In 1909, Don Ruzicka’s great-grandparents moved to Alberta from Fairdale, North Dakota, and purchased the land that would 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 began to manage the farm using holistic principles, working in harmony with nature. The farm was certified organic in 2000. Marie suggested AWA certification after they began receiving the AWA Newsletter four years ago. “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 nudge they needed to join the AWA program. Today, all of their AWA-certified beef cattle are raised on pasture and forage and dually certified as Animal Welfare Approved Grassfed—the first food label in Canada which guarantees that food products marked as grassfed come from animals that are fed a 100% grass and forage diet and raised outdoors on pasture or range for their entire lives. As Don puts it, “Rather than commodities, we now raise and grow ‘food.’”
Ruzicka Sunrise Farm is 800 acres, including 200 acres of native prairie, wetlands, sloughs, trees and bush. In 1997, Don and Marie seeded the 600 acres of crop land to tame pasture. They have 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. Over the years they have come to realize the importance of the various ecosystems that they manage. “Managed to their optimum health, we believe that this will allow the land to grow food sustainably,” Don says. “This also contributes to the health of the livestock we raise and the wildlife that we steward.” Their land management approach includes a portable, solar powered water pumping system. Water from 10 sites is pumped from the source to livestock, which keeps their riparian areas healthy and teaming with biodiversity, and prevents 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.
Don and Marie raise around 25 AWA-certified Angus, Galloway and Red Poll cattle. 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.”
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 Animal Welfare Approved Grassfed beef is available direct from the farm. For more information, call 780-385-2474 or visit www.sunrisefarm.ca.