Ranch uses tight rotations, little machinery

On the Farm: Ulf Herde runs about 400 head on his ranch near Ardmore, Alta., using corn for winter grazing


Ardmore, Alta. — All of Ulf Herde’s cattle are just about ready to return to the home pasture. He has already got one group here, grazing close to the yard, while the other groups forage on nearby land.

Once it’s the middle of November, he will manage the animals as one bunch. Weaning will then begin, followed by sending the calves to a custom feedlot. The remainder will graze on corn throughout the winter, receiving supplements of pellets as needed.

“Corn grazing has had its challenges but it’s working well,” he said in late October. “But it’s one of the things you keep growing with and trying.”

Herde is basically a one-man show on his 400-head ranch near Ardmore.

He moves his cattle frequently, using rotational grazing methods. He also has little machinery, doing the majority of his cattle work with a horse. His pellets and hay, which is used for calving time, are hauled in.

“I don’t own a quad,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not a machinery guy at all. What I do have is just to feed and what I need to get by.

“I just don’t feel like I’m good at that kind of stuff, and I can’t do everything.”

He said rotational grazing is extremely important for his ranch program. In the spring, he moves the animals about every four or five days, keeping his heifers as a separate group.

“Rotational grazing is helpful for the grass and cattle,” he said.

Herde moved to Alberta in the fall on 1989, buying the land the following spring. He was raised on a ranch in British Columbia’s interior, but his parents wanted to retire and decided it was best to sell it.

The sale, however, didn’t stop him from pursuing his own land.

Herde knew he wanted to be a rancher ever since he was little. His sister had also moved to Alberta for college, making his decision to re-locate that much easier.

“Ever since I was young, that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. “I really enjoy working with the cattle and the horses.”

Herde bought 150 head when he began his ranch and has since slowly grown his numbers. He had worked part-time at the auction mart in Bonnyville, but now is on the ranch full-time.

He said he has tried a variety of things over the years, but the system he has now seems to be working best for him. He calves in the beginning of May.

“For about four years, I wintered cows all winter up there,but then I decided it wasn’t worth the hassle compared to calving them at home and hauling them back,” he said.

But Herde hasn’t done it all alone. He’s had his family for support.

He met his wife, Elma, soon after moving to the area.

She was also new to Alberta at the time. She grew up on dairy farm near Eriksdale, Man., later moving for work as a home economist with Alberta Agriculture.

The two of them met at a local workshop, hitting it off fairly quickly. They married in 1992, having their son, Erik, in 1996 and their daughter, Heidi, thereafter.

Elma did much of the house work and lots of volunteering. The school in Ardmore was close enough for the kids to walk to on occasion.

“Growing up on the ranch was a really good foundation for them to have,” she said.

The couple are now empty nesters. Both kids are studying in Edmonton. Erik is finishing electrical engineering at the University of Alberta, and Heidi is taking music at Concordia University.

“This is exciting times for all of us,” Elma said. “We are very proud of them. It’s really their time to shine.”

Still, it’s been fairly different not having them around all the time. Ulf said the kids came in handy for help on the ranch.

“They were excellent at vaccinating,” he said with a laugh. “Having filled syringes and organized tags is fantastic.”

The family has recently discussed the future of the ranch. Their kids can come back if they want to, but they have always been told to follow their passion.

“Nobody can make a decision right now, and that’s OK,” Elma said. “It’s their time to explore the world. We never felt like they had to come back. We really wanted them to feel like they have this choice.”

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