Howard and Ron Davis of Cowley, Alberta are the 1999 winners of the Alberta Cattle Commission (ACC) Environmental Stewardship Award (ESA). The father and son team was selected for their excellent stewardship of the native range and forested areas on the ranch. By using a rotational grazing system, moderate stocking rates and multiple watering sites, Howard and Ron are able to spread grazing pressure across the ranch. These practices ensure a healthy plant cover capable of sustaining the operation for generations to come.
Snake Trail Herefords is a cow/calf and backgrounding operation established in 1960 on the southern edge of the Porcupine Hills, 13 miles northeast of Cowley. Snake Trail Herefords was expanded in 1972 when another ranch was purchased 38 miles north on highway #22 on the east slopes of the Livingston range. The north and south ranches together cover over 8,000 acres, consisting of 2,700 acres deeded, 2,000 acres provincial lease and a 3,500-acre forestry grazing allotment.
Their goals for the ranch are to preserve and improve the land for future generations. To achieve this, the Davis’ use a rotational grazing system and other tools such as electric fencing and salt to manage grazing pressure and maintain a healthy plant cover. The natural grasslands have been maintained and some cultivated land has been seeded back to grass.
The inherent differences in climate and moisture levels between the north and south ranches are used to the benefit of both cattle and the environment. The majority of their 300 cows are wintered at the south ranch on the open south and west slopes blown clear by Chinook winds. Then in the summer when those same winds dry out the range, the cows are taken to the north ranch where there are more showers and the summer grass is good. They also run 200 home-raised yearlings to take advantage of the high country vegetation.
The picturesque ranch has a lot of pressure from hunters and recreationalists, but rather than fight it, Howard says, “Good recreational people are one of the best assets we have - they are aware of problems that they may see when out walking and they work with us!” They do regulate the number of users on their private land with priority given to previous positive contacts.
Water management is quite different between the north and south ranches. The south ranch averages 15 inches of precipitation per year and has no surface water. All water is obtained from springs, wells and dugouts. Howard was one of the first in his area to use solar powered pumps. The north ranch averages 18-20 inches per year with a lot of springs and creeks. The Davis’ use techniques from the Cows and Fish program to manage their riparian areas.
One of Howard’s most important concerns is weed control. He is known locally as “Weedy Davis” because of his relentless fight against weed encroachment. Howard has been involved in numerous weed control initiatives and was instrumental in the development of many municipal weed control programs.
Howard has been extremely active in community and environmental leadership including eight years on the improvement district council, the MD of Pincher Creek Council and agricultural service board for nine years and six years as an ACC delegate. Howard most recently won the Pincher Creek Chamber of Economic Development environmental stewardship award.
Ron, Donna and family are recent winners of a Calgary Exhibition and Stampede farm family award. Ron is currently participating in acid-tolerant legume field trials with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.