Obituary for the Beavers of Beaver Creek January 2023

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I moved to the valley along Beaver Creek (I am not sure of the real name of this creek) in 1997, lived in a small trailer, and took a job to help pay for my farm. My now ex- husband and I agreeably co-own the land.  I managed the grassland and the farms livestock and still do. 

First generation farmers in today’s world are few and far between.  I am not sure how many solo women farmers there are, and well, my main livestock is the non-edible kind, that puts me in a unique category.  Though, I know my appreciation for the SW Alberta landscape is not unusual.

Healthy creek with active beavers.
Beaver dam and pond along Beaver Creek, SW Alberta, before 2021..

I first got in hot water because of the creek’s mammal population when someone wanted to feed them a pile of bark from an invasive bush.  I stood my ground politely and asked them not to, as it may cause an infestation of non-native bushes along the creek.  

When you love something so dearly, sometimes you hurt people’s feelings.

Beavers can live on willows along the creek.
The ranch dogs enjoying Beaver Creek.

I also created the farm emergency plan.  How does one save your herd in case of a grass fire? With a three -horse trailer and a sustainable breeding herd of rare Canadian Horses, I rely on beaver dams and natural beaver ponds as the safety net.  The herd will gravitate to these ponds during a grass fire emergency; horses have the smarts to keep themselves safe near a water body during fires.  I can only evacuate dogs, cats, and three of my horses.  But I can encourage the beaver to live where they have lived since the beginning of time.  There is a hands-off beaver policy at Windy Coulee. I am grateful every time I see a sturdy beaver dam and a full pond behind it.  

My farm volunteers and I hike out on those hot summer evenings to find the beaver.  Late summer, you can sit on the banks and watch beaver cut the abundant willows on the creekside and drag them to the centre of the beaver ponds. Watching them swim, trying not to scare them or let them catch your scent helps you meditate in the failing light. If you are from Europe, this is an experience of a lifetime, like watching the northern lights.  

Beavers of Beaver Creek
Healthy beavers means a healthy creek.

Yet the beaver are simply collecting food for the winter. When the ponds are full, the piles of willow sink to the bottom and are reachable from underneath the ice. This is the result of their diligent work keeping the dams in place, storing the water, feeding the excess into the water table and supporting a healthy creek.  Willows on ice in winter though, does make for dangerous skating.  

I don’t skate.  I walk the winter frozen creek and look for various wild animal tracks, see the willows and know the beaver are safe in their bank dens, and still able to get some food.  I dream of watching them with their young next spring.  It is a love affair from afar.  I will never hold them or catch that strong beaver scent with a sniff of my nose in their fur.  I will only remember hot summer evenings sitting on the coulee edge looking down at the beaver, getting ready for winter. 

Beaver ponds keep wildlife and livestock safe in prairie grass fires.

In the spring, sometimes the snow, ice, and chinooks get the better of them.  In March, 2014, everything melted into a huge torrent. 

The Windy Coulee Herd of Canadian Horses stuck on the east side of the creek for a time.

The herd was stuck on the east side of the creek, the beavers who survived were stuck alongside a raging force of water that plowed through the dams, draining everything, washing food downstream, exposing the beaver to predators. I prayed for them to survive. 

March 10, 2014 Beaver in trouble due to an early spring melt

Later that spring, as I was checking on the herd, I saw a large beaver slogging back upstream.  I know in my heart he or she stayed safe after being washed down towards the Oldman River, that runs through Piikani land.  

This is all Nitsitapi land; Blackfoot Territory since the beginning of time. “Niitsitapi” (nee-itsee-TAH-peh) means “the real people.” I am privileged to live on this land as a guest.  I am privileged to have the beaver living in the creek as my neighbours. 

My heart was broken again, just before the floods of 2013 and 2014.  I heard someone had a permit to trap a considerable amount of beaver from the creek valley.  Not on Windy Coulee, but all around. How is that possible without even asking the neighbours? 

The next two years of severe floods ensured no beaver used the creek for several years, then they resiliently moved back. 

There was a balance for a decade.  

In 2021, it all changed.  Is this the ebb and flow of a creek? My heart says no.  In August the creek dried up, flowed a bit again, dried up, flowed a bit again, dried up, and then the reservoir of water in the riparian water table also dried up, and then the beaver ponds dried up and the beaver disappeared.  It stayed that way well into September.  The beaver had no chance to store their food, get their homes ready for winter. I remember when the water came back, it was almost as if someone had turned on the tap.  Too late in September to do any good for the beaver.  In 2022 it happened again. My pond building neighbours are gone.

August 2022
Some small pools remained for a while in early August, but lack of oxygen from so little overheated water, still killed the fish.

