Sam and Natalie Ballan check the herd during a winter feeding on their family’s Chub Lake Ranch. Laureen Carruthers photo.

Local rancher brings sustainable practices home to the Cariboo

“Growing food and being around the livestock; it’s the way of life that feels right to us”

You can take the girl out of the Cariboo, but you can’t take the Cariboo out of the girl. The old saying may have been slightly altered here, but the sentiment rings true when applied to local rancher Sam Ballan.

Ballan is a third-generation rancher who was born in 100 Mile House and raised on her family’s cattle ranch near 111 Mile. After receiving her diploma in the Applied Sustainable Ranching program from Thompson Rivers University (TRU Williams Lake) in 2018 and being awarded the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal, Ballan returned to Chub Lake Ranch.

Her family’s ranching history began with Ballan’s grandparents, Gaston and Cecile Bauche.

“They came from Belgium and built up a small herd of cattle in 1970: Hereford and Angus. Then my parents purchased it from the family when my grandparents and my uncles passed away. That’s the way my sister and I were raised,” she said. “Growing food and being around the livestock; it’s the way of life that feels right to us. ”

The family primarily raises cattle for commercial beef sales, but also has a logging operation in the form of a wood lot that is adjacent to the property.

“We manage the forest to keep it healthy,” she explained. “We log it once a year or once every two years.”

Ballan has been home-schooled since Grade 9, completing the bulk of her high-school education through online learning. She chose to pursue an education at TRU because of the ranching program’s flexibility.

“It was the only program where I could learn about agriculture without having to actually leave the ranch,” she said. “One day a week we actually had to go into class then the rest of the time we were learning on the farm or getting our homework through email.”

Ballan and her sister Natalie both graduated from a two-year program in the summer of 2018, each receiving a diploma in the Applied Sustainable Ranching program. Afterwards, Ballan got an auxiliary position working in forest, lands, and natural resource operations as a resource assistant.

The sisters had their convocation ceremony at TRU just this May after they graduated in July last year. Running the ranch is a family effort, but both Sam and her sister are now back together at Chub Lake Ranch.

Read more: TRU’s Ranching program kicked off its third year

Ballan pursued a formal education in ranching practices to learn how to diversify the family ranch and make it more profitable. She and her sister are already applying more sustainable practices to the family’s ranching operation.

Some of those practices include rotational grazing and soil building. Rotational grazing is something Ballan hopes to implement in order to build the soil naturally. By moving the cows around their pasture more frequently, the family hopes to build the soil’s organic matter and increase forage production, increasing their hay yield in the process.

“We’re in the transition phase of implementing everything we’ve learned,” said Ballan. “My sister has diversified already, she’s gotten pigs, we’ve never done pigs before.”

The Ballan family is currently dealing with invasive weeds on their property as a result of not using herbicide. To combat the problem, they may bring in goats for targeted browsing.

“Goats prefer weeds to grass and they can digest the weed seeds so that they don’t spread. It’s a natural way to combat the weeds as opposed to herbicide or something like that,” explained Ballan. “It’s all about working in harmony with nature. That’s our goal. Because we have a lot of birds and endangered species around, so we just want to do our part to protect the ecosystem.”

Ballan says that everything she and her sister learned in their diploma course has aligned with their personal values.

In 2018, Ballan received the Lieutenant Governor’s medal from TRU for her academic excellence and community service. The award program recognizes students enrolled in vocational and career programs less than two years long at public post-secondary institutions in B.C.

In 2017, after wildfires affected the Cariboo-Interior, Ballan and her TRU classmates helped clean up the Williams Lake Stampede grounds after firefighters used the area for their service camp. Her volunteer efforts are one of the reasons she was nominated for the Governor’s medal.

For Ballan, ranching is part of the heritage and past of the Cariboo.

Related: TRU: there is still hope for ranching program

Ballan anticipates many ranchers will continue to move towards more sustainable and natural practices, but she doesn’t think the demand for beef will decrease anytime soon.

“I don’t see beef ever being less in demand. I think that people will always eat beef but they expect it to be produced in a way that’s more humane and that’s better for the environment, so we just have to work with people’s changing expectations of ranching.”

Currently, the Ballan family sells beef commercially to the B.C. livestock auction, but they hope to sell more locally soon.

“That way we could educate consumers about how we’re producing beef differently than others,” she explained. “It’s different than what you get in the store and people need to know that, to connect with the rancher.”

This difference is important, said Ballan.

“Cattle that get to eat grass have way more health benefits than the cattle that are raised on grain. The omega 3’s that you can get in the beef raised on grass are substantially higher and of course, there are no hormones in grass-fed beef; that’s only in grain fed animals. For your own health, grass-fed is definitely the way to go, and for the animal as well, they get to act in a natural way and they’re not corralled.”

If cattle are properly managed on the landscape, they help to sequester carbon in the soil, keeping it out of the atmosphere and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, she added.

The cattle graze freely at Chub Lake Ranch. From June to September, they graze on the range adjacent to the property.

Ballan highly recommends the program she graduated from.

“You get to travel around and see how different ranches are operating. You get the hands-on experience as well as the business skills. Besides that, I encourage young people to find ways to diversify their parents’ ranching operations to make them more financially viable for them or there are also ways for young people who don’t have ranching families to get into it with the Young Agrarians.”

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Sam (right) and Natalie Ballan (left) work together on Chub Lake Ranch. Laureen Carruthers photo.

Natalie Ballan drives the tractor while Sam Ballan works behind to feed the cattle at Chub Lake Ranch. Laureen Carruthers photo.

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