Bar VI Ranch – Langruth, MB

Bar VI Ranch is a fourth generation cow/calf ranch that sits on the edge of Lake Manitoba. The ranch is 1600 acres and has been regeneratively farmed for 5 years. In 2013, Kris and Clorissa Egilson started managing the land. Up until then the land had been continuously grazed by cattle and a portion of the land was in hay production.

Kris grew up on this farm but after the BSE outbreak in 2003, cattle farming didn’t seem like a sustainable option. Kris left the farm to get his mechanical engineering degree and worked in Winnipeg, but still came back to the farm on weekends to help out. Kris has always been passionate about the agriculture sector because of its importance in our world. He believes that it instills a strong work ethic with so many different areas for learning and growth. 

He went on to explain how he felt that he was of much more value to others working on the land and building soil, then working in an office. Kris says he thought he could do more on the farm by showcasing what is possible and influencing others to do the same.

“Farmers are stewards of the land. We have the closest connection than in any industry. I think it’s our responsibility to manage it in a responsible way. Having the opportunity to get back to the land and work at it, at boots on the ground level, I thought that’s where my best fit is” says Kris.

Since moving back to the farm, Kris has been trying to do things a little differently. His uncle belonged to a Holistic Management group for a while and Kris learned about planned grazing through him. Kris and Clorissa took their first HM course in 2015 with some people from their area. It all made sense to him. He says that Holistic Management has principles that are very similar to a theory he learned about and believes is valuable in all fields, called the Triple Bottom Line. The Triple Bottom Line is essentially taking care of the people, taking care of the planet, and looking after profit. Kris explains that Holistic Management looks at things as wholes that are all connected, and he believes that to be necessary for success. Up until now, Kris explains that agriculture has been primarily profit focused. And the land has been used as a resource that is not managed sustainably. The people, planet, and profit are all inter-related.

“I think that regenerative practices are good for both consumers and producers. Not only will farmers be less dependent on external inputs, consumers will see health benefits from higher quality food grown with less chemicals. Improvements to the planet include opportunities to sequester carbon, increase biodiversity and soil health. It’s just a win-win-win” says Kris.

In 2011, Lake Manitoba flooded the ranch and his dad, who was managing the land at the time, had to evacuate the cattle for a year and a half. After that Kris said that there were a lot of issues with compaction and the land was water logged. Many new invasive species took over the pastures. Kris is hoping that by implementing holistic planning grazing he will be able to bring back more diverse grasses that were there before. He has made improvements to the fencing and watering system since returning to the farm and hopes to bring back positive change to the land.

“Holistic Planned Grazing – This is the practice of charting grazing moves that consider the time that a plant is exposed to a grazing animal so that the recovery of the plant is planned. Holistic planned grazing may look different from brittle to non-brittle environments and even from ranch to ranch as social, economic and environmental  factors are considered in the grazing chart each year” writes Smith (2015).

Kris and Clorissa’s objectives for the farm are to improve the soil and increase their herd. They are hoping to become more resilient in times of drought or flood by increasing soil organic matter so that it will increase the ability for the soil to infiltrate water. By improving the soil, they will restore ecosystem processes which will benefit the environment, the people living on it, and their profitability.

Kris applied to the Regenerative Accelerator Project to help with this. Having a mentor from the field go over their finances and grazing plan was helpful, says Kris. 

“Planning for profit upfront, instead of just being reactive, and doing things like we’ve always done” says Kris. 

In 2021, Holistic Management Canada received funding from the Manitoba Heritage Habitat Corporation Conservation Trust for a project called the Regenerative Accelerator. The project set out to work alongside 5 farms in Manitoba, to provide expertise and financial support to implement regenerative practices. Bar VI was one of the 5 farms involved in the project.

Originally for their project they were going to use the funds to build more permanent fencing to help with the planned grazing. After the drought everyone faced last summer, and sitting down to plan it out with their expert advice, they decided to focus on water management. Kris created a system to pump water out of the lake into a large tank that gravity fed 3000 feet of pipe that could be strategically placed above ground to water the cows on pasture. He also set up some remote watering areas so they could utilize all of their pastures. 

During the planning stage of this project, Kris identified their weakest link in their chain of production to be a product conversion problem. They had too much grass and not enough animals. To fix this weak link he brought custom cows in and kept more heifers last year. Their herd was 50% bigger than before. Having the proper grazing plan and the water system set up allowed them to do this successfully.

“The chain of production. Human creativity first needs to use money and raw resources (including sunlight) to create a product or service. Then the product or service needs to be perfected and finally marketed to produce money. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link” Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield (2016).

Kris says that their farm’s competitive advantage is that they didn’t have to de-stock when a lot of people were this year due to the drought. They are going into this year with a lot more animals than last year. He attributes this to proper planning and the new watering system. 

Kris says another benefit from the project was it allowed him to connect with like minded individuals, who think a little bit differently. The other aspect of the project that was important to Kris and Clorissa was the EOV Monitoring. Kris explains how EOV confirms that their practices are doing what they should, and also shows them areas where they need to manage a bit better. They appreciated a third party coming in and using science-based methods and a certain standard to measure the outcome. Kris hopes that this standard is adopted by more and more people so the outcomes are comparable. This will help consumers purchase products that come from a system that is regenerating the land, instead of degrading it.

“That’s the thing, when you have competing criteria; cost, quality, convenience and sustainability, it’s hard for the consumer to choose what’s the right product. Which one is better than the other? Hopefully this will become mainstream and it can be used to help consumers with their buying decisions” says Kris.

When Kris was asked if there was anything else he would like to share about his experience, he wanted to share his passion about regenerative agriculture. He explained how there are a lot of young people out there that could get excited and interested in farming again if these practices were implemented more. Right now the structure of farming is based on managing thousands of acres and margins that are so slim if you make a mistake you are done. Right now the current agriculture framework focuses on chasing profit and trying to be the lowest cost producer, competing with everyone. The framework of regenerative farming can work in a different fashion by encouraging young minds to think long term about agriculture.

“That’s why I came back…thinking there’s a different way. I think this different way can work for the farmers best interest, the consumers best interest, and the lands best interest. Up until now, I feel farmers have been working to someone else’s best interest.” explains Kris.

What’s next for Kris and Clorissa?

They are going to start direct marketing their beef. Right now they sell their cattle to the commodity market and are missing out on a premium that they could be capitalizing on. Kris feels that they need to have more of a direct connection to the consumer while also increasing profits. He feels the biggest impact they can make is to share their story to the consumer of what they are doing on their ranch so they know where their food is coming from. That way they know they are making an impact themselves by supporting what Bar VI is doing. 

Reference 

Abbey Smith, “Holistic Planned Grazing is not rotational or mob grazing”, Jefferson Hub, 2015, https://jeffersonhub.com/holistic-planned-grazing-is-not-rotational-or-mob-grazing/

Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield. Holistic Management – A Commonsense Revolution To Restore Our Environment. 3rd ed. Island Press. 2016

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