Good stewardship is also good for the bottom line, says this year’s winner of Alberta Beef Producers’ environmental stewardship award.
“Environmental benefits go hand in hand with sustainable management principles,” said Clay Chattaway of Bar S Ranch, located in the Chain Lakes area near Nanton.
“If you’re using good management practices, the environment benefits because you’re sequestering more carbon and increasing the organic content of your soil through the use of prudent, sustainable practices.”
Working on horseback along with rotational and winter grazing are mainstays at Bar S. Clay, wife Avril, and sons Scott, Chris, Morgan and their families now jointly run the operation and adhere to many of the same ranching practices employed by Chattaway’s grandfather, who founded the ranch in 1919.
Keeping costs low is always a priority, said Chattaway.
“That’s the only weapon we have in the cattle business — the only thing we can control is our costs,” he said. “You try and control your costs and increase your unit production.
“We’re not big into machinery. Although we do have tractors, we don’t want to have a lot of iron laying around.”
The ranch has a 1,000-foot variation in elevation and the Chattaways use horses to move cattle in accordance with their highly planned grazing system, which utilizes higher ground in summer and lower-elevation land in winter. They are also shareholders in the Waldron Grazing Co-operative and the Spruce Grazing Co-operative.
“We have a rough idea of what the production would be on a paddock or an acre in a normal year,” said Chattaway. “We work backwards from that with the number of cattle we have and try to organize it so that the rest periods between grazes are 70 or more days. That’s kind of a ballpark that we use.”
The ranch has between 35 to 40 springs, many of which have been put into gravity-flow, year-round water troughs to produce better water. Dams and dugouts aid in dispersing the grazing.
Scott and Morgan are the day-to-day managers of the ranch, with big decisions managed by committee.
“No one in particular makes all the major decisions,” said Chattaway. “It’s a collaborative effort between my sons and I, but they’re more on the front lines now than I am. And of course, we’ve all got pretty good women.”
The Environmental Stewardship award nominees are nominated by their peers. Three ranches were nominated for the 2015 awards, with the Chattaways chosen by members of an Alberta Beef Producers’ committee who interview and visit the nominees.