Field Update: May 2016

Well, despite some pretty dry conditions across much of Alberta, the grass is growing and our researchers have returned to our sample sites for their first inspections and collections of the year. We’re working on an earlier schedule this year thanks to the fact that our sample sites have already been established and set up with cages, something we had to put together last May.

Between May 16 – 20, our research team visited each of our four ranch sites to record observations and collect grass samples (you can read more about our research process here). We have been fortunate to avoid areas affected by forest fire and were pleasantly surprised to see relatively healthy conditions at three of the four sites.

For specific notes on each location, I’ll turn things over to Richard McConnell, who visited each site personally. His notes are highlighted in the block quotes below.

Eddleston Ranch

This ranch—located northeast of Wainwright—looked about the same as it did in June last year (maybe a bit better) as far as green grass is concerned.

The one difference: In one low area of pasture last June we noticed water pooling in cattle tracks. We drove stakes into the ground and found the soil moist to a depth of three inches. This year, there was no such pooling of water so I don’t think there was as much runoff from snow/rain this year.

Osadzchuk Ranch

On the Osadzchuk Ranch near Jenner—north of the Suffield Air Weapons Range—things were dry on a day that reached 25 degrees Celsius. We could hear our feet crunch on the grass and there wasn’t much green showing compared to other sites. I expect the ‘crunch’ was from last year’s carryover grass.

One thing to note is that last year this rancher had to pull cattle off the pasture in June (which is very early) and take them elsewhere to protect the grass.

A quick note about carryover and grass protection: Good ranchers like to leave around 30% of the annual grass growth in a given year to be carried over into the following year. The carryover helps to protect grass roots over the winter and provides a bit of insurance in case conditions are dry the following year. More than that, Brad Osadczuk is conscientious about protecting the grass due to it being native range—grass that is pretty much the same as when the buffalo grazed it over a 100 years ago.

Hargraves Ranch

The rancher James Hargraves met up with us when we arrived and said that this year he’s seeing the best grass conditions he can ever recall seeing. It was easy to understand where he’s coming from—everything was green. They’ve had lots of snow and rain over the last four weeks or so. It’s interesting how different conditions can be just 125km apart, which is the distance between the Hargraves and Osadzchuk ranches.

Fun fact: The Hargraves Ranch is split into two sections about 50km apart—one approximately 28,000 acres large and the other 30,000.

Burke Creek Ranch

The Burke Creek ranch is west of Claresholm in the “eastern slope foothills” of the Rocky Mountains. It had rained the night before we arrived and the weather was cool—only 5C. Felt and looked more like fall and that snow may be coming. Moisture didn’t appear to be an issue.

There is quite a bit of carryover on the Burke Creek ranch this year thanks to the fact that (unlike the other ranches in our study) the Burke Creek ranch had a fair amount of moisture last year. In fact, while we try to collect samples from all four ranches in the same week, we were rained out at Burke Creek last year in June and in July. So we had to go back later on to make up for the missed visits.

The team now has their grass samples back in Lacombe, AB and is working through the sorting process. We’ll post more updates and results as we gather them throughout the summer.

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