About the Location
Hadwin Cattle Co. is located in Special Area 4, southeast of the town of Consort, in the Northern Fescue Natural Subregion of Alberta. The demonstration site consist of one 400-acre pasture located on SE 33-34-5 W4, NE 33-34-5 W4, N ½ NE 28-34-5 W4.
The dominant native vegetation is plains rough fescue grass. The farm is on an Orthic Dark Brown Chernozemic soil with medium textured, clay loam and loam soil. The landscape has floodplain landforms with slopes ranging from one to five per cent, up to 35 per cent slope on the steeper hills (Alberta Soil Information Viewer).
About the Farm
Owned by Erica and Rick Hadwin, Hadwin Cattle Co. is a third generation, 114-year-old farm. The farm has 300 head of cattle.
Rotational grazing is important to the Hadwins for pasture management because they are living in a drought-prone area. Using a rotational grazing system is a way to improve the resiliency of their pastures by conserving or budgeting the grass and having dependable forage growth during drier, tougher years. The rotational grazing system is a management tool to continue grazing in semi-arid conditions during a drought and to prepare the forage and soil for an easier rebound when moisture levels resume to normal.
The Hadwins are choosing to implement a rotational grazing system because it is a better management approach than continuous grazing. The farm has done rotational grazing on a large scale by rotating cattle through the large-sized pastures each grazing season and leaving litter, grass carryover in each pasture. The rotational grazing system the Hadwins are focused on right now is more intensive than what they’ve done in the past.
Learning about Rotational Grazing
Erica and Rick learned about rotational grazing systems from newspaper and magazine articles, peer-to-peer learning with other producers in their area and attending workshops and seminars to increase their knowledge of pasture management and CARA Grazing Clubs. They both graduated from Olds College with Livestock Management diplomas and have been doing a type of rotational grazing on their farm for the last 20 years by moving cattle often and intentionally through large paddocks leaving a grass litter carryover after each grazing season.
They now want to increase their management strategies for a more intensive rotational grazing system including creating smaller paddocks within a pasture to rotate cattle through for better distribution, better forage utilization, and improve the health of their soil and grass to be more resilient in extreme weather conditions like drought.
The Rotational Grazing Objective
The objective of implementing a rotational grazing system is to conserve grass and water in their dryland grazing operation. Conserving grass means reducing overgrazing, decreasing selective grazing by improving the livestock distribution, decreasing anthropologic effects of erosion and increasing forage productivity.
Water conservation through rotational grazing system is an important objective for the Hadwins. Planting native riparian trees and shrubs on the Monitor Creek channel that goes through their pasture will help the bank structure and stability, increase the water-holding capacity of the creek over time and improve the ecological functions of a healthy riparian area, enhanced by not letting cattle graze there during sensitive times. Improving the health of the soil through a planned rotational grazing system should increase the organic matter content and the amount of water-holding capacity in the soil for forage growth, less evapotranspiration and better infiltration rates during a rainfall event.
The rotational grazing system the Hadwins plan to use includes the use of an off-site watering system which will protect their water sources, like dugouts and streams, from animal impact. This will improve the water-holding capacity of those developments.
Erica and Rick Hadwin of Hadwin Cattle Co.
Seeding did not occur on the demonstration site this year. The tame forage part of the field was seeded 20 years ago.
RangeWard delivered the electric cross-fencing for this project to the farm on Nov. 17, 2022. It will be utilized as cross-fencing and exclusion-fencing around the riparian area at the site for a rotational grazing system when cattle are moved to the pasture later this summer.
The Hadwins are going to use their own portable offsite watering system during active grazing at this site. It will be moved to the site the same time the cattle are in late summer.
Some of the main reasons for this specific project are managing the riparian area better, reducing continuous grazing that was typically used here in the past and using an exclusion-fence to promote growth of the new trees.
Short Term Goals
Short-term goals include managing the lack of moisture and growth by planning the grazing system to improve the distribution of cattle and improve utilization of forage in 2023-2024. The Hadwins want to make the most of what forage is there now and, by using a higher stocking density in smaller paddocks, they should improve utilization as livestock won’t be able to overgraze on the desirable species and under-graze the undesirable species.
This is an improvement over having the same number of cattle in a 400-acre field with no control of what and where they are grazing. This can lead to overgrazing and increased species spreading across the pasture.
Long Term Goal
The long-term goals of this project are riparian-area development, minimizing erosion and increasing water conservation by restoring the natural functions of a riparian area by preventing grazing or animal impact in this area using an electric fence.
If the planted trees have an opportunity to grow without being damaged or eaten by livestock, it will create a healthy riparian area that will improve water quality and quantity of Monitor Creek. The creek banks will be stable to prevent erosion and hold more water. As the riparian trees grow and establish, another layer of small woody shrubs and riparian grass and forb species should develop creating a healthy riparian area capable of delivering ecological goods and services to the producers, their livestock, and the wildlife.
The previous grazing rotation was a continuous grazing system and they will now implement a high-intensity, low-frequency grazing system. This means there will be a high-stocking rate in each paddock for a short amount of time so the animals cannot graze on what’s already re-growing in that paddock or they can’t eat the forage down to the soil surface. This pasture will only be grazed once in each growing season. The management will also include deferred grazing to prevent grazing sensitive species at the incorrect time and to improve forage utilization depending on native or tame production.
Hadwin Cattle Co. is 400 acres consisting of 164 acres of tame forage and 236 acres of native forage.
There is permanent barbed wire around the perimeter of the pasture. The internal cross-fencing will be electric fence powered by a portable RangeWard Power Grazer unit.
Cattle will use an offsite watering system used off of the Monitor Creek as a water source.
The start date for this project is August 2023. Cattle have not been moved to this pasture yet and times are tentatively set for Aug. 7 to 21 right now.
Project length is expected to be two weeks of grazing in 2023. Pasture rest time is expected to be 50 weeks in 2023. The project will be carried in future years and possibly other locations on the farm.
Funding for this project [in part] has been provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the Agricultural Climate Solutions – On-Farm Climate Action Fund.