Friday, March 29, 2013

Alberta Cattle Ranchers Put Environment First


The following story was written for Aggie Days, a yearly agricultural showcase as Stampede Park in Calgary, Alberta.

The Taillieu family of Tomahawk Cattle Ranch believes that cattle ranchers and farmers are environmentalists above all.

The Taillieus received the 2013 Alberta Beef Producers’ Environmental Stewardship Award for their innovative practices and sustainable management. They were nominated by fellow cattle producers and selected by a panel of conservation and agricultural representatives. 

Gerry (left) and Grant on the ranch. Photo by Dianne Finstad
Through grass and water management, Gerry and Grant Taillieu and their families brought new life to their ranch northeast of Drayton Valley, Alberta.

 “The recognition that we needed to fix things was right away,” said Grant, referring to the ranch’s condition when they took over in 2001. “There were no major breakthroughs or quick fixes. We’ve just tweaked a little every year.”

Grant said the ranch now has about four times more grass thanks to improved grazing management.

“We’re seeing grasses we haven’t seen in this area in seven or eight years,” he said. “The biodiversity, plant species and quality of the grass has improved.”

Gerry and Grant have conquered many of the obstacles presented to them by the land. A portion of the land is located on Low Water Lake, a body of water that left soft, vulnerable ground after being drained in the 1960s. Rather than allow the cattle to graze on it year-round and hinder its ability to keep producing grass, the soft areas are only grazed in winter when the ground is frozen, Grant said.

The Taillieus do not use tractors or other equipment to work grazing land and all moving of the cattle is done by horseback. They have also implemented controlled-access bale grazing.

Photo by Dianne Finstad.
“Bale grazing is a fantastic way to feed cattle in the winter,” Grant said. “It keeps the cattle out of confinement and in the fields as long as possible.”

A lined dugout prevents water seepage and solar-powered water pumps ensure a clean, reliable water source.

With improved grazing techniques, they have managed to add to their steer and weaning weights while raising lower-weight cows.

 “We’ve seen a world of difference in how the calves do,” Grant said. “Keeping the cattle moving to different pastures is good for the grass and the cattle.”

Grant said that the financial benefit of becoming more environmentally sustainable is evident. Keeping the grass in good condition has removed the costs associated with having to reseed periodically.

“We use the cattle as tools to improve the land,” Grant said.

The Taillieu family has used sustainable resource management to reform an overgrazed ranch into a successful, productive operation.

Grant said his family believes in leaving the ranch in better condition for the next generation and working with the land rather than around it.

“A healthy ranch will look after you,” Grant said. “We can’t be successful at what we do at the expense of the environment.”

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