Marianne Van Osch (Patrick Davies, 100 Mile Free Press photo)

Marianne Van Osch (Patrick Davies, 100 Mile Free Press photo)

Tales of the greenhorn and the cattle ranch

Marianne Van Osch’s weekly column

Dave Scratchley grew up a city boy. His life had been one of noise, lights, people and plenty of action. So what on earth was he doing now, alone in the dark of a moonless Cariboo night, where the only sounds in the stillness were those he made as he pushed his way through mounds of snow that had fallen from overhanging trees onto the trail. His flashlight made a small circle of light in the darkness around him.

It was the second time he had been out that night, checking on the large herd of cows crowded along the fence. There were over 200 of them and many were ready to calve. Being responsible for the herd was a scary prospect for the greenhorn, whose only experience with cows was trying to milk one when he was a child.

When he was 30, Scratchley decided it was time to move away from the coast. A new life up north in the wild country of the Cariboo sounded like a real adventure to the young man. He met John Hood, a real estate agent who lived in Forest Grove. Hood took him to see a 150-acre ranch at the end of Biss Road, where the old road dips down into the Canim Lake Reserve. The ranch was perfect, in a small, sheltered valley between tree-covered hills. The deal included 100 cows.

A large hayfield on Scratchley’s ranch had been partially hayed by Garth Harms. Harms and his parents Pete and Margaret owned a nearby ranch. Scratchley said that finishing the haying with the Harms was a great learning experience for him.

The following fall, Garth Harms decided to spend several winter months in Mexico. He asked Scratchley if he would take care of their cattle while he was gone. It would be quite an undertaking as some of their cows and some of his own would be calving between Dec. 15 and the middle of February.

“I said sure but I didn’t know what I was getting into. So we had a cattle drive to my place,” Scratchley said. “We were on foot and it was snowing hard. The cattle stayed under the trees as much as they could. When we got to my place Garth handed me a veterinary book and three boxes of medications. There were some antibiotics and a growth stimulant, which was a steroid that had to be injected into the calves back then, and that was it, no advice or instructions. I stood there with the book in my hands and watched him leave.”

He explained how everything changed when he met a kind old cowhand who dropped by one day and saw that he needed help.

“Luckily I met Elmer Gunther who had a spread out by Ruth Lake. He brought his cows here. So by then, we had quite a big herd. Elmer was a great guy. He knew what had to be done so I learned a lot from him. He was really kind and patient.”

Scratchley said most of the calving happened without any problems, except for one cow.

“She was in trouble so Elmer brought over his chains and delivered the calf. We lost a few calves. They would get scours. You could see it in their eyes. I’d bring the calf into the house and see what I could do for it but sometimes it wasn’t enough. Sometimes a mother wouldn’t clean her baby very well when it was born so I’d bring the calf in the house, wash it off and dry it with a hairdryer. I’d give it a shot of Vitamin B12 and that would calm the calf and give it an appetite.

“Calving was over by the end of April. By May the cows were back on the range. After that, I bought a skidder and learned about logging. My dad had taught me how to use a chainsaw but that was the extent of my logging experience.”

After a few years, Scratchley sold the ranch and moved back to the coast. Eventually, he returned to Forest Grove where he lives the good life with his dog Pippi on acreage where the only herding that is done is by Pippi with the odd squirrel.

Of his ranching experience Scratchley said,” Well, I appreciate a steak a lot more now!”

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