Chance Land and Livestock was founded in 2000 by Robin and Chris Niederhauser in Clements, California. For the last 14 years, the couple and their 2 children, Brooke and Seth, have lived on and worked the land. Ranching is a family way of life, after all.
“We always had our kids with us. They came along as often as they could when we worked cattle or doing the daily chores. We are blessed that they have always enjoyed it. They learned early on the responsibility it takes to have cattle and horses. A lot of school vacations and holidays are spent caring for the cattle. Flexibility is very important when it comes to taking care of livestock.” -Robin Niederhauser
Brooke recently graduated from Cal Poly and is now a first year veterinary student at Colorado State to become a large animal veterinarian. Due to her upbringing, Brooke has been able to spend countless hours dedicated to her passions: the ranching industry, caring for animals, western heritage, and health. Becoming a vet is a perfect combinations of those interests.
“Growing up on a ranch definitely gave me a unique perspective on life, and taught me hard work and commitment. It also taught me to appreciate the beauty in everything, as it was a great place to live and grow up.” -Brooke Niederhauser (pictured below)
Both Robin and Brooke have been riding horses for as long as they can remember. Robin learned from her father, and she and Chris passed the same knowledge down to their children. Brooke now competes regularly in rodeos, and has been since age five.
“I barrel race, breakaway rope, and team rope and competed in both high school and college rodeo. I was a part of the Cal Poly Rodeo Team and helped put together Poly Royal Rodeo. This past year, I also won the West Hills College Rodeo in barrel racing, and got to ride an amazing horse. I love the team and the memories I made there, and the sense of team work that always persisted. I train my own horses, and love when all the pieces come together for a successful run.” -Brooke Niederhauser
“I wish people knew that ranching is not just a job but a way of life for all of us. We love the land and we love our livestock. We do the best we can to care for it all.” -Robin Niederhauser (pictured below)
In the spirit of the holiday season, when we’re all feeling a little extra thankful, it’s fitting to look to our parents and mentors remind them what they mean to us.
“I am extremely thankful for my mom. She taught me about hard work and the importance of family. Most importantly, she taught me how to always be there when someone needs me. She is such a hard worker, as she takes care of the majority of the office work regarding the ranch, and still finds time to exercise horses and keep everyone fed and happy. Even if she’s been working all day and is exhausted, she still makes sure that she finishes everything she expected to do that day when she woke up. I hope that I’m as good at balancing out my life as she is someday, and that I can always be counted on as well. She is a constant source of support, and I’m grateful that I can call her at any time for advice or encouragement.” -Brooke Niederhauser
Who taught you the value of a good work ethic? Perhaps this is the perfect time to say thank you.
The epicenter of Rankin Ranch lies in a valley of Walker’s Basin, just outside the tiny town of Caliente, California. The cattle ranch has been in operation for over 155 years—and remained in the Rankin family the entirety of its existence. Six generations have sweat over the vast acreage they call home (31,000 acres to be exact).
In 1863, Walker Rankin established the property. Years prior, the Pittsburgh native felt called to the West, and luckily enough, found success in the California gold fields. All the hard work and dedication he and his wife, Lavinia, poured into the land left a lasting impression that would extend from their children, to their grandchildren, and so on. Walker is even credited with being the first to bring purebred Hereford cattle to the region.
After his passing, Lavinia continued to run the ranch.
“Her family came across the plains by covered wagon to settle in California when she was a young girl. This pioneering spirit carried through her long life of 100 years and 4 months. During this time, she saw so many changes with transportation transitioning from horse and buggy to seeing planes fly. She was a very progressive woman and owned one of the first cars in the area. My great-great grandfather, had little interest in traveling by car and preferred to ride his horse. But Nana would travel to her grandsons’ football games and take a car full of kids with her to cheer on the team…Her longevity and adaptation to the many changes that she experienced are admirable.” -Amanda Barrett
The expanse of all that has been accomplished on Rankin Ranch piles high. Many have been involved with the Kern County Cattlemen and Cattlewomen’s orgainzations. The honor of Cattlewoman of The Year has been bestowed on Helen Rankin in 1988, Glenda Rankin in 2008, and Amanda Rankin in 2013. Amanda was also selected to be a National Beef Ambassador is 2007, allowing her to travel around the US and speak about the beef they raise.
