I spent part of a day recently at the Hargrave Ranch
northeast of Medicine Hat, (just
north of Walsh actually, on the Alberta/Saskatchewan border) and I was duly
impressed with the skill and management of James Hargraves, who is the fourth
generation managing the sprawling native-prairie operation that covers a couple
At 26-years of age, James is the last of his family to
oversea the daily management of the 50,000 acre operation that is actually two
ranches assembled by his great grandfather starting in 1888 and his grandfather
Bert Hargrave, who many may remember served as a member of parliament from 1972
to 1984. His mom died in 1989, his dad, Harry, was killed in a farm accident in
1996, and his sister died following a riding accident in 2007.
James and his wife Elizabeth (just married in May) live on
the home place – the 25,000 acre Hargrave Ranch north of Walsh, while Archie
Sabin is the long time manager of the 26,000 acre Bullspring Ranch about 35
miles north, closer to Schuler.
On the two operations they run about 1,600 head of cattle,
including an 850 head cow/calf herd and another 800 head of yearlings. Surprisingly, amid the drought of 2009,
which has affected so many parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan, it has been a
relatively good growing season in their area.
While James says his plan is expand the herd, he first has
to complete installation of an extensive pipeline water network to extend water
to parts of the two ranches that have good grass but no reliable water supply
With improved access to water, he estimates he could
increase the size of the beef herd another 30 to 40 percent, although his
overall objective is to develop a “drought proof” grazing system. That “drought proofing” plan is a
combination of expanding the pasture water system to achieve better
distribution of cattle, and at the same time maintaining an appropriate
stocking rate to avoid over grazing of mostly native prairie grassland. Light grazing over the entire ranch may
seem wasteful under relatively good growing conditions, but if he can maintain
a healthy and vigorous native grass stand, it will remain productive even
during dryer years.
They do have about 1,500 acres of domestic grasses and legumes
they can cut for hay, and they like to have a good hay inventory if it is
needed, but on average with open winters (Chinooks, mostly on the south
ranch) the cattle can graze most
of the year, except for about 35 days when they actually have to feed hay.
It was good to meet James and Archie and hear how they apply
sound management principles aimed at using, but not abusing, the valuable
native prairie grassland resource.
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