Acquiring the 150 Mile Ranch has been a win-win situation for the Williams Lake Indian Band, said Chief Ann Louie.
“Some of our young people have been going there and helping with calving and haying and riding horses,” Louie said. “There’s been an interest that is peaking.”
The band is waiting to hear back on some funding for programs aimed at curbing youth involvement with gangs that could also be implemented at the ranch, Louie said.
Last June the band began leasing the 360-acre ranch in exchange for the province leasing reserve land for the Highway 97 four-lane upgrade from 150 Mile House to Lexington.
Eventually the band will own the ranch but that could take up to 10 years or more.
In the meantime, the ranch is busy.
Ranch manager June Harry, who has experience working on a small ranch she owns with her husband in Dog Creek, said she accepted the job because it is closer to Williams Lake where her two boys were boarding to go to school.
The ranch came with 50 head of cattle who this year gave birth to 35 new calves.
“They are Gelbvieh Angus cross and we just bought a new bull last fall and he’s a Simmental,” she said. “We have to purchase another one because we shipped away two that were getting older.”
The band has 25 hens and Harry has another 14 that provide eggs for elders in the community. Harry also raised 50 meat birds for distribution to community members at Christmas time.
Hay is grown on site, but as the ranch had not been hayed in quite a few years, Harry said they did not get as much hay as they had hoped.
“We got 60 round bales and 2,500 little square bales off it,” she said. “We were pretty close to what we needed, but we bought some this year just to be sure. I think if we get the fields irrigated we will get what we need to sustain the 50 cows we have.”
Harry has a half-time farmhand helping her and gets quite a few volunteers, especially young people, willing to regularly lend a hand.
“My nieces, nephews and girls from Sugarcane come out,” Harry said. “Two girls involved with 4-H from Sugarcane borrowed two steer calves and when they sell them they will repay a percentage.”
Her young volunteers, especially girls, love driving the tractors, she added.
“Even on cattle working days it’s mostly girls ages 12 to 17.”
During haying season, band members who needed work hours because they were on social assistance or doing community service also helped out.
“It’s really positive in getting people out doing things,” Harry added.
Harry grew up in Williams Lake and spent some time in Abbotsford.
When asked if she loves the job, she said she does.
“I think I love animals more than people on any given day.”
Obtaining the ranch has been exciting because it is something WLIB can expand over time, Louie said.
“It is also good experience for when we get into final treaty negotiations and it is important because it saves the land from being taken up by other development.”