Above: a Columbia sheep.
Below: The Imperial Stock Ranch rambles across a high plateau where Mount Adams (the largest mountain) and Mount Rainier (to its right) are visible.
// Photos by Randy Johnson
The mighty Hintons, scions of a ranching empire in their day, would be surprised to hear Carver call himself a small fry in the world of Big Ag. But it’s a profitable ranch, with success won by its owners’ old-school thriftiness and around-the-clock work, a diversity of income streams, and an understanding that evolution is necessary to keep the ranch economically viable. The Hintons, who diversified their livestock operation with grain and hay, would certainly recognize that, as would Ward, who saw the wool market collapse after World War II with the advent of synthetic fibers and made the decision to switch the ranch to cattle.
These forebears are all kindred spirits with Dan and Jeanne Carver, whose love and passion for this land defines them. Introduced by Jeanne’s sister after Dan’s first wife died in 1990, the Carvers have been married 20 years. In their operation of the ranch, the Carvers fight the same battles against globalization and industrialization that thousands of small family ranches and farms have fought. Indeed, it sometimes seems like a losing battle, with small farms and ranches decreasing each year in Oregon and nationally. The Carvers do not plan to be among them.
Over the decades, the Carvers have continued to build and diversify their ranch operation: Grains and livestock (Imperial has 700 head of cattle and 3,000 acres of soft white wheat and barley, all exported, plus several hundred sheep) account for 55% of their revenue; wool and yarn are 15%; and hay, subsidies and a wind-energy lease each account for 10%. Along with that, custom farming, hunting fees, tourism, and conservation programs generate small amounts of income.
Doing business in a way that makes the ranch sustainable both economically and environmentally is a bedrock philosophy of the Carvers. Dan has developed a conservation plan with the Natural Resource Conservation Service; the ranch helped restore the Buck Hollow watershed and 15 years ago changed to a low-impact no-till crop system, in addition to other ongoing conservation projects. Surging global demand and the rare confluence of record-high prices for both wheat and cattle in the past two years have meant good economic years for the Carvers.
“Right now, I wish I had a 1,000 more cows,” says Dan. “But you gear up for the bad years.” This is vintage cowboy philosophy and Carver is a believer. “Since the economy went south,” says Jeanne, “Dan has continually stayed focused on his basic principles of business: plan to weather the worst of times.”
“An old cowboy told me years ago, have a plan and stick to it,” says Dan.