I was sorry to hear this week that eastern Alberta rancher James Hargrave was killed when the water truck he was driving was in collision with another vehicle and rolled into the ditch. Hargrave, a volunteer fire fighter with the Cypress County Fire Services, was helping battle a raging grass fire that had spread from eastern Alberta into western Saskatchewan.
The accident happened just south of Burstall, Sask. Hargrave, 34, leaves behind his wife Elizabeth and young family.
I certainly didn’t know Hargrave well, but by all accounts he was just a solid member of the Walsh community and Alberta ranching industry. His was the fourth generation on the family ranch north of Walsh (which is just east of Medicine Hat).
He was current chair of the Alberta Grazing Leaseholders Association and a director with the Western Stock Growers Association and was also involved with Alberta Beef Producers.
I met him about eight years ago during a visit to the ranch with another rancher Graeme Finn, of Crossfield, AB. Finn was working with Hargrave to help him improve forage stands on the large dryland ranching operation. He enjoyed showing me all the pasture improvements he had made on the ranch and talked about his plans ahead. Conservation and sustainability were a big part of his program.
Hargrave seemed to be just a great young fella. He was only 26 at the time and had just got married. He had been through a lot in his personal life already, having lost most of his immediate family to either accidents or illness. So, until he married, he was largely on his own to run this ranching operation and he seemed to have that firmly in his grasp.
His untimely death, while providing service to help his community and probably people he didn’t even know, will be greatly mourned not only by his family, but the community at large.
I have included below, a column I wrote back in August 2009 after a visit to the Hargrave ranch near Walsh. Rest in Peace James Hargrave.
Hargrave aims to drought proof 120 year old ranch
I spent part of a day recently at the Hargrave Ranch northeast of Medicine Hat, (just north of Walsh actually, on the Alberta/Saskatchewan border) and I was duly impressed with the skill and management of James Hargrave, who is the fourth generation managing the sprawling native-prairie operation that covers a couple townships.
At 26-years of age, James is the last of his family to oversea the daily management of the 50,000 acre operation that is actually two ranches assembled by his great grandfather starting in 1888 and his grandfather Bert Hargrave, who many may remember served as a member of parliament from 1972 to 1984. His mom died in 1989, his dad, Harry, was killed in a farm accident in 1996, and his sister died following a riding accident in 2007.
James and his wife Elizabeth (just married in May) live on the home place – the 25,000 acre Hargrave Ranch north of Walsh, while Archie Sabin is the long time manager of the 26,000 acre Bullspring Ranch about 35 miles north, closer to Schuler.
On the two operations they run about 1,600 head of cattle, including an 850 head cow/calf herd and another 800 head of yearlings. Surprisingly, amid the drought of 2009, which has affected so many parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan, it has been a relatively good growing season in their area.
While James says his plan is expand the herd, he first has to complete installation of an extensive pipeline water network to extend water to parts of the two ranches that have good grass but no reliable water supply for cattle.
With improved access to water, he estimates he could increase the size of the beef herd another 30 to 40 percent, although his overall objective is to develop a “drought proof” grazing system. That “drought proofing” plan is a combination of expanding the pasture water system to achieve better distribution of cattle, and at the same time maintaining an appropriate stocking rate to avoid over grazing of mostly native prairie grassland. Light grazing over the entire ranch may seem wasteful under relatively good growing conditions, but if he can maintain a healthy and vigorous native grass stand, it will remain productive even during dryer years.
They do have about 1,500 acres of domestic grasses and legumes they can cut for hay, and they like to have a good hay inventory if it is needed, but on average with open winters (Chinooks, mostly on the south ranch) the cattle can graze most of the year, except for about 35 days when they actually have to feed hay.
It was good to meet James and Archie and hear how they apply sound management principles aimed at using, but not abusing, the valuable native prairie grassland resource.
Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]