Goodbye Earls

Dear Earls,

You use to be my husband and I’s first pick for a restaurant and now after your latest ad campaign we will no longer be eating there.


The Erika’s and their families

This is a very frustrating time for us as cattle producers. Big corporate business is using fear tactics in advertising to sell more product, meanwhile there are huge negative impacts on the beef industry. As rancher’s we take real offence to these marketing scams that imply that Canadian ranchers are not doing a good job at raising cattle in a humane fashion or following antibiotic guidelines; when in fact Canada is one of the safest food producing countries in the world.

It’s frustrating that marketers can come up with a ‘catch phrase’ that instantly implies that producers are not treating their animals in a humane way.  It is even more frustrating that consumers so quickly believe it.  We love our animals and do everything we can to ensure their health. Canada has recently put in place the Beef Code of Practise which gives guidelines to raise healthy, safe beef. In addition, the Beef Code of Practise was designed with the involvement of many different stakeholders including the SPCA, McDonalds, ranchers, consumers, veterinarians and many more. On both of our ranches, just like the majority of Canadian ranches, we keep improving our management practises and striving to be innovative. For example, on both of our ranches we have completed the Environmental Farm Plan, Verified Beef Production, and this year are trying a new product that is on the market that is called Metacam. Metacam is an anti-inflammatory that we can offer to a sick or hurt animal just like we would take an Advil. For Earl’s to source their “humane” beef in the USA instead of Canada directly impacts our families as this is our livelihood. Moreover, they are not specific as to what humane means and their qualifications are no different that what ranchers in Canada do already.

Looking at the FAQ’s on Earls website their response to “What does ‘humanely or ethically raised’ mean?” Earl’s vague answer left us feeling more frustrated. There are no specific standards their beef source follows. Their explanation begins with it varies? If you are marketing this product that is humane certified shouldn’t it have specific guidelines to follow not variable ones?

Another section from the FAQ’s on Earls website they claim that the animals for their beef are treated with care, respect, dignity and are ethically cared for. Again this is advertising. All ranchers we know do these things. That is why they are ranchers. It is frustrating because they create a doubt in the consumers mind that we are not doing these things.

Earls says they are humane because meat for their restaurants is harvested at facilities that have been designed by Temple Grandin. Temple Grandin is an amazing animal behaviourist who has designed over 60 % of the slaughter facilities in North America. Her low stress handling facilities have revolutionized the industry worldwide, therefore her techniques are not just restricted to “Earl’s” beef, but the majority of the beef industry. Her low stress handling techniques are used by ranchers everyday when moving and handling cattle.

Lastly, the catch phrase ‘anti-biotic free’ we have a real issue with, especially when it is combined with the word ‘humane’. If an animal is suffering, is it humane NOT to treat this animal with the recommend product and dose of antibiotics? Is it more humane to let an animal suffer even when you have the means to treat it?? As ranchers we do use antibiotics when necessary. If an animal is sick, and can be treated, we treat it following our veterinarian consultations and the label guidelines complying with the withdrawal period. That means, depending on the product, the label tells you the number of days before the animal can be slaughtered for human consumption, so there is no residue in the meat.  If Earls’ is claiming to source humane beef, in our opinion it is inhumane not to treat a sick animal. Do people really think that it is better to let a sick animal suffer when we have the ability to help? What if your child or pet was sick and you could help them, would you choose not to?

Please be confident in Canadian beef and Canadian ranchers. Trust that we are raising quality, safe beef for your family and ours.

Erika Strande and Erika Fossen



Bottle feeding twins to make sure they get enough milk because their mom doesn’t have enough milk for both calves.


Towing a newborn calf into the barn in the calf sled to ensure he doesn’t get sick.


Putting fresh bedding down in the calving barns so the new born calves have a clean dry place to lay down. These are just a few of the humane things ranchers due to ensure their animals are healthy.


Where our cows live!

Shoppin’ Erika Style

Yesterday the Erika’s got to go shopping……….for bulls.  Yes, that is right, shopping for breeding bulls for our beloved cows.  I think our husbands are tickled pink that we were excited to shop for bulls.

