YA Business Mentorship Network – The Dogs Run Farm

Posted by Lydia Carpenter on November 06, 2023

Young Agrarians is celebrating the tenth year of the Business Mentorship Network (BMN) program in BC and the second year of the program in the Prairies! The BMN offers business mentorships to a diverse array of new and young farmers. Through one-on-one mentorship, peer networks and online workshops young farmers develop the skills necessary to operate ecologically sustainable and financially viable farm businesses.

Applications for the 2024 mentee cohort are open until November 13 2023.  Mentor applications (paid position) are accepted year-round. 

Check out the Business Mentorship Network page for more information!

Want to learn more about our Mentees (or Mentors)? Below you’ll find a Q&A where you can learn more about one of the 2023 cohort and their experience of the year supported by the Business Mentorship Network. If you’d like to read about the experiences of other Mentees/Mentors, head to our blog here.

Meet a Mentee: The Dogs Run Farm

We are Colin (he/him) and Katie (she/her) McInnes of The Dogs Run Farm, in Clearwater, Manitoba on Treaty One Territory. Our mentors are Don and Diane Guilford of Guilford Hereford Ranch. Our goal this season was to purchase a cattle herd to add to our existing farm operation and increase the number of acres we are managing.

This represents a huge step for Colin and I, as first generation farmers, ten years into our farming careers. We have been raising pigs, sheep, laying hens, meat chickens and turkeys on small parcels of land since 2013, and direct marketing our meat to our customers in Winnipeg and our local area. We own 12 acres of land, have been renting an additional 30 acres as pasture for our sheep and poultry, and we have maxed out what that land can hold in terms of livestock. Without access to additional land, capital and infrastructure, expanding our farm had hit the limits of what our business could produce. We have been working to remediate an additional 30 acres of rented pasture land, but its not yet ready to support grazing animals.

Which has left us with a problem. For our farm business to grow, we needed access to more land. With land costing anywhere from $1000-$4000 per acre in our area, and nearby parcels unavailable to purchase, we did not have room to grow. But an opportunity presented itself, in our neighbours and community members – Don and Diane Guilford of Guilford Hereford Ranch (GHR).

Don and Diane have been ranching and raising Hereford cattle for over 50 years, and have been practising planned (or rotational) grazing methods and Holistic Management for decades. Don and Diane share many of the same values that we do in farming – care for the soil, the plants, the water, the animals, the ecosystem, the community and the bottom line, maintaining a profitable farming business.

Don and Diane are reaching retirement age, and are looking to decrease the size of their herd, but are concerned about the management of the many acres of pasture they have carefully rehabilitated over their decades of ranching. They were looking for the right renters, who would be willing to put the same kinds of grazing systems in place. We knew that renting one of GHR’s available quarter sections was the opportunity we needed to gain additional land access, but we also knew we didn’t currently have enough animals to graze that many acres.

We began discussions with Don and Diane in January about land rental and about purchasing cattle, and looked at many different options for an arrangement that could work. Colin and I spent our evenings for many weeks going over different possible plans and scenarios, and working on the financial realities of those different situations. We looked in our area for different cattle herds that were for sale, each offering different variables to consider.

We scheduled appointments and phone calls with lending institutions, filled out forms, opened our financial records – looking for a favourable financial situation under challenging worldwide borrowing conditions and interest rates. All of this took many weeks, and caused more than a few sleepless nights – what we were considering was a very big decision for us.

We finally came to a decision and an agreement with Don and Diane – to rent a quarter section (160 acres) of pasture with existing fences and watering system in place and to purchase two groups of cattle – 25 Black Baldy heifer calves (1 year old female Hereford/Black Angus crosses) and 17 three year old Hereford cows who were open (ie. not bred with a calf for the spring.) So, we will be grazing a 42 head herd of cattle, with no calves being born this year.

This means that the price to purchase the animals was lower, but makes cashflow tight, as they won’t produce animals to sell until fall of 2024, at the earliest. It’s a risk we decided was the right one to take, as there were other reasons this group of animals was attractive to us – they are small framed animals, which is a good choice for grass-finishing. They have been raised on the same land that their mothers and grandmothers has been raised on, and their own calves will continue to be raised on, generations of genetics selected for this region – which can result in favourable epigenetic outcomes in the future. And they have been cared for by GHR with similar methods to what we will be employing – low inputs, planned grazing, and careful record keeping.

One of the best things to come from this opportunity is the mentorship that we have received from Don and Diane as beginning cattle ranchers. We applied for and were accepted to the Young Agrarians Business Mentorship Network as mentees, with Don and Diane as our mentors over 18 months. Young Agrarians offers support to mentees and funding to mentors for their time. We are already learning so much from Don and Diane, and are getting the opportunity to have hand on experience managing cattle, getting the lay of the land, advice, stories, and the beginnings of a great relationship.

As we dropped off the last load of cattle at their new pasture, officially taking management of them, Don remarked “There are no stupid questions.” – meaning that we have his ear any time we need it.

What does all this mean for the future of our farm? Not much is different yet, but we may begin to have a limited amount of grass-fed beef available by winter 2023-2024. We plan to slowly incorporate grass-fed beef into our business, while also relying on the conventional market to sell animals. It means that we are taking on more responsibility – more animals, and more land, and a larger and more diverse ecosystem – and that we are continuing to learn our craft as farmers and ranchers.

It’s been a great experience having the mentorship of Don and DIane for ourselves, but also for our staff, Katheryn and Adele, who have had the opportunity to help out on an experienced cattle ranch, and developed their own positive rapport with our mentors.

Sincetaking ownership of the cattle, we’ve spent the season moving them according to our pasture plan, checking them frequently, and treating them for illness or injury. Given our history with a diverse range of animals as well as the access to GHR infrastructure, it hasn’t felt like to steep of a learning curve. The main issue this year has been the severe drought our area experienced through the growing seasons, with much of our pastures not removing through the summer months without rain. Access to winter feed because a stressor, but we’ve made plans with GHR to overwinter our herd together, which lessons the workload, and means we’ve had the opportunity to seek out and plan for winter forage and bale grazing as a team.

Overall, we’ve really pleased with out first season as cattle ranchers, and we look forward to the opportunities to continue to learn, the challenges and the successes that the future will bring.

Running cattle through the chute at The Dogs Run Farm in Treaty 1. Clearwater Manitoba.
Colin McInnes of the Dog’s Run Farm with his mentor Don Guilford of Guilford Hereford Ranch near Clearwater Manitoba

You can find out more about the Dog’s Run Farm Here: