Jared Kerr gets up before sunrise and puts on his boots, jeans, and chaps. He saddles his horse. A well-worn cowboy hat shields his tanned face from the early spring sun. Then, sitting high, one gloved hand tucked into the pocket of his vest for warmth, Kerr and two neighbors ride out to the pastureland of Harvey Ranch. Three hundred head of cattle slowly raise their eyes, their bovine expressions wary. Something is up.
"H'up, h'up, cows," Kerr calls as he gathers the herd for the slow drive up the valley toward the Freemont National Forest. Moving cattle from low-elevation private lands to high-elevation public lands is one strategy Oregon ranchers use to manage their cattle and forages. With public land permits for spring and summer grazing, ranchers optimize available nutrition for their herds and give their low-elevation land a chance to grow the grass hay and alfalfa that will get the animals through the winter.
By late morning, the cattle are settled onto Bureau of Land Management land and Kerr's family has joined him in a pick-up truck. His three-year-old daughter, decked out in jeans and chaps, peppers him with questions about the morning's cattle drive. When Kerr saddles up to hunt a lost calf, she wants to go with him. But she can't find her hat, and it's hard to be a cowboy without a hat. It's even harder to be a cowboy without cows.
"Cattle ranching is not easy," Kerr says. "It's not a life that many young people are able to get into on their own, and nothing comes without a cost or a trade."