Our Prairie Home

Our Homeplace, the working headquarters of our operation, is located on a rolling piece of prairie south of Nanton, AB. If you visit the ranch this is where you’ll come. Only 1 hour south of Calgary and right off the pavement, this location is accessible for our customers and our cattle. Purchased in 2007 this piece of our ranch has been a work in progress. It was originally homesteaded in 1900 and has raised several families, housed sheep, and operated as a feedlot. When we took over the renovations and reclamation began!

Today the infrastructure is in place to winter our cattle. Shelters, wind-fence, heated watering bowls, and multiple pastures make winter chores easy to manage.  Calving also takes place at this location where we can check on the cattle around the clock and have facilities to assist birthing if necessary.  This piece of land is half domestic hayfields and half native prairie. The undulating native pasture, with winding shallow coulees, pop up springs and rocky soil deterred grain farming and kept a little piece of the prairie intact.  A series of projects, large and small, keep us busy. Currently, we are in the final stages of reclaiming what was 10 acres of feedlot pens.  Like the rest of the land, this project is managed organically, so we have been using tillage, cover crops, and a lot of manual labor to convert the area from weeds into grass.

Our home extends beyond our simple ranch house. Our family spends as much time in our treed backyard, vegetable gardens, berry patches, horse pastures, and barnyard as we do in the house.  We have put down roots in this little prairie homestead and made it home.

The Porcupine Hills

“It’s my little foothills heaven on that Northern Rocky range.” Corb Lund’s lyrics aptly describe Trail’s End Ranch proper, our summer ranch tucked into the first range of the Porcupine Hills just fifteen minutes west of Nanton, AB.  This property has been in our family for over 100 years and has always been the home-base of the summer pastures. Rolling hills, sheltering willow brush, and spring fed streams make it paradise for cattle. We’re jealous of the cows that get to go to summer camp at the ranch.  The hills and a “dry weather road” make accessibility interesting at times, but it adds to the charm of the place and makes using our horses a necessity.  The depth of our ranching history tied to this pristine land make it an honour and a responsibility to preserve our heritage and steward Trail’s End for the next five generations.

Rented Land

Every year we rent three to five pieces of land from friends, family, and neighbors.  As we expand our operation, we are always looking for more grass. Land in our area is at a premium and it is cost prohibitive to purchase land outright.  We’re fortunate to have a network of pasture near our prairie home and in the hills that can accommodate our herds.  It is a privilege to manage these exceptional grasslands for our friends and family.

Springtime crocuses in the native pasture.
Green hills in early summer.
Fall colors in the hills and still lots of grass.
Mid-winter sky, looking west  to the Porcupine Hills.

Our Land Ethic

Our land is our home, our livelihood, but it is also our heritage.  The operation is made up of land that we have purchased, some that we rent, and some that we have inherited.  With the heritage of a piece of heaven in the hills comes the responsibility to be good stewards of the land.  Mom, who inherited the ranch from her mother, who in turn inherited from hers, would say, ” I don’t own this place. I’m just the one who gets to look after it for a little while.”

With a view to sustaining the ranch for another five generations we have adopted holistic, organic principles. There are no chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides used on our land.  Our land is not certified “organic,”but it has been managed organically since 2003.

Caring for the land and cattle is connected. We believe, as do others such as Allan Savory and Joel Salatin, that “the symbiotic relationship between herbivores and forage is one of the most powerful ecological principles we know.”  Quite simply, grasslands and herbivores like cattle function together.  We apply this principle in our grazing and forage feeding practices.  During the growing season we “rotationally graze” the cattle through the pastures to optimize the grazing periods and the periods of rest.  Our large fields are broken up with portable electric fence so that the cattle intensely eat the plants in that area, stimulating root growth, before they are moved to allow the plants to recover.  This mimics how the large herds of indigenous herbivores, such as the bison, would use the land and is optimal for the grass and soil.

During the long winter months when the grass is dormant we feed our cattle stored forage– hay that we put up during the peak of the growing season in July.  Like the rest of our land, our hayfields are manged without any chemical inputs. We use the cattle and our feeding methods to put nutrients back into the soil.  Bale grazing on our hayland has shown visible improvement in the soil and the resulting hay crop. In bale grazing, large round hay bales are positioned in a grid in the field, the twines are removed, and the cattle graze them free-choice.  The excess hay left behind is trampled into the ground and the densely deposited manure provides rich, organic fertilizer.  Similarly, our other winter feeding program of rolling out large round hay bales with the bale truck on a daily basis results in some build up of hay and manure that returns nutrients to the soil.  We manage a range of pastures in varying ecosystems, some on the prairie, some in the hills. Each piece of the puzzle of land, grass, cattle, and the seasons fits together to result in a healthy holistic whole.

We share our part of the prairie with a wide- range of species.  Our ranch infrastructure is built with a view towards increasing the biodiversity around us. The high-pole gates that separate our pastures serve as perches and hunting points for birds of prey.  There has been as noticeable increase in hawks, eagles, and owls since the gates have gone up.  The mature shelter belt of trees in the hayfield provide home to honey bees during the summer months. Little Creek Honey places the hives in the trees and the bees love our organic fields and the variety of flowers and vegetables we plant around the house.  In the spring, we are serenaded by a chorus of frogs and the songs of meadowlarks from the pastures and sloughs.

At Trail’s End proper, in the hills, we co-exist with pretty much every kind of wild animal native to the foothills: ungulates like moose, elk, mule and white-tailed deer; predatory birds like bald eagles and hawks, waterfowl like geese and pelicans, songbirds, and an abundance of small mammals, like skunks, coyotes, gophers, muskrat and beaver.  Increasingly the grizzlies and black bears make their home in the canyon down the valley.  The potential for cougars in the trees keeps us on our toes. Granny Linda had a close encounter when fencing by herself in the poplar grove, and ask the kids about the cougar that lived under the deck!  Wolves are not common on our place. They prefer the ranches further to the west, nearer the mountains. Preserving viable ranchlands is integral to preserving the boidiversity of critical wildlife habitats in the eastern slopes.

In southern Alberta, water is our most precious resource, and we are blessed with an abundance of natural water sources in the hills. The ranch is fed by multiple springs of the sweetest, coldest water. In fact we bottle it and bring it home for our drinking water! The springs on the ranch form the headwaters of Nanton Creek and are part of the Oldman watershed, the water system that nourishes southern Alberta.  We have developed multiple water systems sourced from the spring to enable the cattle access to clean, fresh water, which encourages them to stay out of the streams and fragile riparian areas.

We take pride in upgrading our watering systems to keep our water sources clean and promote dynamic riparian zones.  Better stewardship and management is an ongoing process.This year we accessed a grant to assist with the addition of a portable, solar watering system. This system uses solar power to draw from the wells on our prairie pastures, and will be converted to draw from the dugouts on rented land in the hills. We take pride in upgrading our watering systems to keep our water sources clean and promote dynamic riparian zones.

“We have the world to live in on the condition that we take good care of it. And to take good care of it, we must know it. And to know it and be willing to take care of it, we have to love it.”

Wendell Berry    In Interview

Grassland Ecosystems

Short-grass native prairie out our back door, tall fescue on the hillsides, and fertile hay-fields on the flats. Grassfed beef cattle are an integral part of a flourishing grasslands ecosystem.

Protected Watershed

Our ranch is blessed with abundant springs and streams that contribute to the headwaters of the Oldman watershed. We protect our riparian zones and treasure the cool, sweet water of our springs.

Heritage in the Hills

We are the fourth-generation, and raising the fifth, to know, love, and steward these lands. Sustainability is at the heart of our family ranch.