Christmas In November

Recently we applied for some provincial funding to improve our operation. First we applied for a cost share program to purchase a RFID tag reader. An RFID tag is a little yellow button tag that all cattle ranchers have to put in their cattle before they can leave a ranch in Canada. It is the major component to our food safety system. When you buy RFID tags all those tags in that box are assigned to your ranch and the specific tag you put in animal gets registered with CCIA (Canadian Cattle Identification Agency) and that tags follow the animal throughout all the steps in the processing chain, so if there was every a food safety problem it can be tracked back to its herd of orgin.

We are really excited about having this reader because it will streamline our operation. Before I had a book at would write down calving information(when a cow calved, description of the calf, sex of the calf, and if there were any calving problems and other information about the animals like if they were sick, what we doctored them with and the withdrawal period. I would also have their RFID number beside their dangle tag number.
On the left is the cows dangle tag number, the number we assign them like their name, the next column is information about their calf sex and colour description. the next column is their calving date, the next column is any information about them. If you look at cow U6Z I have written beside her that she didn’t clean and we treated her. Then on a separate page I write what we treated the specific animal with, the withdrawal date along with the animal’s identification.
The column furtherest to the right is where I put a sticker of that calf’s RFID tag number. So before we got this new technology it was all manual.


Here is the other sheet where I write down the specific animal that was treated, what they were treated with and the withdrawal date.

Now, with our fancy new technology I can enter all that on a data collector an link the animals RFID tag number to their dangle tag number and have all their information pop up. This really helps because in the mountains the cows lose their dangle tags quite frequently and when they come home we are not sure which cows that is anymore, now with the RFID reader we can scan their RFID tag and it will bring up all the information on them. Their dangle tag is like their name to us, all my friends and family know me by Erika, we know our cows by their tag number for example R9B.


Here is a picture of the screen of the RFID reader. It scans the RFID tag that is the 15 digit number that comes up and then I can enter their dangle tag number, the number we assign them and know them as this one was X 87C With our scales we are also able to enter their weight as well. 


The RFID reader in action.



I think this new system is very important piece of the Canadian Food Safety system puzzle. This way we can be sure exactly which animal is which and of the vaccinations, medication we have given them along with the withdrawal periods.

What is a withdrawal period you ask???
If an animal is sick and we treat them with medication there is a certain amount of time before the animal can be slaughtered for human consumption that is the withdrawal period. For example, during calving season if we get a cows with a retained placenta (she hasn’t expelled her placenta after she has given birth to her calf). If she doesn’t expell the placenta properly it can start to rot inside her and she can get very sick and sometimes die or not be able to rebreed, so it is very important we treat her. If we give this cow Oxyvet the withdrawal period is 21 days, so we cannot sell that animal for 21 until that medication is out of her system and then safe for human consumption.

We also applied and were successful in our application for cost share funding for weigh scales and a data collector for our squeeze chute. We use a squeeze chute when pregnany checking, which I talked about in my last blog, when we are vaccinating, and if we have to treat a sick animal. Cows and bulls are huge animals our average cow would weight 1200+ pounds so if we need to restrain them to treat them we do this in a squeeze chute, which safely contains the animal and allows us to get very close and treat them.


The data collector for the scale. This and the RFID tag reader “talk” and when we can an RFID tag the information will come up here. In the top left corner it says T11 that is the cows dangle tag number below EID (electronic identification or RFID tag number. We can also input a ton of different information, treatments and withdrawal dates, weight, breed.

The weigh scales are important because when treating a sick animal the proper dosage administered is according to the animals weight. Now we are able to get a precise weight from the animal and can administer the accurate amount of medication. Scales are also great to have we can collect a lot more information about our herd with them like how much weight they are putting on per day we call the ADG (average daily gain).

We are just so excited about our new tools and so thankful there are cost share programs available to help us streamline our operation and continue to improve our Canadian Food Safety systems because without the cost sharing programs we could not afford these tools.

Finishing Up


Finally, the last two pairs caught in the corral!  (we think……)



Now that the weaned heifer calves (our future mama’s) are in their winter feeding pen, we do a major clean of the corrals before it freezes solid.  This allows us to bring in fresh bedding for calving in February.  Fall is a good time of year to haul this manure to fields that need the benefits that manure can bring.



