Like their ancestors before them, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians in southern Oregon is living off the land these days, having invested profits from their Seven Feathers Casino into ranch ownership.
“We have a very strong belief that agriculture is an important part of the economy and an important part of society,” says Nathan Jackson, general manager for sales and administration for K-Bar Ranches, a division of the Umpqua Indian Development Corporation. “And, if done right, it is a sound business investment.”
The tribe’s venture into agriculture started 17 years ago, when it purchased the Myrtle Creek ranch from the Bare family and kept Tim Bare on to help run it. “Nobody had a lot of experience running a ranch,” Jackson says. “That is why we retained Tim as general manager.”
Since then, the Cow Creek Band has supplied steaks and hamburger for the Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville, just down the road from K-Bar, moving its investment full circle.
“There are opportunities to do other things on some of this ground, but agriculture is something that we hold near and dear,” Jackson says.
Co-managed today by Jackson, Rob Estabrook and Jeff Jones, K-Bar Ranches produces 10,000 tons of hay, much of which it sells locally, and raises 4,000 head of cattle on 7,000 acres. The ranch also grows barley, straw and corn, which they use to feed their cattle.
The ranch prides itself on treating animals humanely, Jackson says, and takes an active interest in environmental stewardship, partnering with conservation groups to protect waterways and enhance stream health and wildlife habitat, as well as practicing sound pasture management by moving herds to avoid overgrazing.
“We work very hard to take good care of this ground, because frankly, if you don’t take good care of the ground, you are not profitable,” Jackson says. “But beyond just profitability, it is the right thing to do.”
The Cow Creek’s Board of Directors decided to diversify the ranch’s operations last year after cattle prices dropped, adding field crops to its production mix, and even looking into olive production.
“We’ve done a bunch of research on that,” Jackson says, “and it looks like olives are something that would work well here in the Umpqua Valley.”
The ranch also is considering producing vegetables, including sweet corn, squash and maybe pumpkins. “We have some people within the organization that have had some experience with that,” he says.
The ranch is also close to finalizing an arrangement to produce a branded beef product that will be sold through a local grocery store chain. And this year, the ranch started raising wheat that will be milled at Camas Country Mills in Junction City.
“We can use that milled flour at the casino, bake our own bread products with grain that we grew and that was locally milled,” Jackson says. “Our food and beverage director for the casino is very excited about having another locally produced product that we can showcase at the Seven Feathers Casino.”
When Jackson turns his attention to the future, he sees more diversification ahead for K-Bar Ranches and a continued embrace of agriculture.
“I think that we have the opportunity to further diversify and improve our profitability and resiliency through sustainable production practices,” he says.
“The tribal population is very supportive of our agricultural operations. As Indians, we are really connected to the land, and it is important for us to be doing this.
“We’re pretty proud of what we are doing,” he says.