Longtime rancher eases into retirement with small herd

Tam Moore/For the Capital Press After 45 years of shoeing horses and running the family livestock business, Terry Jackson is cutting back to 50 cows.

'Looking back on it now, I don't see how in the world we ever got it all done'

By TAM MOORE

For the Capital Press

EAGLE POINT, Ore. -- It's Terry Jackson's 45th year in the livestock business. There's been a lot of repetition, more risks than some would like, and a steady trade to fall back on in lean times.

A lot of Rogue Valley livestock folks know Jackson as a horseshoer. But truth be known, there's not much going on with horses this year except the stock Terry and Judy Jackson have at their home place on Mountain View Drive a couple of miles north of this Southern Oregon town.

The Jacksons are easing into retirement. This year they ran 100 cows on leased pasture. Next year, said Judy Jackson, who keeps the books, the couple will probably cut back to 50 cows, selling the calves to supplement retirement funds they've set aside over the years.

That's a lot of change from the hustle-and-bustle of running 1,200 ewes or feeding 600 steers every summer.

"We kind of wanted to ease up a little," said Terry Jackson. "I was shoeing horses every day, and in the summer irrigating somewhere every day. You know, and looking back on it now, I don't see how in the world we ever got it all done."

It's been a good ride, and a lot of work, the couple agreed in a chat beside their new pickup truck, bred heifers milling around on the other side of the fence hoping some more hay will find its way to them.

"Horseshoeing has definitely been good. As far as a person that wants to try to ranch it is good because you set your own schedule and can work around it," Terry said. "It's been good to us. It put food on the table and the ranching did the rest."

Through most of it the Jacksons worked ground near Medford and Eagle Point. At one time, when they were in the feeder cattle business, they owned much of the land on which they ran livestock. Today, except for the small home place, all of the operation is on leased ground. Judy said it's the expected loss of some of that ground that's caused the couple to talk about cutting back to 50 cows for 2012.

The most intense years were the Jacksons' venture into lamb and wool production. They still had some cows. When the lambs started dropping, so did the new calves.

"Every year when it is done," Terry Jackson said, "You think, 'Oh my goodness, you know how it is.' You get a-dreading it for another year. By the time it is almost there, you get to looking forward to it in the end. It is labor intensive."

The sheep business paid for their home ranch. Judy Jackson recalls that "when we sold the lambs every year, that made the place payment."

Things went bad for sheep, sending the Jacksons back to cow-calf operations.

"The sheep business was really good to us for four or five years," said Terry Jackson. "I mean I don't know why everybody wasn't in the sheep business. And the old-timers said, 'You had two crops and they were never both bad at the same time.' Wrong, it got really bad at the same time, and so we got out of the sheep business."

Judy Jackson said there's no doubt their biggest gamble as livestock operators came as cattle feeders.

Terry recalls two or three years in a row that "we paid all our debts and operating loans off and everything like that and never had anything left. The bankers thought we were great business people. But we had nothing left, we did it all for fun. ... It just seemed like the cow calf thing was more stable."

Now that the fall calf crop is shipped and the replacement heifers and bred cows settled down for the winter, the Jacksons look forward to how many of the females will deliver marketable calves next year. With calf prices strong, Judy Jackson allows that income from those calves should be "comfortable" in 2012.

And neither of the Jacksons has any thought of flat-out retiring and leaving the livestock business, which has been their life for the last half-century.

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