TESA 2020 Recipient
B.C.'s Woodjam Ranch is the recipient of the 2020 The Environmental Stewardship Award (TESA). Woodjam Ranch is owned and operated by Ricky and Chad Seelhof along with their children Riata, Cooper and Renee.
Ricky and Chad Seelhof run a 500-head black Angus cow calf operation at Woodjam Ranch on 2120 acres of cultivated and native rangeland in association with 80,000 acres of crown grazing license area. The couple purchased the ranch in 2013 from Chad’s parents, Ellie and Louis, who had owned the property since 2003.
Environmental stewardship is something the Seelhof’s have always worked toward and getting to the point they are at now involved a lot of hard work and thinking outside the box. For instance, the ranch has 16 tributary creeks running through it, and ensuring those creeks – and the Horsefly River itself – maintain their health has involved a lot of blood, sweat and tears.
“In partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, we’ve installed eight large off-stream watering systems,” said Chad, adding over two kilometres of previously installed in-ground piping was also restored to working order. “This is a flow-through, gravity-fed system which provides safe, year-round accessible water for the cattle. The waterers control the flow with floats, and in some, there are small jets to circulate the water and prevent freezing.”
The Seelhof’s completed riverbank restoration projects, also in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans, as well as fencing projects to prevent livestock access to Horsefly River, Kroener Creek and Woodjam Creek. They have opted for permanent fencing along most of the river and stream banks, but also use electric fence to prevent wildlife entanglement and to make judicious use of some of the wider streambank areas at certain times of the year. In addition, they’ve planted willow and some berms have been erected to keep the streams in place.
It’s a lot of work to undertake, but the Seelhof’s said it’s worth it. “The world is a changing place,” noted Chad. “Back 50 years ago, nobody really worried about global warming or anything like that. But now with all the technology and all the help we can get from government or private sector, it’s really a no brainer – it’s better for the environment, it’s better for the people, it’s better for the cattle, and we sell our product to the public. If our generation doesn’t change our ways a little bit and adapt, there probably won’t be much of an industry.”
In addition to two natural ranges on which to graze the cattle, Woodjam Ranch has the additional asset of several fenced pastures they can utilize to give the grasses time to rest and restore. In addition, over 1,300 tons of hay is normally harvested annually from the ranch’s meadows, with limited additional fertilizers and irrigation practices. The well-distributed livestock watering in combination with feeding practices and rotational early season use of pastures results in vigorous pasture growth and annual litter accumulations. Litter traps snow and builds soils to further reduce the need for fertilizers and retain moisture. The productivity of the fields demonstrates the success of the livestock rotations to ensure nutrient distribution and soil moisture.
The future environmental goals of Woodjam Ranch are to continue with exclusion fencing on some range to protect Woodjam Creek. The Seelhof’s are currently developing more private land off the creek and river so they will have more grazing opportunity that will not impact the river and creeks. They are investigating soil additives for the upland areas to make them more suitable for forage as they are recently logged. They would like to plant more willow, and work on stream bank restoration to prevent flooding and stream bank loss. The Seelhof’s would like to have enough grazing to be able to increase the length of time for the rest rotation to a full year of rest and graze the following year.
“We’re just trying to keep up with nature and adapt with changes that we get,” noted Chad. “For instance, we get a lot of flooding in the spring, and we’re forever doing creek stabilization and fencing riparian areas. But we’ve been able to fence the whole valley, so now we can manage our range a bit more and keep the cattle away from the creek altogether.”
Added Ricky: “We’ve been developing pasture up high so that we can keep the cattle off the flood and riparian areas. With the modern technology and equipment we have now, we can allow for more utilization of the land.”
That better utilization of the land means a better environment for the cattle (and the wildlife), which means better profit – and a better future for the couple’s three children: daughters Riata and Renee, and son Cooper. “We involve them a lot, by talking with them about our ranch and what we’re doing and asking their opinions to get them thinking about what they could do, too,” said Ricky.
The Seelhof’s are encouraged by the public’s interest in, and response to, their efforts at environmental stewardship and raising healthy beef cattle.
“We want to help the public see that ranchers care for cattle and for their land. We as ranchers have to do those things, because if we don’t, nobody benefits,” said Ricky. “With our cattle, they’re eating the natural grass that’s here, they’re drinking fresh water. It’s a healthy environment to raise beef; the cattle are actually helping to ensure environment stewardship.”
Chad agreed. “That’s the big thing. We have species of animals here that don’t exist anywhere else in the area because of the way the cattle have shaped this country,” he noted. “We have bird species here that people want to come and hunt because they’re not around any other places. Way back when the fires used to burn everything and they weren’t put out, these species would be all over. But now with changing times, the ranches in the valley are the last spot to see the deer, moose, elk … they’re not up in the bush where it’s super wintry, they’re down in the valley where the ranch is.
“Cattle and natural wildlife can co-exist, and we’re here to help make that happen,” he added. “At the same time, we have a responsibility to make sure that we’re representing the ranching industry because we’re the ones who steward the land.”
The CCA’s national annual award, TESA has recognized the outstanding stewardship efforts of Canadian beef producers since 1996. For more information, click here.