By Tim Kalinowski
Milk River area ranch Deer Creek Livestock was recently awarded the Alberta Beef Producers’ 2020 Environmental Stewardship Award. It’s a proud moment for his company, says shareholder Gateway Livestock’s Jeff Smith, one of four corporate partners who oversee cattle production on the ranch: The other partners are James Bekkering, Richard Visser and the Turner family.
“It does give a little recognition of what we have been doing,” Smith told Ag-Matters in a mid-January interview. “It’s nice being recognized by other partners in the industry of what we do believe is right and good for the environment.”
The ranch is located right next door to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park east of the Town of Milk River, and features vast expanses of pristine prairie grassland.
What Smith’s shareholder group has focused on doing since taking over the nearly100-year-old Gilchrist ranch in 2011 is building a stewardship model based on preserving and enhancing what was already there to begin with.
“There is times where it is challenging to figure out our (common) stewardship goals,” Smith admits, “but how we set up the operation is we each have our own areas of responsibility, and we each focus on that. We do have annual meetings and quarterly meetings where we discuss what each area of the ranch is working toward or on. And we help and support our manager to achieve those plans and goals, and work toward them.”
The corporation has also sought out, and paid for, outside, expert advice on how to best move those stewardship goals forward.
“We have worked with companies like MULTISAR that give us some backing and further knowledge to help make some of those things happen both financially and to capture the benefits they have seen from other operations,” he says.“We have found their have been benefits through the MULTISAR program on the land as well as through the operational benefits we have seen. There hasn’t been any downside, we have noticed to date, by doing things in an environmental way.”
Some of the initiatives the ranch has introduced are offsite watering to protect riparian areas, the use of solar-powered electric-fencing to move cattle through the landscape and intensively graze only specific paddocks at a time, the creation of hawk poles to provide avian nesting sites, and a yearly commitment to transforming a set amount of kilometres of fencing to make it wildlife-friendly by using smooth wires on the bottom.
“If you had unlimited funds, you could do a lot more a lot quicker,” says Smith, “but we got a budget where we put certain amounts of dollars in to make improvements each year.”
Smith says they currently run about one animal for every 35 acres of grass on the ranch.
“This ranch has been in operation for about 100 years, and I would sure like to see this ranch still operating in 100 years,” he states. “They are not making more land so what land we have we have to utilize it and manage the resources we have for longevity.”
Smith doesn’t see that happening without a viable beef industry to help support and sustain Deer Creek Livestock’s natural environment, despite some of the hue and cry out there in some circles about social licence and cattle operations’ greenhouse gas emissions. He has faith the industry will grow even more sustainable in the years ahead.
“The livestock operations today have changed the genetics of some of these cattle to provide a healthy animal so the source of the beef we are providing is top quality,” he states. “The quality of the animals we produce today is far better than when we started making improvements 30, 40 or 50 years ago. The improvements have been huge.”