Mitchell Cattle

Our Story

Ranch View 1961
The Ranch in 1961, showing construction on Trans Mountain Pipeline and highway approach to the new bridge over the North Thompson. Two little boys are on the way to the school bus and father, Bob Mitchell, begins a day on horseback around the spring range.

The Mitchell Ranch borders the North Thompson River 60 kilometers north of Kamloops. Descending steeply from mountain lakes, Peterson Creek passes through the ranch in the valley bottom, supplying gravity fed irrigation as well as beauty to the home place.

The ranch has been in the family since 1933 when T. D. Mitchell bought the property, then the Northern Ranch, from Northern Construction Company, a logging company that was an offshoot from railway building. In 1920 they had built the barn to house fifty teams of horses for their proposed giant logging enterprise. Their "Seven Mile" mill at Raleigh burned shortly after and they went out of business. Many piles of decked logs on the benches above the river were abandoned, and the barn remains barely used.

Bob and George
Bob Mitchell with son George in 1957 cleaning ditches for surface irrigation

The original herd of cows traveled "on the hoof" from Dog Creek via Ashcroft, and later north to the ranch at Barriere. Over the years the herd was built up with the introduction of productive cows and the constant use of purebred Hereford bulls. By 1970, owner Bob Mitchell recognized that his herd had become virtually purebred and saw the need for some hybridization in a commercial herd. He bred a handful of his mature cows to Simmental bulls by artificial insemination. Pleased with the results, he continued to add Simmental blood into his herd, working in conjunction with the BCAI Centre to test new bulls as they arrived from Europe. In ten years he had about 250 papered percentage females and a few full bloods - original imports and their progeny.

Bob and Beatrice
Bob Mitchell with Beatrice, the first Simmental sired calf born on the ranch, a "Capitan", in 1969

With the increase in Simmental blood, the ranch still retains a commercial environment. All cattle must be hardy enough to withstand the rigors of calving outdoors and long drives to alpine summer ranges. Calving starts in February. The cows, particularly heifers, are watched carefully, for calving is for each cow a moment of truth. At birth all calves are tagged and recorded: a mandatory step initiating them into the federal Record of Performance program which started in 1972. Soon after calving is over the breeding program begins. Selected cows are sorted into breeding pastures with genetically compatible bulls. By range turnout date in May, all calves must be branded, etc. The "Skull Mountain" spring range is a mountainous area adjacent to and southwest of the ranch.

Skull Mountain
Moving cattle on the Skull Mountain spring range in about 1970

Considerable riding is required here to insure proper range use and to keep the bulls adequately distributed. In early July cows from the spring range are gathered home for the trip to summer range on Harp Mountain. In the early years this meant the first of three thirty-five mile drives to summer range on Harp Mountain.

Daybreak start to the July 1 cattle drive to Harp Mountain in about 1970

By daybreak everyone (family and visiting friends) were fed and horses caught, ready to hit the road. The great obstacle was the highway bridge spanning the North Thompson. Hay must be spread over each of the four expansion plates or the herd would absolutely refuse to cross. The next challenge was to pass through Barriere without adding any cow footprints or deposits onto anyone's lawn. It was a long often very warm day of steady travel to make up the twenty miles to the little meadow where the cows were allowed to rest for a day. Sometimes the herd could be left in the heat of the day to finish that journey in the evening cool. In recent years, this part of the long drive is replaced by trucking to a cattle guard on the North Barriere Lake road. From there the cows often make their way on their own into the alpine pastures, feeding on old clear cuts along the way. In the old days the mountain was inaccessible by road and the herd had to be driven up the eight miles of steep mountain trail, salt and supplies brought along by packhorse. It was a challenge to find a suitable route to bring cows into this mountain area, blazing and building the new trails. It wasn't until the late 1970s that logging roads began to penetrate the mountain from the south cutting across these old trails and allowing access into much of the mountain by pick-up truck.

The effort of getting cows in to the 6,000 to 7,000 foot level becomes obviously worthwhile in the fall. When snow and cold weather force the cows homeward the calves look beautiful - big and growthy with thick coats of hair - proof that the summer fare on Harp Mountain has been good. The Simmental influence makes the best possible use of lush alpine grasses and forbs, with average weaning weights well over those for pre-Simmental years.

The River to the Island
Across to the gravel bar ready to swim the river to the island about 1973

With their calves weaned and out of the way, in the old days, cows began yet another drive - this time ten miles up the Yellowhead highway to a large island in the middle of the North Thompson River. Here again the cows knew what was expected of them. They were carefully strung out into a long line on one side of the highway, giving traffic free passage both ways along the other side. Pilot cars, riders and "foot people" were all part of the picture. At the end of the Highway trek they swam the river channel to the south end of the island and made their way three more miles up island to the mile square grassy field. There they remained until the first heavy snowfall or the river threatened to freeze over. This island was used also in the spring during high water by means of a ferry, the first one made with cedar logs and old oil barrels, then the capable "Blue Goose" manufactured by George Mitchell.

Ferry on the River
The old ferry about 1965

Blue Goose on the River
The "Blue Goose" about 1980

Over the years the appearance of the herd has radically changed. Increasingly the herd has become solid red or black in color and calves are naturally polled. A purebred Angus herd has been added. Most of this Angus herd spends the summer range months in the Allen Lake, Bonaparte Lake area, changing the pattern of our summer activities.

Weaned Calves
Weaned calves in 1968 prior to any Simmental influence. From left at the gate: Bud Watt, Marge Mitchell, Bob Mitchell, Harry Hagen and Wally MacDougall