Tyler McNaughton and Sacha Bentall aren’t afraid to try something different as they develop their farming operation in southeastern B.C. The winners of the B.C.’s regional finalists for the 2018 Outstanding Young Farmer (OYF) Award took on some different ag enterprises in an area long established as a beef-cattle ranching region.
Despite expected start-up challenges Tyler and Sacha have made it work. “We were both raised on farms, but neither of us had the chance to take over our family’s operation,” says Tyler.
Building on Sacha’s earlier experience of raising a small flock of sheep, she and Tyler began their farming career in 2008 with a focus on the sheep business.
“Our research told us there was good demand, and pasture-raised lamb was an area you could pursue without much initial capital,” said Tyler. “The food business was beginning to change at the retail level with respect to the organic and naturally raised food products, and we were confident it would happen in a bigger way. We started branding ourselves as ‘no hormones,’ ‘antibiotic-free’ and ‘pasture-raised,’ and built a reputable, trusted brand in the process.”
On their quarter section of hay and pasture land at Fort Steele, near Cranbrook, Sacha and Tyler built Cutter Ranch into a 200 head ewe flock. In 2010, they began pasture-raising hogs from farrow to finish. As that business took off, they shifted their farm focus to pork production, and scaled back the sheep flock.
“The OYF Award was meaningful because we believe what we are doing is important,” says Tyler. “There’s a lot of change in the agriculture business as to how people consume and the products they demand. We try to stay modern in how we put food into the marketplace, and the award confirms that we’re succeeding in that regard.”
Good management practices
Part of that success stems from their focus on maximizing effectiveness and working smarter, not harder.
“We’re getting more efficient with the business end of it, and dialing back the sheep side which doesn’t add enough to profitability while we focus on our core strengths,” he says. “Since we do a lot of retail business, we have to be very disciplined with accounts and billing, using financial analysis to strengthen our position.”
Moving forward, they plan to continuing scaling up their hog operation at a measured pace while strengthening their value-added products, which means developing some processing capacity or partnering with processors on the pork side.
“We are committed to adapting production to meet changing consumer tastes, whether it is ‘antibiotic-free or more animal friendly housing,” says Tyler. “That adaption is very costly to do and still maintain a stable level of production, so we’re going full steam ahead as we understand the marketplace and can build into it rather than having to retrofit production. This gives us a big advantage in production and marketing and allows us to provide a highly sought after brand with an excellent reputation for quality.”
Keeping up with ever changing demands is a challenge, but Tyler and Sacha have managed it without sacrificing production or the bottom line. Let’s see the Joneses do that.