Sask. floods disrupt grazing plans

Cattle ranchers in northwestern Saskatchewan are left waiting for flood waters to recede following recent flooding of Beaver River.

A combination of upriver flood waters in Alberta on June 14, flooding from southern rivers and creeks and recent rainfall has caused pasture and grazing land to be submerged from the Alberta border to rural municipalities east of Prince Albert, said Brent Brooks with Meadow Lake Livestock Sales.

Ranchers in the RM of Meadow Lake have been heavily hit with 75 percent of the Cabana Community Pasture left underwater and 200 head of cattle either stranded or evacuated, he added. Dikes are now underwater as ranchers work to save herds and keep them fed.

The water is starting to recede, said rancher Scott Campbell, who is hoping for a further 10 to 15 feet drop. He does have high ground for his cattle, but they are sandy areas with little grazing options.

Campbell is already looking for alternative feeding options because most of his grazing land is underwater. However, the impacts of COVID-19 on the cattle industry, feed availability and market prices for cattle mean the sector is even more unpredictable than normal.

Allan Shkopich has 200 cow-calf pairs to feed and hardly any dry land at his ranch 42 kilometres northeast of Meadow Lake. Fifty of Shkopich’s cow-calf pairs were stranded on an island.

“I don’t know what my plan is going to be. Helicopter maybe. My bulls went out a few days ago and I can’t even get to them because you’d have to swim for two miles.”

Brooks said another 50 head were stranded on a 30 acre island at Cabana. They had enough food until June 28, he said, so producers will be busy figuring out how to keep them fed until they can be reached for evacuation or the water recedes enough to move them.

Flooding of Shkopich’s land has ranged from an inch of water in some spots to other areas being under eight feet of water. While Shkopich hasn’t had time to think too much about his infrastructure or herd loss, he figures he already has 16 to 24 kilometres of fencing in the water. Even so soon after the flooding, Shkopich is already seeing the long-term damage of grazing land.

“The cows are walking through even one inch of water and there is compaction of the ground. They’re going hurt the grass for a few years now.”

Even with the severity of the flooding and losses already being keenly felt, the community response has been heartwarming, Brooks said. Thirty people from the community gathered to sandbag low level areas June 19, with one man working for 36 hours straight. Ranchers also gathered together to evacuate what animals they could from Cabana.

The full financial and economic impacts will not be felt for a while yet with ranchers still working to make sure their livestock are fed and safe.

The number one concern for everyone involved right now is the safety of the livestock and the ranchers, said Brooks, who urged everyone to do things safely.

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