Hungry cows can belly up to Red Deer County roadside ditches after council passed a policy to help farmers facing drought-ravaged pastures.
Coun. Connie Huelsman put forward a notice of motion two weeks ago to have council consider allowing grazing in ditches to help farmers feed their stock.
“It is very much over-grazed out there in a lot of spots,” said Huelsman.
“I think this shows we’re responsive to the conditions of this drought to our local farmers,” said Mayor Jim Wood. “I do think it’s important we pass this and give (farmers) this opportunity.
“Where I live, there’s no grass. We’ve sold two-thirds of our cows,” said Wood, who raises cattle and farms near Delburne.
Before developing the policy, county staff checked with the county’s insurer, who questioned the move.
“The county’s insurer was not really in favour of offering this type of program due to the liability involved but recommended that legal counsel be contacted,” said a report to council.
The county’s lawyer recommended a policy be adopted if ditch grazing was to be allowed but warned that the county could be exposed to liability. To address that concern, farmers applying for a roadside grazing permit must have $5 million in liability insurance.
Council’s unanimously approved grazing policy carries a number of conditions. Farmers must get county approval to move their cattle into ditches and they must graze next to property they own or lease. Grazing must take place during daylight hours, fencing must be in place to keep cows from wandering onto the nearby road and signs put up warning drivers.
Coun. Richard Lorenz, who raises 60 cattle near Markerville, suggested if managed properly roadside grazing should not be a big risk to the county.
“I agree with you, 300 cows in the ditches probably isn’t the right thing. Under certain circumstances, I don’t think this is a hindrance to anybody.
“I think it can help some people.”
Coun. Dana Depalme said she grazed her cows in ditches during a 2002 drought.
“It worked well. We couldn’t do it now with the amount of traffic on the road,” said Depalme, who represents Division 3, which surrounds Penhold.
However, ditch grazing could work for many.
“300 head of cattle — no. But in small groups, it could give you an extra day. Right now, it’s huge (to get) an extra day of grazing.”
The policy takes effect immediately and expires on Oct. 15.