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A farming legacy; Throughout the region, farming is a family affair
by DD Bixby 9/2/08, Herald and News

H&N photo by Andrew Mariman
Hank Cheyne and daughter Elizabeth, 10, are the fifth and sixth generation in their lineage to work the same farm in the Langell Valley. Cheyne draws a living from haying in the area while his parents have 60 head of beef cattle that graze on three of the original pastures of the homestead.

Their first year on the 160-acre homestead, David and Frances Campbell cleared 22 acres of sage and rabbit brush by hand, and then their grain crop was devastated by rabbits.

That was in 1885.

Today, the Campbell homestead is a 480-acre farm with thousands more of leased ground in great-great-grandson Hank Cheyne’s operation. And what once took their ancestors months, is now done in a week with advanced technology that moves several hundred tons of hay in one day.
Growing a farm
Charlie and Margaret Cheyne, current owners of the 123-year-old farm, say the changes from small to large, hand work to computerization, helped them grow a century farm and keep on growing.

“There’s no way you could make it work on 160 acres now,” Charlie Cheyne said.

Hank, the couple’s son, runs the operation and keeps it up-to-date with GPS-guided tractors and 1,000-pound plus hay bales.

Charlie remembered the 50- to 80-pound bales he used to sell when he managed the farm.

“We called them suitcase bales,” he said, recalling a term that aptly described the difference between bales one person could easily buck onto a trailer and the behemoth bales loaded with forklifts.

Size has changed the pace on the farm, too.

When Hank Cheyne was as old as his 10-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, he took half a day to load a trailer. Now it takes 30 minutes.

Annually, the farm grows and sells about 6,000 tons of hay, mostly to California dairies in the Petaluma area.

“Things in ag have changed so much,” said Hank Cheyne. “Machinery and size have changed — I farm what seven people farmed 20 years ago.”
From Campbell to Cheyne

Charlie Cheyne also remembers the change from flood irrigation to pivot point and wheel lines.

The farmland gets its irrigation from Gerber Reservoir, built by Margaret Cheyne’s grandfather, Louie Gerber, in the 1920s.

Margaret and Charlie Cheyne took the farm over from Margaret’s father, Henry Gerber, in 1973 and still own the cow/calf and hay operation. But they turned over management of the operation to their son, Hank.

Charlie Cheyne, who’s in his 80s, still helps out, and the couple runs about 60 head of cattle, downsized from the 800- to 900-head herd Margaret’s father used to run.

Along with technology, management practices changed as Margaret and Charlie Cheyne gave up on the open range operation Henry Gerber ran and brought the cattle back from BLM land.

The cattle never leave the farm and stay on the home fields. They are fed with hay from the operation in the winter.

Things will continue to change with the next generation, too.

“Hank has free reign and he does things differently,” said Charlie Cheyne.

Hank Cheyne, the fifth generation to work the Campbell homestead, doesn’t work with the cattle, preferring hay farming to livestock.

“Hank always wanted to farm and he’s good at it,” said Margaret Cheyne, adding that plans to pass on the homestead are already in the hands of attorneys. “Our other son wanted nothing to do with the farm.”

Sesquicentennial pursuits

All the Cheynes said the key to the old homestead’s longevity was its ability to adapt and evolve.

“You have to keep moving with the times, cause if you don’t keep up you really fall behind,” Charlie Cheyne said.

The next benchmark recognized by the Oregon Century Farm and Ranch Program, which issues the century farm and ranch status, is the 150-year, sesquicentennial award.

At 123 years already, the 150-year mark might bring another name into the Campbell-Gerber-Cheyne mix.

Margaret Cheyne joked that a couple of farm boys already think little Elizabeth Cheyne is swell.
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