A farming legacy; Throughout
the region, farming is a family affair
by DD Bixby 9/2/08, Herald and News
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
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
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
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
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,
“Hank has free reign and he does things differently,” said
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.”
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.