I hope that our creek can be managed to the point where the water will not stop on again off again like a city tap.  I know humans take water out of the creek, and they may even do it without thinking of what is happening downstream.  I know that humans can learn to think and act more for the downstream ecology.

Beaver Creek SW Alberta dries up in 2021 and 2022.
By mid August the creek was completely dry except for a few small over heated pools.

I pray the beaver will come back again. But with drought affected crops, and diminishing wells, will there be enough water?  Or can humans learn and act to show they know that a healthy creek is the most important thing for every living being in our community?  Can humans learn how to live and farm with less water for short term business and more water for the creek?

Without adequate water table, even a well constructed beaver dam can not hold enough water to keep a healthy pond in place.
Abandoned beaver dam in 2022.

I loved you beaver and everything you represented. When, or if, you come back I will be so very grateful! My herd will be safe again, Beaver Creek will be flowing again, and the creek known today as Beaver Creek will have its namesake back again. If, (hopefully when) this happens, our whole community may have a second chance to regain health, well being and the one thing that keeps everyone alive . . . water.

Mournfully yours, Heidi 

Nutritional Planning for a Herd on Native Grassland.

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repost Fall 2022
Heidi Eijgel

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In 2008, I asked what I thought was a simple question. What exactly is the breakdown of nutrients required to build a healthy horse?  This was quickly followed by a second question.  How do I feed my horses solely on native grassland from August till April every winter, and put them on a more traditional feeding program for May to July, and be confident they are getting the correct nutrients?

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Most over the counter mineral mixes for horses have directions stating to feed with good quality hay.  Many in Southern Alberta have added selenium.  My third question was how much is too much selenium? With so many different supplements and complete feeds out there for horse owners to purchase for their animals, how can we be certain we are not overdoing certain minerals, and under feeding others?  Yeah, that is the fourth question.

My vet recommended I contact Amanda Kroeker, nutritionist and co-owner of ARK Nutrition and she had the answers and more.  But first, Amanda sent me off on a quest to discover the actual nutritional content of my pastures and hay.

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Nutritionist Amanda Kroaker, and Hoof Care Specialist Bob Laye consulting.

That first spring and summer I was sampling grass in all pastures, morning and evening.
I included a soil analysis done a few years ago to the mix, and also included the chemical analysis of our well water for a pretty complete picture of my horses input.  The pasture grass samples (primarily native grass) and the hay samples were sent for a Dairy One nutritional analysis, and that gave us the baseline of nutrient the herd was getting.

Next in this process was a farm visit.  Amanda Kroeker came out on a farm visit and assessed each and every horse in the herd.  She photographed their hooves, measured hoof temperature, looked at their coat quality and even took manure samples.  After synthesizing all the data, she put them in 6 groups; broodmares, developing youngsters, slightly overweight horses, stallion, other riding horses and retired horses.  An individual ration complementing our grassland and locally sourced hay was developed considering the specific workloads and duties of each animal.

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From competition horses to developing youngsters, broodmares and stallions, at Windy Coulee we are always striving to build healthy horses so we can offer the very best of the Canadian breed to our clients no matter what job that horse is going to do.

In the early days, there was no nutritional supplement that offered every component needed for an equine diet primarily made up of native pasture, so I was off buying ingredients and mixing them based on a formula developed by Amanda.   Nowadays, we purchase ARK Nutrition’s Synergy mineral, and complement it with a few extras to complete the ration.

Our horses deserve nothing less than a foundation of healthy food with the correct amount of nutrition, as well as balanced hoof and dental care, a superb vet on call, freedom and a herd environment, topped off with fair and kind horsemanship.

Put that all together and the best practice of Equine Stewardship is your bottom line.

Amanda explains equine nutrition clearly, logically and inspires you to do your best to help your horses health. We came up with some simple guidelines to guide her work at Windy Coulee Canadians:

  1. Use organic and local ingredients as much as possible (this supports Alberta/Canadian farmers who helped the land and the environment)
  2. No animal by-products or processed feed. 
  3. Keep it simple.

Amanda added a fourth guideline: Keep it affordable, and we have found keeping our whole herd on the program is possible.

Windy Coulee Canadian Horses has worked with ARK Nutrition since 2008. Thank you, Amanda, for supporting our ideals and keeping our Canadian horses healthy. www.arknutrition.ca

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For more information on the Canadian Horse:

Canadian Horse Breeders Association 

History of the Canadian Horse

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Unique, beautiful and safe horses for lifelong human partners. Our farm strives to responsibly breed and raise Canadian Horses while also protecting the native grassland that sustains the herd.

Happy 2019!

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For more information on the Canadian Horse:

Canadian Horse Breeders Association 

History of the Canadian Horse