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Back on the ranch

July 6, 2004

Cattle return for the summer to the Wood River Valley


FORT KLAMATH - It's part of the summer routine.

Each summer the Wood River Valley, a peaceful region that slumbers through the winter and spring, suddenly comes alive.

Just as grasses turn the range a healthy green, ranchers who between October and May graze their cattle in California's Sacramento Valley south of Redding and Red Bluff, load up cattle trailers for the trip to Fort Klamath and the Wood River Valley.

For the past dozen years the Rogue River Ranch, which is headquartered in the Rogue Valley near Central Point, has been among those shuttling steers. Ranch spokesman Lauren Owens said about 2,700 head were trucked from winter range at Ono, Calif., west of Redding, and another 1,500 from Central Point, with the rest purchased from other ranchers.

Dick Hubman, the ranch's consultant, said the ranch focuses on raising steers, which are sold to feed lots.

Last year, Rogue River Ranch steers grazed in the Wood River Valley were sold by video auction in September. This year they'll be sold through a video auction in July.

"It worked last year so we're going to try it another year," Hubman said of the sale technique.


Skinner Hardy's truck and occupation are easily identified by his custom license plate.


In recent weeks, he and others have been preparing for the sale by sorting steers by size and color. On a recent day, 600 steers were run into a network of corrals, where Hubman and others spent the day sorting. The steers, a mix of Angus, Heryford and shorthorn traditionally known as English crosses, were sorted into pens.

Along with color, the sorting was based on weight - heavy, medium and light. Later in the day, the steers were moved into fenced pastures with others the same color and similar size.

Among those helping was Skinner Hardy, who has a ranch near Grants Pass. His pickup is easily identified by his custom license plate, "RANCHR."

Signs of the times were evident during the sorting. Hubman, the only of the six sorters working from horseback, was helping when he was interrupted by the ringing of a cell phone in his shirt pocket.

"Yeh, hi," he answered. "We're cutting 'em out now."

As Hubman later explained, the steers will remain on the Wood River Valley lands until the various groups reach target weights of 850 to 900 pounds, when they will be shipped out to feed lots. Delivery dates will be staggered, with the heaviest shipped out first.

The Rogue River Ranch is just one of the ranches in the valley. The Oregon Brand Department says 35,000 head of cattle move into the valley in an average summer, mostly from the foothill ranges of far Northern California.

"The growing season is almost a mirror image of what happens here," says Ron Hathaway, a Klamath County Extension Service agent, of winter grazing range in California.

He says the number of cattle shipped to the Wood River Valley has changed because of an ongoing shift from cows and calves to yearlings. Although the Wood River Valley covers about 160,000 acres, three-quarters of that area is under federal or other government management with only 40,000 deeded, or private, acres.

For the next few months, those 40,000 acres are alive with cattle, ranchers and ranch workers. It's part of the routine.

{Go HERE to see what became of much of the Upper Basin agricultural land that has been put in government agency or The Nature Conservancy management--KBC}
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