparian health or encourage Ferruginous hawks, Sprague’s pipits, and other species-at-risk.

Meat quality is still king when it comes to the plate, and Calvin includes gene-mapping and ultrasound in his breeding program to optimize marbling and flavour. Top Grass cattle never see a feedlot, “and we apply low-stress handling techniques at [many] different levels,” he says. “We’re learning – and I’m sure there’s so much more we can learn.”

You’ll find Top Grass beef on the menus at River Café, Deane House, and the Ship & Anchor, and at Calgary Co-op, Save-On Foods and natural food markets across Calgary. You can also order bulk combos – like the Comfort-Cooking Pack (think steak cubes and stir-fry strips) or the Keto-Friendly Pack – directly from their online store.

Winter’s Turkeys

The Winter family thinks it’s time to be part of your life more than twice a year.

For over six decades, they’ve sold their fresh turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas through grocery stores and meat shops across Alberta. Long before “free-range” and “humanely-raised” became bulwarks in our food vocabulary, the Winters raised their flocks antibiotic-and-hormone-free, outside in the fresh air.

“It’s what we’ve always done and it’s always produced a beautiful product,” says Laurel Winter, who took over farm management reins in 2015. The key, she contends, is the whole-grain feed mix invented by her grandfather and tweaked over the years by her dad, Darrel. That, and the extra time the flock forages around the yard (18-24 weeks, as opposed to the 11-15 weeks of most commercial flocks). The result is turkey with a reputation for moist and flavourful meat.

The Winters added a certified organic flock at the turn of the millennium. Now Laurel and her husband, Lyle Weigum, want to introduce you to their kitchen.

“We obviously eat a lot of turkey,” laughs Lyle. “So Laurel recently came up with [new products] that’s just an extension of what we’ve been cooking at home.” These include marinated stir-fry strips in Asian and fajita flavours, and a whole BBQ-marinated thigh. They also offer seasonal combo packs in their online store, like the Summer BBQ box filled with turkey snacks, sausages, stir-fry, burgers, and roasts.

turkey farm

Still, the holiday bird will always be a central part of their business and their motivation. “When customers express their gratitude because the work that we do leads directly to their holiday traditions…and when people tell us how great their family dinner was…that’s incredibly rewarding.

You’ll find Winter’s Turkeys on the menu at River Café, Deane House, and Infuse Catering. Check the farm’s website for an up-to-date list of local retailers.

Broek Pork Acres

Allan and Joanne Vanden Broek of BROEK PORK ACRES produce pasture-raised, heritage breed Berkshire pork on their Coalhurst-area farm, with no added hormones or antibiotics. Look for their products at Urban Butcher, Lukes Drug Mart, Blush Lane, Community Natural Foods, Sunnyside Market – and at restaurants across Calgary and beyond.

broek pork acres

Ewe-Nique Farms

At EWE-NIQUE FARMS near Champion, Caroline and Bert Vande Bruinhorst raise free-range, hormone-free lamb and chicken with the help of their large extended family and a cadre of Great Pyrenees dogs. Order direct from the farm, or look for their products at The Better Butcher, Community Natural Foods, Sunnyside Market, and Blush Lane.

TK Ranch

Colleen and Dylan Biggs have been direct marketing grass-fed-and-finished beef and lamb, and pasture-raised pork from their Animal Welfare Approved TK RANCH near Hanna for more than 25 years. They also offer humanely-raised, soy-free chicken, in partnership with the nearby Hutterite colony. Shop for their products at Sunnyside Market or order directly from their online store.

TK ranch