Just days after Tom Teichroeb moved his cattle onto higher land his pasture flooded. Already in mid-May of 2011, the water was starting to rise near his Langruth ranch.
Some of the cattle had to swim to get across to the dry hayfield before they were moved 12 miles across the highway to a rented pasture on higher ground.
Several days later a windstorm hit, blowing at 90-100 km per hour for nearly 36 hours, lifting the south basin of Lake Manitoba and effectively flooding his and many other people’s land. His once lush and green land was nearly unrecognizable.
Teichroeb shared his story, one that is familiar to many Manitoba producers, at this year’s Forage and Livestock Symposium in Portage la Prairie recently, and talked about some of the techniques he has used to restore forage and feed acres on his farm.
“We try and use sustainable practices that are going to be there for this generation and the next,” he told the Co-operator.
Water covered most of his land for the first year and into the second year. It wasn’t until the end of 2012 that he and his wife could begin rehabilitating the pastures. They cleaned up the debris that had washed in with the water and then surveyed the damage.
The water levels were still high so they focused on the land that was at the lowest risk of flooding again. Teichroeb knew desiccating the land would likely alter the soil biology and damage the biodiversity of the grass so burning was out of the question. Instead he brought his cattle in to do some high-impact grazing and bale grazed on top of that to restore nutrients to the soil.
The family tries to tend the land as sustainably as they know how. Teichroeb likes to refer to himself as a steward of his children’s land. “There isn’t much sense in doing what we do if we don’t have a bigger picture in mind of what we do,” he said.
In 2013, the water had largely retreated and they could tackle the hayfields. They did have to burn areas of their forage land. About 30 per cent of the fields were under water for so long that reeds sprung up.
He burned heavily weed-covered areas and hired his grain-farming neighbours to reseed the alfalfa grass mix for hay and forage seed with their high-speed double disc and John Deere disc drill because the new equipment could disc the crops without disturbing the soil.
As time passed, the grass returned. First the flat grass, then the slender wheat grasses and finally the broad-leaf grass.
Then the floods hit again in 2014. The Teichroebs, and many other producers around the Interlake area, took a step backwards again. Though the effects weren’t as severe as the initial event, he estimates the water affected about 30 per cent of his feed production and 40 per cent of his total acres.
“It’s overwhelming and you feel a tremendous sense of loss,” he said.
The future is uncertain. Will the land be flooded again? Meanwhile he does the best he can with what he has left.
Teichroeb doesn’t claim to be an expert. He has experimented with different methods on his ranch and simply wants to share what has worked well for him. But his advice to other producers is cautious.
“Find out what’s economic to you. What’s more effective, what’s most efficient, what’s a sustainable practice that’s going to turn that land back into an economic engine.”