Original Published 10:03 Mar 22, 2022
By Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A Binscarth-area farmer has found a unique way to expand the offerings of his fourth-generation family farm with a new product catering to canines.
Nolan Bradshaw began toying with the idea of launching Silly Puppy Dog Treats about four years ago. He was living in Winnipeg at the time and was in the process of transitioning back to Binscarth to take over the family operation, BAR-B Farms, from his parents. The ranch produces black Angus cattle.
“I was just trying to look at ways to increase the revenue on the farm without increasing the size of the farm,” Bradshaw said.
Finding innovations to generate revenue remains essential on the homestead. Like many producers on the Prairies, Bradshaw had an incredibly difficult season in 2021, he said, adding he considers himself lucky because the farm had been downsized before he took over.
“I was probably one of the luckier ones,” he said. “When I took over, I was trying to grow everything back up again. I’m just in the process of growing the herd back to where it needs to be — I didn’t have to sell any cattle.”
One of his missions since taking over the operation has been to create a blueprint to preserve the future of family-run operations on the Prairies. Bradshaw said small farms are becoming increasingly less viable, and this is pushing producers to change the way they do business.
“The price of everything is going through the roof right now, so anything you can do to increase your bottom line without taking on more cost is a big positive right now.”
Silly Puppy Dog Treats served as a way to turn cull cows into profit — while providing good dogs with tasty treats.
“It almost costs me more to truck it [a cull cow] to the auction mart than what it gets me at the auction mart,” Bradshaw said. “If I turn it into dog treats myself, I’m seeing about 500 to 600 per cent more money in my pocket.”
One processed animal creates about 400 pounds of meat. As these products are processed and dehydrated, he ends up with about 133 pounds of beef — enough to make about 400 to 500 bags of dog treats.
Bradshaw described Silly Puppy Dog Treats as human-grade food that just happens to be sold to dogs. He noted the treats contain no preservatives.
“It’s literally just beef. There’s nothing else in it,” Bradshaw said.
There are three types of treats available — unseasoned beef jerky, dried ground beef and dehydrated liver.
Bradshaw has taken the same approach to selling beef to dogs as he has to people.
“It’s really not a whole lot different,” Bradshaw said with a chuckle.
While he was living in Winnipeg, people would always be asking him for meat because of his family farm connections. This inspired him to embrace the idea of “farm to table” and cut out the middle man.
Bradshaw wanted to start butchering his animals and selling the meat to people. He soon realized those same people usually have dogs.
“The same reason they buy the meat from me is the same reason they buy those treats for their dog — they are concerned about where their food is coming from, what’s in it, how it’s treated, how it’s raised,” Bradshaw said. “In terms of selling the dog treats to people, it’s not a lot different. It’s the same kind of emotional attachment; people are looking at their pets and saying, ‘If we want these pets around a long time and to have a good quality of life, we’ve got to look at also what they’re eating and what we’re feeding them.’”
The Bradshaws have a rescue mutt from the humane society named Charlie — the “silly puppy” the dog treats are named after.
The final push to begin creating dog treats occurred when he happened to catch an interesting article on a news site about dog food recalls. He looked at the treats he had at home for his dog and they included many ingredients he had no idea how to pronounce.
“I went online one day and looked for simple homemade treats and came across some recipes for beef treats,” Bradshaw said. “We have beef cattle, so I had lots of beef in the freezer, so I could just easily try that.”
He took some beef out of the freezer and made some treats for Charlie to try out — they passed his canine’s taste test and the operation was born. Bradshaw also shared the special treats with some friends for their dogs to try out, and the treats were given the tail-wag of approval.
After receiving the initial paws-itive feedback, Bradshaw said, he began selling Silly Puppy Dog Treats to his friends.
Bradshaw added he has been fortunate with the timing of the launch as many people have brought home a new furry family member during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everybody needed a pal at home during COVID because it got lonelier,” Bradshaw said.
He has seen a growing demand for his products, largely driven through word of mouth.
“The goal is to just keep growing it the way I have and move into stores slowly and kind of change the business model a little bit in terms of the fulfillment,” he said. “My goal isn’t to get huge, huge, where it’s this massive company.”
This item is reprinted with permission from the Brandon Sun, Brandon, Manitoba