We started off at our ranch, touring the bulls that we already have.  Here Doug is showing Cyle and Erika our bulls from the breeder that we would go to later that morning.  It is helpful to look at how previous bulls have performed to have an idea of how the new ones will do.

Starting the Fossen Ranch Bull Tour

Starting the Fossen Ranch Bull Tour

They must be talking about something goood!

They must be talking about something goood!

They talked about bulls for a good while.

They talked about bulls for a good while.

Then with our trailers in tow, we headed off:  Erika’s in one truck and Cyle and Doug in the other to purchase some new bull power.  The destination, Cedar Creek Ranch, between Keremeos, BC and Penticton, BC.  They have been in the business producing beef and breeding bulls for over 60 years.  I also work with Shaun at the BC Livestock Co-op.

At Cedar Creek Angus, shopping for bulls.

At Cedar Creek Angus, shopping for bulls.

Doting over the baby!

Doting over the baby!

Both Erika's daughters

Both Erika’s daughters

Two Erika's with their husbands, and Shaun the bull owner.

Two Erika’s with their husbands, and Shaun the bull owner.

It was a family affair! Good thing Shaun's bulls are so quite.

It was a family affair! Good thing Shaun’s bulls are so quite.

The girls looking in on the final sort!

The girls looking in on the final sort!

We had already been to Shaun’s ranch in January and picked out our two bulls.  The breeder marked ours as sold, but continued to feed them over the winter for us.  This was the first time Erika & Cyle had been to see these bulls, and started judging the bulls against each other to pick out their favourite.  Sometimes your favourite pick is already purchased when looking through a pen of bulls.  It is very pleasant picking bulls ‘off the ranch’.  It is much more stressful when you are picking bulls at an auction sale.  It is very disapointing when you are at an auction sale and the bull you want is someone else’s favourite too and he gets far out of your price range!  Then you have to quickly go back to the drawing board and look at your second choice bull.  Unfortunately, your second choice may sell before your 1st choice, then your in a real dilemma:  gambling if you will get your 1st choice within your budget!  Are you starting to understand why we love picking bulls ‘Off the Ranch’?

It was a real family affair and it was fun to be with my blogging partner and friend Erika.

The two 'Erika's'.

The two ‘Erika’s’.

After Cyle and Erika picked their choice, we got out our cheque books and loaded the bulls up.  It was a good day.

~Erika Fossen~

All done!

All done!



Late Nights

The last few nights have been busy ones! I am doing the 11 o’clock check and before this week I had been having a fairly uneventful check. There were calves born, but they had been mostly unassisted and the only thing I have had to do was to drag new born calves into the calving sheds if the weather was cold or wet. Not this week. Two nights ago I went wandering out the calving barns and calving field at 11pm in my sweat pants I was tired and was feeling confident nobody was up to anything, boy was I wrong. The first barn I check is the heifer barn and sure enough a little heifer was calving backwards, so I had to call for back up, I called and woke up my dad to come over and give me a hand. Its funny how when you come out of the house you are so tired and all you can think about is going back to sleep, but then you see duclaws facing up (that means the presentation of the calf is backwards) and suddenly you get a burst of energy and are hustling around and then wonder how you are ever going to get back to sleep once you are done because now you are wide awake. We pulled the calf, but we ended up needing to use the puller (this device is kinda like a ratchet) it helps the rancher pull the calf out, when it is too hard to pull by hand. This ended up being a really hard pull and backwards are always scary because the umbilical cord can break and the calf’s head is still inside and they can drown, we got this calf out just in time he was gasping for air, a few more seconds inside and we could have lost him, but we saved him. That was a great feeling, a bit scary at first when he comes out whaling this head around gasping for air your heart stops for a bit.


Example of backwards presentation

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 10.01.10 AM

This is what pulling a backwards calf looks like. This is the scary part when the calf’s hips are out that is generally the time the umbilical cord can break. At this point you need to move fast to save the calf!

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 10.01.51 AM

This is normal presentation. What we hope to see!

