On the Farm: Shelley Clark is the third generation of her family to live and work on this southwestern Alberta ranch
PINCHER CREEK, Alta. — There are bears in the Clark living room. Each has attempted a break-in of the ranch house at one time or another so each has met its demise.
Shelley Clark recounts the incidents with a matter-of-fact attitude developed over years of co-existing with wildlife and livestock on the ranch in southern Alberta’s scenic Gladstone Valley southwest of Pincher Creek.
She is the third generation in her family to live on this property. Shelley and her husband, George, are raising their four children here, and they also raise cattle, sheep, horses, cattle dogs and bucking bulls for the rodeo circuit.
George has deep roots in the area as well, and an affinity for ranching.
“Since I was eight or nine, I can’t remember one time when I didn’t own a cow — at least one,” said George. “It’s just been a passion. It’s just been something that I’ve always wanted to do. I have always said that I was too dumb to do anything else and too smart to chase sheep, but if you look out the window, there’s 120 ewes standing there.”
Shelley has a similar passion for livestock. She attended the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College and has an animal science degree.
“When I was a kid I was always outside helping my dad and my grandpa,” she said. “I just always liked it. I’ve always liked cows so I always knew I was going to do something around cows.”
Their children have an interest in livestock too. Cassidy, 21, has recently been training in horse dentistry with a practitioner in Texas. Cayde, 13, works with horses and the other livestock on the ranch and wants to become a veterinarian. Caleb, 11, has a dream of becoming a bull rider, although his mother is prompting him toward welding. And Callie, 8, has many plans that involve animals and ranch life, including horse shoeing, raising lambs, puppy care and cow milking.
“I want to do lots of things. My mind is open to lots of things,” said Callie.
In addition to the Dorper flock, the Clarks have a beef cow herd of about 400 Red Angus and Hereford crossbreds, plus another 75 Brahma cows from which to produce bucking bulls. They also raise and train horses and cattle dogs.
The Brahma and bull side is a family hobby, said Shelley, though it wasn’t always part of the ranch plan.
“The bucking end of things was kind of by accident,” said George. “One of our friends bought out a herd of Brahma cows from one of the premier herds in Canada, from Kelly Armstrong, and he was looking for a place to go with them and called out of the blue and asked if we would be interested.”
Although that particular herd is long gone, it sparked an interest. The Clarks breed Brahma cows with an eye to producing good rodeo bulls. They are affiliated with Wild Hogs, the stock contractors who buy the bulls, train them and enter them in rodeo competition.
The bulls are three or four years old before they see rodeo work but some of those born on the Clark ranch have become well known on the circuit through Wild Hogs. Pound Sand was in the world finals last year. Hey Jack, Checkered Flag and Pound the Alarm have also made names for themselves.
“We don’t always see the bull end of it but it’s neat to flick on the TV” to see a familiar bull in rodeo competition, said Shelley, “and think, ‘oh, I remember when that was a calf. I tagged that little fart, and he was mean then too’.”
The horses are trained and raised for ranch work or timed events. George said the kids are now taking over many horse-training aspects, with Cassidy taking the lead and Caleb and Cayde riding regularly.
“All of us have a role,” said Cassidy. “Cayde’s the smart one. She’s the bookworm. She’s probably going to end up going to vet school or something. Caleb and I, we’re the grunts.”
Caleb and George are also involved in dog training and compete in Canadian Cattle Dog Association events. Though George has tried training heelers and kelpies, he always comes back to border collies as the favoured breed for cow and sheep work.
Though the ranch work is busy, both George and Shelley have part-time jobs to bring in extra cash. George assists in sheep sales run by the Southern Alberta Livestock Exchange and Shelley works in environmental services at the Pincher Creek hospital.
“Most of the time when I’m there I’m stressed out about what’s going on here but sometimes it’s just nice to be around other people for a little while,” Shelley said.
Because their part of the world is popular with skiers, campers, hunters and fishermen, there are many recreational users and acreage owners to contend with. That has driven up the price of land so it has proven difficult to expand the ranch.
“Eventually the land is worth more recreationally than it is agriculturally,” said George. “Everybody wants to move from a city environment and live in an agricultural community but they don’t want to deal with the nuisance of it at times.”
So, despite living in what some consider the prettiest part of Alberta, the Clarks are thinking of moving to Saskatchewan, which has more opportunities for land purchase.
“Pretty doesn’t feed the cows,” said Shelley. “You can’t buy (land) and pay for it with cows. It’s just too expensive.”