ELKTON, Ore. — The Holcomb sisters — Michelle, Laura and Angela — spent much of their childhoods out in the pastures and barn of the family ranch.
The three are now older, they’ve earned degrees at Oregon State University and they have full-time jobs. But when they can, they return home to help their parents, Richard and Debbie Holcomb, with the ranch work, especially during lambing season.
The outdoors lifestyle has stuck with Michelle, now 27, Laura, 25, and Angela, 22. Through their youthful years, they shared their ranching experiences in positive ways and are continuing to be advocates of agriculture.
“It’s fun to tell people about what we’ve done and what we’ve been able to experience,” Michelle said. “Often times they are interested, but ranching is a foreign world to them. It’s not their fault, they just grew up in a different setting.”
“People are in awe of where we live, the setting,” Laura added. “We kind of get used to it, but when we show people around and we get to see ranch life through their eyes, it reminds us of how blessed we are.”
The Umpqua River flows near green pastures where sheep, lambs, cows and calves graze. Steep slopes covered by Douglas fir trees border the valley pastures.
Each of the sisters experienced this setting at an early age, joining Richard and Debbie when they checked on the livestock. As they grew older, they helped during lambing season, taking responsibility for bottle feeding bummer lambs. They also gave vaccination shots to lambs and docked their tails.
“We tried to introduce them to the lifestyle in a positive way, a fun way,” Richard said. “They look at a lamb without a mother as a positive thing because they then get to (bottle) feed it.”
The sisters have seen lambs born and they’ve helped cold lambs get up on their feet to get their first drink of milk from their mothers. They’ve worked in the wet and cold to care for the flock.
“If you don’t ever get cold, you’ll never know the joy of getting warm,” Laura said with a laugh.
The girls have also experienced the loss of lambs due to cold rain and snow, and to predators such as coyotes and cougars. Michelle has set up trail cameras that let the Holcombs know if predators are in the area so the livestock can be managed accordingly.
Other work they do includes moving pipes to irrigate pastures, moving portable fencing for rotational grazing purposes and helping during the summer haying season. The family also has a prune orchard and the girls help during harvest of that fruit.
“I love the animals and working with them,” Laura said. “The experiences have given me an interest in becoming a veterinarian tech.”
Michelle is a first-grade teacher in Roseburg and she works her ranching experiences into some of her lessons for the young students.
“It’s fun for me to do that, to show kids the impact of agriculture on life,” said Michelle, who has had a lamb visit her classroom and has had her students grow pea plants.
None of the sisters have husbands or families so without those responsibilities, they’re willing to spend their spare time helping on the ranch. All three want to continue to stay tied to agriculture.
“Once you grow up in a place like this, it’s hard to live any other way,” Laura said. “The lifestyle runs in your blood.”