Now that the cows are weaned from their calves they get moved off to their fall pasture.  In farming lingo, these cows are called ‘dry’, which means they are pregnant but not milking.  This is their holiday/recovery time.  A time to themselves.  A time to put on weight for winter.



Once we got the cows gathered in the morning, we started the push across the canyon to our other property.  My daughter and I went ahead to usher the lead cows onto and across the bridge.  Doug and Adele pushed up and we had a crew of three more blocking driveways and directing traffic.




The 300 cows use about 1 1/2 kilometres of the road.  It is crucial to have people ahead, otherwise they can go the wrong way and be hard to turn around.  This drive went a lot smoother then ‘Moos on a Mission’, where it took 6 hours instead of this hour and a half.


In order for the pregnant cows to put on weight and grow a healthy calf in their last trimester, we like to put them into a pasture that has not been grazed.  We work hard throughout the year to purposely end up with un-grazed pasture that will supply the whole herd’s feed requirements until the snow pushes us out (approximately 6-8 weeks).  Roughly calculating, without this pasture we could use up to $20,000 a month in hay.


It does our heart good to see our cows wandering off into the tall dry grass.  For us, this is where our ‘year’ ends and we relax.

~Erika Fossen~


Preg Checking

Preg Checking

Today we pregnancy checked our cows that are going to calve for their first and second time. Some people choose to preg check everything, but we just choose to do our youngest animals (first and second time calvers). The females that are going to be having their calf for the first time (first calf heifers) if they are open (not in calf) we will sell them because they were penned up with a bull for about 45 days in the spring for breeding, so we think if they are not pregnant maybe they are infertile or something is wrong with them. Next, we preg check the cows that are going to have their second calf because this is the hardest time to get cows rebred. Their first year as a mom they are raising a calf, producing milk and still growing, so they may not get pregnant the subsequent year if that is the case we have to make the management decision whether we want to carry them for a year and pay vaccination costs and feed costs without getting any return from them (a calf to sell in the fall) or if we want to sell them.

Preg checking is done by our veterinarian. Our vet has an ultra sound machine and is very accurate, he can see a picture of the fetus and tell us pretty accurately when the calf is going to be born.

IMG_2040 Here is a picture of our vet preg checking. Each cow is run through the chute and then he comes in behind them with the machine. This chute is great because it has a vet change on the back, so the vet can easily and safely move in and out of the chute behind the animals.

Pay Day


Our day started bright and early, saddling our horses to do the final round up.  We have spent most of the month gathering our cattle from all corners of the earth!  We have been anticipating this day like a pre-law student anticipates the Bar Exam!!






Once the cattle are in the corrals, you would think most of the work was done.  This is not the case.  The next step is separating the cows from the calves.  This is where the noise level reaches a new decibel, making communication impossible!  We all become experts in sign language!





Once the calves are separate, we sort the steers from the heifers, then the larger from the smaller, and the replacement heifers that we will keep.  This sounds simple but it takes a lot of skilled hands and quick gate closures.  One heifer crawled through the water trough and joined the steers.  This had to be corrected of course.  Any time spent resorting is wasted time that we do not have.  While doing all this sorting, there is the impending deadline of the trucks.  Once all calves are in their proper group, they are weighed, documented and loaded on the truck.  The weight documentation and paper work is a job in itself.


“Now we can take the rest of the year off!” quoted my husband .  Of course we all know he is full of it!

~Erika Fossen~


Spreading The Love


For the 8 weeks between finishing high school and starting bible school, I tried my hand at tree planting.  It was definitely one of the hardest things I have ever done and I was very happy when it came to an end.  For many previous summers before that I cooked for the tree planters, which I much preferred!

One of our ranges had become completely grown-in with trees and had become useless for grazing cattle as there was no grass.  For the last 3 years we have not stocked this range with cattle and have waited for them to log.  Now that the area has been logged, we are hoping to get a few years of grazing out of these log blocks.  The forest companies have stopped grass seeding roads and cutblocks, claiming it is too expensive (although it seems just to be a management decision in this area).  As the range tenure holder, we decided to try and get some grass established at our own exspense.  This meant physically walking the blocks with hand held grass seeders.  Being out on these blocks definitely brought me back to those days of planting trees, although this time i was planting grass.


