Site Background

About the Location

Mattheis Research Ranch is a 12,300-acre ranch located 25 kilometres north of Duchess, Alberta, at the junction of Hwy 36 and Hwy 556. Located within the Dry Mixedgrass Natural subregion of Alberta, the Mattheis Research Ranch is part of a large contiguous tract of rangeland with diverse topography, vegetation and wildlife.

The ranch is adjacent to the Red Deer River in the north and encompasses a creek, wetlands, vegetated sand hills and shrublands. It is made up of 10,000 native prairie Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) wetlands, 420 acres that are pivot irrigated, 200 acres of annual forage, riparian areas, 10 miles of shallow pipeline for water sources, 70 research sites used for comparison and numerous oil and gas wells.

About the Farm

Donated to the University of Alberta in 2010 by Edwin and Ruth Mattheis, the Mattheis Research Ranch is managed as a custom grazing operation. It is currently in its first generation at the university. Since the university acquired it in 2011, the ranch has been rotationally stocked with approximately 800 beef cattle for an average of six months each year, beginning in early May.

The university is conducting extensive grazing of the land base and monitoring livestock production at a research level. 

The Rotational Grazing Objective

The objective of the project is to move from a 20-day rotation to a five-day rotation.

Agronomic Details

The Mattheis Research Ranch covers approximately 5,000 hectares (ha), about 4,000 ha of which is native grassland, including loamy mixedgrass and sandgrass-dominated prairie, river coulee breaks and riparian areas.

Dominant grass species include needle-and-thread (Hesperostipa comata), Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha), blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) and sand grass (Calamovilfa longifolia). The plant community also includes several forbs, such as pasture sage (Artemisia frigida) and scarlet mallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea) and shrubs, including prickly rose (Rosa acicularis), western snowberry (Symphoricarpos occidentalis) and thorny buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea).

Irrigation-fed wetlands cover approximately 400 ha of the ranch. The water that circulates through these wetlands, most of which DUC created in 1952, is delivered to 250 ha of cultivated land that is used to grow winter cattle feed, spring grazing pasture and annual crops.

Irrigation water augments several of the property’s natural wetlands.

Other anthropogenic features on the ranch include high-voltage transmission lines, two provincial highways and an extensive network of oil and gas infrastructure.

Fencing and water installation will be completed in August and September, 2023, along with shallow-buried pipeline.

What Happened

What Happened this Year at the Mattheis Demonstration Site

The Mattheis Ranch in southern Alberta provides grazing to three different groups of cattle during the grazing season. This year, these herds were made up of 450 yearlings, 250 cow calf pairs and a second group of 300 cow-calf pairs that rotate across the 12,300 acres of native and irrigated perennial and cover crops. Most years, the cattle have been able to remain on pasture for 365 days of the year. In some years, snow cover has required some additional on-pasture feeding. The implementation of the infrastructure will allow to increase the number of rotations on smaller pastures and to increase the number of days of rest. 

Plowing in the water line occurred late August across three miles of pastureland. One of the biggest holdups with the infrastructure implementation this year was the need to acquire crossing agreements with the pipeline companies whose lines cross the property. There were 17 needed including the Trans Canada pipeline. Installing the pasture pipeline requires a specialized plow and a 100-horsepower tractor with two hydraulic outlets. Joints are connected with fusion technology as high or medium density pipe is not conducive to standard waterline fittings. The installation of the two-inch polyline is non intrusive and buried at 12 inches across the field. The system is pressurized with a three-horsepower pump to move the water three miles away up to the 1,200-gallon water tank that feeds four pastures. The only preparation required was to mow the pasture along pipeline location prior to installation to prevent issues with the plow when burying the line. 

A Razer Grazer™ (portable fencing) was used to divide pastures into smaller paddocks to increase the number of grazing days for the season. The pie-shaped pastures under irrigation were able to sustain three grazing periods of five days each this season and if the warm weather persists there may be some pastures that will be grazed one more time. Irrigation of these pastures helped tremendously this year as there was a significant decrease of rainfall in southern Alberta. 

Additional changes were made on site as well through the seeding of a cocktail crop used for grazing that included sunflowers, oats, barley, peas, sorghum, turnips and radishes. Another paddock was seeded to a two-way mix of oats and ryegrass also under irrigation and was grazed over the summer months by the yearling cattle.

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.