Sawmill Creek Livestock – Stead, MB

Laura and Ryan Plett own and manage Sawmill Creek Livestock, a cow calf and sheep operation in Stead, Manitoba. They bought their first group of bred heifers in 2014. They farm alongside their family’s grain operation and have a lot of great family members that help out on big farm days.

Before they started farming full-time, Ryan and Laura were professional hunting & fishing guides and managers in the Lodge & Outfitting Industry for many years. They guided fish and hunting tours in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. If they could be in two places at once they would still be guiding tours.

Laura and Ryan both grew up on their family farms. They loved guiding in the north as a couple so much that they thought running a cattle operation in the bush where they live sounded like a perfect way to do both.

They live in a provincial forest on the land their family had homesteaded many years ago. They are the only ones on that land aside from the many species of wildlife that co-exist there. Since she was young, Laura has been hunting and trapping different animals there. “Of all the places I’ve been, this is my favourite. It’s pretty unique and wild.” said Laura.

Ryan and Laura love working outside with their family. What motivates them is their 3 year old running down the hall of their home, reminding them that “it’s morning time and the dark is gone, and it’s time to go play outside.” They have a lot of animal mouths to feed on the farm and tend to each and every last one of them.

When asked about their biggest challenge as young entrepreneurs, Laura expressed that their biggest challenge is the business side of the farm. This is not a hobby for them. It’s their sole source of income and they still need to make money to provide for their family. This is the factored into every management decision they make.

They are lucky enough to have the opportunity to live and farm on land that Laura’s family has lived on for 4 generations. “That doesn’t just happen” explains Laura. “It takes years of hard work by each generation to take care of the land and prepare it for the next.” With their continued hard work they will give their son, Dustin, the same opportunity that was given to them.

They are passionate about raising high quality cattle and sheep. Laura’s favourite part about her lifestyle is the animals. Whether it’s cattle, sheep, or dogs as long as they are healthy and working together she’s happy.

Holistic Management helps build our capacity to deal with complexities by guiding your decision-making so that we can enhance our quality of life, grow profits, and regenerate land.

Laura and Ryan first heard about Holistic Management when they read one of the many articles in the Canadian Cattleman magazine written by Don Campbell. A lot of his ideas resinated with them.

Laura signed up for the Regenerative Accelerator program because she thought it would be a great educational experience. They want the opportunity to be mentored by a Certified Holistic Management Educator. Brainstorming their holistic context, what kind of quality of life they wanted to have, and how to plan their future resource base was just a few of the things their mentor went over with them.

With the funds they received from the program they were able to improve one of their pasture blocks in a way they would not have been able to afford otherwise. Last years drought had their animals walking 2 miles for water. Water has been a limiting factor on that pasture block since they had started grazing it. It impacts their stocking rates, grazing decisions, and animal performance. So with the money they received for participating in the program they were able to put in a waterline. This allowed them to add cross fencing, increase rest periods after grazings, and drastically reduce the distance animals would have to walk to water.

The biggest improvement they’ve seen since implementing regenerative practices on their farm is the quality of grass. Laura says this is entirely due to cross fencing and planned grazing. Laura stated “If we hadn’t implemented these practices when we started, we would have been out of grass by July 2021. Due to years of making the right decisions when it came to grazing intervals and rest time, as well as some timely rains in late August, we were able to graze into November. In 2022, when we had excess rainfall, we were able to use even longer rest periods which hopefully allowed the roots and reserves to recover and set us up nicely for 2023”.

Laura and Ryan appreciated the Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV) monitoring that took place on their farm because they were in the program. It allowed them to see how the land changes on a short term and long term basis due to their management practices. This helped them make informed decisions on stocking rates and grazing days.

Laura had some creative things to say about improving community dynamic.

“I think you get out of it what you put into it. And if you would like to change or improve something, the way to do that is by getting involved and making it happen. This goes for local community, as well as provincial, and national within our chosen industry, beef. Change doesn’t happen by showing up at a meeting or sitting in the back and complaining to the people at the front of the room about the way things are. Change happens by getting involved and joining the people at the front of the room and working with them to come up with ideas and solutions. That is how change happens and communities thrive at whatever level.”

We asked Laura what she would suggest to someone who had no experience farming but wanted to start. She suggested finding a good mentor. “Figuring things out yourself is an expensive game, especially at the start, so find someone who is doing what you want to do and learn everything you can from them. Money will be THE issue. You will always be looking for a cheaper and better way. Find a way to cut every cost you can, then cut them some more. If owning a farm isn’t in the cards for you (and it’s not for everyone), you can have a very successful, rewarding, and far less stressful career working on a farm. You don’t need to own one.”

When we asked what she would say to consumers about supporting local producers, Laura said, “I think it’s great if you’re able to support local by buying direct marketed beef. I’m just speaking about beef because that’s what I know. What I don’t think is great is using the local claim to provoke fear of buying beef from the store or other sources. Not everyone has the capacity to direct market beef, especially at any scale, and this doesn’t make it any lower quality. The vast majority of Canadian beef (including ours), enters the food production chain and ends up at the store, and that’s also great for consumers. Not everyone can afford to buy direct market beef, and I think we need to be promoting Canadian Beef as a whole as it would truly will benefit us all.”

Laura is optimistic that the demand for ‘sustainable beef’ will continue to increase in Canada and abroad. “I am a board of directors member for the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef; and we already can’t keep up with demand within our own country. I attended the Global Conference on Sustainable Beef this fall and it was discussed that this is a trend around the world as well. This is good news for Canadian producers who on the global scale are leading the pack when it comes to sustainable agriculture.”

To learn more about Sawmill Creek Livestock and follow along Laura and Ryan’s farm adventure you can check out there instagram page

Check out the video that they were apart of for Great Tastes of Manitoba: