QUILCHENA RANCH - 1882 TO 2001|
Nestled in the Nicola Valley, the heart of British Columbia's ranch country, is one of Western Canada's largest ranches, the 30,000 acre Quilchena Cattle Co. Ltd. Owner Guy Rose is a grandson of Joseph Guichon, the founder of Quilchena's mighty 'parent spread,' the Guichon Ranch, established in 1882. In 1956, Guy and another Guichon descendant amicably divided the sprawling Guichon Ranch. "Simply put," says Guy, "this is a family ranch that was split." Family harmony allowed for a peaceful division. The southern half of the ranch, purchased by Guy and Hilde Rose, became known by the name given to it by nomadic natives who, at one time, gathered there to hunt and fish: Quilchena, "a gathering place near water."
RANCHING IN 2001 The hard-working Rose family is involved in every aspect of operating Quilchena. The ranch depends on tourism, as well as the cattle market, for income. The historic Quilchena Hotel, a dove-gray 1908 Edwardian hotel with white pillars, red porches, and blue railings sits surrounded by sweeping lawns and hard-grass rangeland. Running the landmark hotel and marketing top-grade Hereford and Hereford-cross cattle have made Quilchena famous. Filled with western art and old family photos, with a cozy ranchhouse feel, the hotel acts as informal headquarters for the the third, fourth and fifth generations of the Rose family: Along with a hired farm and cowboy crew, Guy and Hilda Rose's children and grand-children help with day-to-day ranch operations. Quilchena employs crews for cowboying, irrigating, farming, logging and machinery repair, as well as running the busy hotel and a general store to supplement ranch revenues. Triangle Ranch, Quilchena's busiest ranch division, spreads between gentle hills covered with blue bunch wheat grass. Situated behind the hotel that overlooks Nicola Lake, Triangle encompasses hayfields, calving barns, sorting pens, a horse barn, a machine shop, ranch office and cowboy crew housing. Quilchena's other ranch division, Home Ranch, with weathered red barns, corrals, and a now-unused blacksmith and harness shop, was once the headquarters of the original Guichon Ranch. Other famous Canadian spreads, like the half-million acre Douglas Lake Ranch and historic Nicola Ranch, border Quilchena. "We're neighbors," owner Guy shrugs, "We gather our cattle and fix fence together."
CHALLENGES "Ranching's a hard way to make a buck," says Guy, seated in the hotel's historic saloon. Dressed in faded work clothes, rumpled and dusty from a morning spent moving cattle, Guy explains: "I've seen people try ranching, then fail after a few years, losing their life's savings." Urban pressure, uncertainty around native treaty negotiations, and increasing government regulation are the three leading social and environmental problems facing ranchers today, Guy explains. "We get alot of unreasonable requests from government and environmentalists and the treaty process makes us apprehensive," he admits. "Things are uncertain. If we lose our summer range, where do we graze our cows?" A 50,000 acre licensed summer range is vital to Quilchena's operation. "Every dollar we make gets plowed back into this ranch. On a ranch, change costs money and we've made alot of changes." Guy says plainly. "We just keep ranching 'til it's all gone." Guy Rose attributes Quilchena's success to "good land, good cattle, good employees." He acknowledges that times are getting increasingly tougher for ranchers. Due to strict new range management laws, Quilchena had to fence some creeks and allow streambeds to regenerate with natural growth. "Our cows can hardly drink from natural sources anymore," says Guy. "We had to set up some expensive watering systems." Guy adds thoughtfully, "We're a big part of the community, our cows have grazed this land for over 100 years. We've spent hundreds of thousand improving our fields. I sometimes wonder, in fifty years, will there be any ranches left?"
