Although the size and quality of Douglas Lake Ranch has enabled it to diversify into other operations over the years, the cattle operation remains the ranch’s primary business. Life on the ranch fosters teamwork between management and some 120 full and part time employees. With a current cattle herd of approximately 20,000, Douglas Lake Ranch is the largest privately held cattle ranch in Canada and one of the largest in North America.
The combination of its size, superior grasslands, extensive infrastructure, and sound management principles, have earned Douglas Lake Ranch the reputations of producing cattle of exceptional quality and uniformity in addition to being one of the lowest cost cattle producers in the country.
In general, Douglas Lake Cattle Company is capable of supporting in the range of 10,000 mother cows. In addition, Douglas Lake Ranch is in the unique position of being able to buy and sell cattle as a commodity given its size, equipment, inventory and staff. The feedlot at the Island can be utilized to take advantage of market conditions and the superior reputation enjoyed by Douglas Lake Ranch.
On average the Douglas Lake Ranch base herd will consist of approximately 4,500 Hereford cows and 2,500 Black Baldie cows and 450 bulls, producing in the range of about 6,800 calves per annum. The operation is predominantly a yearling operation although some 2,000 calves are generally sold on an annual basis. Calves are weaned in November, with about 3,500 yearlings put on grass the following spring to be sold as long yearlings in the fall. Each year about 1,500 yearling heifers are retained as replacements for the cow herd. In addition, market cattle are at times bought and sold by the ranch.
During the period from May to the middle of October, Douglas Lake Ranch cattle are grazed on over 480,000 acres of Crown grazing land. From autumn until early spring, the cattle are brought down and grazed on ranch-owned grassland. This is where Douglas Lake Ranch has a significant advantage over other cattle and ranch operations in that unlike most other ranches, Douglas Lake Ranch owns extensive grazing lands. This enables the ranch to commence grazing earlier each spring and end later each autumn, leaving the herd to be winter fed for a shorter period of time, resulting in significant cost savings. Additionally, ownership over the grassland gives management complete control over this highly valuable asset. Douglas Lake Ranch has the single largest unit of open grassland in the region.
Douglas Lake Ranch’s ability to sustain such an impressive herd of cattle is derived from the careful management of the natural grasses including the indigenous blue bunch wheatgrass. Native to the Pacific Northwest, these hardy grasses are found in abundance on the Douglas Lake Ranch and is thought to possibly be one of the single largest remaining habitats for these plants. This indigenous grass is extremely resilient to the cold winters and dry summers, however it can be susceptible to damage by overgrazing and contact, particularly that of man. Consistent overgrazing destroys the plant, leaving the area prone to infestation of other less desirable species of flora. Sound grazing programs can actually enhance and refine range conditions.