Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) recently presented Deer Creek Livestock Co. with the 2020 Environmental Stewardship Award at the ABP Annual General Meeting. Each year, ABP recognizes a cattle operation that demonstrates leadership in environmental stewardship – one that contributes to the land while improving productivity and profitability.
Since the 1900s, cattle ranching has been part of the land that Deer Creek Livestock operates on today, and that rich history played an integral role in the decision to purchase the ranch in 2011 from the Gilchrist family. The Deer Creek Livestock shareholder group credits the influence of Tom Gilchrist that led to some of their more notable environmental initiatives.
“We’re proud and honoured to be awarded the Environmental Stewardship Award. We couldn’t have done this without the knowledge Tom Gilchrist and his family gave us,” said Deer Creek shareholder Jeff Smith.
Each member of the shareholder group, which includes James Bekkering, Richard Visser, Gateway Livestock and the Turner family, bring a different skillset while they work collaboratively to set direction for the ranch and give guidance to the staff. The emphasis on environment is weaved through the fabric of the ranch and ingrained in their values, vision and promise to traditionally raise beef while caring for the land and water.
“We have over 100 different wildlife species on the ranch. We depend on the environment to operate, and with that, our customers depend on us to maintain this environment,” said Smith. “All of us as shareholders, as well as the staff, have the same drive, the same goals, the same vision.”
Hugh Vandersteen joined Deer Creek Livestock as Ranch Manager four years ago and hasn’t looked back. “I put my heart into it and I didn’t think I would fall in love with it the way I did. I learn something from the cattle pretty well every day,” said Vandersteen.
The ranch works closely with MULTISAR, who partner with landowners to conserve grassland species at risk, to assess soil conditions and monitor range health. They have completed 113 range health assessments and 16 tame pasture health assessments from 2008 to 2014, and implemented the use of hawk poles, converted to 18-inch high smooth bottom wire fence lines and installed solar fencing and watering sites. Cows and Fish, a group focused on riparian habitat management, has taken inventory of the riparian areas on the ranch in 1999, 2008 and 2014 to measure and benchmark riparian health. Deer Creek Livestock is also a Verified Beef Production Plus certified cattle operation.
Milk River runs directly through the ranch in southeastern Alberta. The solar panel watering systems pump water away from the river to keep cattle off the banks, and solar fencing is used to isolate grasslands and control grazing.
“We’re blessed with water and on dry years we can utilize it for the irrigation potential but that also means we have to protect it. We have to be stewards of the environment no matter what we do. We want to leave the land and where we live in a better place for the next generation,” said Bekkering. “I think the future looks good for us.”