Colin Rickard and Erin McLaughlin, owners of the new Berserker Farms in the RM of Livingston, describe their business as a small regenerative farm that prides itself on producing humanely raised and nutrient dense meats.
Regenerative agriculture describes farming and grazing practices that rebuild organic matter and restore biodiversity in the soil. Regenerative agriculture works with the land and its animals in a way that supports and depends upon diversity.
Earlier this year, the pair left well-paying jobs in Ontario to launch their dream of building a natural habitat where they could raise their own meat. The couple met at the gym and quickly connected on a mutual passion for healthy living. At the time, McLaughlin was working as a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, Personal Trainer, and a contributor to her parent’s automotive magazine publication. Rickard, an avid hunter and butcher, held a job working for the government as a Heavy Equipment Operator.
“Many people have told us they think we’re crazy. I left a position with good pay and a pension,” explained Rickard. “But I have no regrets. I haven’t worked this hard in my life – but it feels great. I love what we’re doing and I sleep better than ever.”
Before moving to Saskatchewan, Rickard and McLaughlin tested the waters with homesteading on a piece of land in Ontario that was less than an acre. It was there that they gained valuable insight, raising ducks, chickens, and rabbits – as well as practicing fermentation techniques. The pair immersed themselves in a number of books and You tube videos, deepening their understanding of the correlation between food and disease.
With soil quality challenges and a population that was too dense for their liking, the couple looked west for a more suitable and affordable home to manifest an even bigger vision – raising their own animals on an 80-acre farm.
“Our journey evolved from city dwellers, to homesteaders to first generation farmers,” said McLaughlin. “We believe that optimal health is each person’s birthright and is made possible through our food.”
Berserker Farms offers customers grass fed and grass finished cattle, pastured chicken, forest-raised A2 milk-fed pork, and eggs from free-run, pastured chickens. The couple is determined that animals raised at Berserker will be free of antibiotics, hormones, and GMOs.
“Not everyone has the means, the time, or the interest to farm,” added Rickard. “In Ontario, we were in the habit of buying our food from small farms, but they were often sold out. We decided the next step would be to grow our own food for ourselves and our community. We operate with full transparency and believe that health is not just determined by what we eat, but how it is farmed. We encourage customers come to our farm and see how our meat is raised.”
“Everything we do is aimed at creating a natural habitat for our animals to thrive in,” explained McLaughlin. “Our farm works with nature, not against it. This means supporting our livestock with premium nutrition and allowing their own innate capacity to fight off disease and infection without the use of synthetic drugs. When animals are given de-wormers, injections and antibiotics, these harmful drugs end up in the meat, which ends up in us.”
With this philosophy in mind, the couple views the soil on the farm as its own entity and aims to treat it with as much care and attention as any animal. Instead of battling nature, the team says they plan on working with it, allowing it to continuously rebuild itself while avoiding synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides which can damage the local ecosystem and ultimately the food that is produced.
“By raising our chickens on pasture, the birds will receive an optimal natural diet by foraging for grass and bugs. Not only does this improve the health and flavour of the chicken, but also increases the health of the pasture and farm. Pastured chicken has a much higher ratio of omega 3's to omega 6's which is vital to human health and well-being,” shared McLaughlin.
“We also have a small herd of Dexter/Angus cattle that we grass feed and finish without antibiotics or growth-promoting hormones. The cattle are rotationally grazed on our chemical-free pastures in the spring and summer and fed hay and haylage (fermented grass) in the winter. This practice keeps the beef naturally high in omega 3 fatty acids that are crucial for good health. Meat from grass-fed animals has two to four times more omega-3 fatty acids than meat from grain-fed animals. We provide them with alfalfa/timothy hay, fresh grass in the summer and natural mineral with garlic for natural fly control and kelp which is amazing for longevity, fertility and immunity. In the hardest winters, they also receive a limited quantity of beet pulp or alfalfa pellets to provide a little extra energy. Dexters and Dexter/Angus crosses (Dangus) are smaller in stature than your average commercial cattle breed and so not only do they finish smaller, the cuts of meat are smaller, particularly the steaks. Dexters also mature more slowly than commercial breeds. They are butchered at 20 to 24 months and aged for a minimum of 14 days prior to cut and wrap. Our Dexters are butchered in the early summer when they are coming off fresh grass. This is when the meat is highest in Omega 3 and CLA and is the healthiest and tastiest.”
With their progressive farming approach, Rickard and McLaughlin say that despite seeing their share of raised eyebrows from traditional farmers, they are happy with their dedication to quality over quantity.
“The Berserkers were Viking warriors that went into battle with a fearless, almost crazed fighting style. Legend has it that they were outcasts in society and had a mysticism about them. We chose the name Berserker Farms because we feel it reflects our approach to farming. It's non-conventional, almost seen as ‘crazy’ among the conforming crowd. We also aspire to be fearless in our farming endeavours and hope to carve our own path with the help of Mother Nature and its mysticism. The Viking culture is something we like also, as the Vikings were very in tune with nature and its rhythms. There's no evidence in history of the Vikings plowing the land. And we are all about keeping the ground covered and keeping soil healthy. Back then, they didn't have access to drugs or chemicals to farm, and we wanted our name to reflect that period in time, where they didn't use those crutches. They raised strong, resilient animals and people.”
Berserker Farms offers free delivery to pick-up locations in Yorkton, Kamsack, Canora and Preeceville. Customers are also welcome to pick up their orders directly at the farm. To find out more about the farm and how to order go to www.berserkerfarms.comor go to their Facebook page www.facebook.com/berserkerfarmssk.