We really feel that much of our forested area is being managed solely for trees.  These thick forests and non-seeded cutblocks are leaving our cattle and wildlife with nothing to graze.  This area had a large forest fire in the 1930’s as the blocks were sprinkled with 100’s of fire-killed 200+ year old Larch trees.  The resulting forest that grew back over the last 90 years, slowly choked out the grass and was impassable.


We know this land will eventually turn back into a forest but we want to be able to use it for grazing in the meantime.  Our ultimate would be to have ranges that were more multi-use, which supplied grass for cattle and wildlife, rather than a thick dog-hair of mono-culture timber.


The cutblocks have opened up access to reparian areas like this little meadow, above.  Our grass seeding will supply forage in other areas, helping keep the cattle dispersed.  If these cutblocks are not seeded, weeds takeover and soil is eroded.  On our own land, we would NEVER expose soil without seeding it back to grass.  This is a major no-no, and yet the government seems to have taken a lax stand on this issue in our area.  The forest companies have done such a good job of personally making us feel guilty for improving our shared resource, we’re even a little nervous to post this blog!

By seeding some of these cutblocks, we can reduce the pressure on our native grasslands which is the most endangered ecosystem in BC.


As ranchers we are in for the long haul and long-term.  It seems very short sighted not to grass seed.  Trees are not the only thing that matter in an ecosystem.

~Erika & Doug Fossen~

It’s A Minefield Out There!!!

Late this afternoon we got a call about some renegade cows, so headed out to round them up.  Chasing them into the corral, we had to fight our way across a sidehill covered in cactus!


These low growing pricks have horribly sharp, barbed pokers that are nasty to deal with.  We have done battle with these many times on this low elevation range.  They get stuck on the horses, in our boots and on our dogs.

IMG_4230 IMG_4233


We need to learn to carry needle nose pliers as it is very nasty to pull these out with bare hands (so my husband tells me!)  Especially when the horse throws in a stomp!


As we were rescuing my horse ‘Blue’, ‘King’ (Blue’s big brother) was waiting patiently on the hillside.  He had his cacti removed 10 minutes earlier and was happy to chill.  After Doug had pulled one off of King, he flicked it off his finger and it flew 7 feet and stuck into the wood barn wall!!


As we come into our fall round-up these are just some of the obstacles that challenge us and our ‘crew’!


After we got moving again and were riding across the grass, every piece of grass looked like a cactus to me and I was very flinchy and not enjoying myself!  Im sure glad these little suckers don’t grow on most of our ranch!


King and Blue:  happy the cows are loaded in the trailer as darkness falls.  The bad news is we did not find the bull that was supposedly with them, so we’ll have to go back tomorrow……


~Erika Fossen~

A Rancher Weights In On The Water Debate

Just as I was thinking we were done with the water topic and I was coming to terms with our ranch being completely unable to irrigate or restricted for the month of August and the effect that had on our hay crops, the water monster has reared its ugly head again.

Pictures of some dry spots in our field due to lack of water.

Pictures of some dry spots in our field due to lack of water.

It was a few weeks ago now that I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a very disturbing post. This blog took me 3 weeks to put together, I wanted to compile accurate information and get several people to look it over.
The post claimed that the Coldwater River is endangered due to use of water for ranching and agriculture and it takes 15,500 liters of water to produce 1 kg of beef.

Since reading the post the information presented has occupied most of my thoughts. Those numbers presented are alarming and I wanted to dig deeper to figure out how they got to those numbers, the validity of the numbers and how to convey a ranchers side of the story about the amount of water we actually use in beef production. I encourage people to become informed from a variety of resources and perspectives in order to think realistically and logically about important topics and not accept one post on Facebook as the conclusive answer. These types of comments are the exact reason I wanted to start this blog, to give a voice to the rancher’s story, to those people who do use water, but who are using it to bring safe and nutritious food to the tables of fellow Canadian families and other families all around the world. I know that I am not going to change the mind of everybody in regards to beef production, but my hope is to give facts, so those looking for more information can make an informed decision.

