For Eric Neilson, starting his family farm near Fleet was an opportunity to return to his roots.
Operating since 2014, Cabin on the Coulee Farms is a small ranch providing a combination of grass and feed finished animals to the consumer.
Seeking to support local, the finished meat Neilson supplies to his customers is processed by either TK Ranch, located just south of Coronation, or Blue Door Butchers, located near Castor.
While Neilson has previously sold the meat he has had processed himself, recent changes to Government of Alberta regulations have made it easier for individuals to purchase an animal for slaughter.
Previously, one customer could buy a whole animal to have slaughtered, then pay to get all the meat processed which could range in the hundreds to thousands of dollars by the time all the costs are factored in.
With the changes in regulation to on-farm slaughter, small farms such as Neilson’s can now sell the animal in quarters to multiple people, bringing the cost down for individuals while still allowing them the benefit of farm fresh meat.
“As a small producer, it has helped,” said Neilson.
Because Neilson finishes his animals using a hybrid grass and feeding model, he says it does take longer to finish the animal but, in his opinion, it does provide a superior flavour of meat.
“It takes longer to finish, but produces a healthier, better, animal,” said Neilson.
Relying on grass feeding, Neilson is hoping for more rain in the region this year.
The drought in the region in 2021 had an impact on his feeding program, and with over 50 calves expected this calving season, this year could be even worse.
“We’re praying for rain this year,” said Neilson.
“This may be a make or break year for some farmers in East Central Alberta.”
Not content to rely on a sole revenue stream, Neilson and his family also have invested in agri-tourism, opening a bed and breakfast overlooking a coulee on their land.
While off the beaten path, the cabin is available for rent on popular website www.airbnb.ca and manages to remain booked during most weekends of the summer months.
Neilson also provides agri-tours of his farm operation through the website www.farmzy.ca.
A family affair, Neilson operates the farm with his wife Josie and gets help from son Colin, when he has the time.
While running the farm is where his passion lies, Neilson also works off the farm as a teacher at a nearby Hutterite colony and Josie works as an occupational therapist at Our Lady of the Rosary Hospital in Castor.
“Very few farms in Alberta don’t have off farm income,” said Neilson.
Neilson has a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and worked as the agriculture extension coordinator for several years at Battle River Research Group before starting his own farm.