Spirit View Ranch Rycroft, Alberta

The Weder Family

‘The earth is not just habitat for wildlife and birds. It’s our habitat too and we have to look after what we have in front of our doorstep. We want to make sure we keep it, we preserve it, we look after it, and that’s what we do.’ 12

– Erika Weder

“In 1996, the Weder’s acquired a quarter section of land and 10 beef cows in Camrose, AB. They then relocated to Peace Country in 2003, and increased their herd to 60 cows, 20 open heifers, and began ranching on 880 acres of deeded land. Spirit View Ranch is now a purebred and commercial cow/calf grasser operation that runs 500 breeding females and 500 grasser stockers on 2800 acres of deeded land, 4200 acres of lease land, and 640 acres of rented land.” 13

Alfalfa and meadow brome stands make up the majority of the Spirit View Ranch. Native grasslands line the slopes of the local river that snakes through the property, and “over 1200 acres of forest and grassland have been protected under conservation easements with Ducks Unlimited. A recent wildlife inventory showed that …150 bird species, 45 mammals, seven amphibians and one reptile species inhabit the ranch” 14. A continued partnership with Ducks Unlimited has allowed the Weder’s to restore over 100 wetland areas throughout their property. The wetlands help to preserve biodiversity and are particularly good habitat for ducks and geese. They also increase moisture retention, which in turn increases forage production year round.

“‘It’s kind of a little hidden insurance policy for us because if we have a really bad drought year, they’re going to be dry but they will have had a whole pile of water that’ll grow grass behind them, and we’ll utilize it then,’ says [owner and operator of Spirit View ranch ] Christoph. Even with the wetlands, cattle still prefer to make use of the watering sites strategically placed in fenced alleyways.” 15 The Weder’s encourage their cattle to use the watering sites so that fish and other wildlife continue to use the other natural water bodies on the land. “Three solar powered watering systems also operate in more remote areas of the ranch and critical riparian areas are fenced off to limit access and minimize impact” 16 from the cattle.

The combination of the rotational grazing system on the ranch and the use of legumes ensures Spirit View Ranch can sustainably produce grass without use of fertilizers. “All of the pastures, including the grazing leases, are cross-fenced with electric fencing and strip grazed for no longer than five days at a time for over eight months of each year. Older pastures are used for wintering sites to eliminate manure hauling and improve production.” 17 “All upland habitat and boreal forest is fenced off and only grazed for a short period of time or even deferred on specific pastures to increase the nesting success of ducks and migratory birds.” 18

“‘We bring the feed right to the fields that we want to feed it in and save big time because we have no manure hauling costs associated with wintering our cows. The cows are on a snow ration so the water system’s taken care of, no electricity for that and we’ve got natural shelter around here for the cattle,’ Christoph says. In 2004, the Weder’s were the first ranch in the Peace Country to complete the Verified Beef Production program and the Environmental Farm Plan. In 2006, they were certified by the Food Alliance acknowledging the ranch for sustainable farming and land use practices. These accomplishments help Christoph and Erika [Weder] communicate their story about raising beef.

Throughout the winter months they spend countless hours speaking to producers, retailers, chefs and consumers and during the summer months they are always eager to host tours on the ranch. Sharing the message of stewardship on Spirit View Ranch has always been important to the Weder’s as a business tool to better market their product or to encourage others to implement best management practices. ‘We have lots of people that come to our place and they stay for a couple of days. Some for even longer like the students we have who stay for months, or even a year. They want to see what we’re doing and they get excited about it,’ says Erika referring to the international students who come to work and learn on the ranch.” 19

For more information on the Spirit View Ranch please visit: http://www.spiritviewranch.com

12 Youtube Website. “2012 ESA recipient”, 30 April 2012. (Accessed 25 June 2013)

13 Alberta Beef Producers Website. “Environmental Stewardship Award 2012”. (Accessed 19 June 2013)

14 15 16 17 18 19 Idem