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Saskatchewan rancher lands on his feet in B.C.

Again I have demonstrated I will go to any lengths to get the facts of a story. Last fall took me to a small lake in the B.C. interior on a journey to find out what happens to Saskatchewan ranchers when they move away from the Prairies.

It was on the dock at Batstone Lake that I met former Saskatchewan rancher Jim O’Connor who left the homestead near Sceptre, Sask. 30 years ago to see what ranching was like in B.C. He and his wife Heather established the 7 1/2 Diamond Ranch, about half-way between Princeton and Merritt.

The O’Connors ran about 1,000 head of yearlings on the bunchgrass Crown range of the Thompson-Nicola region for many years. Word is a highway construction project cut through the area a few years ago, requiring Jim to sell some of his property and leading him to downsize the ranching operation.

Today, they still run about 200 head of yearlings, but have turned the remaining ranch property into a guest ranch, complete with guest cabins and a private lake with some pretty good fishing for rainbow trout. You can learn more about it at guestranchbc.com.

I landed there with some fishing partners on a trip organized by Kelowna fishing guide Rod Henning. Henning takes fishermen on a wide range of fishing experiences throughout the Okanagan and we were on the mountain lake fly fishing excursion — more details at kelownafishing.com. Henning, who has an arrangement with O’Connor brings fishing parties to the calm and productive waters of Batstone Lake.

Batstone isn’t a big lake, but with stocked Okanagan rainbow trout it provides many visitors with a successful day of fishing.

Batstone isn’t a big lake, but with stocked Okanagan rainbow trout it provides many visitors with a successful day of fishing.
photo: Supplied

Batstone is a tea-colored, creek fed lake, only about 10 to 12 acres in area, with a maximum depth of 33 feet, but with plenty of freshwater shrimp to support a healthy and growing population of Kamloops rainbow trout. It is all catch and release, so you put everything back, but it is still fun to be out there on a beautiful fall morning, drifting along in the peace and calm waiting for the inevitable strike.

We all had success in landing a few fish, and then if was off to the ranch saloon for a great catered Greek lunch. But there was no rest for the wicked as later it was off to learn what Okanagan Valley farmers could possibly do with 10,000 acres of grapes, but more on that story another day.

If you’re looking for a little get-away that’s not far from home check out the details on either the websites above. And if you make it to the 7 1/2 Diamond Ranch you can catch a few fish, and discover that when you are ready there is life after cattle.

Have you tried Kura clover?

A reminder that there is a wide range and increasing amount of useful information at ForageBeef.ca. For example, here is an excerpt from a recently posted report on worked completed a few years ago by University of Saskatchewan researchers Bruce Coulman and Jim Romo on the potential of kura clover for rejuvenating a pasture. You can go to the foragebeef website for more details.

“Kura clover (Trifolium ambiguum) is a persistent legume which is able to spread under heavy grazing because of its rhizomatous growth habit. It is considered to be more drought tolerant than other pasture legumes such as birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus L.) and white clover (Trifolium repens L.). Numerous studies in the northern United States and Eastern Canada have demonstrated the excellent persistence and high nutritive value of kura clover. Despite these advantages, kura clover has not been widely utilized due to the difficulty of establishing this species and the high cost of seed. Prior to the present study, kura clover had not been evaluated in the semi-arid climate of Saskatchewan.

“The overall objective of this study was to evaluate the adaptation, yield and nutritive value of kura clover in mixtures with spring or fall planted perennial grasses at two locations in Saskatchewan.

“The study was conducted at Saskatoon under rainfed conditions and at Outlook under irrigation. Two commercially available kura clover cultivars, Rhizo and Endura, were seeded in pure stands and mixtures with smooth (Bromus inermis Leyss.), hybrid and meadow brome (Bromus riparius Rehm.), and diploid and tetraploid crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum L.).

“The grass and clover mixed stands were either seeded together in the spring, or the grass was fall dormant seeded into spring seeded kura clover. “Establishment of kura clover was generally good in all treatments at Saskatoon, with the few gaps in the plots filled in by the spreading rhizomes by 2005. At Outlook, establishment of kura clover was poorer; however, by 2005, the kura clover plants had filled in many of the gaps in the plots by spreading rhizomes.