Rankin Ranch also serves as a Dude Ranch, with mountain cabins and the opportunity to experience the cowpoke lifestyle. A wide range of activities from horseback riding to fishing to feeding farm animals to square dancing are on the agenda each day. It was developed by Helen Rankin in 1965 as a way to diversify the family business and take the edge off their dependence on the ever volatile cattle market.
“My grandfather, Leroy (grandson of Walker and Lavinia), had passed away unexpectedly in 1954 and my grandmother, Helen, found herself with a difficult decision to make, should she keep the ranch or sell it? Many people advised her to sell, as there were not many cattle ranches run by women at that time. She chose to honor our family’s legacy and learn how to manage the cattle ranch. Less than 10 years later she began building our guest ranch facilities. She was ahead of her time in the field of agritourism and inviting ‘city slickers’ to experience life on the ranch. Through her hard work and determination, she established our guest ranch which has been in operation for over 50 years. We now have 3rd generation Rankin Ranch guests. One family celebrated their 50th year visiting the ranch in 2018.” -Amanda Barrett
Shelby Newman started full time at Rankin Ranch in 2017 after graduating from the University of Montana Western with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Natural Horsemanship. Before that, she spent her summers working with the Rankins.
“I would say that my job title is a secretary…but not the kind of ‘secretary’ that everyone thinks of. My job varies greatly from day to day and you never know what you might end up doing. In the case of Rankin Ranch, titles don’t mean much and no title is more or less important than another.” -Shelby Newman
On any given day, Shelby may have responsibilities to manage in the office like answering emails or helping guests. On other occasions should could be out in the pastures wrangling horses or being a camp counselor to the visiting children, many of whom are experiencing ranch life for the first time.
Marie Myllyla has spent the past few summers working at Rankin Ranch. Earlier this year, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls with a BS in Animal Science and an emphasis in Equine Science.
“The best part of working on a ranch are the horses. I wouldn’t have had a job if it weren’t for those horses. They work hard day in and day out. They don’t complain. You’ll find one you get along with well and that really makes for a good day working with them 10+ hours. You get to know what they want, they get to know what you want.” -Marie Myllayla
“After graduating from Cal Poly in 2008 and returning home, I had an interest in selling our own beef. My time as a National Beef Ambassador had opened my eyes more to the ‘beef’ side of our business. This idea was not something new, as the family had considered it over the years. My father and I had many conversations about it before taking the leap in March 2014.
It has been an exciting adventure, with lots of learning along the way. We sell our beef here at the ranch to guests and the local community. We also travel to neighboring communities for Farmers’ Markets. We have earned a loyal following of repeat customers who love Rankin Ranch beef. Our beef is all natural, grass fed and grain finished. The beef is aged at the butcher shop for 21 days before cutting up into delicious steaks, roasts, and more. We are very proud of the quality of our beef with everything grading high choice to prime.” -Amanda Barrett
“The best part about my job, that is an easy one… the people! The Rankin family is one in a million. From Bill and Glenda Rankin (Nana and Papa, as I know them) to all eight cousins in the 6th generation and everyone in between. Everyone is kind, genuine, knowledgeable, inviting, and so much more.” -Shelby Newman
“Growing up on the ranch I learned the value of a positive work ethic and teamwork at a very young age. As children, we were always included in the day’s work and learned what it takes to keep the ranch running. My parents also emphasized the value of respect. You respect others, the land, and the livestock. When you give respect, you will often get it in return.” -Amanda Barrett (pictured below with her father, Bill)
Horse Etiquette to Remember from Marie Myllayla
Your horse dictates what you’re going to work on for that day. If you start your day thinking, “we’re going to work on leads,” you and your horse are going to struggle.
Recognize the slightest response and reward it.
Consistency is key with training – present a cue the same way every time. I think a horse’s best quality is their try. You find a way to get desire and try out of your horse and you really can’t ask for anything more.
