Ready to relocate? Don’t just jump in, says livestock facility expert

A successful move means checking off a lot of boxes, but there’s lots of help available to ensure the move goes smoothly

Do your corrals flood every year because you are close to a water body? Does your manure storage area have a river running near it?

If so, the chances are you need to relocate your facilities — although you might also be eligible for funding to help you out.

But the first step is to take a look at the Relocation of Livestock Facilities Planning Guide, said Chris Ullman, a confined feeding operation specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

“It really walks you through the steps; looking at your existing site and evaluating it,” he said.

That not only means choosing a new site, but also things such as electrical hookups, a road, and new water resources.

“There’s a lot of costs to consider,” Ullman said. “Look at your old site — maybe there are things you can do to improve it there where you have some infrastructure already. You need to balance out your costs and what the value of that site is and the ability to mitigate it.”

Relocating was necessary for the Standoff Colony near Fort Macleod. Its sheep facilities, built in the early 1900s, were located close to the Waterton River.

“Through the years, there was erosion — we were in a very sensitive area when it came to spring run-off,” said Jerry Hofer, president and minister of the Standoff Hutterian Brethren.

“Any time we cleaned corrals in the winter, we had to haul (the manure) out and store it a mile away from the river. Through the years, the water erosion took more and more of our property from where it was first homesteaded.

“We wanted to start on a fresh foot, so we did.”

Once the decision to relocate is made, it’s time to start looking for a new site. Take into consideration slope, aspect, and if there are any water bodies around where a setback would be required, said Ullman.

At the Standoff Colony, the new sheep facility is located on the same quarter, but has moved from the northwest corner to the southwest corner. This allowed for the new facilities to be 250 feet farther away from the river.

“We don’t have to worry about our manure going into the river anymore,” Hofer said.

When the new site is selected, then it’s time to put together design ideas for what to build and how to build it.

“There’s a lot of resources out there,” Ullman said. “Some are free resources, and others cost money.”

The former include fact sheets from Alberta Ag and extension specialists, and Ullman also recommends talking to fellow farmers.

“Other producers can provide insight when it comes to handling systems — what are the pros and cons? Maybe they have tried out some of the newer technologies. There’s a lot of resources through other people who have tried to do things differently.”

Extension specialists can also provide a wealth of information, Ullman said.

“You can call (extension) people up like myself and we can talk to you about some of these things you need to consider. We might even come out and visit your site. We can help facilitate access to any grants that are available.”

Grant money

The Standoff Colony took advantage of Growing Forward 2 grants to assist with the relocation — however, a lot of the grant programs are running out of funding as Ottawa and the provinces plan the next edition of Growing Forward.

“There’s still funding available for things like developing a new water source,” said Ullman. “We can walk you through that a bit and tell you what is there and what isn’t there.”

Talking to your local ag fieldman can also help, too.

“If the province doesn’t have grants, sometimes your county has grants.”

Ullman suggests also speaking with someone from the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB).

“If you’re going to need a permit, these are the folks who are going to tell you, ‘OK this is the information you need to provide about your site and how you are building it so I know you are meeting the regulations.’”

Hofer agrees.

“We worked with the NRCB and built by code.”

The new facility has a natural liner — 30 feet of clay — underneath to protect from manure seepage, so they only had to landscape. Working with Alberta Ag and NRCB officials was a pleasant experience and very easy, said Hofer.

“Any time there was a step to be taken, we were really never behind in anything. They (NRCB officials) were out here a couple of times through the course of the process. We really enjoyed working with them.”

Building better

Once you have a plan and any permits you might need, it’s time to begin building.

When the Standoff Colony built its new sheep facility, colony members redesigned it for less stress on the ewes during lambing.

“Before we had three groups of 160 ewes,” said Hofer. “What we wanted to do was break that down to 60 to 70 ewes in each pen with their lambs.”

Fewer animals in the pen is good for ewes, especially those with twins.

“Less stress means more profit,” said Hofer.

The colony also incorporated feed bunks in the new facility, and can now feed total mixed rations rather than silage or straight hay. The new barn is also designed for sheep comfort.

“We moved 480 ewes in the middle of December (and) sheared them,” said Hofer. “It was -30 C when we sheared and the ewes didn’t know it was that cold.”

One thing that didn’t go as planned was water.

“We drilled three dry holes — we ended up drilling and finding water three-quarters of a mile away from where we built,” said Hofer, who strongly recommends making sure you have water before finalizing the move to a new site.

The final step is reclaiming the old one.

As soon as livestock are no longer being kept at the old site, the clock starts and the producer has one year to decommission the old site.

“We’d like to see that site cleaned up,” Ullman said. “It could pose a risk to the environment, or to livestock that could become trapped or injure themselves.”

Ullman’s final piece of advice for producers looking to relocate facilities is “keep yourself out of trouble.” Ask the regulators questions, describe your operation, and see if you need any permits before you begin construction.

About the author

Contributor

Jill Burkhardt

Jill Burkhardt, her husband, Kelly, and their two children, own and operate a mixed farm near Gwynne, Alberta. Originally hailing from Montana, she has a degree in Range Management from Montana State University. Jill’s agricultural passions are cattle and range management but she enjoys writing and learning more about all aspects of farming.

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