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Celebrating Environmental Stewardship: Clear View Angus Ltd., Saskatchewan

The Canadian Cattle Association (CCA) is pleased to feature the provincial stewardship award recipients in the running for the 2023 The Environmental Stewardship Award (TESA). The recipient of the CCA’s national award will be announced during the Canadian Beef Industry Conference in August, in Calgary, Alberta. As always, a common theme among recipients is a profound sense of obligation to care for land, water, and animals. Through sharing their stories, insights, beliefs and values, readers can gain perspective about the relationship between stewardship and cattle production, and the benefits of conservation to society.

In this issue, we feature the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association’s 2023 Environmental Stewardship Award recipient, Clear View Angus Ltd., owned and operated by Brian and Debbie Highsaw.

Maintaining healthy native grassland is a focus for Saskatchewan ranchers

By: Lee Hart

Brian Highsaw grew up on a southwest Saskatchewan ranch where properly managing the native grassland was always a priority.

So later in life as he took over the more than century old, family-run cow-calf operation near Mankota, it was only natural to carry on with those practices.

Today, Brian and his wife Debbie, remain committed to keeping native grasslands healthy and productive, not only as a forage resource for their beef operation, but those grasslands also provide important habitat for a several species of birds and mammals with sensitivity to industrial development and human activity

"A management approach that benefits the productivity of the native grassland benefits both our beef operation as well as wildlife, " says Brian. "It does require some management as native grassland is sensitive. But, I know that if I abuse it, it will take a long time to recover."

The commitment of the Highsaws, owners of Clear View Angus Ltd., to proper range management practices, as well as Brian's involvement and support of conservation initiatives earned them recognition as the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association (SSGA)provincial recipient and Saskatchewan 2023 nominee for The Environmental Stewardship Award (TESA).

"It is an honour to be recognized," says Highsaw. "I really don't know if we do anything special. We've just grown up knowing that if we look after the grass, it benefits the ranch as well as the environment."

Brian was born and raised on the family ranch that was started by his grandfather in 1911. His parents, Bruce and Lorraine Highsaw, continued in the ranching business where Brian and his siblings grew up.

About 10 miles away, Debbie grew up on the family farm where her parents, Lloyd and Elfrieda Bokor, raised cattle as well.

After Brian and Debbie married and were building their own ranching operation, they bought her parents' farm in 1999. At about the same time, they partnered with Brian's brother and sister-in-law, Lionel and Patti, and bought the Highsaw ranch as well.

In 2003, Brian and Debbie bought out Lionel and Patti's share of the ranch, becoming sole owners of the ranches under the Clear View Angus name. Lionel, a long time manager of community pastures, lives on the Highsaw home place and helps out on the ranch.


Today, the Highsaws manage some 61 quarter sections including about 6,000 acres of native grassland, about 2,100 acres of tame grass pasture and annual cropland seeded to cereals such as barley, oats and triticale, — most of which is cut for silage for winter feed. They also put up hay for winter feed as well.

Like many producers across the southern prairies, they've had to manage their operation through several years of drought. While the Highsaws have run as many as 400 head of commercial Black Angus cows, in recent years, they had to reduce herd numbers to better match forage production.

"Weather is always a factor," says Brian. " If there isn't rain to produce the grass, it requires careful management particularly of the native grasses. We need to stay flexible and make changes on the fly if needed."

The Clear View Ranch herd begins calving on pasture in mid-April. The herd is later divided and moved out onto summer range.

"The cows calve out mostly on tame grass pastures," says Brian. "One herd will be moved about three or four times through tame grass pastures right through until about August. While the other herd also calves out on tame grass and then moves to different areas of native grass through summer and early fall.

Following his dad's simple advice from years ago "look after the native grass", Highsaw pays close attention to all aspects of grazing management but particularly when it comes to the native grasses. "Quite often we use the native pasture in a deferred grazing system," he says. "We'll keep cattle on tame grass pastures as long as we can, then use the native grass pastures lightly later in the year."


Depending on the year, the native range might be managed to produce stockpiled forage that is grazed after the growing season, and in years of decent moisture that keeps the tame grass pastures growing, they may not use some of the native grass at all. "We have even seeded some areas of the home ranch with tame grass to be used as pasture just so the native grass pastures can be rested," says Brian.

In recent years they reseeded about 200 acres of tame grass pastures and if the weather (moisture) co-operates they plan to rejuvenate more hay and pasture land in the future.

At the end of the grazing season, calves are weaned in October, with cows moved on to stockpiled forage or hayfield aftermath. With an open fall, hopefully winter feeding doesn't begin until mid-December. As the herd remains on tame grass pasture and hayfields for the winter, it is fed a combination of silage and hay. "Keeping the cattle out on the fields for the winter also puts nutrients back on the land," says Highsaw.

Proper management of the native grasslands not only maintains the productivity of the diverse forbs and grasses, but also protects the habitat of several species of wildlife.

The ranch itself sits on an ecologically rare tract of native prairie. It is in close proximity to Grasslands National Park and the Mankota Community Pasture, all of which hold significant biodiversity importance. The Highsaw’s land is rich in native vegetation and is home to many species at risk, such as the Greater Sage Grouse and Swift Fox, along with songbirds such as Sprague's Pipit and McGowan's Longspur.

Proper management of the native grasslands is important to conserve the habitat needed for these species at risk. Working with conservation and stewardship programs, the Highsaws manage cattle numbers along with both the timing and duration of grazing to best protect the native grasses and wildlife habitat.

Over the years, the Highsaws have worked with Grassland National Park, grazing federal land in order to reach management and biodiversity goals on the native grasslands both within the park boundaries and on their own land.

The ranch has also partnered with the SSGA and the South of the Divide Conservation Action Plan (SODCAP) on initiatives such as the Results Based Conservation Agreement. That is a voluntary agreement covering the management of part of the ranch's native grass prairie to enhance and conserve high quality habitat particularly important to the Greater Sage Grouse and Sprague's Pipit. Over the four-year term of the agreement, range biologists assessed the native grass prairie to determine if targets were being met. In the case of Clear View Ranch, their range condition averaged 90, which places in the excellent category.

Along with being involved in stewardship programs themselves, Highsaw has also helped to introduce other area ranchers to the programs, including hosting information and discussion meetings with area landowners at the ranch.

"There are a number of stewardship programs out there that encourage grazing management practices, and some provide incentives to help producers adopt these practices," says Highsaw. "Some landowners are a bit leery to get involved. But we've found over the years that most of these programs aren't asking us to do much more than what we were doing already. I have worked with a few organizations to help ranchers become better informed about the programs."

The Highsaws' adaptive management approach has enabled their ranch to maintain high quality biodiversity, which affects neighbouring land as well. By applying different management techniques such as changes to grazing patterns, stocking density, timing and rest, the health of their range has continued to improve.

"We have both grown up with and appreciate the value of the native grasslands," says Brian. "Our goal is to apply management practices so that our land base is sustainable and successful for the future generations of ranchers and land stewards. We know if we over graze and mismanage the native prairie it will take years of rest to restore. It is always forefront in our minds that management decisions made today will affect our ability to graze cattle years down road."


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