Out in Fort Steele, at the base of the mountains, lives a family who works hard to feed the community.
160 acres of perfect pasture. Cattle grazing happily. Pigs bedding down in the mud.
An idyllic setting for any farmer, this location is home to Sacha Bentall and Tyler McNaughton and their two daughters – the family behind Cutter Ranch.
Although the Cutter Ranch business is a first generation farm, owners Sacha and Tyler are not new to farming.
They both grew up farming, albeit in completely different locations, and eventually changed directions. For many years, Sacha worked as a farrier, while Tyler owned and operated a siding company.
Until 2008 – when they decided to live their dream and start their very own farm. Now they are raising sheep, chickens, cattle and pigs in one of the most beautiful places in all of the Kootenays, if you ask me.
I spoke with Sacha about their life on the farm, and the agricultural sector in general. What a pleasure it was to learn more about their journey and the myriad of ways that owning and working on a farm can be rewarding.
“In 2008, the consumer focus really started to shift. People began to really understand how important it is to know where your food comes from,” said Sacha. “We’d been wanting to start our own farm for some time, so we teamed up with my parents in Clinton. It provided us with a great opportunity to get started.”
They started off in Clinton with a modest flock of 30 sheep. They continued to build up that flock and before long, were able to procure land in the Kootenays. Sacha says that it’s not only a picturesque location, but the perfect place for their animals to be raised in a sustainable and healthy way. Plus, it helps to be closer to their customers, feed producers and abattoir.
“We already had really great relationships with the local abattoirs, the feed producers, and of course the customers here,” Sacha said. “We started with sheep because it’s a fairly low-cost animal to invest in, especially for direct-to-consumer sales. We then branched out and now have heritage pork as well as pasture-raised chicken and beef. We have a great location and we’re really fortunate to be able to work in this area. There is a lot that Cranbrook has to offer.”
Sacha says that one of the biggest challenges was securing the land in the first place. The risks associated with farming are large, and ensuring that the land is going to meet the needs of both farmer and animal are of the upmost importance. But they’ve done just that; healthy animals, a quality product, and a relationship with every single customer.
“Cutter Ranch operates a sustainable, dependable process that people can recognize. The demand continues to grow but it’s important to have a product that speaks for itself,” Sacha said. “There has to be value in what you’re buying. We have a lot of appreciation for everyone that we work with and it’s so crucial to build the local economy.”
Despite the many challenges that come with running a farm, there are so many rewards.
“Farming as a family is probably the biggest reward. It has been an absolutely beautiful experience to raise our two daughters here, and I’m sure there will be many more wonderful experiences to come,” she said.
Another bonus? Getting to know this amazing community.
“Having that direct relationship with customers and having a product that they value is so important to us,” Sacha said. “We’re so fortunate to be able to be in touch with this community. I feel as though there’s a higher level of health, of happiness. Everyone involved creates a healthier, more close-knit community.”
That said, raising and taking care of animals isn’t easy. It’s tough work. Long days, unpredictable weather, logistics, planning, vets, the list goes on.
Luckily, our climate here in the East Kootenay region affords many farmers to be able to raise a healthy herd.
“Although we don’t have the climate here to grow bananas or avocados, let’s say, there is still so much that can be raised, grown and enjoyed. That was part of the reason we wanted to live here is the climate lends us to be able to do what we do year-round,” Sacha said. “We focus on animal well-being and regenerative agriculture. It’s such a satisfying experience, but it takes many, many years of planning. We have to ensure that this is a healthy and sustainable environment for the animals and for ourselves. It’s something we take tremendous pride in, that we’re extremely passionate about. And we see that vice versa, people want to support our family and support the local economy.”
That’s part of her advice to aspiring and fellow farmers. You have to be passionate about what you do.
Over the years I have learned that I will never stop learning. Whether it’s talking to other people in the agricultural industry, reading books, taking online courses or getting involved with organizations, there’s always something to learn. Plus, there are always new tools and practices coming out.
Sacha suggested getting in touch with the Kootenay Livestock Association and the Basin Business Advisors program if you’re new to farming and want to get started. They have people who can help with any aspect of the business and programs to help learn the ropes.
She says that if you can combine business skills with your passion, anything is possible.
“Sound business practices cannot be overlooked. You also need passion. Combine your passion with good business sense and you will be successful.”
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