Bring on the abattoir!

Now our promising beef cattle industry seems to have almost flown out the window, following the demise of our lumbering, sawmills, mining, and everything else almost that have been tried in this vicinity with only passing success.
And there even is growing concern over our mainstay—papermaking.
Not that there is any shedding of tears yet, especially around town where district cattle or farming of any kind never has aroused serious interest!
Many with relatives in the country will continue filling their deep freezes while ignoring the threat that there may actually have to be shooting and burying of our beef herds if U.S. President George W. Bush continues barring our great beef at the border.
While Fort Frances never showed any tendency to turn into a U.S. style “cow town,” there was hope among our district neighbours that beef growing could offer opportunities for their offspring to continue staying home on their farms—for at least continued part-time income.
It’s well-known between here and Lake of the Woods that dairying has been the only farming effort to be depended on. But beef cattle were coming on very well, if slowly, before the U.S. slammed shut its borders.
The “mad cow” disease detected in only two Canadian cattle carcasses (and not from here) has spelled doom for probably more than a hundred farmers right around us.
Now there is even talk of shooting and burying beef cattle for lack of sales. While this may never happen here, our devotion to U.S. trade and money seems to have put our farmers all behind the eight-ball!
Even the more prosperous dairy operators are being hit with the same problem of what to do with their own cattle surplus. Whereas, for the beef men who were becoming larger every year, this is complete disaster!
And not everyone is young enough to accept papermill or government employment, especially when those alternatives probably are located too far from their farms, which still would require daily maintenance.
This is by no means a polite topic in town, where there was plenty of talk after the U.S. border closed to softwood lumber sales. But few downtowners care to be drawn into social chit-chat over cows! I discovered this since moving on to my own farm more than 40 years ago!
It was attractive to try and turn a dollar on your own place, having acquired a farm big enough and well enough developed with its full clearing to be plowed and also holding lots of useful buildings. And so I got carried away with machinery and cattle investments, which others were smart enough to avoid.
But I kept adding other land and machinery while earning off-farm income like most of the other cow chasers I met.
Nor was there any looking back in all those years. We merely were trying to make ends meet and enjoying our progress—and also a new-found ability to borrow money at the bank! Success there meant never having to put up the home title for collateral.
This situation would have been continuing yet except for loss of my faithful helpmate. There also were all the young people, both my own and those of the neighbourhood, jumping into the hay wagons to help haul in the cattle feed or chasing the herd down the road on horseback for fresh pasture.
It was a happy and idyllic, if busy, life—and I don’t want to hear that others are to be deprived of all our farming experiences. It takes a basic income such as dairying or beef cattle to finance a farm, which also is supposed to provide a family living besides caring for the chickens, pigs, garden, big yard, and other side “benefits.”
Taking it all together, farming can be a plenty mixed-up process even when everything goes well. But loss of the main income destroys too much and throws long years of hard labour out the window!
So we in this district must learn to battle for survival—just as we learned how in two world wars that have occurred since we all settled around here.
To start with, what’s wrong with establishing our own slaughterhouse or “abattoir.” Now this is a very worthwhile idea when such great-looking cattle are still walking around in our fields to the west of town.
Our cattle flourish on the best grass growth known on this continent. This is known everywhere because of such abundant rainfall most years here.
Our calves invariably weigh in at more than 500 pounds at weaning, or just before the fall sales, and our yearlings will grow to half-a-ton on average. Both sizes have sold very well as the fall sale in Stratton for years, and visiting cattlemen are always impressed.
It’s well known everywhere this is truly great cattle country!
It hurts to hear that because of the U.S. ban on Canadian beef, there must be destruction of our cattle, and their industry, but what does Fort Frances really know about the beef business?
True, this is the centre of our district capital, with our banks and papermill, but it’s also likely to provide the location and butchers for our soon-to-come abattoir. If only we manage to extract success from our troubles.
If private backing is needed on this investment, it would seem this is the place to start, rather than relying on our distressed farmers for the financing. Not that they are not all mostly gamblers at heart (or they would be doing something different), but they cannot be expected to shoulder the whole load.
Our district understands this kind of venture and will take it to heart as we progress. I am acquainted with many who would pitch in to save our cattle industry.
Every farmer has to know about slaughtering because it’s a sideline effort on most farms already. So there is already an expert workforce here! To rescue our home district, there are many who could sharpen their knives and begin tomorrow or when the orders come in as they will—and also ignore the U.S. ban while making fresh markets.
To start with, we already have a Canadian law that demands every slaughtered beef receive a veterinary inspection. This started about 20 years ago.
When we got ready to butcher at my own farm, I had friends and neighbours well experienced. My hired hand, Andrew Doucette, and my son, Earl, both were good at it. And there were Cleve Wilson, a senior farmer down the road, and Florian Jankiewicz around the corner.
I should mention that Florian grew up beside the stockyards at Chicago.
One of our summer helpers, Dr. Wayne Cross, became a veterinarian himself, spending his summers with Earl and I. Stationed at Ottawa now, he becomes available here in summers yet sometimes.
And long before I moved my family into Crozier, there already was a place we called a slaughterhouse in the West End, next to the CNR crossing on Frog Creek Road. A fellow named Harry Markell frequently had a carcass hanging in his yard by the road.
Sometimes I would see him on horseback chasing a few head of cattle, so I guess he kept busy.
That same site no longer is occupied by him and it just might be available again as an abattoir.
Our dairy farmers have succeeded with a quota system for their milk sales and this might be studied as a way to also market beef.
All the possibilities must be considered and quickly—or we’ll soon be feeling foolish about letting this industry, well-established already as it is, leave this district where it properly belongs.
And while we’re at it, I’d guess the Americans will just have to come to their own senses. They’ll have to discover the hard way that Canadian beef just can’t be beat.

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