“Well, I guess the easiest way I can explain it is that I’m not just in the business of raising rodeo stock. Our main objective is to continue to raise natural, sustainable grass/pasture. Healthy and productive livestock is a by-product.” Doug Richards, Owner Devil’s Head Ranch
We have a lot of native grass here in the hills, but we have invasive species here too, like Kentucky bluegrass. I know a lot of people think this is a bad weed; however, Timothy and Creeping Red Fescue are what grows the best up here.
Because horses need less protein in their diet, with the exception of your broodmares, you can winter a horse on less protein. Our biggest battle here is to keep the land that we do have cleared and clear from the invading poplars and the spruce trees.
We don’t have a lot of running water. We do have a small lake (30 acres), some sloughs, and the odd little creek, but I have wintered a lot of cows and horses on just the snow at times.
When I was a young boy here, there were tons of moose everywhere. But they have pretty well gone by the wayside from hunting pressure and all-terrain vehicles running all over where they shouldn’t be. What we see now as far as ungulates go, is mostly whitetail deer. Fortunately, we don’t have the big elk problem like some people ranching not too far from us do. But in the last 40–50 years, we’ve had an influx of predators including cougars, wolves and bears.
I remember one particular bear here about 35 years ago. I think over the course of two or three years that boar killed somewhere between 30 and 40 cows. I don’t know for sure if it was him because, at that time, we rented some ground from the Reserve just west of us, and we’d run our cows out there for the summer. It was about a township of ground — all bush and muskeg, so it was hard to keep track. But one spring I turned out 65 pairs, and in the fall, I got 62 cows and 50 calves back. Whether he got them all or not, I don’t know. But the next spring when I got the bear, I never lost anything for years after that winter. So, I believe he was the problem. He had been here for three or four years.
Other than that, we have cougars once in a while that kill colts, and we had a wolf here a couple of years ago that killed a mare and a colt. Then this spring, I had an eagle kill at least one colt on me; very unusual. This mare had a colt; it was up, and everything was going fine. A couple of days later, I go back, and this colt doesn’t look very good.
Two eagles were sitting in trees right close. I got this mare and colt in, and the colt had scratches all over his back and neck, with one big puncture wound just behind his ear. I was trying to clean it out as it looked a little infected, but when I squeezed it, all I got was a clear liquid, which let me know it was into the spinal cord and that was cerebrospinal fluid leaking out.
He couldn’t get his head up to suck. We bottle fed him for a few days, but things never got any better. We had to put him down. Then about two days later there were two eagles eating on a new colt. Another mare had foaled, and whether the colt was born dead or not, I don’t know, but they were eating the colt. After looking at that and then looking at this other little colt that had the puncture wound, I knew it was the eagles. If it had been a bear or a cougar, you know the carcass wouldn’t be there. So, there’s always something and just part of the life we live with nature.
I’ve had years where we start to feed the middle of October, and I’ve had some years where I’ve never fed at all. You can’t graze as long in the fall if you’re going to eat it all in the summer. I always try to keep some winter pasture. Some years even with the horses, it doesn’t work so well because, you know, you get a foot of snow, and then you get a chinook, and then you’ll get another little bit of snow, and then you get another chinook.
I’m not feeding yet; I’ve got my bulls up to their bellies in grass here but a lot of this tame grass, once it freezes, there’s not much in it. Horses do better with it than the bulls. I’ve discovered it’s easier, more cost-effective, and cheaper to keep the flesh on an animal than to put it back on once they’ve lost it. I’ve also found that horses require less feed if they have room to roam. Our stock has thousands of acres to be horses, too. They are social animals after all, and the social aspect is important and natural for herd animals, and we need to make allowances for that. It’s part of our job in caring for them.
Like I said earlier, all we have here now for ungulates are whitetail deer, and they don’t bother the haystacks. But we had a winter where we had knee-deep snow, and it had a hell of a crust on it. When I go to feed with this old feed truck with the Jiffy bale-handler on it, you can hear it for 10 miles. There are lots of times when I was graining the horses quite a bit because basically the way I feed depends on the price of feed. If hay is cheaper, they get hay. If grain’s cheaper, they get more grain. So, this spring, I was feeding quite a bit of grain.
A few years ago, I had about 50 horses in the home field, and I was graining them every day. What I do is, I go out in the field, put the old truck in low gear and I go and stand on the back and pour a little bit of grain out of the buckets. The old truck pulls in one direction, so it made a big horseshoe in the field. Then I went over to check the bulls. When I came back from feeding the bulls, I counted 50 horses, 40 Canada geese, 27 whitetail deer, two Mallard ducks, and a Sandhill Crane having breakfast together.
But I’ve fed more horses on pinecones and scenery than anybody else — and that’s what works for us.”