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"We have been blessed by and large with happy lives."
Yamsi Ranch blends traditional ranch with guided fishing
By LARRY TURNER
CHILOQUIN -Gerda Hyde is a modern-day pioneer lady.
She manages, with her son John, the fabled Yamsi Ranch along the wild Williamson River's headwaters near Chiloquin. Yamsi is a Klamath Indian word for "home of the north wind."
They raise cattle, operate a fly-fishing business and are the founders of the Operation Stronghold Wildlife program.
This unique ranch is off the mainstream electric grid which perfectly suits the 70-some-year-old Hyde.
"It's not important how old I am, how many acres or cattle we have - people get too caught up in figures," Hyde said. "We generate our own electricity, live as self sufficiently as we can, and we have been blessed by and large with happy lives."
Common and uncommon events of Yamsi ranch and family life have been chronicled by her husband, Dayton O. Hyde, in several of his books, including "Yamsi," "Sandy" and "Don Coyote."
He has been separated from Yamsi a number of years, living in Rapid City, S.D., where he founded and manages the Wildhorse Sanctuary.
The Yamsi is a working cattle ranch, wildlife sanctuary and, more recently, a seasonal fly-fishing business.
"When making ends meet with cattle became tougher, we had to diversify," Hyde said. "Fly fishing was perfect for us because of the rich trout population in the river."
A fishing "bunkhouse" was built next to the main ranch house with timber cut and milled from their own property.
At $225 per person per day, fisherman get room and board and blue ribbon catch-and-release rainbow and brook trout fishing. The Hydes own land along the first seven miles of the Williamson, including one of the headwaters.
They lost the main headwaters to the feds in a court battle.
"Something to do with a law against private ownership of the main headwaters of a river," says Hyde.
The Hydes have a 300-acre private lake, called Hyde Lake, which they built in 1967. It is stocked with trophy trout. The lake can be fished year around, except when iced over. The Williamson's season is May through October.
John is the trout expert, Gerda the cook, and both - along with John's wife Jerri - manage the cattle operation. It is a holistic operation that also includes hands-on work by eight of her 17 grandchildren and input from her other two sons.
Their personal veterinarian is Gerda's youngest son Taylor, who occasionally assists along with maintaining his veterinarian practice and separate ranch with wife Becky Hatfield-Hyde near Beatty.
Gerda's eldest son Dayton manages Red Feather Lake Resort in Colorado. Her daughter Ginny lives in Chiloquin with her two children. Daughter Marsha is deceased.
The Wildlife Stronghold established by the Hydes is a voluntary, non-profit organization that encourages the development of wildlife potential on private lands. According to Dayton O., "It is led by the private sector, which helps farmers, ranchers, timber producers, and other landowners create vital reservoirs of wildlife and plants on their own land."
There are 300 active members worldwide.
The Hydes still sell Wildlife Stronghold signs, but are not nearly as active with the program as they use to be.
"We've let it fizzle because we've just not have had the time to tend to it properly," Gerda said.
See CATTLE, page B2
Gerda Hyde is a lady who knows the value of work, family and friends. She honors both the private and public life. She once served as president of the National Cattlewomen's Association.
She is an active patron of the arts, host to many cookout functions and is an avid supporter of her grandchildren's activities.
When she winds down, one is more likely to find her in the spacious ranch house living room - built with native rock and timbers by Yamsi founder Dayton O.'s Uncle, Buck Williams, in 1928 - with the old Victrola playing classical music and a good book being read.
There is as worn elegance in her face and a vitality and spunkiness that belies her age. She wears her salt-and-pepper long hair in a thick braid. Her green eyes in certain light turn to gray. She is a kind, matronly lady who is soft spoken and direct, her mannerism tinged with a subtle yet lively sense of humor.
She has a slight slump, her walk indicative of many hard physical years working on the ranch.
"I've been bucked off many a horse," she said. "I had planned to ride until 70 but here I am still occasionally on horseback, but my riding days are about over and none too soon.
Bucking horses is a subject that Hyde does not take lightly. Her 22-year-old daughter Marsha was killed in a freak horse accident with Gerda nearby.
Gerda and John are innovative cattle ranchers. They are members of Oregon Country Beef, a group of 40 ranchers dedicated to a program of national land stewardship, producing natural, chemical free beef.
The Hydes are practitioners of many of Allan Savory's grazing methods, including grazing rotation, which allows grasslands rest and rejuvenation.
"Savory found out that the more they got rid of the big animals, the more land turned to desert," explains Gerda. "Herding is important. Hooves break up manure and soil which allows aeration and permeation of moisture and nutrients."
Hyde has witnessed that healthy cattle deters predators.
"Cattle should be gentle. It's important to breed good mothers and cull out the wild cattle. Coyotes will not attack good, protective mothers."
The Hyde's use electric fences to keep cattle off riverbeds.
"Every once in a while, though, you still need to graze in order to reduce a mat of river bank grass."
Gerda and John pretty much see eye to eye on ranching practices.
"My differences with Ma depends on the day and how much sleep she's had," John quipped.
"Well, my differences depend on whether he's wearing dark glasses or not," retorts Gerda. "If the next generation wants to hold onto the ranch, they need to have new ideas and be innovative."
The Hydes graze and then rest the land 45 days per unit. They've developed new wetlands on their property.
"Mom alone has planted 250,000 trees," John said. "She's a tree-planting fool."
"The cattle industry has always had tunnel vision," says Gerda. "If we're not learning, we're dying, so we must keep learning."
She suggests that members of the cattle community research Bud William's innovative cattle handling practices along with Savory's and other's ideas.
Gerda said "a good start would be by subscribing to "Holistic Resource Management" at (505) 842-5252, or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)."
As the winter snow gathers around the Yamsi ranch house, Gerda and grandson Tim bundle up for the morning chores. Later she will attend her cozy kitchen and prepare holiday delectables for family and friends.
"I've had a great life on this ranch, though it has had its ups and downs. 'Sort of like what Churchill said about brandy: 'In the end, I got more out of it than it got out of me.'"
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