Few would argue that the best way to really learn about ranching is with good old-fashioned hands-on experience.
Just ask Oregon State University students Pat Gaffney and Chesney Livingston.
Both are currently interning during winter term on Summer Lake-area ranches as part of their studies, gaining invaluable insight on the reality of day-to-day life on a ranch.
Along side the day-to-day aspects of agricultural life, both Gaffney and Livingston have gained a new perspective on rural life out on the ‘dry’ side of Oregon. From grocery shopping to community social dynamics, both said the richness of the experience has been very fulfilling.
Gaffney, 22, a 2010 graduate of Astoria High School, is currently interning on the Harvey Ranch working under Jared Kerr.
He is pursuing a degree in agricultural business management with a minor in agricultural sciences. In his earlier years, Gaffney participated in 4-H and FFA, having raised hogs as project animals from eighth grade on.
“I always kind of had an interest in agriculture, because it’s in my extended family,” he said.
His experience with raising animals of his own taught him, early on, the economics of livestock.
“It teaches the value of the dollar that you’ve got to put into the animal,” he said, noting the value in learning about the upkeep and other miscellaneous duties related to a successful project.
For Gaffney, the vast statewide connections of OSU’s Steer-a-Year program helped connect him with an opportunity on the Harvey Ranch, working under the supervision of Jared Kerr. The motto of the program is “From the Sorting Gate to the Dinner Plate.”
Just as in any career field, Gaffney had to go through an application process in pursuing the internship.
Hands-on practical experience is in no short supply, as Gaffney helps Leehmann with a variety of general ranch work, including feeding cattle and clearing brush. Calving had not yet commenced at the time of this interview, but Gaffney said he greatly looks forward to it.
“It’s going to be a whole lot of learn as you go and trial-by-fire,” he said. “I love it… I think it’s pretty invaluable. Just about anyone can graduate with a bachelors degree in a subject, but I think with agriculture it’s especially important to get hands-on…”
Gaffney said his long-term goals include owning a feed and farm supply store either in the Willamette Valley or Central Oregon.
Livingston, 20, is in her junior year at OSU, where she is pursuing an animal science degree with a beef option and a chemistry minor.
A 2011 graduate of Puyallup High School in Washington, Livingston’s winter term work experience is centered on the 24 Ranch of Marie Leehmann. She noted her grandparents had a small beef ranch, but sold it when she was young. The legacy lives on, however, as her cousins run a beef ranch operation in the Yelm, Wash., area.
“I always loved being on the farm,” she said. “I grew up there. It was kind of sad when they sold it.”
At one time, Livingston considered a career as a veterinarian, but ultimately decided that beef agriculture was the right path.
Time management, feeding and the seemingly endless litany of routine tasks that must be done in a given day keep her plenty busy, she said. A two-day cattle drive was among the highlights of her experiences.
“I absolutely love doing this…,” she said. “It’s fun. I enjoy it.”
Long-term, Livingston said she could see herself teaching agriculture, or working for a feed lot, though she’s currently open minded as to where she would go for her career.