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Rancher Locks In Land For Wildlife Habitat

“Cattle need water and grass and so do ducks.”

– RICK ANDREWS

Ducks and cattle can get along famously, it seems.

When the Kliever family decided to pack in their 1,600-acre grain-farming operation in 2003 and sow all their land down to grass instead, they had an inkling that Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) might be interested in making a deal with them.

So they approached DUC representatives with a proposal to lock in some of their sloughy acres in a “forever” Conservation Agreement.

The DUC people came back with a counter-offer that would cover the entire 10-quarter farm, and the Klievers decided to sign on the dotted line.

They used the one-time payment of $100 per acre for uplands, and $200 per acre for 140-odd acres of GPS-surveyed restored wetlands, to pay down debts outstanding on the land, according to Kirk Kliever, 28, who along with his father Ken does most of the day-to-day management at Kenrae Farms, near Elkhorn.

“The money is nice, but we didn’t need the money to change what we were doing,” he said.

Now they mainly do custom grazing of about 500 head rotated through 44 paddocks on the farm, along with a constantly varying herd of their own cattle that ebbs and flows along with current market conditions.

Participation in a Holistic Management course, which promotes the use of livestock as grassland improvement tools and fertilizer producers, helped change their farming practices.

Kliever doesn’t put up hay on his land anymore, and instead buys winter forage according to his needs.

If hay is short this year – as it is rumoured to be – he’ll winter the cows on straw and screening pellets.

The deal was a major breakthrough for DUC’s ongoing efforts aimed at restoring wildlife habitat, and represents the largest of the conservation group’s projects in Manitoba.

Some 118 wetland basins were restored with 93 earthen plugs on the Kliever ranch since the deal was signed.

Because they aren’t grain farming anymore, the potholes that were formed are a welcome part of the landscape, providing extra water storage to keep the grass greener during the droughty parts of the summer and in some cases handy water sources for their cattle.

Rain has been sparse this year, he added, and the effect of the blocked drainage can be seen in “green rings” on the low spots, whereas the uplands are mainly covered with brown, dormant grasses.

“There’s probably 10 times as much forage in those low spots as there is on the uplands,” he said. “Some of that stuff is just stalled right out.”

“Cattle need water and grass and so do ducks,” said Rick Andrews, head of wetland restoration for DUC in Manitoba.

“I have always said that and this project is the perfect example of how agriculture and the environment can find a common ground and complement each other.”

Many farmers are leery of the “forever” clause that is part of signing a Conservation Agreement with DUC, because it means they cannot break or drain the land, nor can a potential buyer do so if they choose to sell out.

But Kliever said that it’s really no different from signing an easement deal with a pipeline or some other permanent fixture on the land.

“We don’t mind the Conservation Agreement’s terms because I see our business continuing on forever, so if it never ends, forever doesn’t matter,” he said.

“Working with Ducks is great. You get compensation, plus more water on your land. I don’t see where the downfall is at all.” [email protected]

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