Alberta’s ‘Shipwheel Cattle Feeders’ Recognized For Innovation and Sustainability Efforts

What do compost and bees and manure and fruit and fungus and worms all have in common? They are all part of the regenerative ag system at the innovative and holistic Shipwheel Cattle Feeders in Taber, AB.

Recently awarded an Alltech “Planet of Plenty Award”, Shipwheel was recognized as a farm that is furthering a world of abundance through nutritional and digital technologies, innovation and sustainable management practices in the agri-food sector.
“Everything we do on this land is to honour the past, the present, and to preserve and improve the land for future generations,” says Andrea Stroeve-Sawa, Manager of Shipwheel. Stroeve-Sawa is the fourth generation of the Holtman family and she explains that their holistic mindset and dynamic approach all started with her father, Blake Holtman. “In the early 80s, Dad attended an Allan Savory grazing workshop in Arizona and came home to transition Shipwheel from continuous grazing and cropping to adaptive multipaddock; the rest is history,” she laughs.

Since the grazing records begin in 1982, Shipwheel has improved from 2.36 stock days/acre to 93.5 stock days/acre in 2015. Yes, that 3862% increase is correct! Stroeve-Sawa believes that carbon sequestration is one of the biggest keys to soil regeneration and achieving emissions reduction globally and here at home. “If we can increase soil organic matter just 2% over 629 000 acres in Alberta, which is less than 5% of the farm land in the province, ag could be net zero,” she points out.

One way Shipwheel works towards this goal is by composting the manure and bedding from their feedlot. “Every tonne gets composted,” Stroeve-Sawa explains. “You will see a theme here – Dad is a lifelong learner. He took a course in composting and the next year we implemented it as a manure management strategy.” Once cleaned from the pens, the manure and bedding are windrowed, monitored carefully, and handled with a compost turner to ensure a high-quality end product. All Shipwheel land is soil tested regularly and has not required the nutrients from the compost so 100% of it is sold to neighbouring farms, greenhouses, and gardeners. “By doing this, we are actually improving the land around us as well,” Stroeve-Sawa adds. The holistic approach doesn’t stop at the fenceline; Shipwheel has also integrated integrated, natural practices on all their land, including the yard and garden. Vermicomposting (composting with worms), 3 flow hives of honey bees, pastured chickens, and a fruit orchard all work together to provide stability and profit in all seasons outside of the feedlot.

The feedlot itself sees continuous improvement as well. Once again, initiated by Andrea’s dad taking the initiative to learn something new, a visit to the infamous Bud Williams, followed by his personal visit to Shipwheel left a permanent impact on how cattle are handled on the farm. “His principles have been instilled in me and practiced on our place since the day Bud visited,” explains Stroeve-Sawa. “The principles have even allowed us to manage our animals without the use of prophylactic antibiotics on arrival.” Managing stress on the animals, reducing their cortisol levels ensures the animals is healthy, happy, and gaining efficiently.

“We are always asking ‘What else can we do? How can we go further, do more?’ and then we go out and learn how to make improvements,” concludes Stroeve-Sawa. “We want Shipwheel, this land, and these animals all to be around for a long time to come.”