Stu and Carol are good farmers and good folks. Carol grew up in small-town Northern California in a highly resourceful cattle-ranching family. Stu is from Oswego, Oregon (before it was annexed into Lake Oswego). Both graduated from Oregon State University and were married soon after. Stu settled into a career in the logging industry, and Carol tended a growing herd of registered Black Angus cattle while also caring for two sons. In 1976, they moved into the house where they still live today, and in 1979, they purchased the acreage surrounding and including their home. Over the years, they bought two more parcels of adjoining land, giving them enough property to support an independent cow-calf operation. The plot with remnants of historic homesteads is a patchwork of pastures and timber with the Marys River meandering its way down the middle.
Stu “retired” over a decade ago, and set up a home-built bandsaw mill where he mills up logs from off the ranch, out of people’s backyards, and salvaged from industrial logging operations.
Their sources of income include sales of live animals (cows, steers, and bulls), beef halves and quarters, chicken eggs, firewood, lumber, and occasional timber harvests. They have chosen not to sell individual cuts of meat because it is a hassle and can be somewhat traumatizing to the animals to haul them to a reliable, available USDA-inspected meat processing plant. They have a long-standing relationship with Oregon Department of Agriculture-certified Farmer’s Helper that has mobile facility for on-site butchering. The meat is then transported in a refrigerated trailer back to Farmer’s Helper’s retail location in Harrisburg, Oregon to be processed, wrapped, and frozen.
Carol has three horses for recreational riding, Stu is a bee-keeping enthusiast, and they collaborate on gardening among other chores.
The cows are exclusively grass-fed. In the spring, summer, and early fall, there’s plenty of grass for grazing, but winter chores involve daily rounds of feeding hay–some cut on the property in early summer and some brought in from other sources. Stu and Carol decided to quit applying chemical fertilizers to their pastures in 2005 when fuel prices skyrocketed, and this has led to somewhat less productive yields of grass. They’ve made some changes since then (planting more clover, selling their sheep, keeping fewer cows, etc.), so they don’t regret the decision to go without petroleum-dependant nutrient inputs.
By mid-April, Carol is at the tail end of spring calving season, which has gone well this year with 41 new calves. March in Western Oregon had a record breaking number of rainy days (29, I believe), so the grass is now lush. The ranch has miles of permanent fencing, which is used in combination with hot electrical tape cross fences to most efficiently give cows enough to eat as well as give grazed-over ground a chance to recover. Stu’s chickens are prolific layers at this time of year, but the challenge is in locating the free-ranging nests which are often hidden behind old farm equipment or under logs and such. Haying equipment is getting tuned up before the dawn-til-dusk-labor, praying-for-no-rain ritual of the grass harvest.
Life on a ranch is never calm or easy, but spring is a joyful time when Stu and Carol have a few moments to spare for observing young calves napping in the sun or spying on the occasional errant Canadian goose taking a break on one of their ponds.
I’ve known Stu and Carol for about 10 years now. Carol is the first person I call whenever I have vet-type animal troubles. With 40+ years of experience with sheep and cows, she always has some information or guidance to offer. I get most of my wood for Red Onion Woodworks projects from Stu, and he’s helped right rolled tractors and catch swarms of honey bees more than once at our place. Stu and Carol are regulars at my kids’ birthday parties, and we are always welcomed at their house when we stop by for impromptu visits. They are the nicest kind of people.
I hope to share with you more photos and stories from the ranch in the coming months, so if you have any questions for me or Stu and Carol, leave them below, and I will try to address them in a future post.