Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) presented Bar S Ranch and the Chattaway family with the 2015 Environmental Stewardship Award (ESA) at the Annual General Meeting in December. Each year, ABP recognizes an operation that demonstrates leadership in environmental stewardship – one that contributes to the land while maintaining productivity and profitability.
Clay Chattaway, along with his sons Morgan and Scott, run the ranch located west of Nanton in the Porcupine Hills at the headwaters of Mosquito Creek.The Bar S Ranch is a fourth generation cow/calf yearling operation totalling in roughly 20,000 acres including deeded and lease land with shares in the Waldron Grazing Co-op.
“My grandfather came in 1900 and ranched about five miles north and in 1919 he bought a good part of what’s known as the Bar S today. The best part about ranching is the family aspect and watching subsequent generations come in. The whole family is part of the management team,” said Clay, speaking to the multi-generational heritage.
Rotational grazing plays a large role in the grazing systems implemented at the ranch and cattle are typically moved every three to four days. Providing weather permits cattle can graze year round with only a couple weeks of feeding before calving time. Around 15 years ago they started to move their calving date and today they calve in May. Most late spring snowstorms are over by then and the ranch has plenty of green grass to match the cow’s high requirements, decreasing the amount of feed used.
“Preferably when we move cows it’s with a horse. It’s quieter and in the end always easier... they’re relaxed, you’re relaxed and a more relaxed animal makes everybody more money,” said Morgan. “Sustainability to us is being able to carry on what we’ve always done and being able to add more.”
There is a 1000 ft. variation in elevation across the ranch with higher ground utilized throughout the warmer months and lower ground during the winter. The cow/calf operation is managed to use their natural resources efficiently and effectively while improving upon the land. An Environmental Farm Plan has been completed and the ranch is a Verified Beef Cattle Operation through Canada’s Beef On-Farm Food Safety Program.
“Our stewardship goals are just managing the grass in a way that our cattle improve, in a way that the grass improves and in a way that our streams stay healthy. It’s really not new things, but things that my dad and grandpa have been doing for generations,” said Morgan, and Clay added, “to leave the land in better shape than we received it and we received it in pretty good shape.”
The use of machinery is kept to a minimum and reusing resources where applicable is regular practice. New barns have been built with wood from torn down barns and old power polls, and the water troughs are recycled mining truck tires.
Springs have been developed across the ranch that run year round to ensure cattle always have easy access to clean water using gravity fed watering systems. There is no need for electricity and because the water is constantly running it doesn’t freeze up through the winter.
“I would say it’s the best drinking water you could ever find,” said Morgan of the springs available to the cattle.
Electric fencing has tripled the number of fields on the ranch. With an average of five herds, each herd has 15 or more different paddocks that they are grazed in. This allows ample time for vegetation to recover and in some cases it allows for grazing the paddock multiple times. Each paddock is managed to leave plenty of cover and more than enough forage for wildlife. Through the hills the wildlife is abundant with elk, deer, and moose which also brings a healthy population of predators. Cougars, wolves, black bears and now grizzly bears can also be found on the ranch.
“We’re pretty humble. Winning the stewardship award feels good and it’s nice to be recognized by your peers. The best part about living here and working here is you get to spend time with your family, you get to be outdoors, and you get to work with cattle and with wildlife,” said Morgan.