When you put two hard-working professionals from Scotland and New Zealand together what do you get?
Three children, 500 acres of land, and 300 head of cattle.
At least that’s how it went for Waikikahai Ranch owners Amy and Scott Hay.
After years of working tirelessly in France, China, the US and Canada, in 2018 when land in Greenwood, British Columbia was available to purchase, the couple knew it was the place for them to live out their dream of raising cattle.
“The first night we met, Scott said his dream was to run a grass-fed beef ranch,” Amy remembers. “BC is halfway between New Zealand and Scotland, so in 2018, we left our jobs, careers and started raising beef.”
With three children in their care, Amy and Scott also sought a better work life balance.
“We made this a conscious choice for our kids so we were more present for them growing up,” Amy says.
All photos courtesy Waikikahei Ranch
Right off the start, the Hays knew they wanted to be responsible stewards and improve the land in their hands.
“We practice regenerative agriculture and joke that our soil health is as important as our cattle,” Amy says. “Our cattle are the tools to nourish the land. Soil is a living organism, and you don’t disturb it. You use livestock to aerate that soil and nourish it with natural organic output, which is carbon and nitrogen. You do rotational grazing, so they’re never in one area for longer than an area can sustain.”
Raising grass-fed cows on healthy soil and pasture was a no-brainer for the couple, but they also had next to no farming experience. Friends told them they were crazy to leave their well-paying jobs and were bound to lose money. But this is where Amy’s hard-working ethic and business savvy came in.
“My background is in business and sales, so we applied those skills to selling beef. We do everything differently,” Amy explains. “We don’t take anything to auction. It’s all direct to consumers. Everything is processed from the ranch; we go to a butcher in Kamloops and sell direct to market. And we process 20 head a month.”
Amy believes selling directly to consumers instead of a middle man or large grocery chain is the best way for family run farms to operate and she is passionate about helping other ranchers learn how to sell this way.
“We are losing farms and ranches daily as the next generations don’t see it as a viable, profitable option,” Amy says. “For so many farms and ranchers, I think this is huge. So in January, I launched Sell Beef Direct, and I am trying to keep it affordable and accessible.”
Canada may soon be entering a food security crisis. A recent report states that by 2033, 40 per cent of Canadian farmers will retire, and 66 per cent of these farmers have no succession plan in place.
Amy and Scott are an example of a new and much needed generation of farmers filling the nation’s farming void, but they hope more will be done to support families like them who want to stay in the business or get started.
“In our current political climate everyone is about meatless and thinks cows are bad,” Amy says. “People are blaming farmers and ranchers but ranging cattle out on pastures sequesters carbon, putting it back into soils. Here in Canada that isn’t recognized like elsewhere in the world.”
Recognizing the challenges faced by family-run farms may not be top of mind for Canadians who buy food at large grocery stores. But Amy knows there are people who care about reducing their carbon footprint and improving food security, and she hopes more of them will support their local and seasonal farmers. And in the meantime, she’ll continue running her ranch and coaching other ranchers to do the same.
“We need more farms selling direct to consumers,” Amy says. “If I can save one farm from closing, help one farm become profitable then this is all worth it.”