After, we got that calf out I continued on my check and I found a big older cow with the water bag just starting to come out, so I continue on my check, which takes about 30 mins and come back and she hasn’t progressed at all. So I went to the calving shack where Dad was waiting and we decided to give her 30 mins, after 30 mins went to check on her again and still hadn’t progressed, we decided to give her another 30 mins went to check on her and still nothing new, by this time it is 1:30 in the morning, so we decided to pull the calf. When I reached in there she hadn’t dialated properly because it was really tight and one of the calf’s hooves was pointed up so the hoof was poking her, so everytime she pushed it hurt. It ended up being an easy pull once we got the hoof in the right position.

The next night I went out to do my check and I went to the heifer barn first and there was a heifer starting to calve I could just see the tip of one hoof. I couldn’t tell for sure, but I was pretty sure it was a front hoof. I continued on my check , but hustled back because I wanted to make sure it was a front foot. When I came back to the barn she was trying to push, but only 1 front hoof was coming out. I let her try on her own for about an hour total, but one hoof must have been caught up a bit because there was only one front foot coming. I decided to pull the calf. Once I reached in a got the other foot coming straight it was an easy pull.


Last night I went out to do my check and again I went to the heifer barn first and I could her gentle mooing so I figured somebody had a had a calf and sure enough a new baby was laying there and the new mom was licking her calf off. Great I thought to myself an unassisted birth. Next, I noticed a heifer stretched out a ways away, so I scurry over there and sure enough there were 2 feet sticking out and she is pushing for everything she had. So I quickly ran to the calving shack and got the calving chains to help her and pull this calf because at this point I have no idea how long she has been calving for and something must be wrong because she is really pushing.. That was a really hard pull at one point I thought I might have to call for help because I wasn’t sure if I could get it on my own. I ended up pulling the calf. It turns out the calf was really big especially for a first calf heifer. We breed all our heifers to low birth weight bulls, so their first experience is hopefully good, but sometimes weird things happen and this was one of those times, just a big calf.



The Race Is On

The race is on and here comes Pine Ranch in the backstretch, Fossen Air’s going to the inside. I thought we’d keep with the musical lyrics theme!

Since we started calving my husband Cyle and Erika’s husband Doug have been in stiff competition. Everyday several times a day they text each other with calving number updates. We’ve got 50, we have 53 and so forth. We have been neck in neck until these past  few days when the Fossen’s really pulled ahead. This may seem like a fun silly competition and it is, but it is also a very interesting comparison. A ranchers goal is to get as many cows bred in the first cycle. A cow cycles every 21 days. When we turn the bulls out on   May 1 that means we should start calving around the February 8 because a cow’s gestation period is 285 days.  *Fun fact a human’s gestation period is 280*

There is a lot of research coming out lately that explains how important first cycle calving is and how it can impact the long term productively of that calf. We are actually trying to pick the majority of our replacement heifers (those females calves that we will keep and put back into our herd as mother cows) that have been born in the first cycle. We only started doing this last year, so in time it will be interesting to see what our results are.

This friendly competition is also nice to see how our ranch is doing in comparison to another ranch and gives us some feedback about what we are doing and if we need to make some changes to improve our efficiency for the next year.

As of the last husband texts Pine Ranch (our ranch) has 113 calves and Fossen Air has 132. So we are behind.😦

There are numerous factors that can contribute to the cows getting bred right away

1) Nutrition- this is HUGELY important. If the cows is not in good shape and hasn’t been fed properly during the winter months (this means feed and mineral) she is unlikely to re-bred quickly.

2) Proximity to bulls- This factor is very important in our area of BC, because our range is really rugged and stretches 100 000 acres, we cannot simply just open the gates in the spring and hope everybody gets bred. That is a lot of area to cover, therefore a lot of management is required. A simple solution you may think would be just keep the cows at home and bred them there. Well it’s not that easy because by the time May comes around we need the cows off our hay fields so the plants can start growing, so we can get a hay crop, so we can’t keep them at home. In addition, the make up of our range makes it difficult to fence in an area to keep the animals, so we have rented private grass, adjacent ranches or acreages that aren’t using their grass and we use that for breeding fields and keep the cows locked in fenced pastures with the bull until the beginning of June and then we turn everything out on the range.

