Grain-fed Beef

In the mid-1950s, a significant change took place in the ranching industry for all of western Canada. The year 1956 saw unprecedented grain surpluses on the Canadian prairies. This surplus could only be disposed of as livestock feed. The resulting grain-finished beef was well received by consumers because the meat retained a brighter colour and remained firm with less moisture leakage when packaged.

A photograph of Hereford cattle at Williams Lake cattle sale. Click to enlarge,
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Cattle sale at Williams Lake, 1950.NA-13383 – Courtesy of Royal British Columbia Museum

Moreover, the fat appeared whiter in grain-fed cattle and maintained a fresher appearance. The resulting consumer demand was duly noted by large grocery store chains that began to market "grain-fed beef" as a superior product. This resulted in a market for "feeders" or young cattle that could be finished on grain. As a result, the demand for grass-finished beef virtually disappeared.

By 1957, since the Interior was not a grain-growing area, the cost of importing grain, together with the expense of equipment for feeding, meant that the vast majority of calves and yearlings had to be shipped to feed lots to be finished. Ranches only kept breeding stock, calves, and "long yearlings." During 1957 and 1958, ranchers sold their grass-finished cattle as well as yearlings, until they could establish themselves on a "yearling basis." By the early 1960s, less than ten percent of cattle were grass-finished and these were primarily in the Chilcotin, including the Gang Ranch, Alkali Lake Ranch, and Chilco Ranch. For most of the smaller ranches, however, a return to selling two-year olds would have meant the loss of a year's income, which few could afford.

Media Files

V2006:01/015.02 – The Tall Country – 1958 “Ranching”
Scenes of winter on a BC cattle ranch filmed for the BC Centennial in 1958.

A flash player with a video showing scenes of winter on a BC cattle ranch filmed for the BC Centennial in 1958.

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