Beef Business Booms in Jaffray

At dawn’s first light, a rooster crows from high on a fence post at Brodey Bolen’s ranch, announcing the arrival of a new day and awakening the rural community of Jaffray, BC. Cows join in, their mooing reverberating across the calm pastures: a sound Bolen has heard all his life as a third-generation rancher.

“I’ve loved cows for as long as I can remember,” he says. “As a kid, I didn’t play much with monster trucks or anything like that. I had farm animals and barns. My mom would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said wholeheartedly ‘a rancher!’”

After gaining experience working on farms elsewhere, Bolen moved back home and followed in his dad’s footsteps by apprenticing at a local butcher shop. His trade experience and love for agriculture set a business in motion in 2017 when he and his wife Kashtyn launched Bolen Livestock on his family’s 160-acre property, originally acquired in 1957. With generational Angus and Hereford cattle grazing the ranch since 1968, beef is now their family’s main source of income.

Wanting to spend more time with his family, Bolen began looking for skilled meat cutters and, in 2020, he secured Columbia Basin Trust’s Food Producer Wage Subsidy. Over the course of three years, he has hired and trained three employees in the butcher shop, two of whom are currently working full-time, with support from the program, which supplements wages and increases Basin residents’ access to locally grown, healthy food.

“Back in 2020, we didn’t custom cut hardly anything. We focused solely on our bread-and-butter, farm-to-table business because we lacked time and labour,” he says. “As of last year, we’re custom cutting other farmers’ livestock and hunters’ wild game and doing our value-added products like ham, bacon, pepperoni, sausage, jerky and burger patties; we retail those at our own storefront as well as at other local businesses. Diversifying our products and services has helped expand our business and increase our revenue.”

The wage subsidy gave Bolen the opportunity to keep full-time staff on year-round. Kyle Temple, the self-described “oldest guy in the shop,” has worked for Bolen for nearly two years, after exiting an almost 30-year career as a hunting guide to find employment closer to his children and wife.

“I’ve learned so much from Brodey, from slaughtering to butchering the beef, pigs, goats, and sheep; he can take the day off now, and I can do whatever needs to be done,” he says. “I’m a full-fledged meat cutter, trained on the job. I count myself lucky because there’s not a lot of meat shops around here, and I probably wouldn’t have found a job at home had it not been for the wage subsidy.”

Rather than looking for established butchers, Bolen focused on training in-house during the quieter months, mentoring employees eager to learn the business and readying his newly skilled staff to go ten-fold on production during the busier months.

Cole Dudley, 19, left a career in carpentry to work at Bolen Livestock in March 2023. The avid hunter and taxidermist was interested in learning more about processing animals, and his enthusiasm and passion have helped expand the wild game side of the business.

“We’re one of the only shops around here that process deer, elk, and the odd bear and sheep. And I’ve been able to take the skills I’ve learned and apply them to my passion for hunting,” he says. “The best part is I can stay in my hometown and don’t have to travel up north for work.”

Employing staff has cut back on Bolen’s personal labour by over 25 percent. He says the support has reduced his anxiety and stress and allowed him to spend more quality time with his kids. His family values overlap with the business’ core values, including keeping in balance with nature and raising livestock ethically; these values have been passed down through generations, to his new staff, and to the community at large.

“The fact that residents are able to hunt, raise their own animals, and get their meat processed locally is huge,” he says. “More than ever, people want to know where their food comes from, and now they can. The beauty of dealing with us is simple: we’re one extended family that handles your product from start to finish in the most humane way possible.”