By LeRae Haynes –
Fencing, calving, harrowing, haying, and fixing fences are only the part of the juggling act that is ranching—add in full-time off-ranch jobs, a commute, and looking after family and you have a true balancing act. According to Charlotte Attrill and her husband Charlie on the SL Ranch at Rose Lake, it’s worth it all.
Charlotte’s parents bought the cattle ranch 50 years ago, running about 200 head. Now the ranch runs 40 head of cattle and mom and dad, now in their 80s, still live on the ranch.
“We have four sons between us who all help on the ranch when they can,” Charlotte explained. “We both work off-ranch. I work for BC Forests and Charlie works at the stockyards, and sometimes I work there, too.”
She said some of the most labour-intensive ranching work is calving—a 24-hour job. “Haying is crazy for us, too, as well as moving the cattle from pasture to pasture.
“Fixing fences is never ending: you can work on fences 365 days a year, not to mention harrowing the fields and spreading the manure,” she continued. “Besides working and commuting, we often put in two to four hours on the ranch every day and sometimes we don’t have dinner until 9:00 at night.”
One of the best assets on the ranch is her husband, Charlie. “He came to Canada 23 years ago to ride bulls; before we met he was a stunt man in the movies. Today, at 52 years of age, he’s still riding bulls and he’s totally wrapped up in the ranch,” she said.
“He has such incredible knowledge about ranching practices in New Zealand, which are all about being as natural as possible. He’s taught us so much about things like rotational grazing, using your resources responsibly, and great fencing practices. Kiwis are the gods of creating fences—it’s been awesome to have him on the SL Ranch.”
Charlie is a bull rider, steer wrestler, and a pick-up man, and Charlotte is a barrel racer and breakaway roper. That’s what they do on weekends.
Charlotte said she comes by it naturally. “My mom was a jockey in horse racing, a barrel racer, and bareback rider, and she lived and breathed hunting. Both my parents worked at the stockyards,” she added.
She trains her own barrel racers and says horses are a huge part of her life.“I rode before I walked. I’ve had some amazing horses in my life—they are my working partners, my competition partners, and my friends and I can’t image not having horses in my life,” she noted.
“A connection with a horse is a huge thing: it teaches children responsibility and to be proud of something. It’s something to be very proud of to train your own horse. Being around horses teaches kids about a bad mood or a bad day. Horses feel your energy, and teach us the importance of our positive and negative energy.”
Ranching is bred into you, according to Charlotte. “I moved away for 15 years, including 12 with Fisheries, but ranching brought me back.
“I don’t know what the secret is to finding a balance for everything. I only know what works for me. You come home, look around, and your house is upside down and I think, ‘I gotta deal with this.’
“And then you look out the window and see cows you need to move. You might not feel like doing it but you look at the big scheme of things and think, ‘My God, it’s so beautiful here.’ You just look around and see what you’ve got; you sit and breathe it in,” she continued.
“One thing I’ve learned is that I’m not gonna be judged by how clean my house is. Just don’t sweat the small stuff—it gets you nowhere. What gets you somewhere is remembering your dreams and where you want to be in 10 years.”
Charlotte said her parents realize she and Charlie are working hard to keep the family ranch going and are thankful, grateful, and proud. “Charlie made a promise to my dad when he asked me to marry him—that they would always have a place on the ranch,” she said.
“What keeps us going? Knowing we can hand this down to our kids and grandkids: keeping the family ranch together.”
LeRae Haynes is a freelance writer, song writer, community co-ordinator for Success by 6, member of Perfect Match dance band, and instigator of lots of music with kids.