Manure management and watershed protection are the main challenges facing the agriculture industry, says a fourth-generation rancher who recently won an environmental stewardship award for his family’s protection of an important riverway.
“The thing of this millennium will be the issue of a fresh water supply and its quality,” said Alvin Kumlin of the Lazy J Ranch, a tidy outfit tucked in a coulee along the Jumping Pound Creek west of Calgary.
The Lazy J has been in Alvin’s family since 1885, when his great-grandfather John Copithorne homesteaded along the prairie creek.
“I’m pleased with this award. It gives us the opportunity to talk about water protection and what we’re doing about it,” said Kumlin, who along with his wife, Ann, and children, Robyn and Matthew, received the Alberta Cattle Commission’s 2001 environmental stewardship award.
The Jumping Pound Creek, which flows into the Bow River, runs through the Lazy J with 60 per cent of the creek’s rainbow trout spawning within the ranch property, said Kumlin. A buffalo jump, which gave the creek its name, also exists on the 6,000-acre ranch.
A water-quality analysis and fish count conducted in the early ’90s by the University of Calgary and Trout Unlimited indicated the creek is one of the cleanest in the province and boasts the second highest number of rainbow trout (the Kananaskis River has the highest), Kumlin said.
“That’s when we realized how significant the river was,” he added.
In spring and summer, the Jumping Pound’s banks are healthy, lush with grasses and barren of hoofprints.
The Kumlins run 400 cows plus yearlings, but none are fed on or near the Jumping Pound Creek. Access to its banks is also restricted, especially in spring when new-growth grasses are sensitive to over-grazing.
The Kumlins set up mechanical waterers and built dugouts, using electric fencing to keep the cattle away from the river.
In winter, the cattle are fed on stubble fields and from portable feeders. Moving the animals around prevents manure build-up and come spring, the manure is cultivated into the fields as fertilizer.
To keep the beaver from killing mature trees which help stabilize the creek bank, the Kumlins and Trout Unlimited wrapped the trunks with wire.
Having graduated from the University of Alberta in 1970 with a degree in agriculture and range management, Kumlin realized the importance of maintaining healthy riparian habitats, considered to be the most vulnerable areas in the agriculture sector.
He also participated in the Cows and Fish program, an Alberta riparian habitat-management initiative established in 1992 to help ranchers better understand how grazing improvements along waterways can increase productivity, while also protecting the environment. The program is a partnership between the agriculture, environment and fisheries sectors.
“Watershed protection doesn’t just happen along the river. Grasslands are a natural filtration, so a healthy grassland means a healthy watershed,” Kumlin said.
Keeping cows away from waterways isn’t just good stewardship; it’s also good business, he said.
“In spring, you’d always lose one or two calves into the river. The cows would have them close to the river and some would get swept away.”
Cows also prefer solid footing. “They’re like people. They like to be comfortable, so they would prefer to go to a waterer instead of having to get down to the creek.”
The environmental stewardship award is timely, said Kumlin, noting that conservation-conscious producers need recognition at a time when many are suspect for contributing to water contamination.
Throughout the year, the Kumlins host international livestock producers from as far away as Japan and Argentina, demonstrating how to run a successful cattle operation while protecting the environment.
The tainted-water tragedy at Walkerton, Ont., was a “red flag,” said Ann Kumlin. “Those of us living near major cities are always having to defend ourselves, but for others in more remote areas, Walkerton may have been a wake-up call,” she said.
The source of E.Coli 0157:H7 in Walkerton’s domestic water, which killed at least six people and sickened hundreds of others, has been linked to cattle manure on farms near Walkerton’s water wells.
“As we’re hearing now, a lot of things went wrong in terms of the equipment and processing (of Walkerton’s water),” said Alvin. “But I think it may have been a positive thing, indirectly, because the (agriculture) industry is now aware of it and they’re not taking any chances.”
Alvin takes pride in knowing his children — the fifth generation to live on the Lazy J — share his concern for the environment and can see the positive rewards in productivity.
With the sprawling town of Cochrane barely out of sight, he knows the Lazy J has a future as hopeful as that first envisioned by its homesteaders.
Alvin’s great-grandfather first set eyes on the Jumping Pound while using a mule team to haul supplies to the Stoney Indians to the west. “He would cross the Jumping Pound right here,” Alvin said, the frozen creek wending its way not far from his kitchen window.
Alvin believes the Jumping Pound is in good hands, as most area ranchers share his family’s environmental concerns.
“We have to take care of what we have,” said Ann. “If we don’t look after our water, grasses and trees . . . if we destroy it, we will have nothing. Our business will be gone.
“We’ve never claimed to be environmentalists,” she added. “It’s just our way of life. It’s just a natural thing. It comes out of necessity.”