By Kevin J. Sabo For Black Press Media
Teacher. Farmer. Agri-tourism entrepreneur.
These words summarize Eric Nielson, the owner and manager of Cabin on the Coulee Farm based out of Fleet, Alberta.
A small meat producing operation, Neilson has around 50 head of cattle on the five-quarters of land he owns with his wife, Josie.
The land originally belonged to the Wetter family, Josie’s side of the family, and Eric is a teacher by trade. He got into farming after working as an Ag-extension Coordinator for the Battle River Research group between 2014 and 2017.
“All the things I was learning about farming got me itching to start farming,” said Eric, out at the cabin on the coulee for which the farm is named.
“I traded some pasture with my brother Tim, for a summer’s rent. I got three heifers out of him.”
In a reasonably short amount of time the three turned into 20, then 30, then up to 50.
Something that sets Cabin on Coulee Farm apart from the rest is the fact that the animals raised don’t end up selling at auction or to the feedlot.
“We don’t sell them when they are weaned,” said Neilson.
“We feed them, fatten them, and butcher them.”
Cabin on the Coulee Farms looks after the animals from start to finish, with a couple animals a month being taken for slaughter.
After slaughter, the animal is brought back to the County of Paintearth region and butchered locally.
The meat from the animals is sold directly to consumers from the farm, with delivery runs being done along the Hwy. Two corridor every two to four weeks.
A 20-pound meat box will cost a consumer $100, plus a $25 delivery fee to Calgary, Red Deer, and Edmonton.
Neilson has managed to find himself a niche with the beef sales. Usually, the beef that is purchased in stores comes from a feedlot, where an animal is fed around 20-pounds of grain a day, according to Neilson. A feedlot animal will be taken to slaughter around the age of 18 months.
The animals raised and butchered by Cabin on the Coulee Farm are grass or hay fed, with grain being introduced around 90 days before slaughter. The grain feed is usually about half the amount of that of feedlots.
The average age of the animals when they are slaughtered by Cabin on the Coulee is 24 months.
“We find that it’s the best mix for the flavour of the beef,” said Neilson.
“We like the age and the amount of fat on the animal.”
Beef isn’t where Cabin on the Coulee Farm starts and stops though.
In 2019, Neilson and his wife made the decision to refurbish an old poplar-kit cabin that sat towering above a coulee on one of their quarters.
“We built the cabin for a place for family to meet,” said Neilson. Unfortunately, it didn’t get a lot of use, and fell into disrepair.
“Josie’s brothers were not happy, because they had to pay tax and power on the property. They were thinking about tearing it down. “
Seeing opportunity, after discussion with the family, Neilson began refurbishing the cabin, with the plan to eventually rent it out as a bed and breakfast.
“In 2019 I got the idea for the whole ag-tourism thing,” said Neilson.
“The summer and fall of 2019 we started renovations. We were really into rennovations when COVID-19 hit.”
Still, despite that, the cabin opened in May of 2020, seeing some use until summer when Cabin on the Coulee was listed on the Airbnb web site and bookings further picked up.
For the 2021 season, the cabin is already booked for each weekend from the May long weekend through to the first of July.
“We’re hoping for more mid-week bookings,” said Neilson.
“The cabin, we’d like to sell out all summer.”
If the beef production and management of the Cabin didn’t keep him busy enough, Neilson, and his one son who helps him out, do a weekly live video on their Facebook account.
Additionally, Cabin on the Coulee is listed on the web site www.farmzy.ca, where tours of the farm and coulee can be arranged.
Long-term, Neilson wants to grow the farm to 60 or 70 head, which is still a small number, as well as keep the cabin as booked as possible.