DAYS CREEK, Ore. — Diane Swingley was raised on her family’s ranch near this Southern Oregon community, but when she returned to it in 1980 after being gone for 15 years, she admitted she had a lot to learn about the cattle industry.
She and her husband, Stan Huebner, joined the Umpqua Valley Forage Study Group and learned about pasture management and forages. The group was mentored by Woody Lane of Roseburg, Ore., a livestock and forage specialist.
Huebner also faced a steep learning curve since his previous career had been in the telephone and electronics industry in Southern California.
The couple ran a 30-cow registered Black Angus operation for many years on their 96-acre ranch that is split by Days Creek, but recently downsized to 20 cows. Their animals are privately marketed as seed stock to other Angus producers. The few bulls that don’t grade out as quality are sold as market steers and beef to local customers.
“I love the science of the Angus association, the business of lineage and genetics to produce the best quality animal,” said the 66-year-old Swingley. She represents the ranch’s fourth generation of owners.
While Swingley likes to study the Angus bloodlines and making breeding decisions, Huebner, 69, enjoys the construction projects that come with ranching.
With the small herd, the animals are easily rotated on and off green pasture during the summer. Water from nearby Days Creek and the South Umpqua River is used to irrigate the pasture.
The acreage also produces about 2,700 two-tie bales that are used to feed the animals.
“They have a very well-managed, well-thought-out operation,” Lane said. “They raise their animals according to very solid principles.
“When they started in the business, they were very enthusiastic about learning the business,” he added.
While the ranch has transitioned to the more specialized Angus operation over the years, its original purpose was to sustain the family of Ephraim and Caroline Raymond, who purchased the property in 1883. The ranch was later passed on to the Raymonds’ sons, Morris and Wallace. In 1952, Wallace’s daughter Evelyn and her husband, Durnin Swingley, moved to the ranch with their two young daughters, one of them being the 5-year-old Diane, and eventually purchased it.
Durnin Swingley milked 16 dairy cows a day and sold the cream. He also built up a flock of about 100 sheep. With more livestock to feed, the prune orchard was removed and replaced by a field of subterranean clover and domestic grasses.
In 1966, Durnin and Evelyn Swingley got out of the sheep business and purchased a herd of registered Black Angus cattle.
“Dad was convinced Angus were the best for mothering and marbling (of the meat),” Diane Swingley said. “We have high-quality animals.”
Swingley graduated from Days Creek High School in 1965 and then from Oregon State University in 1970. She worked for 10 years as an executive and buyer for department stores Emporium-Capwell in San Francisco and Meier & Frank in Portland before returning home to the ranch to help her parents.
“I was a working partner making payments on the ranch,” she said.
Durnin Swingley died in 1992 and his wife Evelyn died in 2001, leaving the ranch to Diane. Huebner, who had been an employee of the ranch for a few years after moving north from California, married Diane Swingley in 2001 and became a partner in the operation.
Ranching is “a wonderful lifestyle,” Swingley said. “I had to leave to really appreciate what my parents had here.”
The burden that Swingley and Huebner face with the ranch now is its future. They have no children, and no extended family members appear interested in carrying on the Raymond/Swingley ranch tradition.
“There’s sadness when I think about it,” Swingley said. “The American family farm tradition is very important. I don’t know how we’re going to keep it going.”
Operation: 20-cow black Angus breeding business.
Owners: Diane Swingley, the fourth generation to live and work the ranch, and Stan Huebner.
Location: Days Creek, Ore.
Business: Privately marketing heifers and bulls as seed stock to other Angus producers.