Darren Dinsmore has a passion for cattle. He’s been a beef farmer for the past three years, located along the North West River road just near the edge of the Happy Valley-Goose Bay town borders. While you won’t find too many livestock farms in Labrador, (apart from the increasingly-popular chicken coops!), Darren has big plans for growing his operations, and he has been very successful so far.
Frankie Leonard, a 2020 summer student with the Labrador Institute, asked Darren a few questions about his experiences with farming in Labrador, and got him to share some helpful tips and tricks:
Frankie Leonard: What types of food do you grow? What is your favourite thing to grow?
Darren Dinsmore: Beef. I absolutely love producing beef. It is a great life.
Darren Dinsmore’s cattle are as handsome as they are tasty.
Frankie: How long have you been farming?
Darren: We have been here on the farm three years this month. This is kind of my first-time having cattle, and my first time having my own farm. I did grow up around farms and dairy farms, but it’s different when you’re handling it on your own.
Frankie: Do you have any farming goals you would like to accomplish?
Darren: A big goal for us is building a barn that should hold about 100 head of cattle. We are building that this summer actually, and making some good progress so far. We want to bring in some other cattle to help us diversify our cattle here. Just as far as genetics and hybrid vigor we would like to produce within our herd.
We also desperately need an abattoir, which is a slaughterhouse. We need this to produce our meats, because right now the closest one is in Cormack. We have to drive all of our cows down there in order to produce our beef, which is unreasonable. The province is looking at getting an abattoir up here within a year, hopefully. It will really change and help people in Labrador who raise livestock, and probably encourage more people to do so. That would be very nice to see.
Other than that, we just want to keep producing more hay fields, and eventually I would like to get into producing grains as well, for feed. There is a lot to do, and we have a lot of plans in regard to growing cattle and making it a success here.
Frankie: Are there any challenges you have faced in being a farmer in a northern climate?
Darren: The biggest problem is the remoteness of the area. Food availability is a big problem, probably our number one problem. And then it’s just material availability – you can’t just go to the country store and pick up supplies for cattle. It’s pretty challenging. Since commercial agriculture is so new in Labrador, there is almost no infrastructure here as far as producing food is concerned. There are zero feed stores, zero animal supplies stores, and for us there’s no farms, barns, or abattoirs. We also don’t have any large animal vets here.
I know there hasn’t been anyone else doing large scale beef production here. When I came out with my business plan, I knew we could grow grass and hay here, so I said, “let’s do it.” We are trying to make a commercial business out of it.
As far as farming is concerned, in my opinion you either have to make it a commercial business or keep it extremely small, where you’re not really producing much. Because if you’re somewhere in the middle, you’re going to be spending a lot of money and not making anything.
With a little help from their farmer, these hardy animals can endure our Labrador winters.
Frankie: What are the benefits of producing your own beef?
Darren: I mean, as far as producing it here in Labrador, it’s beneficial for the local aspect, cost, and quality. Availability as well. Sometimes there’s beef shortages or the price goes through the roof, like during this pandemic or whatever else.
Having beef available here is a big bonus for us and the community. It is really nice for us personally to know where our beef is coming from. To know they had a good life and weren’t just crammed in a feedlot somewhere. We make sure they have the best life possible up until the very end and we feed them quality hay and rations.
Frankie: Do you have any tips or tricks?
Darren: Don’t give up is what I would say, because there are a lot of times where it gets really hard. Especially in Labrador where you feel you’re all on your own and people underestimate how much you have to give in order to get a farm going anywhere, let alone here. Farming I’ve heard is one of the highest-stress and most financially straining jobs, and on top of all that, trying to do it where it’s never been done before – it’s challenging to say the least. My tip is to keep going, if you make your option not to quit then you’ll succeed in some form or fashion. That’s what we are doing.
We’ve had a lot of disheartening and low moments in our history here over the last three years. We could’ve packed it in, but we just kept going and things slowly got better. It has just been a fight over the last three years, but this year some really great things have started lining up. Our cows are able to get pregnant now, and we’ve got 40 acres cleared. We’re growing lots of grass, building a barn, and hopefully we’ll have an abattoir soon. Some pretty great steps are happening, so we are pretty excited. So yeah: don’t give up.
Darren has cleared a good bit of land for hay fields to feed his animals.
“Farming I’ve heard is one of the highest-stress and most financially straining jobs, and on top of all that, trying to do it where it’s never been done before – it’s challenging to say the least. My tip is to keep going, if you make your option not to quit then you’ll succeed in some form or fashion. That’s what we are doing.”
While Darren is certainly turning over a new page in Labrador cattle farming, cows actually have a longer history in the area than you may know!
Check out these photos of cattle grazing in North West River in 1931, for example. The large building in the first photo is the hospital. These photos from the Labrador Institute Archive were taken by Donald MacMillan of Bowdoin College, Maine, and the originals reside at the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum.
Archival photos courtesy of Morgon Mills, Program Coordinator for the Labrador Institute Library and Archive.