Posts

Grazing Stories

Iain Aitken’s Story 

Iain Aitken grew up on an 8th generation cattle ranch in Scotland.  When he picked up everything and moved to Canada he was determined to learn everything he could about rotational grazing from some of the best producers in the area, and how to transfer his existing skills and knowledge from Scotland to the vastly different climate in central Alberta.

 

Don Ruzicka’s Story 

Don shares his story about transitioning from a conventional commodity operation to a grass based system, using intensive grazing management and holistic management principles.

 

Kristie and Brent Vallet’s Story

Kristie and Brent never planned to be goat farmers, but once their children reached the age where they wanted to become more involved in the operation they did some market research and found that their land and their family were a perfect fit for a grazing operation.  They started out small, and have learned a lot along the way.

 

The Fast Farmer – Grazing Edition

The Fast Farmer is all about giving you the hands on steps necessary to get started and experience some quick wins in your business.  If you’re interested in tapping into the profit that rotational grazing can add to your operation, check out The Fast Farmer – Grazing Edition.

 

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Other Stories

Blain Hjertaas farms near Redvers, Saskatchewan, and wrote this article for the Western Producer:  Healthy Soil Makes For Healthy Humans.

Holistic Management International has written some helpful book reviews for anyone interested in grazing management – check them out here.

 

Grazing Case Studies

Linda and Ralph Corcoran – Certified Holistic Management Educators

It’s all in the planning

When Ralph and Linda Corcoran’s daughter Haley arrived home from a week long Holistic Management course and told them they were overgrazing their whole land base and needed to make changes; they thought they would give all her “new ideas” a try. Beginning with a grazing plan the Corcoran’s had no idea that the information Haley brought home with her would change not only their lives, but their land forever.   “We started watching the grass grow.   Now we watch the ground get healthier and our bugs in the ground grow healthier too.  We don’t drive by our pastures anymore and say they LOOK like the cows will make it to Oct and back to grazing June 1st (remember the old guys say every day turned out before June 1st a week less grazing in the fall).   We know where and why they will be on grass till Nov and back grazing as soon as the last snow leaves” says Ralph.

No more hoping and guessing, using Holistic planning Ralph and Linda now graze with confidence and purpose.

On the Corcoran’s ranch they have a mix of owned and rented land which they have set up in paddocks of about 40 acres in size with permanent fences.   So that they can best manage the land for proper grazing and recovery times they then using temporary electric fencing across these paddocks as needed.

Located in the southeast corner of Saskatchewan, the Corcoran’s are a prime example of how having an open mind and willingness to make changes can work for today’s grazier.   The key for making a profit grazing lies in good record keeping says Ralph, “When we started to keep better records in 2006 we found that our grazing capacity doubled by 2011, and we are still not at capacity as our grass is still improving yearly:  more cattle…more profit.”


Ralph and Linda are both certified Holistic Management International Certified Educators and can be reached via email at: rlcorcoran@sasktel.net

 

Round-Up 80 Ranch – Norm Ward

Management of the whole is a well-paying job for a beginning farmer.
 

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Norm Ward is a grass manager who along with his wife Donna, and son,Neil, holistically manage Round-Up 80 Ranch. Located west of Granum, Alberta in the Porcupine Hills their ranch consists of 7500 acres of predominantly native grass.  “I am really the cattle herder – moving cattle every one to three days in the growing season, setting up and taking down temporary electric fence, making sure all the water sources are ready and working, treating animals that may have health problems, and generally just enjoying the cattle, the five working dogs, and the environment.” says Norm.

The Round-Up 80 Ranch didn’t always look like it does today.   When the Ward’s purchased it in 1980 it had been continuously grazed by the previous owners and so they began with 350 cow/calf pairs which would be capacity for the ranch at the time.   Soon the Ward’s began putting up electric fencing to better make use of the grass, always taking water development into consideration.    Following a 10 year development period the ranch increased their grass and water capacity to support  550 cow/calf pairs,  it was  “sort of like increasing the ranch size by 50% by installing a little fence and developing some water” says Norm.

By 1999 the ranch switched from cow/calf to a yearling grazing operation, starting with 1200 steers, which over the next 4 years moved to 2000 head. Animal density was increased to approximately 50,000 lbs. of animal/acre/day, with the use of portable electric fence.

While these numbers may seem daunting to a new or expanding grazer, the Round-Up 80 Ranch has used management practices which can be adapted to any size operation.   “You do not have to own your own land or your own cattle to start a grazing enterprise. There is often land available in your area that for many reasons does not have the management to look after it. This is a perfect opportunity for the beginning grazer. Electric fence can easily turn your neighbor’s unused headlands or fall stubble into useable forage.”

And remember that off farm job that so many of us believe we need to survive ?  Grazing just might be the end of that idea says Norm, “Moving cattle to new pasture on a daily basis or in intensive operations, moving 4-5 times a day will often pay more than any off farm job. Do the calculation of grazing production on a per hour basis and you will be pleasantly surprised.  There are opportunities to partner with landowners, and cattle owners, (not always the same person) thus providing financial capital until you can build your own.”

“The opportunity to expand your own land operation is also unlimited.  Remember you do not have to own cattle to be in the cattle business. Flexibility in land and cattle ownership is key.” – Norm Ward.

Through his experiences with grazing Norm has developed his own portable electric fencing trailers are now commercially available and are sold under the name – Power Grazer Trailer and Power Grazer Cart.

