Life after Gentec: What is Cameron Olson doing now?

These days, former Gentecer Cameron Olson is a Production Consultant on the Feeds and Feeding team at Feedlot Health Management Services.

“We help feedlot clients from Alberta to Ontario, from Idaho to the Texas panhandle and Mexico with their diet formulations,” he says. “We do commodity analysis and we offer animal health, management, and performance consulting.”

Cameron is based in Okotoks, working with southern Alberta producers in “Feedlot Alley” but other team members work with feedlots in Saskatchewan and… southern Ontario. Beef cattle in chardonnay country? Really?

“Southern Ontario is the second-largest cattle-feeding area in Canada after Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan” confirms Cameron. “But it’s a completely different environment than Alberta. Typically, the cattle are in barns with access to the outside because the ground moisture level is different. In Western Canada, no barns. And in Ontario, corn is a primary ingredient in the ration instead of barley. So we’re dealing with different management techniques depending on where the cattle are, what commodities are available, and so on.”

Cameron didn’t just walk into this perfect job after his PhD. Well, he did… but the story is a bit longer. The relationship with Feedlot Health started in 2015 with an internship while he was home between his BSc and his Master’s at Texas A&M. He was looking around for a summer job. The connection was totally serendipitous. For that internship, Cameron was on the Feeds and Feeding team, collecting samples at feedlots and collecting dry matter data from the drying ovens. In 2017, after his Master’s, he did another internship. This time, he was responsible for the on-site administration of a feeding trial in southern Alberta. The third iteration of the relationship came as a result of being selected as a Canadian Cattle Young Leader in 2019 while he was doing his PhD.

“My old boss at Feedlot Health, Matt May, was my mentor,” explains Cameron. “We worked together through the Young Leader program and, a year into that relationship, he offered me a part-time position on the Feeds and Feeding team with the goal of onboarding me in a full-time job. So it was a company I was familiar with, and a position I was familiar with that was offered to me because I was at the right place at the right time with the right kind of knowledge.”

That’s because Feedlot Health is expanding. Telus Agriculture, which bought Feedlot Health and Herdtrax (a long-time Gentec collaborator), plans to roll out services for the cow/calf sector in 2023. And that ties into Cameron’s PhD work on cow reproductive efficiency, dry matter intake and RFI in developing heifers and mature cows.

“Gentec is one of the very few organizations that does what it does,” he says. “It has concentrated a lot of knowledge in a tight organization that has like-minded partners. For students looking to enter the livestock industry in Canada and for a robust place to study, partnering with Gentec will allow them to gain real-world knowledge of how the industry functions here. For producers, the concentrated knowledge and research support becomes tangible results that benefit the producer directly.”

But Cameron acknowledges that persuading producers to pay for services that he knows can help but that don’t necessarily provide a product is a challenge.

“We can help them manage their herds more effectively and with more insight,” he says. “The Feedlot Health model promotes research and understanding so we hope to do the larger-scale research that we’ve done in the feedlot sector in the cow-calf sector as well to demonstrate that.”

At the Grill with William Torres: The Grill’s top five resolutions

I love this time of year! Christmas and New Year is when I believe mostly everyone to be in their best spirits. It doesn’t matter how bad the seeding or harvest season weather were. You forget about that “one” cow that almost killed you during calving. Right now, we are mostly glad for our families and all the things we have.

With the new year come resolutions. Some of us will start thinking about what, and how we can do things better. If you’re looking for guidance or wondering what others are looking to do in the new year, here is a list of the top resolutions for Alberta ranchers.

EVALUATE THE FUTURE. New year’s mean new beginnings, opinions and outlooks. Use the start of 2023 to evaluate the future of the ranch. How long do you want to keep running it? How involved do any children want to be? Does a succession plan need to be designed? Taking time to answer these questions can help you prepare for the immediate and distant future. We discussed sustainability already. This is where actions will dictate what future your ranch can have.

TRY SOMETHING NEW. During AgSmart 2022, we visited with Tim Wray. He and his family are continually adopting new technologies that reduce labour, avoid depreciation, and simplify management. Trying to find an edge, the Wrays have participated in a number of trials experimenting with genetic tools, pasture health, cover crops, residual feed intake, and artificial intelligence. Don’t be afraid to think out of the box. It is our duty to squeeze every opportunity to increase profits out of a low-margin business.

BECOME AN ADVOCATE. Make 2023 the year to use social media platforms and other means to become an advocate, and tell the real stories behind agriculture. Other ways to become an advocate can include joining a 4-H group or speaking to consumers about agriculture. Stop letting someone else tell your story! Consumers want to know how you do what you do; you should be proud to tell them.

