Don’t let the menfolk hear you say it, but women can ranch solo just as well as any bachelor.
“I’ve done it a lot of years, and you know there isn’t anything that requires so much physical strength that a woman can’t do it,” said Myna Cryderman, who gave an overview of her 80-head operation near Boissevain during a recent Farm and Cattle Management for Women workshop, one of five hosted around the province by Manitoba Agriculture and Rural Initiatives.
“If you set it up right, women can do it on their own, too.”
Cryderman started in ranching in 1989 when she bought a section of rolling hills with a creek running through it in the Turtle Mountains. Her husband at the time wasn’t interested in farming, and was away much of the time, so the day-to-day work on the cow-calf operation fell to her.
A few years later she was divorced and she managed the ranch duties full time for five years until she found a new significant other.
Cryderman, who also breeds horses for sale, bought 10 cows and built her herd up to a peak of 100 head of breeding cows during the years after BSE.
She credits her success to the lessons she learned from attending one of the first Holistic Management courses given in Manitoba, in the early 1990s. The 10 couples who went to the session later formed a group called Turtle Mountain Holistic Managers, which meets every month for a potluck and to swap ranching ideas.
One of the first things she did on her ranch back then, which was 430 acres cultivated and the rest bush, was to sow the land to grasses such as birdsfoot trefoil and tall fescue for winter grazing, and replace the barbed wire with three strands of high-tensile electric fence.
The perimeter fences were all three wire, and the interior, two wires. As it turned out, “less is more,” and now she runs mainly long, narrow paddocks with a single wire powered by a good fencer.
“If you have two wires, it just seems like the bottom one gets shorted out,” said Cryderman.
Her farm uses a lot of alleys between paddocks for moving the herd to fresh grass or bringing them in for vaccinations, a system which is important for a one-person operation. She calves in June on pasture, applying ear tags and banding bull calves on the spot.
Some cows, of course, don’t always take kindly to that, so she leaves their calves for her riding and roping friends to take care of later in the summer. “They’d have them separated, tagged and castrated in a few hours. All I had to do was bring the beer for afterwards.”
Cryderman buys only the cheapest seed for her pastures, but lots of different kinds. Proper pasture management has not only allowed her to increase her stocking rate by 25 per cent, but the magic of herd hoof action and adequate pasture rest periods has sprouted greater diversity of forage.
A recent tour found 13 species of legumes in one pasture, where only one had been seeded.
“The others had come back on their own,” said Cryderman. “There was wild grasses there that I’d never planted. Whether birds brought them in or whatever, if conditions are right, they’ll start growing as long as you’re not overgrazing the land.”
Her philosophy is to use the cattle as willing workers. Sometimes, she’ll let the grass get tall and set seed, then let the cattle in to trample everything into the ground.
That works for controlling brush, too. To push it back, she drops a bale on it in winter. The nutrients from the manure and leftover hay helps the grass take back the area.
Where burdock is a problem, she grazes the cattle a little longer to give it a good pounding.
In the Turtle Mountains, coyotes and even wolves abound, and one year she lost eight or nine calves.
To prevent losses, she keeps a standard donkey with the herd, and a handful of guard dogs. She also makes sure the cows are near a water source, some of which is fed by the 7,500 feet of shallow-buried water pipeline on her ranch, so that they don’t leave the newborns alone for too long when they go for a drink.
When it’s -50 and windy, she feeds in the bush, which she considers a great asset, not something to be bulldozed. After suffering a drought, she’s also learned to live with the beavers on her property,
Although Cryderman uses a lot of stockpiled forages and swath grazing, she still needs to feed hay, mainly alfalfa to supplement protein. Careful to avoid waste, she always puts the bales where manure nutrients are needed.
She likes her cows to be fat in fall. But if they drop one to two points on the body condition score, she figures that’s natural, and they can regain the lost weight on spring grass before calving in June.
For Cryderman, who was not only a single female rancher, but also one adopting new-fangled holistic ideas, things were doubly tough at the start. But now, some of the neighbours who once scoffed are changing their tune, she said.
“There’s one who comes over now, and tells me, ‘You know, this rotational grazing is the way to go,’” she said, with a laugh. daniel. [email protected]
– MYNA CRYDERMAN