 

Greener Pastures – Steve Kenyon

Economic sustainability for generations

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So often we feel that we can’t build profitable farms without buying land, equipment or livestock; but Steve Kenyon just might prove you wrong.

The Kenyon’s have yet to own a tractor and own only 5 head of livestock, (4 donkeys and 1 horse). “I get the animals to do the work.  They have 24 hours in a day to get my work done.  I own a bale truck, a quad and a horse.  This maintains my low overhead, fewer repairs, less depreciation and minimal opportunity costs.” says Steve.

“Other than my acreage, all of my land is leased.  In my area, the land is too high in value for agricultural purposes.”  Instead Steve makes his profit‘s from a custom grazing business in the Westlock area under the name of Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd. Currently running 1500 head of livestock on 4000 acres Greener Pastures uses a combination of grazing strategies year round.  Even in the winter a grazing mentality prevails as bale and swath grazing systems are utilized, following the belief that “to be profitable in the long term, you must use sustainable agriculture practices; you have to work with Mother Nature, not against her.”

Developing a grazing enterprise provides farms of all types and sizes the ability to make a profit by using key production principles, then adapting them to fit your environment.    While Steve puts a great emphasis on environmental sustainability, he also reminds us that whatever our plans are for the land we also need to plan for our financial sustainability.

“The biggest breakthrough my ranch ever had was in the understanding that I was not just ranching.  I was running a business.   Whatever production practices I use on my farm have to work economically and financially before they can be implemented.  What works for me, might not work for you, but the truth is in the numbers. “

 

Steve has been teaching sustainable grazing management for more than 10 years and has been a keynote speaker, writer who also offers various workshops related to profitable farm management and grazing systems. Read more about Greener Pastures

 

 

 

How to Set up a Pasture Pipeline Watering System

About Project

Pasture pipeline systems are one of the most efficient, reliable and cost effective ways to deliver water to grazing livestock.  If you have access to well water or clean surface water such as a pond or dugout, you can set up a simple system of pasture pipeline to pump water to paddocks as far away as 2 to 3 miles without a problem.  This offers several key advantages compared to other water systems, including lower maintenance and time spent filling water troughs.  Also, by having the pipeline buried in the ground you can avoid the risk and hassles of water lines getting damaged by equipment, livestock, weather and UV from the sun.

This workshop will take you through the key steps to setting up a simple pasture pipeline system, including some pretty neat “inventions” from some of the top grazers here in Alberta.

 

Materials and Tools

 

Step 1 – Calculate Water Requirements

If you’re not sure how much water your animals are going to need, this guide from Ropin the Web shows how to calculate the gallons per day your herd will need, and how to calculate the necessary flow rate for your pipeline system.

 

Step 2 – Plow Water Lines from Source to Troughs

These water plow systems can typically hold a spool of up to 1,000 ft of 1″ PVC pipe, and it’s a super fast way to get it in the ground.  How deep should you set the plow?  We’ve heard recommendations between 12″ and 18″ max.  Burying your pipe deeper makes it safer from a disc plow or other equipment that could accidentally damage the pipe in the future, but shallower depth allows the pipe to thaw faster in the spring.  For climates similar to Alberta, aim for a 12″ depth.

Rather than building your own water plow, there’s a good chance that someone in your area already has one.  For anyone in Alberta, contact Alberta Agriculture to ask about borrowing their plow at a very low cost.

 

Step 3 – Set Up Portable Water Troughs

Christoph Weder from Spirit River Ranch near Rycroft, Alberta demonstrates his innovative, home made portable trough system.  By using some old fuel tanks and other cheap building materials he was able to construct a durable water tank that can be dragged to new locations whenever necessary.

 

Further Resources

Water trough designs 

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Ropin The Web’s “Pasture Pipeline Design” guide includes some really useful information for calculating the peak water usage for yearlings and cow/calf pairs, the required water pressure for various pipe sizes and distances, and some other important design points as well.

 

 

 

How to Set up a Gravity Feed Watering System

About Project

I think every grazer would agree that the ideal watering system is the one that requires the least amount of maintenance, and has the least number of things that can fail.  We came across this innovative setup at Chistoph Weder’s Spirit River Ranch near Rycroft, Alberta.  Christoph and Erika took advantage of a centrally located dugout and a nearby hill to create an elevated reservoir that gravity feeds down to a tractor tire watering trough.

 

Materials and Tools

 

Step 1 – Set up an elevated reservoir 

If your pasture has a dugout, you can create a reservoir on top of the existing berm by setting up a large tank on a stand, or by digging a small reservoir right into the berm itself if its elevation is high enough.  If there’s no dugout you can still use a gravity feed system by building a reservoir on top of an existing hill or high point in your pasture.

 

Step 2 – Fill the reservoir

If you have a dugout close enough, use a gas powered pump to fill up your reservoir.  If you’re setting up a reservoir for a gravity system but don’t have a well or dugout for a water source, you can always bring in a water truck to fill up the reservoir a few times each year.

 

Step 3 – Syphon into the Watering Trough

To start syphoning water from the reservoir into the watering trough, use the same gas powered pump you used to fill the reservoir to push water into the pipe to get the syphon started.  Once it’s flowing you won’t need the pump and it can slowly flow from the reservoir down to the watering site.  A cheap and simple float valve shutoff system should be installed at the watering trough to automatically stop filling the trough once it’s full, and automatically start syphoning again when the water level gets low.

 

Further Resources

Christoph Weder’s Portable Water Trough System

Water trough designs 

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