Cowboying in Canada – River Mitchell

Wow, what a summer it has been! It’s back to the university for the last semester of my college career, trying to get back into the swing of studying and feeding cows. I thought you guys might like to hear about what I did this summer!

Highs in Saskatchewan were in the mid-40s when Mitchell arrived.

Highs in Saskatchewan were in the upper-40s when Mitchell arrived.

I had the opportunity to spend most of summer in Canada with family friends, the Slades, who ranch in south central Saskatchewan. It is always neat to go see new areas and different ways of doing things, so I jumped at the offer to go stay with them for the summer! Let me tell you the first thing I noticed when I arrived was even though it was nice and balmy in May in Oklahoma, in Canada it was still in the upper 40’s for daytime highs! You can bet the long handles came out pretty quick! Lucky for me I was only there a week and it started warming up. (I will stick a picture in of when I arrived where you can barely see any green grass and some snow in another. Also a cowboy with sheepskin chaps standing on a porch, don’t see that real often in Oklahoma!). There is so much I got to do, learn, and see this summer! I will start with the Ranch.

Tall grass due to frequent rains.

The Slade’s ranch is 12,000 acres, half of which is deeded and the other half is owned and managed for Ducks Unlimited (DU) Canada as a Conservation Ranch. In the summer operation, the ranch custom grazes about 1000 cow calf pairs and 800 yearlings. The cattle are grazed in a rotational system in 160-acre paddocks (a quarter section of land). Stocking rate is about 30 pairs per paddock and half that on DU land. Typically around 200 pairs in a herd and the cattle would be left in the paddock 5 to 10 days depending on grass and cattle condition. The paddock is typically grazed twice through the summer. One of the neat things about the rotational system on the ranch is that no fertilizer is being used on the grazing side. (The picture of jeep is really tall grass!) Alfalfa makes up 20 to 50% of the forage in the fields, giving a nitrogen boost to the surrounding grasses. Also the herd sizes are big enough that the fields gets a decent stomping and manure and urine put back into the ground, which has an enriching effect. The ranch custom-grazes herds from May through October and retains a small herd of cows for the winter. (Notice the pictures of the cowherds, predominantly Angus influenced)

Michell9-4-14StormCloudsThe Slades also cut about 3000 acres of hay that is imported into dry areas of the U.S. Haying normally begins around the middle of July and goes to end of August. Rain is a big factor in putting up quality hay, it rained on average 4 days a week for 6 weeks straight, starting June 15th. Let me tell you I am from Southwest Oklahoma and didn’t think I would ever see that much rain!

Branding on the Slade Ranch.

Branding on the Slade Ranch.

Some of my favorite times this summer were the calf brandings! I was used to processing (vaccinating, branding, worming, etc.) cattle through a squeeze chute, but that is sure not how they do it up north! The calves are sorted off their mothers into a pen that is about three times longer than it is wide. Then cowboys on horseback rope them by the heels and drag them by a Northfork (hook that goes over the calf’s head) that is tied to a rope and staked to the ground and the calf is stretched and held by the horse and heeler (I will put a few branding pictures in of brandings). This immobilizes the calf allowing him to be processed without the use of a chute. All that is required is a cowboy skilled with a rope! The neighboring ranches all help at each other’s brandings. It is a social event as much as work, with lots of food and storytelling going on after the brandings. There is also a competition factor to see who the top ropers are and lots of pointers being given to the younger guys. It was really neat to be around such talented cowboys.

So basically it was an awesome summer! Hope you enjoy the pictures!

Be Blessed,
River Mitchell