The 3,280 acre Kirkella Community Pasture is ready to shine brightly as a nature-based jewel following a series of pasture-enhancement actions – including a major scrubbing of woody pasture species that can be the bane of healthy, productive pastures and drought relief via three major dugout installations – through funding provided by The Conservation Trust, a Manitoba Climate and Green Plan Initiative delivered by the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation.
Sitting prominently near the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border just north of the Trans-Canada Highway, the Kirkella Community Pasture project was one of the first announced by the Conservation Trust in 2018. The project was led by the Rural Municipality of Wallace-Woodworth and Manitoba Forage and Grasslands Association (MFGA), who partnered to match the generous project funding with in-kind work necessary to make the $200,000 project a reality.
“The Kirkella Community Pasture is a municipally-owned tract of land that has been managed for decades and includes grassland, wetland and woodland habitats,” said Garth Mitchell, Wallace-Woodworth’s Chief Administrative Officer. “Thanks to The Conservation Trust, we saw a great opportunity to undertake improvements to the pasture for the purpose of enhancing grazing opportunities as well as the environmental benefits that result from more effective grazing and landscape management practices. We feel very positive about the end results.”
The Kirkella Community Pasture project erected fencing to benefit the pasture health for cattle grazing and biodiversity, and installed three dugouts for better water quality and access for cattle. A major undertaking of the project was an extensive mowing program to control woody species which will result in improved grassland utilization for grazing for many years in to the future. MFGA had also provided the project with a pasture review report by experts in rangeland health and from the local Assiniboine West Watershed District who walked the pasture and suggested actions and recommendations around pasture enhancements. According to Alistair Hagan, Kirkella Community Pasture manager, the project was discussed at length within the Kirkella Pasture Patrons committee before settling on the course of action.
“We wanted to improve the environmental benefits to the habitat within this unique property surrounded largely by grain land and also improve our grazing management to provide better results for our patrons,” says Hagan. “In short, we were looking for the best and longest lasting pasture benefits that would also be preparing for future possible drought cycles with the hopes of holding our current grazing numbers. Grazing land is constantly harder to find in our area and we are trying to do the best job we can to create the best financial returns for our cattle owners.”
Hagan says the focus on water management of the pasture was the key driver behind three strategically-placed dugouts, each with more than one million gallon capacity.
“This was the first and most important step to better managing the grass,” says Hagan. “The dugouts are extremely low maintenance, low risk water sources that also provide great water sources for the local wildlife. Once the dugouts were established and full it allowed us to build additional cross fences to better graze and rest the native prairie.”
Hagan says the dugouts were followed up with the massive mowing process to set back the shrubbery and open up large amounts of previously non grazed acres. The addition of dugouts and the new cross fences coupled with the ability to rotate the steers all in one large mob will help hold the regrowth of shrubs by creating new grazing pressure in these before unused acres.
“This whole project we feel will not only help the local habitat but also our cattle owners as well,” says Hagan. “This is the balance we all walk together with an improved local environment and better financial returns to the ag industry.”
From MFGA’s project perspective, that is exactly the harmony and balance that Larry Wegner, MFGA chair, wants to hear.
“These kinds of projects are a strong fit with MFGA’s mission and vision and we are grateful to the Conservation Trust and the Government of Manitoba for developing a project funding mechanism that gives groups like MFGA the opportunity to work on, partner with other groups and enhance our natural areas, especially grasslands and pastures that producers and ranchers steward every single day via livestock and grazing rotations,” says Wegner, who also farms near the Virden-area. “With the expertise of our producer-led board, we are able to identify and align with the business aspects around the pasture decisions. We know the Kirkella Community Pasture enhancements will be great for conservation and we also fully understand the economic side of the enhancements will be valued and necessary too.”