In 1909, Don Ruzicka’s great-grandparents moved to Alberta from Fairdale, North Dakota, and purchased the land that would later evolve into Ruzicka Sunrise Farm. Don and his wife, Marie, moved to the farm in 1983, and farmed conventionally until 1995. But after taking a course in holistic management they decided to manage the farm using holistic principles, working in harmony with nature.
The farm was certified organic in 2000. But after the couple began receiving the AWA Newsletter in 2009, Marie suggested they also consider AWA certification. “Since we were already doing some of the things that are required by AWA, we decided to take the next step,” Don explains. In the end, it was the certification of their good friends, Colleen and Dylan at TK Ranch, that gave them the final nudge they needed to join the AWA program.
Today, all of the beef cattle at Ruzicka Sunrise Farm are Certified Grassfed by AGW, the first—and only—food label in Canada that guarantees food products come from animals fed a 100 percent grass and forage diet, and raised entirely outdoors on pasture or range. As Don puts it, “Rather than commodities, we now raise and grow ‘food.’”
Ruzicka Sunrise Farm comprises 800 acres of land, including 200 acres of native prairie, wetlands, sloughs, trees and bush. Don and Marie raise around 25 Angus, Galloway and Red Poll cattle outdoors on pasture. Since the 1990s, the Ruzickas have been cross breeding their cattle to select for traits that will help the cattle thrive during the 6-month winter, including good coats, high butterfat and a quiet disposition, as well as for tender, flavorful meat. The most important aspect of Don and Marie’s animal husbandry practices is low-stress handling: “Cattle handling, moving and sorting is always done by Marie and I, as this keeps the stress level down to zero for the cattle and the farmers,” Don adds. “It not only improves the quality of life of the cattle but also increases profits. We believe that a healthy, contented animal will provide nutrient dense meat with optimum health benefits to the consumer.” Since treatment of disease and nutritional needs can contribute to stress, Don and Marie have been perfecting their methods and timing for monitoring and moving cattle since they began rotational grazing in 1997.
The Ruzickas have been impressed with the Red Poll cattle breed, which they introduced to the farm four years ago. In addition to the high quality beef, the quiet nature of the Red Poll breed is a great fit for the farm, particularly when it comes to satisfying the 150–200 visitors the Ruzickas host each year on farm tours. “Quiet cattle are very impressive for people who want to walk among them and not be afraid,” Don explains. “A farm with contented livestock is a highlight to consumers.”
Over the years, Don and Marie have come to realize the importance of the various ecosystems that they manage. In 1997, they seeded 600 acres of crop land to tame pasture. They have also planted over 60,000 trees of 16 different species since 2003, helping to increase the biodiversity of the farm and contributing to a vast diversity of fauna and flora on the farm. “Managed to their optimum health, we believe that this diversity of ecosystems will allow the land to grow food sustainably,” Don says. “This ultimately contributes to the health of the livestock we raise and the wildlife that we steward.”
The Ruzicka’s concern for the environment and sustainability extends to other aspects of their management approach. A portable, solar powered water pumping system moves fresh water to livestock at 10 different sites, keeping their riparian areas healthy and teaming with biodiversity and preventing diseases like foot rot from affecting their cattle. Don and Marie also have 240 bird houses around the farm, the tenants of which help to control insect populations by feeding on mosquitos, flies and grass hoppers.
As a result of their management approach, Ruzicka Sunrise Farm has received many awards for caring for the environment and, in all cases, the farm was the first “certified organic” farm to receive these particular awards in Western Canada. Don and Marie have seized the opportunity to use these achievements to spread the word to others, delivering more than 100 public presentations about their farming methods since 1997. Don plans to share their experience with AWA as another important part of what they do and how it helps them to market their beef and cattle. “We believe that our certified organic status, Pollinator Friendly certification, and AWA certification are all important to the ongoing success of our farm,” Don continues. “We find the best way to promote our model of farming is by showing people how we care for the livestock and also for the land. Once these “seeds” are planted, we hope that more farmers and ranchers, as well as consumers will see the benefits.”
Ruzicka Sunrise Farm’s Certified Grassfed by AGW beef is available direct from the farm. For more information, call 780-385-2474 or visit www.sunrisefarm.ca.