3) Age of cow and bull- You cannot keep either too long or else they become infertile and don’t do much good in terms of giving calves for the next calving season. Bulls can be semen tested to verify if they are still productive. This is dependant on breeds and other factors but generally for us our cows can still be productive until 10-12 and bulls until 8.

4) Ratio of cows to bull- This depends on your area and your breeding program, but we like to have about 1 bull to cover 16 cows. If you have too many cows that each bull has to breed it may be too much and some of your cows may get bred, but not get pregnant. We currently have 17 bulls to breed our 280 cows. IMG_2529


Today’s Newborns

Today, March 1st, we had 13 new babies.  Here they are in order of birth. (The write-up and info is below the picture.)

Mother S146Y - Baby Y146D

Mother S146Y – Baby Y146D

This heifer was born at around 4:30 am this morning and was out there when Doug did the first check.  Unassisted birth and she nursed unassisted.  The mother was trying to get her baby to follow her, but the baby thought she’d lay down and rest for a while.  The Sire is black angus.

Mother S234Z - Baby Z234D

Mother S234Z – Baby Z234D

This heifer was also born at around 4:30 am this morning.  Unassisted birth and she nursed unassisted.  The Sire is black angus.

Mother 588S - Baby S588D

Mother 588S – Baby S588D

This heifer was born at 6:00 am this morning.  Unassisted birth and she nursed unassisted.  The sire is hereford.

Mother S512X - Baby X512D

Mother S512X – Baby X512D

This heifer was born at 6:30 am this morning.  Unassisted birth and she nursed unassisted.  The sire is hereford.

Mother S11A - Baby A11D

Mother S11A – Baby A11D

This heifer was born at 7:00 am this morning.  Unassisted birth and she nursed unassisted.  The sire is hereford.

Mother S24B - Baby B24D

Mother S24B – Baby B24D

This heifer was born at 7:15 am this morning.  This was S24B’s first baby.  Unassisted birth and she nursed unassisted.  The sire is hereford.

Mother 202Y - Baby Y202D

Mother 202Y – Baby Y202D

This was the 7th calf of the day and the 7th heifer! She was born at 10:30 am this morning.  Unassisted birth and she nursed unassisted.  The sire is our range partners Charolais bull!  I think the girls will have to name this one Sylvie.

Mother 567S - Baby S567D

Mother 567S – Baby S567D

This bull was born at 11:30 am this morning.  We had to pull him out because he presented himself backwards!  It went well and then he nursed unassisted.  The sire is hereford.

Mother 'Pippa' Z36B - Baby 'George' B36D

Mother ‘Pippa’ Z36B – Baby ‘George’ B36D

This bull was born at 12:30 pm.  This is ‘Pippa’s’ first baby.  We halter broke Pippa as a calf and she has been to the fall fair twice and will now take her new baby ‘George’ to the fair!  We had to help baby George out by grabbing his front legs and pulling on him. She may have had him eventually but because we were so excited about his birth, we intervened.  He nursed unassisted.  The sire is black angus.

Mother N234T - Baby T234D

Mother N234T – Baby T234D

This heifer was born at 2:00 pm.  Unassisted birth and she nursed unassisted.  The sire is hereford.  (I didn’t get this picture until later tonight that is why it is dark.)

Mother X219B - Baby B219D

Mother X219B – Baby B219D

This heifer was born at 5:00 pm.  Our daughters and Doug helped this baby be born as well. Again because it was her 1st baby, sometimes they just need a tiny bit of help.  She nursed unassisted.  The sire is hereford.

Mother 51X - Baby X51D

Mother 51X – Baby X51D

This heifer was born at 6:00 pm.  Our 2 youngest daughters went out to check the cows just before supper. When they came in they reported that they thought one out by the water trough was probably going to calve.  When Doug and I went out a bit later, sure enough there she was with a healthy baby girl right where the girls said she was.  She had already nursed.  The sire is black angus.

