Now and Then – Beef ranching in Saskatchewan

By Tara Davidson

My family and I run a beef cow-calf ranch in southwestern Saskatchewan, raising cows with their calves. The things that I love about ranching are too numerous of course to list! I love working alongside my husband, our three children, and other family members. I like the challenges that come with raising cattle, and I enjoy working in nature daily.

An interesting thing about our ranch is that we try to implement new technologies in several capacities. Yet in many ways, we still run our cow herd the way ranchers did decades ago.

Figure 1 The author’s husband on horseback, gathering their cattle in the fall with the help of one of their trusty cattle dogs.

Tara’s husband on horseback, gathering their cattle in the fall with the help of one of their trusty cattle dogs.

One “old school” method that still applies to our ranch today is the use of horses to check our cattle, to move cattle from one pasture to another, and to treat sick animals. Our cattle graze in large, remote fields with rugged topography that isn’t always accessible by vehicle. Using horses allows us to get cattle where we need them to go in a quiet, albeit old-fashioned, way.

Cattle respond to our movements on horseback a bit differently than when we approach them on foot or with a vehicle. As they say, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and moving cattle is no different. We try to use our presence on horseback in relation to a cow’s “flight zone,” causing them to move in the direction we need them to go simply by moving ourselves (or our dog). It’s a subtle, yet effective way to achieve results. Plus, sometimes it’s nice to work as a team and have a horse’s additional set of eyes and another brain than solely relying on your own!

A “new school” technology that we implement on our ranch is the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. These tags are a key component for Canada’s world-leading beef traceability system, and ranchers are legally required to purchase and apply RFID tags to their animals. RFID tags have a small electronic transmitter implanted in each tag with a number that is unique to that animal.

Ranchers and other parts of the beef sector can use these tags to help monitor where cattle go once they leave a farm or to prove the age of an animal. Before your animals are sold to someone else, you better make sure they have their ear tag!

These are just a couple of examples of how cattle ranching relates to our history yet is also on the cutting edge of technology. Sometimes, the best way to plan for the future is to look at our past.

Tara Davidson and her family, farm in southwestern Saskatchewan. When she’s not busy on the ranch, find Tara on Twitter @tara_m_davidson or check out this video of life on their ranch.

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