THUNDER BAY, ONT. — Rachel and Jason Audette, owners of Woolly Steer Ranch, began raising Scottish highland cattle in 2000 to provide food for their family.
Two years later, they have a free-range farm in Nolalu with 50 head of cattle, 14 mangalica pigs and a southern Ontario beer that features her daughter’s favourite cow, Bella, on their cans.
“We were looking specifically for a breed (of cows) that does well with three things; feeds on grass exclusively, performs well on poor pasture and be hardy enough to stay outdoors,” Rachel Audette said of their operation just west of Thunder Bay.
“We just didn’t have great farm pastures and we chose the highlands since they met all that criteria.”
As they began to expand, she says they “fell in love” with the cattle, which have long hair and large horns and are friendly. As the farm branched out, they developed more rotational grazing methods to help improve the soil and improve their land.
“We started looking at making a business plan and applying for grants and then it spiralled into starting a full-on ranch, which is what we’re doing now,” she said.
“Our goal is to have all of our animals pasture-raised out in the wild, basically all year round.”
The Audette’s received welcomed funding from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation and the Sustainable New Agri-food Products and Productivity fund, the latter of which was created to respond to opportunities and mitigate challenges of expanding agrifood in Northern Ontario.
Meanwhile, the Red Barn Brewing Co. opened near Audette’s hometown in southern Ontario. Two of the brewery operators who were studying at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, connected with Audette and her family.
“They just reached out to us and asked if they could feature one of our cows on their beer. They thought it was cool that I have connections here and they have connections there,” she said. They chose Bella, which is my daughter Georwyn’s favourite cow. So we agreed to it, and now there is a beer out there with our cows branded on it.”
Audette says the beer, called Highland Cow, is a cold, Indian Pale Ale (IPA) and part of the brewery’s Barnyard IPA series which is “crisp and cold just like Thunder Bay’s winters.”
The brewery chose an image of Bella that appeared on Audette’s Instagram platform. Although the beer is not available locally, the brewery will ship orders to Thunder Bay.
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal