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Cattle and the Cypress Hills are synonymous. Local ranch family history is deeply woven into the story of the hills and the story of many of those families follows the roundup trails that have been well worn into the landscape.
The Cypress Hills Stockman’s Association (CHSA) Roundup is a direct link to that history. The annual drive brings together the remaining ranchers who use the public land. Cattle have been grazed in the wide-open hills as far back as 1890. By 1900, areas around the hills began to be turned into reserves for forest and game. The imposition of fees on ranchers who grazed and drove cattle on the land made the formation of a rancher’s organization necessary. Three such organizations formed that year.
Meetings to form a group started in the winter of 1918. In 1919, the (CHSA) was formed to negotiate lease prices on behalf of member ranchers. The first membership totalled 31.
In 1920, 33 members grazed 2,939 head. This number remained fairly average over many years except during the drought decades when the numbers were reduced because there was not enough forage. For 2013, there are 1,723 head on the pasture. Each member is permitted to pasture 90 head.
In the 1930s, the CHSA members had access to approximately 31,000 acres of land, about half of which was wooded. Today, the Cypress Hills pasture totals more than 45,000 acres. There are 26 members in the association currently.
Stock are released into the pastures in May and can remain until December. The main roundup is in October when members and riders they hire gather. All the cattle are driven to a central stock are where members “cut” out their cattle. Obviously, a rigorous branding standard has to be met to accomplish this.
Costs to members for belonging to the association have varied. In the early days, the cost was an average of $1 per head annually but that dropped to as little as five cents when times were hard. Salt charges were extra and the fees could be more or less depending on how much investment was necessary in fencing. These days that will be on average 55 cents a day or close to $100 for a full summer season on the pasture for one full-grown cow.
Many questions have been raised about the future of public rangelands since the announcement in 2012 that the community pasture programs will be radically changed. Many pastures in the province are being scheduled for private or corporate ownership. The Cypress Hills pasture is part of the park and is not subject to being sold or leased to a private interest.
For additional photos of the cattle drive go to our photo gallery.
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