Firstly, the Coldwater River is the river that flows through our ranch and the one we irrigate out of. To read this these stats is quite alarming, however as someone who has lived beside this river my whole life and for my father who has lived beside this river for 53 years I would like to weigh in on this conversation with some additional information to help folks make a broader informed decision. I feel frustrated when agriculture is held to blame for the demise of the river, when it is quite realistically a combination of factors. For example, Dr. Brian Riddell, President and CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation, notes that “low snowpack levels over the past winter have also diminished typical water levels in the rivers.” With regard to the fish, another factor influencing the number of fish in the Coldwater River is according to Dr. Riddell, is “that we’re seeing fish delaying in the salt water.” Once a salmon enters fresh water, it cannot return to the sea. Fish will instead wait until fresh water temperatures cool before making the transition, thereby delaying their journey home.

Moreover, in my lifetime the river has undergone some significant changes and even more in my dad’s lifetime.

This rock my dad use to hay around when he was younger. When I was younger this rock use to be on the bank of the river and we use to jump off of it into the river and now the rock is in the middle of the river.

This rock my dad use to hay around when he was younger. When I was younger this rock use to be on the bank of the river and we use to jump off of it into the river and now the rock is in the middle of the river.

Here is a view from our back yard. When my dad was growing up the river was against the furthest bank this is how much the river has changed course due to high water levels in the spring.

Here is a view from our back yard. When my dad was growing up the river was against the furthest bank this is how much the river has changed course due to high water levels in the spring.

Currently, there are 5 people who have a water license from the Coldwater River and who use it for irrigation for Agriculture purposes. I think the changes are due to a variety of factors. A huge contributing factor would be the mountain pine beetle that kills trees in our forest, in order to try and stop the spread the beetles the dead trees were logged, salvaged and turned into chips and hog fuel. The Ministry of Forests and Range estimates that as of 2009 the total area of Crown forest land affected in BC by the pine beetle to be “16.3 million hectares.” “The ministry also estimates that a cumulative total of 675 million cubic metres of timber” have been affected.
The red trees are dead due to Mountain Pine Beetle.

The red trees are dead due to Mountain Pine Beetle.

Now those trees that have been affected were once standing at the head waters of the Coldwater River and all the way along, many of them are not there anymore or are dead, therefore when the snow melts in the spring those tree roots are no longer there to suck up that water so a huge rush of water melts off in the spring and comes down the river. We have many memories of the Coldwater River flooding, taking land and almost a house. The house my husband, daughter and I live in was once my Grandpa’s house and one year the river flooded so badly it almost took out the house. Now that bank is riprapped to protect our house from future flooding. In addition, our ranch has worked with Nicola Tribal Council to complete projects to help protect and stabilize the banks, so the river doesn’t take any more land and to ensure the proper habitat for the fish. We worked with fisheries on project where they cabled logs together and then cabled the logs to the banks to support the bank structure, but also to give shade to fish.
The destructive path of the river, was once the river's channel, now a gravel bed.

The destructive path of the river, was once a channel, now a gravel bed.

Showing the flow of the river, not that low for Southern BC at the end of summer/ beginning of fall and more debris

Showing the flow of the river, not that low for Southern BC in August and more debris

This shows the river in the new channel this year. It has probably moved 150 m from last year.

This shows the river in the new channel this year. It has probably moved 150 m from last year.

This pictures shows the debris the rivers leaves behind when it floods.

This pictures shows the debris the rivers leaves behind when it floods.

This is one of the many projects a neighbour and us completed. It is a rock wall structure to help stabilize the banks in times of high water, but as you can tell the river has changed course and now there is just a small stream flowing by, so it is now ineffective.

This is one of the many projects a neighbour and us completed. It is a rock wall structure to help stabilize the banks in times of high water, but as you can tell the river has changed course and now there is just a small stream flowing by, so it is now ineffective.

Another project we completed to help stabilize the banks and give shade to the fish. These are logs cabled together and then cabled to the bank. However, the river has changed course and now there is just a stream flowing by, so these structures are pretty useless.

Another project we completed to help stabilize the banks and give shade to the fish. These are logs cabled together and then cabled to the bank. However, the river has changed course and now there is just a stream flowing by, so these strutters are pretty useless.

This is an old river channel and now all it is is a gravel bar and unproductive land.