“Pure-stand dry matter yields of kura clover ranged from 4.5 to 6.7 t/ha, with no differences in yield between the two cultivars. In alfalfa trials of the same age at these sites, mean yields were 6.5 to 10.1 t/ha at Saskatoon, and 11.1 to 14.4 t/ha at Outlook. Thus, the yield potential of kura clover is considerably lower than that of alfalfa.

“Crude protein concentrations of pure stands of kura clover were highly variable, ranging from 10.9 to 21.2 per cent, even though all were all samples were similar in maturity. NDF concentrations were also variable, ranging from 20.9 to 37.9 at cut 1 and 22.5 to 33.6 at cut 2. ADF ranged from 15.8 to 20.5 at cut 1 and 17.3 to 23.5 at cut 2; these are very low values relative to other legumes.

“Pastures or crop rotations would benefit from the traits reported for Kura clover. The long-lived legume persists under grazing while other legumes do not. Because of its rhizomatous growth habit, Kura clover is able to spread after planting and under heavy grazing pressure. Nutritional value of this plant is excellent and often higher than other legumes. Kura clover may also be more tolerant of drought than white clover or birdsfoot trefoil…”

The researchers noted the crop does have some limitations, but for adventurous pasture managers out there, it may be worth a look.

Hay quality and price in Manitoba

John McGregor, an extension support specialist with the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association, presented a report in late December on the quality and price of hay in Manitoba after a challenging year for hay production.

“With parts of the province having experienced excess moisture and flooding, the Manitoba government announced a feed purchase and transportation assistance program,” says McGregor. For more information on these programs, read about the 2014 Canada-Manitoba Forage Shortfall and Transportation Assistance Initiative.

Hay quality

“Landmark Feeds and Central Testing Labs were kind enough to provide me with some summary information on forage tests this year. Looking at some of the data one can see the difficulty that producers had in taking a first cut of hay, average first-cut alfalfa hay had a relative feed value (RFV) of 116 compared to silage and baleage which averaged 146. Second- and third-cuts were 146 and 160. Baleage and silage were 10 points higher which is what you would expect to gain with a shorter curing period.

“Alfalfa/grass first-cut averaged 98 RFV with second- and third-cut RFVs similar to alfalfa. Not unexpected as these cuts normally contain a high percentage of alfalfa. Grass hay had RFVs of 91 for first cut and 114 for second cut.

Looking at feed test results and averages, in general feed quality isn’t that bad.

Unfortunately the numbers are averages and therefore for every good sample there is an opposing poorer sample. When purchasing hay this year buyers need to be aware of this possibility and have their feed tested to ensure that their livestock are receiving adequate levels of nutrition to meet their needs.

Hay prices

“Looking at forage prices (in December) there does seem to be a little change to hay prices.

“This may in part be due to seasonal change or it may be due to other factors.

“The western portion has alfalfa in the seven to nine cents/lb. range; alfalfa/grass is in the five to 5.5 cents/lb. range and beef hay (grass) has moved up and is priced at 3.5 to five cents/lb. depending on quality. Native hay is priced at 2.5 to three cents/lb. Good demand for hay by producers holding back calves for expansion is keeping prices steady.

“Prices seem unchanged in the Interlake region with alfalfa in the eight to 12 cents/lb. range; alfalfa/grass ranging from 3.5 to 5.5 cents/lb. and grass hay at 2.5 to five cents/lb. Mostly producers are procuring grain type products such as grain corn, cracked corn, pellets to stretch out feed supplies. There are some listings for hay but prices are not listed.

“The eastern area continues to report a hay surplus. Dairy hay is at eight cents/lb. and higher, alfalfa/grass hay on Kijiji is advertised at 3.5 to 4.5 cents/lb. and beef grass/hay has moved up and is now listed at 3.5 to 5.5 cents.

“The Central portion has dairy quality hay on Kijiji advertised at seven cents/lb., up from last month’s 5-6 cents. Other sources have alfalfa/hay at five cents/lb. and beef hay at three to four cents/lb.”

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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