In the early 1900’s Darrell Ambrose’s great grandfather settled onto land adjacent to the Samish River, just south of Acme, to start a farm from scratch and raise a herd of Brown Swiss cows. The hand-built heritage barn still stands and is a testament to the Ambrose family’s commitment to building things that last.
Darrell has transformed the family farm in recent years to also protect water quality and fish habitat, but not without a bit of a nudge. He was referred to the Whatcom Conservation District for free and confidential services after the Department of Ecology contacted him to address potential runoff from his farm. Darrell said, “I was concerned about having any government entity on the property, worried they would run us off our land. All my fears were groundless with Whatcom CD: they are not a reporting entity. They are all wonderful people and have specialties in many areas. They will come out and assess your situation and can offer you many different ideas that you can use or not use at your discretion. They will also tell you about any available rebates or any other financial help available.”
The most notable change Darrell made was a new winter confinement area for his 20 cows. After consultation with the CD, he decided to discontinue the practice of winter grazing and to install a confinement/sacrifice area to keep animals off pasture during the wettest months of the year. Up to the day the installation was complete, Darrell was uncertain this was a good idea. “I thought my cows wanted to free range, and didn't think they would be happy unless they could continue to do so… well I was wrong. Once those cows had a dry area to be in, they didn’t ever want to leave.” Darrell now says this decision has led to better forage in pastures, decreased parasites, and the cows are not compacting and making divots in the wet soil.
Ambrose worked with the CD to enroll some of his land in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). CREP pays landowners to establish fencing and buffers of native trees and shrubs along fish bearing streams and rivers. “They’ll pay you for the land you put into conservation, along with fences, culverts, and watering stations. Then I take that money and put it back into improving other parts of my land that is better ground for animals anyway.” Four generations have now been caring for this land, his daughter will be the fifth. The Whatcom CD is honored to be a trusted resource, helping Darrell help the land.