By Leah Clark MSc, PAg, Director, Livestock Development, Livestock Branch
When it comes to feeding cattle, the Thiessen Family has a wealth of experience. Based in Strathmore, Alberta, the Thiessens own Namaka Farms Inc. Stuart and his brother Bryan run the operation, which was started by their dad Ed in the mid-1960s. Slowly, they have grown the operation at Strathmore to a one-time capacity of 29,000 head. Bryan manages the grain side of the operation, with Stuart looking after the cattle side.
In the mid-2000s, the Thiessen family started considering expansion. Their original location was close to Calgary and facing acreage pressure, the family looked east.
"When we started looking to expand we had a few criteria in mind," Stuart Thiessen said. "We wanted to be near a larger centre, good water supply, reasonable ground with slope and be in a grain-producing area."
They found all they were looking for in the Outlook, Sask., irrigation area. Their first new land was purchased in 2008 and now they are on the verge of opening a new feedlot about 16 kilometres southeast of Outlook.
The new operation is permitted for a one-time capacity of 35,000 head, but the Thiessens plan to grow it to that size over time.
"We will let the market tell us when to grow," Thiessen said. "We will hopefully have 5,000 head this fall and grow about 5,000 head a year until we reach capacity."
The new feedlot is based on the design of the Strathmore lot and is currently under construction. The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed construction progress on the feedlot.
"When COVID-19 hit, we lost all certainty on getting parts and equipment," Thiessen explained. "Everything is harder to find and there is an increased lag time for delivery. It has also affected training our Saskatchewan staff. We had planned to bring them to the lot in Alberta for training, but that just can't happen right now."
When asked if he thinks other Alberta feedlot operators will expand to Saskatchewan, Thiessen sees potential.
"I would have said prior to COVID-19, there is a good chance," He said. "If there is a signal to our industry to grow it will be in Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan is right for the entrepreneurial spirit. Saskatchewan still has an agriculture soul."
Thiessen is quick to mention the advantages Saskatchewan has when it comes to feeding cattle.
"The grain is cheaper in Saskatchewan, that's the biggest win," He said. "The land base is cheaper and this allows us to better utilize the manure."
The only challenges Thiessen mentioned were the possible decrease of performance due to more extreme winter weather and the distance to the packing plants.
Saskatchewan continues to provide opportunities for producers looking to expand. With a strong and growing agriculture sector, the future of the industry in Saskatchewan continues to be promising.