Nordest: The secret of good meat

At farm Nordest, near Mont-Laurier, cows are raised differently -here’s how. 

Cows at Nordest graze on 1200 acres of land, 500 of which are forest.

Cows at Nordest graze on 1200 acres of land, 500 of which are forest.

Roger Raymond and Céline Bélec like to keep it in the family. With their sons David and Mathieu they manage a 1200 acre farm as well as 200 cows, a shop in Mont-Laurier and a stand at Jean-Talon market in Montréal. Roger and David attend to all the farm chores: « We have long weeks » admits Roger, and we have no trouble imagining the huge amount of work required to keep this ancestral land up and running. Bought back from the government in 1982, the former owner of the farm was Roger’s great grandfather: « My sons are the fifth generation of farmers to work this land. » One only has to take a good look at the place to understand why the Raymonds have stayed there for so long.

 

When Roger brings us on a tour of the property, we are astonished by the beauty of the landscape. The car cuts through great oat and barley fields, both cereals Raymond uses to feed his cows: « It yields a different meat, whiter, with a distinct taste. » Which would explain why customers keep coming back to their shops: « People often tell us that our meat tastes different, better » observes Raymond.

But oat is not the only thing that makes Nordest’s meat very good. Their cows graze on 1200 acres of land, 500 of which are forest. « I am often told that this is a crazy thing to do, that it is not profitable » says Roger. But it is this method that actually allows Roger to have such healthy cows: « No vet has set foot on this land for over three years. My cows find everything they need in nature. Some of them are over 17 years old! », which is astonishing considering that most farmers only keep theirs for 8 or 10 years. It is a similar scenario in the stockyard: while it could hold over 200 cows, Roger only keeps 20 or so: « Diseases spread quickly when you have 250 animals in there. You then have to put them on antibiotics, and that is simply out of the question for me, even though it is less profitable. »

If these methods are criticized by his peers, Roger says he will keep doing things his way: « I’ve always done things differently. But if I had to do it again, I would leave the whole marketing thing to others. I would only take care of the cows. » Marketing products does indeed take a lot of extra time and energy for producers, a tasks that is mostly undertaken by Céline at Nordest: «We like that Provender deals with a portion of the customer service. So we don’t have to deal with many clients -which would translate into more time and a heavier work load- but instead we deal with only one, and it’s Provender. »

Back in the fields, Roger introduces us to some of the cows. I’m surprised when he picks one out of the crowd; to me they all look the same. « It’s from habit » shrugs Roger. But also, I’m pretty sure, a lot of love.

Roger Raymond and Céline Bélec, proud Québec producers.

Roger Raymond and Céline Bélec, proud Québec producers.

Photos: Alison Slattery