Medicine River Luings belongs to Iain and Rowena Aitken. Iain emigrated to Canada in 2000 from southwest Scotland where his family had farmed beef cattle and sheep for eight generations.
After ranching by the Medicine River near Rimbey, Alberta for 14 years concern over reckless oilfield development and it's threat to our water led us to look for a new property. In June 2015 we moved to our new location near Belmont in southwest Manitoba.
Our owned land-base, in an ecosystem classified as “oak savanna”, is a mix of cropland, permanent pastures with areas of bush and many cattail ringed sloughs and potholes. Other than some land designated for growing winter feed the cropland has been sown back to perennial pasture as we try to restore fertility and depleted organic matter to the soil. We also rent additional pastures locally that are a mix of bush and wetland wildlife habitat. Luing cows are ideally suited to harvesting the low quality forage that grows on these wetland pastures and are a critical part of regenerating the habitat for the wildlife.
We operate a planned grazing system based on holistic management principles that minimize over-grazing and maximize soil and plant health. By maintaining adequate litter cover on the soil surface we can limit water run-off and double our effective rainfall. This goes a long way to mitigating the drought risk in our unpredictable climate.
To utilize the forage production effectively we move cattle onto a fresh pasture nearly every day throughout the grazing season. The pastures then have anywhere between 60 days and a year to recover before being re-grazed depending on the pasture and time of year.
We utilize both permanent and temporary electric fences to create the large number of pastures we need. With this system we can typically produce twice as much grass as traditional set-stock ranching would produce off the same area.
One of the keys to utilizing our pastures in this more intensive manner has been water development. We have installed several fenced off dugouts/ponds from which we pump water to troughs thereby preventing the cows from contaminating the source. We have also installed some pasture pipelines where we are closer to existing water wells.
We aim to have our cows harvesting their own feed for eight months of the year, well beyond the short growing season. The dry climate allows us to store (bank) some surplus summer grass over winter with limited deterioration of quality. This allows our cows to begin grazing again in early April rather than being fed right through until there is adequate new growth in May/June The banked grass we graze in late April/May also provides a clean, dry bed for the cows to calve on and has almost completely eliminated scours or illness in our young calves.
We grow some of our own winter feed - either corn or alfalfa/grass mixtures for silage but also buy in cereal straw, hay and high energy/protein supplements like DDGs as needed. During the coldest months of winter we feed the cows on the crop land that has the poorest fertility and lowest organic matter levels and this helps build up our soils. By using portable feed bunks, feed rings and windbreaks we can spread heavy applications of manure evenly across these fields.
Late June alfalfa pasture for steers/young bulls.
Coarse weedy, wetland species (July)
Early June grazing (before and after)
Early spring grazing (May)
Scenic but low quality September pasture
December corn grazing at -35C