Above: Blaine Carver is the ranch's heir apparent. He is in charge of day-to-day operations while his dad, Dan Carver, is in charge of the books.
Below: The Imperial River Company on the Deschutes River in Maupin is owned by Susie and Rob Miles, the Carvers' daughter and son-in-law. The business markets tours to the ranch, along with serving its lamb and beef.
// Photo by Randy Johnson
Numbers and business deals are only part of the story about how a small family ranch survives. Critical to having a future is whether there is a next generation to take over. The agriculture industry is aging and younger people are not flooding in to replace them. Imperial Ranch has both a son and a daughter involved.
“I grew up working for Dad. I fell in love with it at a pretty early age,” says Blaine Carver. “Susie and I both want the ranch to go on forever.” (Brother Ben is a watershed coordinator in Colorado.)
Blaine, 34, is Dan’s heir apparent. He runs the day-to-day operations at Imperial in partnership with his father and also owns an adjacent ranch of 1,000 acres.
Like his dad, and George Ward and the Hintons before him, Blaine sees the economy of the ranch continuing to evolve and he has his own ideas that don’t exactly match up with the elder Carvers’.
Blaine doesn’t want the ranch to consume him the way it does his parents. “I call them the Intel generation,” Dan says. “Jeanne and I work seven days a week. Blaine and his wife try to give workers the weekend off.”
The younger Carver does not apologize for not wanting to work the ranch 24-7 and will look for a successful business plan that supports that. “I’m newly married and I want to spend time with my wife,” Blaine says. “So part of how you get there is doing better financially … I want this ranch to run well enough that we all have time to have a garden, have successful marriages and families, go hunting … This stuff is also important work, it just isn’t classified as ‘ranch work.’”
His sister, Susie Miles, and her husband, Rob, are the owners and operators of the Imperial River Company in Maupin, which offers lodging, dining, event services, rafting, hunting and fishing on the Deschutes River. With financial backing from the Carvers, they bought the property 10 years ago, and six years ago added a wing. It’s decorated with locally made quilts and art, and serves Imperial Ranch meat, along with tours of the ranch. “I’ll someday take over the tours at the ranch,” says Susie, who is 36. She adds that she and the Carvers are in the planning phases of other things, but like the rest of her clan, doesn’t give too much away. “Transitions take time,” she says. “That can be the hardest thing.”
“How to transition and getting along with our family.... It’s the hardest thing we do,” agrees Blaine. “Raising cows is easy.”
He admits he’s not tied to Jeanne’s beloved wool and yarn operation. “But I think it’s cool,” he says. “The same with direct marketing of the meat. I believe in it. However, [it’s] a 24-hour-a-day job and it doesn’t pay that well. I would love to see those programs keep going, but I may not be the person doing them. I would only see wool continuing if someone like Keelia wants to do it. I would support it 100 percent.”
Blaine sees a continuing decline in the cattle market and the need to prepare for that, and believes fee hunting on private land will get bigger. “I really see hunting as one of the key future points of this ranch,” he says. His own operation is mainly hay and hunting rights, and he also signed a wind lease with Iberdrola.
“[Wind income] perhaps would allow us to do what we do even better; however, it will not change our business that much,” he says. “The added income would ensure that you always made decisions with the best interest of the land and animals in mind, rather than the bottom line. One of the biggest income streams for ranchers is the government. If you had wind income or something like that you could get out of those programs and make smarter farming decisions.”
All reigns are temporary so it is inevitable that the fourth man eventually will hand over the ranch to the fifth man and the sheep lady will bequeath her animals to her successor. That next generation will find its own way forward. Imperial Stock Ranch has one beginning, and it will have many middles. What the Carvers work for is a ranch with no end.
This article won a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists in the business feature category.
Robin Doussard is the editor of Oregon Business. She can be reached at robind(at)oregonbusiness.com.