“The challenge for our family is not so much succession after death, we have a good plan for that, but it’s the active succession — how do we support multiple families and generations on the ranch,” says Adele Schott, the fifth generation at 6 Ranch in Enterprise, Ore.
At the heart of creating a thriving business for 6 Ranch is open communication, shared decision making, clear goals and a deep love of the land. Fourth-generation owner Liza Jane McAlister says that “we’re doing everything we can to make our ranch business successful. We’re really diverse. We operate within our means, and we are vertically integrated.”
McAlister now runs the ranch with her daughter Schott, as well as her son, James Nash, and their families. All share a vision for the ranch to produce healthy food, restore ecosystems, and preserve western traditions (including using horses, ropes and dogs to manage their Corriente cattle). Nash runs a fly-fishing and hunting business with the ranch, and the Wallowa River he has worked to restore, as home base. Schott and her husband, Mark, are in the process of taking over the grass-fed beef portion of the business.
McAlister learned about succession the hard way. Her four older brothers didn’t want to run the ranch. They had a tenancy in common agreement, with McAlister running the ranch as long as it didn’t cost her brothers anything.
“After about 15 years of me being on the ranch, one of them wanted their money out, he wanted to force a sale. But I didn’t accept that. The good solution was buying them all out,” says McAlister. “That taught me to make sure that I had things squared up for my kids — to keep communication open all the time.
“The important thing about succession, is how you raise your family while you’re ranching,” says McAlister. “A common story is that kids raised on a ranch see their parents broke and suffering. It was so important to me that my kids could see a different reality. Every day, this is a gift.”
As Adele puts it, “I grew up working on the ranch and I felt like a big part of the family business. I was always welcome in the conversations and in the work. My husband and I talk about it a lot now that we have a son, and we look forward to carrying that on.”
McAlister says, “I benefit a lot from my kids pointing stuff out to me, that’s so valuable. Our business benefits from that — I wouldn’t have the successes that I do without them.”
Schott’s perspective is informed by new skills learned off the ranch, from a culinary degree to spending winters working on other ranches.
“I branded beef at large scale co-ops, and I calved out heifers in canyons without cell service. I came home with things I loved and things I wanted to make sure we didn’t do,” says Schott. She’s also recently worked with the Ag of the Middle program to connect with professionals and peers to continue making their business better and more equitable.
Schott’s advice on succession planning: “Talk about it a lot. It’s painful sometimes. Also, ask for professional help, even a mediator. Most importantly, always put the common goal of leaving the land and business better for the next generation at the forefront.”
More info about Ag of the Middle is available here: https://ecotrust.org/project/ag-of-the-middle-accelerator/