The Environmental Stewardship Award (TESA) celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Since 1996, TESA has been recognizing beef producers from across the country who go above and beyond standard conservation practices to care for their land and environment.
Each year, producers are recognized at the regional level. A national TESA winner is then chosen from the regional recipients. This year the national winner will be announced during the Canadian Beef Industry Conference, slated for August 31 to September 2.
Watch for a feature about TESA's 25th anniversary in the August issue of Canadian Cattlemen. In the meantime, we'll be featuring the regional winners on the website. This story was originally published by the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and is republished with permission.
Connecting its animals with the land is only one tenet Brylee Farm adheres to. Indeed, the Thurso, Quebec area operation not only believes that healthy grass leads to healthy animals, but that it’s imperative that land and resources are sustainably managed by working together in harmony with nature.
Brylee Farm is a five-generation family farm owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Brian Maloney and Lise Villeneuve, along with daughter Kim Maloney. The farm engages in grass-fed beef and lamb production, custom grazing and direct marketing. Located in Lochaber in the Outaouais region of Quebec, the family owns three farms and rents a fourth. The herd size currently sits at 200 head of cattle and 150 sheep.
Brian’s great grandfather cleared much of the land in the area, land that was bought from lumber companies around the turn of the 20th century. The property followed the basic cycles of a lot of farms in the east where everything was based on producing what the demand was at the time.
“In the beginning, it was wheat and oats for the lumber camps,” says Brian Maloney. “There were horses there for the lumber camps, so the farms raised and sold hay as well, and the farms had dairy. When we took over, I did a mix of all those things – I’d sold some hay once we put the farms together, I grew some grains with dairy. But in 2002, we got out of dairy.”
Maloney says that from the beginning, they were always very heavy on the grazing aspect of the farms and the environmental aspect. At the beginning of 2002, they turned the farms into a custom grazing operation and started direct marketing their meat products.
“My daughter came back to the farm, and she loves marketing, so we doubled our production and we do less custom grazing,” notes Maloney. “Our focus right now is producing grass-fed beef and lamb, as well as managing 400 acres of permanent grass. We don’t plow, we don’t do anything other than move cattle around.”
Pasture management has been Maloney’s passion from the beginning, always with the goal of preserving land for future generations – as previous generations did for him. His passion for pasture management has led him on a series of trips around the world to develop his knowledge of pasture and pasture management with a view to reducing on-farm production costs.
“With a lot of this land, we’ve changed the look of it for our farming and ranching. As we develop something that is close to nature as possible, that’s going to be what makes it easier for us, long term, where we don’t have to buy inputs anymore,” he says. “When we really understand and have the farm close in sync with nature, life on the farm is going to be easier and more profitable for us.”
Today, Maloney says they are continuing their focus of improving the land, including creating dams and ponds to try and get some of the water that belongs on the land to stay on the land like it used to. “That’s what the sustainability part is for us,” he notes. “We’re in direct meat sales – this is part of what our customers are looking for environmentally. It’s a small part of the big picture – we have to focus on our sustainability so we can continue doing this.”
Animals are moved from one pasture to another, naturally fertilizing the farm’s 360 acres of pastureland. All water bodies are fenced off, and thanks to permanent plant cover and the increased organic matter/carbon the land is able to capture, Maloney says the fields retain more water – a principle that can save the day in droughts like those of recent years.
Brylee Farm rehabilitated its rented land, which they call King Ranch. Initially, only blackberries, goldenrod and wild strawberries grew. They have since installed fences and water lines, and began managing the paddocks by rotating the animals through, starting with those most in need of organic matter.
Bale grazing is another improvement that has been made. And the farm uses mob grazing where a large number of animals graze a small area for short periods before being moved to another pasture. This operation is performed four times per day. The animals graze the best, trample on the rest and leave their droppings on the ground, which allows for plant regeneration, carbon capture, root conservation and water retention for soil biology. With this pasture management method, Maloney has noticed the roots of the grasses reach deeper into the soil.
“This farm is something we’ve worked at as a family. I’ve only caught the football in the last 25 yards – there were three generations before me that had the same vision,” notes Maloney. I’ve learned that good management is not just jumping on trends, and also being aware more of the soil. A lot of this is just things our grandfathers did anyway. On most farms that’s the way it is. If they want to step up their environmental game, look at how grandpa managed it and you’ll see a lot of the answers are right there.”
A member of the local ALUS committee, Maloney decided to create a pasture reserve that will not be grazed until July 1 in order to protect eastern meadowlarks and bobolinks, two bird species that are threatened in Canada. He also works with Docterre, a Quebec-based soil life laboratory and consulting service whose goal is to help regenerate soil ecosystem services and functions. Work at Brylee Farm has been done on compost extracts to improve the balance of bacteria and fungi in the soil.
Maloney says the future of environmental stewardship in cattle production in Quebec is positive, especially as more producers, along with the general public, understand the benefits of it overall.
“Here in Quebec, the beef industry probably occupies the biggest part of the arable land, and beef production now has the opportunity to flourish,” he says. “We’re probably the less intensive part of agriculture compared to grains and dairy and poultry. And as we use some of these sustainable and environmentally friendly methods of doing our production, we really will shine. We’re showing that cattle and beef are definitely the right products for the environment – we can be pulling down carbon in the soil with our pastures and finding that long term, this will help production costs for farmers.”
This summer, the Maloney hopes to organize a grazing/soil caravan in collaboration with Quebec’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to teach farmers about the importance of soil health in their pastures. They also plan to build ponds in order to recreate the original landscape from 150 years ago, when beaver dams were common. This will increase biodiversity by creating the ideal environment for birds, insect, mammal and native flora species. Another project is tree planting, and Maloney has already begun working with a forestry engineer to better manage the health and quality of their forests.
Going forward, Maloney is excited about his daughter taking over the operation one day. In the meantime, he hopes his passion for the land and for keeping things simple continues to earn respect within his family and with consumers and the general public.
“That respect for every action that we do to the land and animals will reflect on us one way or the other, positive or negative,” he says. “And by the actions I’ve taken over the past 40 years, even to my non-farming children, the respect and the awareness of how important the land and the environment is just transmitted naturally to them by my actions.
“I’m more excited about farming now than I have been my whole life because science has caught up to what we’ve known and been doing all along and proving that it’s true.”
This article was originally published on the Canadian Cattlemen's Association blog.