Blue Goose Farms: 400 head and growing

MANITOULIN—Fresh from a $60,000 donation at the Manitoulin Health Centre in Little Current on Thursday toward the Tree of Life fundraising campaign, The Expositor had a chance to sit down with David Fraser and Jim Martin of Blue Goose Cattle Company to learn how plans for Manitoulin were shaping up.

David Fraser, chief operating officer of Blue Goose, explained that Blue Goose is a community-minded organization and the $60,000 donation to the two hospitals is an example of this line of thinking.

Research into Manitoulin’s beef production shows that it is capable of much more than is currently being utilized, he said, and Blue Goose wants to see that capability expand through them.

Jim Martin of Gore Bay, Blue Goose’s ‘cow boss,’ explained that the company is currently building the herd and that production is “a couple of years away.”

“But fish is in full production right now,” Mr. Fraser added, referencing the purchase of Meeker’s Aquaculture in Evansville and their partnership with aquaculture expert Mike Meeker.

In a previous article, Mr. Fraser explained the Blue Goose concept. “We purchase these farms and put cattle on them. They are natural—no hormones, steroids or fertilizers—and certified organic—nothing but what God put on this earth. It’s a vertically integrated system—our own cow-calf, finishing, abattoir and distribution systems.”

Blue Goose, which originally began in British Columbia, is also know for its practice of the (Global Animal Partnership) six-step animal husbandry program, which means that during the cow’s life there is: no crates, no cages, no crowding, an enriched environment, enhanced outdoor access, pasture centered and cows are bred for outdoors and bred for an entire life on the same farm.

Mr. Martin explained that to be certified organic, an auditor must come and do an assessment on each and every farm the company purchases for cattle raising, complete with a history. “Some properties will have to wait a bit of time before they are used,” he said, as some of the farms had used pesticides or herbicides in recent times. “There are very firm, formal standards and all properties must go through the process of auditing.”

“When it comes to (buying) properties, we look at three different things: can it support cattle operations, is the soil good and what has been done to this property,” Mr. Fraser added. “We’ll then acquire it, fence it and find out how many cattle it can support.”

“Since the fallout with XL Foods, people want to know the background of their food,” Mr. Martin sad, adding that Blue Goose offers a “storied product.”

Blue Goose has so far acquired approximately 4,000 acres and “well over” 400 head of cattle, mainly black angus.

“We will continue to add cattle to the capability to the Island—we could easily have half that number again,” Mr. Fraser said. “And we would like to bring Manitoulin to its full capacity.”

“We’re in negotiations with people all across this island,” he said. “We don’t have hardcore numbers, it’s whatever’s needed.”

Mr. Fraser did say that employees had increased by one third since June. Rumours of the company on a spending spree on the purchase of other Manitoulin businesses are simply not true, he added.

The Expositor raised the concern that Manitoulin was destined to become “one giant feed lot” with the two men.

“There are certain rules in Ontario,” Mr. Martin said, noting the Nutrient Management Act. “That’s just not allowed. One giant feed lot just won’t apply.”

“Eighty percent of the diet will be forage,” Mr. Fraser said. “We’re not altering or trying to do something that Manitoulin can’t sustain.”

“We have no desire to become a High River, Alberta,” Mr. Martin added (High River is home of the Cargill processing plant which processes 4,500 head of cattle each day).

“We are regulated by the government and we have a history in fish and a history in cattle through Jim Martin,” Mr. Fraser said, gesturing to the cow boss seated to his left. “The Blue Goose model has a long history of adherence to animal husbandry, organics and stewardship of the environment. To the nay sayers I say ‘time will tell’.”

“We’re just building on a storyline that was already here,” he added. “Our main effort will continue to be out on the farm—it’s out on the farm and the fish.”

Mr. Fraser again spoke of the importance of community to Blue Goose. “We don’t want to talk the talk, we want to walk the walk,” he said. “The donation of $60,000 is to support the well being of the community. Blue Goose is all about well being and choice and this health care facility is all about that.”

Alicia McCutcheon