Column: Wealth of ranching knowledge ripe for the taking

We have been ranching for the past 40 years. I took time out, a good decade to serve the public full time.

We have been ranching for the past 40 years.

I took time out, a good decade to serve the public full time. No regrets there. While I am still an active citizen, I am volunteering less.

That is because younger others with more energy need to be encouraged to step up to the plate to take their turn.

I really think we should try what they do in Chiapas, Mexico where public service or community leadership is rotated among the adult citizens.

One of my take away messages from my time in intense public service is: You try to fix the problems, but it ain’t so easy if you have to deal with those whose ox is gored by some change.

Elected leadership can help or hinder but they need abiding support from those who want change. And when change comes, those benefitting must be there to make it happen and deal with probable unintended consequences.

Back to ranching which is my focus these days. Well into two generations after our start (we lived in a tent and had to boat in at first) at our place, we are still building.

This is mainly because it takes time to steward the land in a way that deals with the consequences of the developments. For example, if you clear land for crops the soil needs to adapt to not having a forest cover and you need to nurture the microbes that collect 95 per cent of the inputs from the air: carbon, oxygen, nitrogen. Soil fertility starts right there with the billions of critters that live in the soil.

This isn’t easy when we don’t understand much about their nature. At least I don’t, and I am sure that very few people working in agriculture know.  Without soil we have no sustainable base to our food production.

The record of civilization after civilization is to overuse the fertility provided by nature, and then move on to exploit other fresh soil. This is the long view, but the necessary view we have to take.

So what gets me up in the morning is learning about how soil processes and what grows on it (including animals) contribute to greater soil health.

We believe if our grandchildren can eat healthy (mostly) local food they will be healthier and if they are involved they will respect the productivity of the land for generations to come.

I have been working with others in our industry on how to do our jobs better as farmers: more sustainable methods, and more productive and profitable enterprises. There is a lot of traditional knowledge out there amongst the elders in our business and we need to pass that knowledge on to the next generation of farmers and ranchers.

Of course there is also much new knowledge that should be brought to bear on old farming practices to make them viable for the long run.

Our ranching organization has started working with Thompson Rivers University to bring practitioners and researchers together and make it possible for local young people to speed up the learning process and to skill up for the challenges ahead as they seek to build and take over ranching/farming businesses and operations. It feels right to be doing this especially since the United Nations has chosen this the Year of the Soil.

What are you doing to conserve and improve soil you are looking after?

Watch the Tribune for articles on people and topics of interest on sustainable ranching in our region.

My contact information: 250-243-2243,, or PO Box 3 , Big Lake Ranch PO, BC, V0L 1G0.

David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which is starting at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake this January.