Onward Ranch

Posted on Friday, 9 April 2021 under Supporting Farmers and Ranchers Featured Farmers

Onward Ranch is a 4500-acre cattle ranch near Williams Lake, farmed by Ingrid and Ty Johnston. While the Johnston’s focus on cattle, as well as keeping beehives and horses, they see farming as an extension of nature. Ty says, “We adopt a holistic approach to the management of our land. So horses are part of it.” They practice rotational grazing with their herds and try to keep them on the land for as long as the season allows.

Climate change has affected their land. The Johnston’s have experienced drought and extended periods of rain in recent years, forcing them to constantly adapt.

Photo by Onward Ranch

One of the mitigation strategies the Johnston’s have adopted is to reduce their fossil fuel consumption by minimizing their use of tractors through a technique called stockpiling forage. Ty says, “We plan for more grass than we think we will use through the fall that we don’t harvest, so we don’t make it into hay, but it’s still standing.” With careful planning, this strategy allows their cattle to graze for longer periods. By not cutting and drying hay for their cattle, the Johnston’s reduce their tractor use and intentionally leave grasslands untouched for later in the season. Ty says, “So we do need hay, right – that’s a reality. But if you cut one cut of hay and then the next cut you leave there, you can then let your animals graze it in the fall and early winter.” They use their horses, when they can, to actively work to regenerate soil in diminished areas. Ty explains, “If we can do more with the horses, we’re going to do it. Strategically, bale grazing is another really good option that we do, in areas that we know are sort of depleted or exposed.” Regenerating soil and promoting growth on their grasslands is something they strive towards. Ingrid says, “Grass is our strength on this ranch.” Ty echos, “The soils and the grasses, you know, it’s all interwoven.”

Photo by Onward Ranch

In addition to maintaining soil cover and minimizing fossil fuel use, the Johnston’s encourage biodiversity and continuously aim to increase their conservation efforts at Onward Ranch. They keep a close eye on their land and raise their cattle in harmony with its natural ecosystems. Specifically, they protect their ranch’s water channels and encourage the growth of natural habitats. Ty says, “Diversification is really, really key. It’s important to keep the brush and the trees along as much of the river as possible. Trees stabilize the bank for fish habitat.” Tree cover also acts as protection for their cattle from seasonal weather changes. For example, “The cows don’t like sitting out in the sun all the time. So they will seek cover on our uphills, it’s a living barn concept.” To ensure these waterways are protected, these trees also provide buffers on either side of the river.

At Onward Ranch, they are passionate about farming alongside the natural environment. For Ingrid regenerative agriculture means, “Leaving the land better at the end of our lives than the beginning of when we first moved here.” These two farmers have been ranching together for over 20 years and stress that results are not apparent right away. Ty says, “Over time, you start to see the results of these different techniques and you may not see the full fruits of your labour next year but the following year for sure.”

Photo by Onward Ranch

Finishing animals on the land they are raised up on is important to the Johnston’s both for our climate and their commitment to customers. They stress, “It’s about what’s done on the ranch but also consumerism as a whole. It is really important to get across that the animals are born and raised on the same ranch as they’re finished on.” Keeping animals in BC from birth to slaughter avoids additional transmissions from trucking them to and from the prairies. At Onward Ranch, they love their work and being able to provide locally-produced, nutritious food. Ty stresses, “You know, I believe ranchers truly love the land, and I believe that a lot of them are doing their best in adapting [climate-friendly] practices.”