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Society needs to value good land stewardship

Proper land management benefits the beef producer, but also produces benefits the public needs to appreciate too

Proper land management benefits the beef producer, but also produces benefits the public needs to appreciate too

(EDITORS NOTE: This is part two of a three-part series with three Manitoba beef producers discussing what they consider important to the future viability of their ranches.)

It’s high time society prop- erly recognizes the contribu- tion made by farms like her’s, says cow-calf producer Myna Cryderman.

“I believe society either has to get used to paying more for food, closer to the cost of production, or else society has to pay for the eco- logical goods and services that we (farmers and ranchers) are providing,” says Cryderman, who runs a 100-head cow-calf operation on a section of land in the Turtle Mountains near Boissevain, Man.

Cryderman can appreciate the issue from both sides of the con- sumer-producer fence. Originally from Brandon, the first-generation farmer formerly worked in a medi- cal rehabilitation facility. But the outdoors always beckoned.

“I lived on an acreage and had horses for many years — way before I had the farm — and always enjoyed working out- doors,” she says. “I loved the work I was doing, but I didn’t like being indoors all that much and always wanted to own a farm.”

WILLING TO LEARN

After deciding that raising livestock would be her career, Cryderman took as many courses as she could, including ones on operating a low-cost cattle operation and holistic management. She also picked up tips and infermation from her neighbours and peers in the agricultural industry.

Interestingly, she found her lack of knowledge wasn’t a disadvantage because she wasn’t hampered by any pre-conceived notions.

“Having no paradigms about how things should be done was actually an advantage,” she says. “A lot of people said, ‘How would you presume to do that without a farming background?’

“But instead of doing things the way they have always been done, I would go to a course and look at different techniques and practices, and decide how I wanted to do it.”

One of the most important practices Cryderman adopted is planned rotational grazing, in which pastures are divided into paddocks and grazed in sequence. She makes a point of not overgraz- ing each paddock, ensuring ade- quate plant material is left behind to allow for faster re-growth over a rest period before the next grazing.

“Some times of the year the pastures are dormant,” says Cryderman. “I don’t think it hurts then to take it down pretty severely when they are dormant, as long as the plants have good root reserves. I don’t want the plants using up root reserves when they do begin to grow. Once the growing season ends, I don’t believe you need to leave that much grass.”

It’s a different story during the growing season.

“I like to see at least six inches left when cattle are moved and I don’t like to leave them so long (in one paddock) that they are grazing re-growth,” she says.

She says that becomes a balanc- ing act because it depends on the weather and moisture, and notes cattle prefer tender re-growth to more mature grass.

TIMING WILL VARY

The time allotted for both grazing and the rest period depends on each producer’s situation, resources and goals. Many producers are reluctant to try the system because they are afraid of not getting it right, says Cryderman, who is a graz- ing mentor with the Manitoba Forage Council and assists other producers to set up their grazing systems.

“I don’t think there’s any wrong way to do it,” she says. “Rotational grazing can increase your produc- tivity and the health of the land so much that it’s the most important element in the management of your farm.”

Cryderman’s beef herd calves in late spring, which is less stressful for her and the cows, and at the same time makes the best use of resources.

“By calving in May and June, the way nature intended, you are matching the nutritional needs (of the cows and calves) to what is being produced on the land. In my view, it is the least-cost strategy.”

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Another key to productivity is an effective watering system. The farm is situated at the head- waters of the Pembina River and is fed by year-round springs found all over the property. A shallow buried pipeline pro- vides water to pastures in the summer. The pipeline is sup- plied from a remote watering system that uses a solar panel to pump water from the creek and/ or fenced-off dugouts fed by the flowing springs. This system not only keeps cattle away from sensitive riparian areas, but also solved a predation problem on the farm.

“Before (we installed the water system) we had quite a predator problem because we calve on the pasture in May and June. The cows were going too far for water, leaving newborn calves behind, and that made the calves vulnerable,” says Cryderman, who lost nine calves in one year to coyotes.

She hasn’t lost any since the pipeline was installed 10 years ago.

MANAGING FOR WILDLIFE

Wildlife continues to be an important factor on the farm

and has prompted some man- agement changes over the years. Cryderman had to quit swath grazing because of the elk popu- lation, which has exploded in recent years. There were so many elk helping themselves to the fields and the hay, she finally had an elk fence installed around a hay yard a few years ago.

“If it wasn’t for that fence I don’t think we could have stayed in business because the elk would just stay there and eat all your hay until it was gone,” she says.

It’s not easy to make a go of it on a small cattle operation, says Cryderman, adding that’s why society needs to recognize the benefits that such farms can bring in terms of environmental stewardship.

“If we lose our cattle industry, it isn’t just the loss of beef on the plate, it’s the loss of these kind of farms that were marginal and should only be grazed in the correct way,” she says. “Society needs to start to value that kind of operation and start paying for it in ecological goods or services orpayaheckofalotmorefor food.” †

About the author

Contributor

Angela Lovell

Angela Lovell is a freelance writer based in Manitou, Manitoba. Visit her website at http://alovell.ca or follow her on Twitter @angelalovell10.

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