HORSES "Since the ranch began, we follow the same century-old pattern," says Steve Rose, Guy's son and farm crew foreman. "The cattle go out in the Spring and come in in the Fall. The use of horses and cowboys remains unchanged - motorbikes or four-wheelers destroy the grass and upset the cows - the horse is the only way." "We need quick-traveling horses with good feet, good legs, good minds." says cow boss Alex Robinson, whose cowboyed for famous outfits like Douglas Lake and the Gang Ranch. Cowboy crew horses are selected from Quilchena's own eighty horse herd, kept at Triangle Ranch. "Each cowboy has about six or eight horses in his string. We use a Ray Hunt-type training method. We're riding three year olds by the second day. By age six, all our horses have been roped off and used to catch calves," says Robinson. One gelding, the notorious Red Dog, a 1400 pd. sorrel, "can hog around pretty good. We rode him for four months straight, and wore out two sets of shoes settling him down." Alex chuckles. Big-boned Quilchena horses get fed a custom-mix hay of orchard grass, timothy and alfalfa. Quilchena produces all the feed - hay and silage - needed to winter the outfit's cow and horse herds. For the ranch horses, the Quilchena farm crew puts up between 5-600 square bales, as well as 100 round bales that are distributed in self-feeders. Fish Lake, a stallion by the legendary Peppy San, was bought in the late 1960's from neighboring Douglas Lake Ranch to introduce cutting bloodlines to the Quilchena remuda. Still, Quilchena-bred horses are cowy without fancy moves you might see in a cutting competition. "You don't need a horse to get real low to the ground, they just have to listen to you and listen quick," says Mary Stewart, an experienced wrangler, and Alex's mother-in-law, whose helping with fall round-up on her cow-smart five-year-old blue-roan mare, Heidi. Each year, about six or seven foals arrive. Robinson freeze brands a 'straight R,' the Rose brand, on the left shoulder for horses and the right hip for cows.
CATTLE In the late 1800's Joseph Guichon, founder of the Guichon Ranch, introduced the the first Hereford to the Nicola Valley. Quilchena runs two cattle herds: Hereford-Angus cross and straight Hereford, for a total of about 4000 head. Quilchena cattle graze spring to fall on the lush mountain grasses at summer cow camp, forty miles away from the ranch base. "The cows follow a cycle beginning in the valley, moving up to the mountains, then back to the valley again," explains Guy Rose. Cowboss Alex Robinson and a crew of 4-6 cowboys stay at the cow camp. "We're like shepards," says the cowboss, "constantly moving the cows to prevent over-grazing." Each day, cattle and cowboy crew horses are trucked to the range. In the early morning, cow-calf pairs are separated at Triangle Ranch, then allowed to mother-up at the range, for the calves' safety. "The blue bunch wheat grass sticks to their ribs. It's not rich and juicy like valley grass that mostly comes out back end," says Steve Rose. To protect the native bunchgrass, pine grass, wild rye and vetches, Quilchena practices a strict two-week range rotation. Crews plant rangeland seed mix on any disturbed areas. "We pay special attention to our heifers," says Steve, farm boss and the 'cows' dietician.' "We send heifers out onto the range in good condition. All winter they're fed high protein hay, the best second crop alfalfa, and grain." On such a high-protien diet, the first time mothers have excellent pelvic development and good milk production. Bred to Red Angus bulls which throw lighter calves, first time heifers rarely experience calving trouble. "Our loss and c-section rates are almost nil," says Steve. A telescope, set up in the Triangle calving barn, helps the cowboy on calving duty scan the herd of 'heavies.' Cowboys also ride through the herd of cows due to calve every half hour. Cows calving on the hills get checked daily. Each hayfield at the ranch is regularly soil tested, then fertilized with a custom blend of nutrients mixed for that specific area. "Our success all starts in the soil," Steve explains. "Because the feed is excellent quality, our cattle are heavier and healthier." Quilchena cattle are sold electronically, the bidding process displayed on an overhead screen in the hotel's banquet room. Over 100 buyers attend the two hour 'e-sale.' Others link up to bid by computer. "E-sales are practical, efficient, and reach more buyers." says Guy. In the past, cattle were sold at the famous Panarama Sale, a day-long auction-sale with live auctioneers and buyers seated on the toprail of the Home Ranch corrals. "Now," says Guy, "we have breakfast, sell the cows, and go golfing." Quilchena has its own 9-hole golf course, another source of income, situated beside the 16-room 1908 hotel.
