B.C. ranchers declared sustainability winners

Environmental stewardship award recognizes the conservation work done at Ricky and Chad Seelhof’s Woodjam Ranch

Ricky and Chad Seelhof of Woodjam Ranch found it difficult to keep it secret.

Since January, the husband and wife remained quiet about being chosen as the winners of this year’s British Columbia Cattlemen’s Association Ranch Sustainability Award.

However, their suspense ended following a July 7 virtual award ceremony, which officially recognized the family’s achievements for advancing sustainability on their ranch.

“We’re pretty excited. From the time you get nominated until the time it happens, it’s kind of hard to keep it hush, hush,” said Chad.

“Ranchers put in a lot of time and effort to get their operations functioning properly. To have someone acknowledge our efforts means a lot,” he said during the announcement.

Added Ricky: “We are honoured to be the recipients of this award.”

The BCCA cited several environmental practices used by the Seelhofs that stood out:

  • A commitment to protecting waterways.
  • Range management and maintenance of grass health.
  • Sharing of the landscape.
  • Preservation of wildlife habitat.

Ricky and Chad manage the 2,122-acre ranch with help from their children Riata, 15, Cooper, 13, and Renee, 10, as well as Chad’s parents — Louis and Ellie Seelhof.

Woodjam Ranch is nestled in a lush valley between the Cariboo Mountains and Williams Lake in the Caribou district of British Columbia, not far from the community of Horsefly.

Ten kilometres of the Horsefly River twist and turn through the cattle ranch, which started in 1899.

“It’s very easy to see that we’re right in the heart of the wilderness here. We’re surrounded by crown land and got creeks flowing all over,” said Chad.

Their cow-calf operation consists of a 500-head Angus-based herd.

“We’ve been trying to develop a cow herd that can thrive in this kind of environment. It’s all meadow hay and where the cows go in the summer is 80,000 acres. So it’s a big piece of country and they’ve got to be pretty hardy,” said Chad.

In 2002, he was a still a teenager when his parents sold their Saskatchewan mixed farm near Lloydminster to try something new further west.

“We had a few dry years, so we decided to pull up stakes and try our hand with something a little different. We thought we’d start looking for a place with lots of water, warmer climate and we found this ranch,” he said.

They were green about running a cattle operation in B.C., coming from the Prairies where fences defined spaces. At their new mountainous location, cattle can roam free for months.

However, when they arrived there was no fencing around the river or creeks and cows had run of the place.

The Horsefly River is a main spawning river for sockeye salmon. Sixteen tributary creeks flow into the river, which are all fish bearing.

In fact, preserving water quality and natural riparian habitat was top of mind for the family.

“It was a no brainer. We just knew what had to be done to keep everything sustainable and the water is obviously the biggest one,” he said.

They set to building about 30 kilometres of fence to keep the cattle permanently away from the creeks. They used an existing artesian well, which allowed them to gravity feed water through pipes down to seven big tire troughs.

With all of the clean water they can drink, the cattle no longer showed any interest in the creeks.

In a partnership with the B.C. Forest Practices Board, they brought in wildlife friendly fencing for some of the additional range fencing. Special spacing of the wires allows deer and other small animals to cross more safely.

The entire ranch perimeter has been fenced with two strand electric, which suits the hilly terrain, allows wildlife to get through and keeps the cattle in.

Pasture and range management is also a high priority and they maintain a “take half, leave half” philosophy.

“We can grow grass here like crazy, but if you overgraze it, it takes a long time for it to come back. So we just try and get a real good once over and leave a bunch of grass or cover,” he said.

They also follow a high stocking rate for shorter periods of grazing time in home pastures.

“That’s probably one issue we have because our main cow herd is out on the range (crown land) for the summer. We’ve only got 80 head of heifers here to graze in the summer. So it’s a pretty easy job because you’re not dealing with huge numbers, but stocking rate varies so much here. Our landscape is really rugged,” he said.

The British Columbia Cattlemen’s Association recognized the Seelhof family for its commitment to protecting waterways, maintaining grass health, sharing the landscape and preserving wildlife habitat. | Supplied photo

Now in their mid-30s, the couple feels their generation and their children’s generation needs to focus on improving the environment.

“In today’s society, public perception of ranching is very important. As ranchers we all have to do our part if we want to be able to market our product to an ever-changing society,” he said.

“When they (the public) come here and see the creek’s fenced off and the deer running around, it looks good. I think it makes people want to eat more beef and that’s important. They don’t want to see ranches wrecking the environment.

“So I think in a bigger picture, to have a sustainable industry, people are going to have to potentially kind of adapt. That’s pretty important. I think that’s going to be the future of the industry.”

Added Ricky: “It’s important that we involve our children and talk to them and ask them questions about what their ideas are so that they’re thinking for when they grow up, that they’re aware of environmental issues and taking care of the land.”

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