Linking Policy to People Since 1971

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Do you think that the Gomery Inquiry will result in a non-confidence vote in the House of Commons and a general election before the end of 2005?


As western Canada continues to grow and change, we need to understand the implications of the economic and demographic transformations that will shape our future and seek out creative ways to take full advantage of these changes.

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Six in ten western Canadians live in the West’s eight largest cities.

Proactively addressing urban policy challenges and examining the role of cities in Canada are critical to the West’s long-term economic success and quality of life.

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Balancing economic prosperity with environmental sustainability.

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Capturing the regional diversity of Canada and eliminating the democratic deficit that clogs the gears of the nation remain as relevant today as they were thirty years ago when Canada West Foundation was created.

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The Alberta's 2nd Century Initiative would not have been possible without the generous assistance of:

The Kahanoff Foundation

EnCana Corporation

Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries Ltd.)

Suncor Energy Inc.

Ducks Unlimited Canada

Shell Canada Limited


The Environmental Incentives Initiative would not have been possible without the generous assistance of:

The Max Bell Foundation


If you would like to help fund this, or any of our other projects, contact Julie Johnston

Director of Fund Development

Current reports in the Natural Capital Project

Green Among the Concrete: The Benefits of Urban Natural Capital


Western Canada's Natural Capital: Toward a New Public Policy Framework

To view Building the New West Project publications, click here.

To view Western Cities Project publications, click here.

To view Natural Capital Project publications, click here.

To view West in Canada Project publications, click here.



April 2005

The Natural Capital Project


The proof is in the bottom line

TK Ranch manages ecological sustainability with economic benefit to the community

by shelley willson

© canada west foundation

Editor' Note - Shelley Willson is a freelance writer in Alberta. The Canada West Foundation asked her to find an example of a Natural Capital asset - that is, an asset which balances economic prosperity with environmental sustainability. She chose the TK Ranch in southern Alberta. The views she expresses are not necessary those of the Canada West Foundation. If you would like to write an article about a Natural Capital asset in your area, contact Gary Slywchuk.

Trick question:  can you guess what kind of environmentally friendly business would be most likely to win a string of provincial awards, including the annual SPCA award, the 2000 Growing Alberta Environmental Stewardship Award, and nomination for the prestigious Emerald Award?  Ecotourism perhaps?  Or maybe a high-tech pollution clean-up firm, or a recycling business?  No, it’s a business with its roots deeply embedded in the land, people, and proud tradition of Alberta’s past – and also its future.  Welcome to TK Ranch.

At first glance, the sprawling, 10,000 acre property near Hanna, three hours northeast of Calgary, looks like any other long-established family ranch.  Three generations of the Biggs family work on the land, and the beef they raise is sold around the province.  But all similarities end there.  TK has a growing reputation as a futuristic agricultural business model which manages ecological sustainability in harmony with economic benefit to the community. 

TK maintains complete vertical integration, and has successfully captured a premium niche market in terms of both undeniably superior meat quality, and exceptional environmentally and animal-welfare friendly production standards.  For a start, the cattle are grass fed on certified organic pasture land, with no use of intensive farming techniques like feedlots.  Also banned are pesticides, herbicides, feeding of animal by-products, growth hormones, and douses of antibiotics.  The livestock are handled using recognized ‘low stress’ techniques throughout the animal’s lifecycle including round-ups, weaning, and finally the meat slaughtering process.  Finally, the flavor of the premium meat is intensified by dry aging it for 21 days, not the usual 24-36 hours for regular commercial beef. 

Integral to this approach is a painstaking and committed stewardship of the land.  For TK, this is just the family tradition - since its inception in 1956, the ranch has been managed using principles of ‘holistic management’.  Things achieved additional momentum with the arrival of environmental scientist Colleen Biggs, who with her husband Dylan now runs the ranch.  ‘I was a vegetarian for years,’ she says, ‘and I always thought ranches were bad for the environment until I met my husband and I saw how differently he managed things.’

Dylan agrees, adding ‘holistic management has given us a very comprehensive view of our relationship with our grassland ecosystem’.  This includes careful management of the biological succession chain and the water and mineral cycles, rotational grazing, and  efficient energy utilization.  The tangible results include the preservation of the endangered native fescue grass with its deep root systems, adequate topsoil and a healthy water cycle, plant and animal species diversity, and encouragement of microbial organisms and insect habitat.  Dylan adds that maintaining grassland rather than tilling land for feedlot grain also extracts excess carbon from the air which lowers greenhouse gases.

Additionally, TK honors a 30-year contract with Ducks Unlimited not to graze or cut hay around wetlands until nesting shorebirds have fledged.    Meanwhile, a strictly enforced hunting policy protects the ranch’s wildlife including antelope, whitetail and mule deer, coyotes, foxes, badgers, weasels and numerous birds of prey.  Participation in the Alberta Breeding Bird Atlas project found over 140 bird species thriving on the ranch, and today, TK runs a small sideline in ecotourism which enables visitors to stay and enjoy the natural prairie beauty.

Certainly, there is no arguing that the TK Ranch approach is paying off economically as well as environmentally.  The grass-fed, contaminant free and dry-aged beef has become a luxury premium product with spiraling demand in the fast-growing markets of natural and organic foods, as well as high-end restaurants and hotels such as the Banff Springs.

Through its entrepreneurial approach, TK Ranch has also found a route to help buffer the ranching industry against the forces of globalization.  Canadian ranchers are increasingly at a disadvantage to compete on price against the growing number of producer countries who enjoy a lower cost base due to cheaper labor and milder climates.  However, the TK luxury premium beef captures a niche market which buys primarily based on quality not price.  This will be an enormous competitive advantage in targeting the high-value, prestige Asian markets like Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

The proof is in the bottom line.  In the midst of the present economic crisis induced by the closure of the American border to much of the beef industry, TK Ranch is thriving.  Indeed, they are planning to expand, and currently raising capital to build a larger, federally certified specialist slaughterhouse which will comply with their exacting standards and allow them to meet the burgeoning market demand across Canada and abroad.   Other ranchers, too are now benefiting, by changing their processes to obtain TK supplier certification.  With environmental stewardship in sync with sound business sense, it seems TK Ranch has not just a proud history, but a sustainable and prosperous future ahead.


The Canada West Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit public policy research institute dedicated to introducing western perspectives into current Canadian policy debates.

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