Mother P31A - Baby A31D

Mother P31A – Baby A31D

This bull was born at 7:45 pm.  Doug and I helped this baby boy come into the world.  She had a waterbag out, but was not actively calving.  When Doug checked the baby’s position, it’s hooves were pointing up at a funny angle and it was not allowing this 2nd time calver to progress. This baby has not nursed yet and we may have to help it.  The sire is hereford.

As you can see in the photo’s it snowed/sleeted all day.  We had just gone through 2 weeks of beautiful sun-filled days, to get to our biggest day so far with the poorest weather!  We’re in now at 10:38 pm, with the last check done. (A31D was just getting in to nurse:)  All looks quiet and the snow has stopped.  Night-Night, oh and would you mind doing the 5:00 am check?

~Erika Fossen~

Today was the second time this week my husband was asked by people if he’d been holidaying to somewhere hot. Nope, just a combination of a winter of snow glare, and wind burn on his face.  I’m glad he puts on the illusion of a tanned, rested Mexican traveller!


I’d Like To Check You For Ticks!

If you are familiar with country music, you may have heard the song ‘Ticks’ by Brad Paisley.  We had to rescue one of our cows from these creatures!!


On one of our many checks, we found a cow who had pushed her calf out to its ribcage but then did not get up and so the baby died.  At the time my husband was very upset at the cow for her failure to be a good mother; which would have been to get up and start licking her new baby.  Three hours passed and low and behold the cow laid down and had a second baby, a twin.  This baby was healthy and alive.  At the time we thought that she was very rundown because she had carried twins. We had to supplement her baby with powdered colostrum because the mother’s milk had not yet come in.  It seemed very difficult for the cow to get up.  Again we attributed this to her rundown-twin carrying state.  The next morning my husband thought:  Ticks!  So he went out to examine her and sure enough we pulled around 200 wood ticks off of her.

The ticks we picked off our cow. The big ones are gorged with her blood and would be giving off their paralyzing toxin.

The ticks we picked off our cow. The big ones are engorged with her blood and would be giving off their paralyzing toxin.

Some were engorged with her blood, which means that they could be giving off the toxin that causes paralysis!  So, no wonder the poor ole girl could not get up easily!  After the ticks were removed, we dusted her with an insecticide to deal with any that were left.

The cow who had the ticks on her and her beautiful baby.

The cow and her beautiful baby. The white insecticide on her backline.

We had seen this a few years back, where ticks will attack a weakened cow.  It seems the ticks put out a pheromone which attract more ticks.

After years of ranching, you have to learn from your past experiences to diagnose problems.  It is satisfying when you can make the correct decision to save the cow and calf!  The mother is quickly regaining her strength and her bouncing baby boy is doing great.

~Erika Fossen~

Calving Season 2016 In Full Swing

10 days ago we decided to bring all our cows and heifers into our calving fields, fields close to home and close to the calving barn. Like I stated in my last blog post we try and leave the pregnant cows out of the calving pen for as long as possible to keep the pens as clean and possible, this is very important to help decrease the chance for sickness and spread of disease. However, there were many cows showing signs of calving any day, so we thought we better not push it any longer and we needed to bring them closer. Good thing we did because that night we had a cow calve and we have been going steady ever since.

Since the 5th of February we have had 23 calves.

Knock on wood, but so far things are going extremely well. We have lost one calf so far, which is always so hard, it was a still born calf, so you never know what happened. We think that potentially because we have had crazy weather here all our snow is melted and we are currently left with ice everywhere we are thinking maybe the cow slipped on the ice fell and the cord got tangled or something like that happened. Those days are always the hardest because you try you best, but sometimes things are out of your control. Its hard to see that and deal with it, but it is part of the job too (the worst part, but a part none the less). On a positive note, the cow that had a stillborn calf is an excellent mother with a lot of milk, so we drafted our first calf (the premie, whose mom had no milk and still wasn’t producing enough to feed the calf). Now our calf has a new mom with plenty of milk to feed her.


Watching the heifers come in from the field.


The calving pens all filled up for another year.


The heifers checking out the shavings and their new pen!