KEEP LIVESTOCK PENS JUST A LITTLE CLEANER. We get it, life on the farm can get pretty crazy and hectic. Sometimes, you might not have a place to store the manure. Maybe conditions aren’t right for hauling. Take better advantage of the days that ARE good for it, and reap the benefits. When cattle pens are cleaner, there are fewer instances of illness and disease. Less medication and vet bills equals more money in your pocket. Healthy, clean animals are a key component to that. Take the time to ensure they’re raised in the best conditions possible, and both improved rate of gain and the farm process will go much smoother.

INCORPORATE TECHNOLOGY. It’s definitely time to work smarter, not harder. If you haven’t yet, it’s time to adopt or re-evaluate your herd data-tracking system. Most veterinary practices offer some sort of data collection but not all are designed to manage your herd’s potential. Maybe it’s time you contributed into a new app development? Smartphone apps rely on real data to validate their technology. The “arm-chair rancher” is one being developed here in Alberta. Look into contributing data.

Regardless of what your personal resolutions are, I wish you all a very Happy New Year. See you all for more stories in 2023. We’ll keep the grill sizzling with information.




Gleise da Silva, 2022 CCA Young Leader and Gentec collaborator

The BCRC-Hays Chair in Beef Production Systems at UAlberta is a full-time tenure-track appointment in Beef Production Systems, with 25% teaching, 50% research, and 25% service in leadership and extension. The initial vision for the Chair, as outlined by BCRC Chair Matt Bowman, was to capitalize on UAlberta’s leadership in both beef genomics [Gentec] and rangeland research [Rangeland Research Institute]. The Chair will complement and connect those programs to improve the whole cow-calf production system.

Gleise da Silva—the inaugural Chair—is using some of her research time on a collaboration with Gentec (specifically, CEO Graham Plastow) funded by Alberta Beef Producers to determine whether heifers with different residual feed intake can be more weather-resilient.

She has also been busy meeting, talking with Alberta’s cow/calf producers, and familiarizing herself with the most pressing issues faced by industry. Gleise’s own aim (in addition to the Chair’s) is to advance Canada’s position as a world leader in sustainable beef production.

Gleise has formed a wide breadth of industry relationships, many through the assistance of her colleagues at UAlberta and Gentec who have made a special effort to introduce her to producers. These include the Alberta Beef Industry Conference (June 2022); UAlberta’s own Kinsella Field Day (July 2022); the Canadian Beef Industry Conference (August 2022); and Farmfair International (see below).

Some of her leadership/extension time is going towards developing leadership and networking skills, and learning how the Canadian beef industry can advance our global leadership position in beef sustainability by applying/adapting what other countries are doing in terms of sustainability and food security to make the sector more competitive and profitable. This she can accomplish through the BCRC mentorship program, which she recently completed, and now through the Canadian Cattle Young Leaders program, which she just started.

“I’ve been paired with a mentor,” she says. (Anne Wasko, a highly respected cattle market analyst and past chair of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.) “We’ll start developing a road map of what I want to learn and be involved with, and she will help me achieve my goals.”

In addition to the above local events, Gleise has attended Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock in Dublin, Ireland in October 2022 with two young leaders from the Canadian Cattle Association. See her summary of the event here.

“During the interactive plenary session led by youth, several topics were discussed around the food system opportunities through sustainable livestock. My topic was how to find opportunities for youth to be involved in livestock, how to attract them to agriculture. Furthermore, as a group, we discussed the challenges to agriculture on every continent in terms of food security, production and sustainability. We visited Teagasc Grange Animal and Grassland research centre, where various methods of reducing livestock methane emissions were being evaluated. It was an excellent opportunity to think about food production on a global scale and understand perspectives, challenges and goals from different countries. This is how networking will help us achieve real solutions.”

At Farmfair International in Edmonton in November, she and Gentec associate Clinton Brons met and mingled with an assortment of individuals with a vested interest in the beef industry. One highlight she mentioned was the international reception where she and Clinton sat with members of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. Together, they delivered compelling messages (no turkey, just beef 😊) on the role Canada can play in delivering delicious, nutritious and sustainable food to the world, as well as on the importance of the beef industry within their ridings… both at our table and from the podium. Special thanks to Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk and Garth Rowswell of the Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville and the Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright ridings for their reciprocated interest in the important beef industry work being done at UAlberta and Gentec.

“I’ve had these wonderful opportunities in just a few months,” she says. “Opportunities for good conversations that open your mind to think differently; opportunities to meet interesting people and share experiences and learn from each other. I’ll be working with some of the Young Leaders and people I’ve met throughout my career.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: As BCRC-Hays Chair, Gleise was invited to be a panel member at the UAlberta Chancellor’s Forum on Food for the Future, focusing on climate, cost and creating food security. Read more about that event here.