THE ROOKIE COWGIRL "Jen often gets pulled from school for spring branding and fall round-up,"says Gillian Rose, Guy's daughter-in-law and Quilchena Hotel manager. Gill and Steve's daughter, Jennifer Rose, 16, spent her school summer-holiday working on the Quilchena cowboy crew. With cousin Matt Rose, also 16, Jennifer's fifth generation to live and work on the Quilchena Ranch. Matt, son of Quilchena livestock manager Mike Rose, also rides regularly on the cowboy crew, and helps with irrigating and horse-shoeing. Jen and Matt grew up together at Quilchena, riding, working, and sharing the same interests. Seated in the stands at the Nicola Valley Pro Rodeo, Jennifer's mother Gill watches two Quilchena teams compete in wild cow milking - where an unlucky cowboy from another team has three fingers severed when his hand becomes entangled in his lariat. In the next performance, a Quilchena crew wins the event. "Jen's gone by 5am every morning. Alex and the crew took her under their wing," explains Gill. "Jen dropped 4H this year to concentrate on her senior year in high school. After working ten hour days on the cowboy crew this summer, I told her going back to school is gonna' be as easy as slicin' cake."
FALL GATHER At 5am, the sliding front door on the horse barn at Triangle Ranch, lets a slice of light out onto the gravel ranch yard. In the pre-dawn, the rhythmic shook-shook sounds of nearby hayfield irrigation sprinklers mingle with the rumble of diesel engines. The arriving cowboy crew, half way through the week-long fall round-up, quietly greets each other, as they saddle up their horses. Today, the crew - Alex Robinson, Mike Hassel, Nick Bapty, Mary Stewart, Jennifer Rose and Chonah Archachan - will spend a long, dust-filled day at Home Ranch, sorting, weighing and loading more than 500 steers. Trailed by his quick Australian Kelpie cowdog Bailey, the cowboss strides into the barn, greeting the crew. Smokey, Alex's dapple gray gelding, stands already saddled. After Alex leads Smokey to the waiting stock trailer, the crew follows with two blue roans, Blue and Heidi, for Jennifer and Mary, and two chestnuts, Goblin and Chaps, for Nick and Mike. Chonah's hauled his own horse, a leggy black, over for the day. The crew, outfitted in worn chinks, scarves and already-dusty cowboy hats, climbs into the crew-cab and heads for the low pastures of Home Ranch. As the sky turns pink, the crew hazes the herd along with yells and slaps on leather chaps. Barb wire groans, stretching, as Alex holds the circling herd along the fence, while Chonah and Nick bring in some stragglers. The herd moves slowly across the narrow Douglas Lake Ranch road and floods into the Home Ranch yard, past the quiet ranch houses and log corrals. Finally, the steers pour into a large holding pen, by a network of smaller corrals where Alex and the crew, will spend a long, warm afternoon sorting the steers by size and weight. As he oversees the sorting, Alex pauses to jot down figures in a small tally book balanced on his saddle horn. The steers are herded, 30-35 at a time, over electronic scales where Mike Rose, Guy Rose, and ranch accountant Frank Sciarpelletti, along with B.C. Livestock Co-Op buyer reps watch and record the weights. 550 steers are scaled in about 40 minutes. At 3pm, eight tri-axle stock-liners arrive to haul the steers, already sold by computer sale, over the Rocky Mountains to feedlots in Alberta.
GETTING ALONG In winter, "we keep warm and feed the cows," says Guy Rose. Quilchena produces over 5000 tonnes of silage and 2000 tonnes of hay for winter feed. "Everyone here has an appreciation that no single job is more important than any other," says farmboss Steve Rose. "There's a great camaraderie between the cowboys and farmers - you don't often see a cowboy on a tractor, or one of the farm crew on horseback, but we know, if it weren't for each other, we'd be out of a job." "If I didn't make improvements, I'd be letting down my ancestors," says Guy. The Quilchena Cattle Co. endures because of the hard-working family and crew who co-operate to protect the ranch's livestock, land, and unique Western heritage.
Other articles by Tammy Thielman