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.
Douglas Lake Ranch
An equally important component of Douglas Lake Ranch is the Quarter Horse operation. The Ranch Horses originated and were maintained by horses raised at the Ranch until the early 1960’s when the Ranch and Mr. CN Woodward became interested in the American Quarter Horse.
After the purchase of Stardust Desire #0083564 and Peppy San # 0114978, which both went on the become NCHA World Champions, the ranch started a quarter horse division consisting of breeding, raising and training of the quarter horses with the focus being on cutting. With the death of CN Woodward in 1990, the cutting horse division of the ranch was wound down.
Now the ranch raises horses exclusively for it’s own Remuda, but is maintaining the bloodlines that the ranch worked so hard to build in the 1970’s and 1980’s. In November of 2004, Douglas Lake Ranch was honored by the American Quarter Horse Association with the “Best Remuda” award and in 2013 with the “Legacy Award”.
Douglas Lake Ranch has a staff of 18-20 cowboys that are responsible for the movement and well being of up to 20,000 head of cattle. All work is done with horses. Each cowboy has a string of around 10 head of horses that they will rotate throughout the year. During December to February two horses per cowboy are kept sharp shod because of the ice and frozen ground. As calving starts most of the cowboys will have 3-4 horses shod as the miles in a day start to build. This type of rotation means that no horse has to go to work 2 days in a row.
During the busiest time and the longest miles, most horses only work 1 day per week.The cowboys save their favorite horses for fall works when most of the sorting, weaning and shipping takes place. This is a time when the American Quarter Horse’s cow sense really shines. Being able to sit in a gate or in the sorting pen on a horse that likes its job as much, if not more, than the cowboy is a real treat.
The ranch mares are worked as well as the geldings. After proving they can do the work, some make it to the broodmare band. The ranch stallions are also used for fall work. With each cowboy typically requiring up to ten horses in their own string, a horse breeding operation is an integral part of the ranch operation. Presently the ranch maintains approximately 350 horses, which includes 5 stallions and 30 broodmares. The broodmares are pasture bred. The stallions are turned out in May and brought back in by the middle of July. The mares foal from April to June. The foals get halter broke between 8-9 months, started at 2 years, lightly worked at 3 and 4 years and are working full time by the age of five. Our goal of course is to improve our Remuda with horses that carry that special cow sense quality.
British Columbia has a rich variety of habitats, including forests, grasslands, meadows, wetlands, rivers and inter-tidal and sub-tidal zones. They support the greatest diversity of plants and mammals of any province in Canada. With an average maximum summer temperature in excess of 26 degrees Celsius, and an average minimum winter temperature of about minus 8 degrees, the Thompson-Nicola Region tends to experience relatively mild winters (by Canadian standards).
Growing seasons average approximately five months in duration, with at least 120 frost-free days a year. Winter snowfall in the lower elevations is limited, while rainfall is more common in the higher elevations during the summer months. The region has one of the highest agricultural production levels in the Province, indicative of its favorable climate. Classified as semi-arid, access to an adequate water supply is paramount in order to maintain the large areas of irrigated farm land.
Fortunately, Douglas Lake Ranch has ample water as a result of its vast abundance of lakes and streams and associated water rights. Unlike some of the surrounding area which contains steeper terrain, the moderate topography of the ranch and its general lack of ravines and deep valleys provides for easy access to its land facilitating in the spreading out and gathering of its cattle. Home Ranch is set at an altitude of 800 meters (2,600 feet) and Quilchena at 2,000 feet which marks one of the lowest point of elevation on the ranch, while the highest point rises to an elevation of over 1,800 meters (6,000 feet) at the perimeter.
Douglas Lake Ranch
The farming division of Douglas Lake Cattle Company produces a variety of forage crops from grass, alfalfa to barley, oats and corn. The ranches produce over 45,000 metric tonne of feed annually which consists mainly of silage but also includes large hay square bales, green feed and wrapped haylage bales.
The ranches farm on over 7,000 acres of irrigated crop land between all divisions. All feed produced during the summer months is consumed by the cattle in the winter. No additional feed is purchased except for some mineral and protein supplementation.
Depending on elevation, crop type and irrigation method the ranches are able to take between 1 and 3 crops off each field annually. The company has also invested heavily in pivot irrigation over the last decade in order to reduce water use, increase yields through uniform water application and streamline labour requirements. During the peak harvest season the farm division will employ around 30 people from farmers, equipment operators, truck drivers and irrigators.
Technology is playing an increasingly larger role in farm operations with new technologies and methods introduced each year in order to increase efficiencies, improve forage quantity and quality and lower costs of production.