Tales of the Greenhorn and Cattle Ranch – 100 Mile House Free Press

Dave Scratchley grew up as a city boy. His life had been made up of noise, lights, people and lots of action. So what the hell was he doing now, alone in the dark of a moonless Caribou night, where the only sounds in the silence were those he made as he shoved his way through mounds of snow that had fallen from the overhanging trees on 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 the large herd of cows packed along the fence. There were over 200 and many were ready to calve. Being in charge of the herd was a frightening prospect for the newborn, whose only experience with cows was trying to milk one as a child.

When he was 30, Scratchley decided it was time to move away from the coast. A new life in the north, in the wild country of the Caribou, seemed like a real adventure for the young man. He met John Hood, a realtor 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 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 field of hay on the Scratchley Ranch had been partially mown by Garth Harms. Harms and his parents Pete and Margaret owned a ranch nearby. Scratchley said finishing haymaking with the Harms was a great learning experience for him.

The following fall, Garth Harms decides to spend several winter months in Mexico. He asked Scratchley if he would take care of their cattle while he was away. It would be quite an undertaking as some of their cows and some of his would calve between December 15 and mid-February.

“I said sure, but I didn’t know what I was getting into. So we organized a cattle drive at my house,” 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 home, Garth gave me a vet book and three boxes of medicine. There were antibiotics and a growth stimulant, which was a steroid that had to be injected into the calves at the time, and that was it, no advice or instructions. I stood there with the book in my hands and watched him go.

He explained how everything changed when he met a nice old cowherd who passed by one day and saw that he needed help.

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

Scratchley said most calvings went off without a hitch, except for one cow.

“She was in trouble, so Elmer brought his chains and delivered the calf. We lost a few calves. They would have diarrhoea. You could see it in their eyes. I would bring the calf into the house and see what I could do for it, but sometimes it just wasn’t enough. Sometimes a mother didn’t clean her baby very well when it was born, so I would take the calf home, wash it and dry it with a hair dryer. I would give her a vitamin B12 shot and it would calm her calf and give her an appetite.

“Calving was over at the end of April. In May, the cows were back on the beach. After that, I bought a skidder and learned 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 an area where the only breeding that is done is by Pippi with the odd squirrel.

Of his herding experience, Scratchley said, “Well, I enjoy a steak a lot more now!”


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