What's happening on PRIVATE land? (OR: What about the COWS?!)
The OWC, in collaboration with its stakeholders, set itself 8 Goals. One of our main focuses now is therefore 'Protecting Headwaters Integrity'. With a hefty grant from the provincial govenment to focus on motorized recreation, you have probably seen and heard a lot about OHVs (Off-Highway Vehicles). No sooner is the "Wheels Out Of Water" message getting through, than cries of "What About The Cows?!" arise. This is a blog about the cows and our Watershed Legacy Program. A little quieter than our Engaging Recreationists programperhaps, but, like rural folk tend to do, we're just steadily getting on with the work of protecting the land.
With so much information at our fingertips, we’re constantly surrounded by opportunities for improvement. The agricultural industry in southern Alberta is no different. Julia Palmer is embracing these opportunities on her family ranch, which straddles the Waterton River.
Wholistic planned grazing is a set of principles that have taken the ranching community by storm around the world. To perhaps oversimplify the concepts, ranchers use a planned grazing system to move higher densities of animals through pastures in shorter durations, thus able to maximize the amount of time a pasture rested from grazing – rest being the key component to regeneration. Because of the higher density of animals within a pasture, the cattle don’t have the option of being picky, and more undesirable species are grazed. The aim is to improve soil health, and in turn, vegetation health and water quality.
With the funding they received from OWC’s Watershed Legacy Program this year, the Palmers are putting an impressive rotational grazing regimen into practice with the use of a single strand electric wire fence, set at three feet high. The first phase of their project, located in the forested riparian corridor of the Waterton river valley, was completed this spring, and has been put to test by the teamwork of Julia, and their ranch manager, Uriel Delgado. Uriel is an impressive vaquero from the Chihuahua region of Mexico, and has been with the Palmers for 5 years. He studied Animal Science at the University of Chihuahua and lives on the ranch with his wife and three boys. It’s easy to see he is a skillful grazier and together, he and Julia manage the grazing rotations of the cattle in a very methodical, calculated fashion. The first trial run with the fences produced great results. They were able to move the cattle in, give the grass a nice clipping, and move them along, all the while allowing the riparian area to regenerate from last year's grazing season.
The Palmers will complete 5.7 km of riparian fencing this year and when everything is all said and done over the next couple years, the Watershed Legacy Program will have helped them install enough fencing to protect and enhance over twenty kilometres of the Waterton river and surrounding drainage.
The nature of the single strand electric fence allows for easy control of where the cattle are grazing, and the added benefit of allowing the wild critters to pass easily over or under the wire. On the Palmer ranch, the riparian habitat has recovered from a hard grazing last year and is in excellent condition (according to this amateur riparian specialist).
They are conscious of the fragility of their riparian areas and forage resources, which provides prime habitat for many species of wildlife, including black and grizzly bear. It’s an almost idyllic balance of living with nature and making a living off the land. The fence is used to control livestock access to two watercourses: the Waterton river itself, and what Julia called, Palmer Spring Creek. Not a very original name, I must admit, but this creek is clearly a precious resource to the ranch.
It’s source is a spring that produces 3000 gallons per minute of crystal clear, freezing water that feeds a series of stunning wetlands and beaver ponds before it makes it’s way towards it’s confluence with the Waterton river.
This upper section of the wetland complex has not been grazed in thirty years, kept in pristine condition as this is the water source for the entire ranch yard. You might say they have a vested interest in making friends with the local beavers.
These progressive practices are becoming more commonplace as information is shared and spreads across communities. The future of agriculture lies in the hands of people like Julia and Uriel, who are willing to explore and experiment with new ideas that can have important impacts on the landscape.
The Palmer Ranch has expressed a great deal of gratitude towards the Watershed Legacy Program for helping them with this endeavor, and OWC is proud to support a project that has already shown benefits to water quality and soil health and will continue to do so for many years.
For more information about what the Watershed Legacy Program is doing on the ground, and if you would like to partner with us on projects that make a difference, please contact Cody Spencer: firstname.lastname@example.org or 403-360-4572. We are always looking for sponsors and this program, which directly supports land stewards, is a great way to make a lasting difference right on the ground.