Shelby and Marie herding cattle with the modern-day help of a helicopter.
Barbie Thompson Lee left the advertising world to become a farmer in Valley Center, just outside of San Diego. She invested many years developing her own company, but felt it was time for something new. So she went out in search of the perfect plot of land to begin her new adventure—where she’d have to start from scratch, and self-teach her way to success.
“I think some people have a picture of a small farm as an idyllic place that’s kind of laid back and simple. The reality here is that there are always so many things that need to be done and sometimes it feels more like warfare than a laid back place. It’s a constant battle to keep on top of the various bugs that are out to eat your plants, the birds, squirrels and gophers who are found of eating them too, the broken or chewed through irrigation lines. You can’t ever let your guard down.” -Farmer Barbie Thompson Lee
Tomatoes are Barbie’s favorite crop.
“I start the seeds in the greenhouse in February then plant when we think it’s safe from frost. Most of the plants go through September or October if we’re lucky so it’s a long time you spend with them. There are so many different varieties that it’s really fun planning out what you are going to grow and adding new varieties to your favorite producers.” -Farmer Barbie Thompson Lee
Although Lucky Dog Ranch is named for Barbie’s pack of happy dogs, she also has quite a few other four-legged friends. There’s Tigger and Tom, a set of barn cat brothers, and horses Buddy and Joanie.
“There really isn’t one Lucky Dog. We really liked seeing how happy our dogs were when we moved out here. They had so much room to play and just be themselves that the name just came about.” -Farmer Barbie Thompson Lee
I asked Barbie what skills from her previous career translated into her new lifestyle. It turns out having a sense of humor has been crucial in her journey.
“Farming can be really humbling and your plants don’t care how important you think you are or what promises you’ve made on their behalf. They are just going to do what they are going do. You can’t take yourself to seriously. They are really the ones in charge. You just need to do what you can to support them…Never give up! It’s a very rewarding lifestyle. You’ll learn a lot about yourself as well as how to bring a crop to market.” -Farmer Barbie Thompson Lee
Today, we make our way back to Fort Jones, California to spend time with the crew at Five Marys Farms. Crafted in Carhartt visited a year ago, and we thought we’d check back in to see how they’re doing. Turns out, the team’s been busy!
Last New Year’s Eve, Five Marys Burgerhouse opened its doors just 5 minutes from the family farm. The menu is filled with all sorts of comfort food and local meats raised by the Heffernans.
The Heffernan family raises the beef, pork, and lamb served in the restaurant just a few miles down the road at Five Marys Farms.
“Honestly what I love most about Five Marys is working for such an amazing family! I love being around the Heffernan’s can do attitudes, and watching and interacting with their incredibly talented and helpful girls. They truly embody the definition of a family business. I love that the girls are so involved whether it be feeding the animals, writing thank you notes for the shipments, or brightening the nights of guests at the restaurant taking orders.” -Amanda Turner
Meanwhile, back on the farm…
Mary Heffernan, mother to 4 daughters also named Mary, is constantly hard at work. If she’s not feeding the livestock, she’s at their new restaurant, 5 Marys Burgerhouse, or keeping her instagram followers up to date with the daily happenings of life with her family on the ranch.
Mary recently released an ebook “They Can Do It. What I Learned About Raising Kids by Moving to the Country.” In it, she highlights the ways her extraordinary daughters have grown and developed in their new lifestyle. The book is filled with insights, much like the Heffernan family motto, “Be Kind. Don’t Whine. Be Tough.”
Find out how you can get a copy for yourself here.
There’s nothing quite like a quiet night with the family on the highest peak of the ranch–filling bellies with s’mores and the night air with mischievous giggles from the most adventurous of girls.
The Alpern family established Vision Farms in 1999 in El Paso, Texas. They expanded the original 12 acres to 160, and made the entire property organic. The Alperns produce alfalfa, cotton, or wheat according to their rotation. Diversity of daily chores is a major plus for everyone involved. With an extensive plot of land and assortment of animals, responsibilities ebb and flow at different times.
