Tucked away on a township road just east of Bowden, Alberta, is MGM Cattle Company, a family-run cow and calf operation led by Garnet and Meghan Marshall.
Garnet, a third-generation rancher, was born looking after cattle. From feeding to roping to calving cows, his years of experience have their cattle company growing to over 1000 head of cattle, as well as 20 horses (and three working dogs). His parents, who own the Marshall Feed Lot only a few miles away, are their inspiration and are extremely supportive. (Garnet still helps out at the feed lot every morning.) Working every day alongside their family really makes the agricultural lifestyle special to them and passing that knowledge on to their children.
Staying true to the family tradition, their three daughters (Keely, Kobie, and Kenzee) are also very active on the farm, from helping to process the cattle to helping with the horses. The girls really enjoying pulling and tagging the calves, and, of course, playing with them. They also have their own horses, which they show off proudly. Keely and her horse, Red, love to chase cows to get them in during the summer months, and riding through the herd in the winter to check for babies. Kenzee and her horse Cookie, looking for bad eyes and the lame or calving cows. Kobie’s favourite horse is Indy, and when it’s really cold outside, they’ll head over to her Papa’s arena to ride.
The Marshalls also run an 800-acre grain farm with Garnet’s brother’s family (who live close by as well). Some of this grain goes into feeding their herd, which helps them to prepare for the long winters. Their cattle feed on mostly silage for about seven months of the year, with some of it coming from their parents’ feed lot, as well as hay and straw from some of their other neighbouring farms. (Silage is a type of feed made from green foliage crops which have been preserved by fermentation to the point of acidification.) With the recent droughts, it’s been difficult to maintain the grass needed for grazing, so being able to grow some of their own grain helps them to survive another year.
Winter Months at MGM Cattle Co.
Winter on the ranch means getting ready for calving season. Each year, they aim to calve around 150-200 heifers, and then sell about 80-100 of those back into the market, with the remaining replenishing their own herd. Beginning in late January/early February, they can see upwards of ten calves a day at MGM.
This means that they are on high alert throughout the season, including a calving camera set up on either a cell phone or in the house, which means you can’t stray too far from the ranch until the season is over. Once the new calves are born, they require extra monitoring to ensure that both they and their mamas stay healthy.
Outside of calving, winter months are also full of preparations for the summer months, which means getting the summer grass ready for feed, and breeding the heifers for the following year. On the MGM ranch, heifers (females who have not had any offspring) are bred for February and March, and then the cows (females who have had previous calves) are bred for March through May. Once the calving is done, they are branded and sent out to the pasture.
In addition to the breeding program, MGM also has a cow herd, consisting primarily of Angus breeds, which are bred to full fleck bulls (a cattle breed that has the dual purpose of both beef and milk production). When they wean these calves in the fall, they take their parentage into consideration when selecting which cattle will go into the feed lot program for beef production, and which will be kept for their breeding program (those with good udders and feet). Older cows and those who don’t make the cut for raising the replacement calves will be sent to market.
The beef industry has been met with lots of challenges in recent years, from COVID-19 outbreaks shutting down processing plants, to the drought and extreme weather. As the world put them to the test, Alberta farmers and beef producers continue to come up with creative solutions, leading to a stronger and more resilient industry. It’s through the passion and dedication of Alberta’s ranchers like MGM Cattle Company, that the province can withstand these challenges to continue to produce the high-quality beef that has become synonymous with Alberta.
Whether it’s in celebration of Canada’s Agriculture Day or any other day of the year, show your support for the industry by picking up some of Alberta’s world-famous beef from your local butcher. To learn more about beef in Alberta, visit AllForTheBeef.com.