Article by Liz Twan

BCCA – 2010 TESA- Environmental Stewardship Award

Rainer and Gigi Krumsiek had a dream. The couple, who lived in Germany, wished to live in North America – on the land, with the land. They made the dream come true, immigrating to Canada in 1993 with their three children; Arne, Inga and Florian.

They purchased property in Horsefly, BC in 1995 – land located in the foothills of the Cariboo Mountains, and as a family they worked hard to forge the kind of lifestyle they desired to have; one that was environmentally friendly and self-sustaining; that put as much back into the land as it took. They have made great strides toward the ideal they had pictured in their minds so many years ago.

Annually, since 1995 (except 2005 & 2006) the BC Cattlemen’s Association has awarded the Environmental Stewardship Award to a ranch who have shown that they are committed to operating in an environmentally friendly manner; either generally or by making specific changes to enhance the environmental compatibility of their particular operation.  Part of the description of the qualifications for the national cattlemen’s environmental award (TESA) are as follows, ‘presented to a cattle producer who goes above and beyond standard industry conservation practices, setting a positive example for fellow producers and the general public’.

That phrase certainly describes Rainer & Gigi Krumsiek’s operational philosophy for their ranch; Big Bear Ranch in Horsefly, BC and that’s why they were chosen as the recipients of the 2010 BCCA Environmental Stewardship award.

They were nominated for this award by their neighbor, Doug Best – also of Horsefly, BC.

The physical attributes of Big Bear Ranch include about 2300 acres of land; just under half of those acres are untamed, 46% are cultivated and the other 5% consists of ponds/and/or riparian areas. The ranchlands include a mix of both forested and cleared land; habitat for a wide variety of plant and wildlife species.

Rainer and Gigi believe in environmental sustainability and are committed to the protection of wildlife habitat, water quality, soil conservation, tree stands and fish stocks through responsible management practices on their lands.

Their ‘certified organic’ ranch (2004) is home to a cattle herd which is Hereford Angus/X cows with a rising Galloway influence; they retain their own yearlings to grass-finish and market them organically. Free range pigs roam the land (somewhat contained by electrified pastures) nesting and sleeping under trees, year round. Icelandic Horses are bred, raised and trained for trail riding and pleasure use (about 32 head). A domestic flock of sheep also call Big Bear home, their meat is marketed as certified organic lamb. They also raise chickens, turkeys and earthworms. Big Bear Ranch also grows its own organic hay.

Grazing management has taken a slightly unusual track on Big Bear Ranch because of a previous owner’s logging activities. When he logged the land, the former owner pushed and piled all the logging leftovers (stumps, rock, etc.) into several long windrows (ten to thirty meter wide) running the length of the cleared areas. Instead of taking on the back-breaking labour of removing the windrows; the Krumsiek’s adapted them to serve a useful purpose as windbreaks that also provide natural shelter-belts creating habitat structures. Bio-diversity improved within the area and in their domestic herds; thermal heat loss in winter was reduced because the animals could find shelter from winter wind, resulting in reduction in winter feed inputs as well. The berms also hold moisture and a slower run-off occurs in those areas; moisture retention is higher and forage production is improved.

Gigi and Rainer have spent time, effort and considerable dollars on fencing, including 70 kilometers of permanent electric fence and a further 13 kilometers of barbed wire fence to better manage grazing patterns. The electric fence helps guide grazing movement amongst the windrow configurations as well as in the open pastures.

The wetland and riparian areas are spread over the entire ranch and are of significant value to the operation. Big Bear Ranch has invested in a piped water distribution system (frost-proof) to assure the best possible pasture management while limiting the livestock access in riparian areas. Wetland areas have been fenced to maximize water quality protection and to maintain waterfowl habitat; although grazing (to appropriate levels) occurs at certain times throughout the year. The water distribution required a significant financial investment.

Funding from the National Water Supply program helped Gigi and Rainer with the expenses of installing over 3 kilometers of water line used to pump water to an elevated 5,000 gallon storage tank. The water from that tank is gravity fed back to standpipes which supply livestock watering troughs (in winter and summer) located all over the 1200 acre ranch property.

An Environmental Farm Plan was completed in 2008. With the help of the cost-share program (and funded in part by Duck’s Unlimited) three ThermoSink Waterers were installed. One of them is gravity fed by a pond and it extends the grazing season in that area for 3 months, without that the only cattle water access would have been directly from the natural water source. Rainer was instrumental in helping to develop the Bio-Diversity Guide for BC Farms and he completed his own plan for Big Bear Ranch in 2008.

Bird nesting boxes dot the property, enhanced bird habitat (and wildlife habitat) are important to the couple who recognize the importance of their management of the land to the diversity and numbers of wildlife in the area. Song birds, mule deer and waterfowl are plentiful.

Gigi and Rainer (Big Bear Ranch) are continually looking for new ways to enhance their environmental ranch management practices through on-going education, diversification and partnerships with other producers or clients and most importantly, keeping in tune with Mother Nature.

Of their three children, only Florian has returned to the land. He resides, with his wife Steffi, who is a large animal veterinarian – on a neighboring acreage called Nimble Foot Ranch, owned by Mike and Brenda O’Keefe. Steffi who qualified as a vet in Austria, must re-qualify to begin practicing in Canada.

Generous sponsorship makes awards like this possible; the Krumsiek’s received a large metal gate sign denoting their achievement. The Krumsiek’s are extremely appreciative of the support given by the award sponsors; Bank of Montreal, Prairie Coast Equipment, BC Wildlife Federation and Beef Cattle Industry Development Fund, all of whom had representatives in Williams Lake for the official presentation on May 28th, 2010.

Liz Twan (published in: Casual Country, 2010)