This is an old river channel and now all it is is a gravel bar and unproductive land.

Having the river flood and change courses like it does not only affects us, but the fish as well. According to Dr. Riddell, “flash floods and a mix of rain and snow events threaten to disrupt river flows, endangering salmon eggs buried in underwater gravel.” In addition, now it has changed courses and has eaten up so much land that the river is no longer in one neat channel it has moved all over the place and has created a wide shallow channel which cause the temperature of the water to increase, which is not an ideal habit for fish egg and juvenile fish to grow and survive. There is some information on the river and some things we have to deal with and some reasons there are less fish coming up this river.

Next, I always find these numbers interesting when I read them from anti-agriculture activists, the people who are trying to stop animal agriculture. I am by no means a scientist, so when I read this article and was thinking of ways to share my side of the story, I knew I had to do some research and gather more information than just my personal opinion and experiences. The fact finding is really important to me. This blog, I hope, is a platform for people to gather more information to make informed decisions, so I never want to spout off about things I don’t know about and voice my opinion as absolute truths, like it seems to happen quite often these days. We listen to celebrity bloggers and regard their opinion as absolute truths and disregard science. I never want to do that.
I talked to Dr. Reynold Bergen with the Beef Cattle Research Council and an expert from the provincial government for information. Dr. Reynold Bergan gave me an alternate number for the amount of water it takes to produce 1 kg of beef. According to researches at the University of California Davis “it takes 3682L to produce 1 kg of beef.”

When reading numbers I caution people to don’t just take a stat for face value ask some further questions do some more research. For example, the number that was quoted on Facebook, Dr. Renyold Bergan explains that to come up with that number they included blue water, green water and gray water. Blue water is fresh water. “It’s fair to include blue water because water used for irrigating forage is water that could potentially have been used for other things, like irrigation for a different crop, or a golf course, or fish or hydro or swimming pools.”
Green water is rain water “so all of the rain that falls on pasture, hay or rangeland is billed against beef” explains Dr. Bergan and “since no one actually has any really good comprehensive rainfall measurements they calculate it.” This estimated calculation significantly distorts the final number and is not fair to put against beef production because it would rain regardless if cows were there or not. “Gray water the amount of water needed to dilute pollution, which is based on nitrogen run-off from crops grown for feed production” explains Dr. Bergan.
In addition, these calculations were done based on numbers from China, India, the Netherlands, and the US and then a weighted average was taken. The 15 500 number is the overall average for those countries. If you take out rain water (green water), the “water footprints” of beef shrinks by 94%. If you only include the irrigation water (blue water), that is the water used to grow the crops and cattle it shinks by 96% to 550 L per kg of beef. The drastic percentage shrink is caused by the article blaming livestock for water use when that water is rain “and it would have fallen regardless of what the land was used for golf course, national parks, parking lots and the smaller proportion is gray water that would have been polluted even if the land had been used to grow crops for human food.”
Moreover, when talking with an an expert from the provincial government, agriculture irrigation is about 70% efficient meaning 70% of the water is taken in my the plant roots and not evaporated, where as traditional lawn irrigation is 50-60% efficient. On our ranch we have installed underground mainline to use less water and our neighbour has installed underground mainline and pivots. Both of these improvements we did because we want to be more water efficient and the costs for these improvements comes out of our own pockets. Compare that to a stat I found on the government website about water use, “Canadians consume about 1.5 million cubic meters or approximately 4,400L per capita-per day.”

Furthermore, maintaining a green lawn can be a massive drain of water. Irrigating a 1000 square foot lawn with half an inch of water takes about 1250 liters (330 gallons) It takes 68,137 liters to fill average back yard swimming pool (18,000 gallons).
I think as a society we need to start taking responsibility for the amount of household water we use and not be so quick to point fingers. Don’t get me wrong agriculture has room from improvement too we are not perfect, but we know that and try to make improvements and due studies to verify. Also, to not take a stat posted on Facebook as an absolute truth look into a bit more and see how they are arriving at the numbers. As I am posting this blog, our irrigation license is done for the year, so our pumps are shut off. I really hope we can make some improvements to the system for next year and raise some awareness. Happy Canadian Thanksgiving weekend!