The venture is a family affair. Laura Alpern, the matriach of the bunch, makes sure everything is in order at all times–from their Quarter Horse breeding program, to crop yields, to management. Her advice for new farmers :
“Keep really good records and cultivate your suppliers and friends. There will be an abundance of time when you will be leaning on them and vice versa. Do your homework before you start, and ask advice from every person that you can.” -Farmer Laura Alpern
“I grew up in New York City, and from the moment I spent a summer on a working cattle ranch at age 12, I knew it was the life I wanted. The work is hard, and goes on in the cold of winter and the blistering heat of El Paso summers, but the rewards are there. We have been so fortunate to have met the farmers around us. Everything thing is done with a hand shake and we have never been disappointed.” -Farmer Laura Alpern
“I love the seasons. Each is beautiful in its own way from planting in the spring to weeding to harvest. Additionally foaling season is the best of all. Watching that foal take her first breathe and struggle to her first step is magical. I am so happy that my children could experience farm life style. Our daughter is now an equine veterinarian and is caring on her mother’s torch for horses.” -Farmer Laura Alpern
“There has never been a time in my life without an animal in it that needed to be cared for and tended to. I have my parents to thank for instilling this level of responsibility in my upbringing. I remember going out to the farm in my prom dress with my mother to make sure the mare who was about to foal was prepped for her new arrival. I want my own boys feel responsible to the environment beyond themselves, and having a relationship with the family farm is a great way to do that. ” -Veterinarian Alana Alpern
“My husband and I want our boys to respect animals, understand their language beyond the friendly, family dog and recognize dangerous situations. Having fun with animals is important, but understanding a deeper layer of animal language will keep them safer.” -Veterinarian Alana Alpern
“El Paso is our chosen home. We toured the country to decide where we would like to live and El Paso won, hands down. We are a bi-lingual city so our children speak both English and Spanish. Much to many peoples surprise we are the safest city of our size in the US. I love the desert climate, and let’s not forget the most amazing Mexican food ever.” -Farmer Laura Alpern
Alana Alpern runs her practice, Blue Heron Equine, Inc., out of her truck that’s a moving hospital. She treats horses for western and eastern medicine and dogs and cats for exclusively eastern medicine.
“Know the true costs of becoming a veterinarian both financially and emotionally. Do this by spending time in more difficult moments under a mentor and doing your homework on the cost of education.” -Veterinarian Alana Alpern
Just outside the charming west Texan town, Marfa, the Aufdengarten family has run the Fletcher Ranch for many, many years. It’s been supported for generations by this tight-knit crew. Austin Aufdengarten joined the family officially almost exactly a year ago today. Now she shares in this rich legacy of hard work and tradition.
“Mitchell’s ancestors were some of the first to come to Texas when Texas was still part of Mexico, and they started ranching around Marfa in the late 1800’s. I love digging into his family history, and I’m proud that I am now a part of their story. They are some of the hardest working people I know, and they do everything they can for the wellbeing of the land and animals with which they have been entrusted. His family has ranched at the Fletcher for several generations, and I can’t imagine too much has changed. That amazing old house has to have SUCH an amazing story, but I’m still piecing it together. I love exploring while trying to imagine what life would have been like there 100 years ago.” -Austin Aufdengarten
“I have an unfathomable love for far west Texas that overcomes any gaps in my knowledge about what is now my livelihood. My roots run deep out here; my ancestors from both sides lived, farmed, worked, and loved west Texas. Being out in the crisp, west Texas air, surrounded by desert cacti, and watching the mountain landscape revolve around me is absolutely heavenly. There’s something to be said about looking at a landscape and knowing that 100-plus years ago, folks were surrounded by the exact same scenery. Knowing that our children will have the same view is, in a sense, a promise for our future. I’ve always been one for adventure and new experiences, and there was a stark moment of realization before we were married that by marrying this man, I would never leave west Texas; it only made me love him more.” -Austin Aufdengarten
Lilly Brogger and Morgan Kuntz: best friends, fellow fiddlers, and Montana natives lead beautiful ranching lives. Lilly is 5th generation from Gallatin County and Morgan is 4th generation from Beayerhead County. Both are rooted deep in family ties and find their peace behind the reigns. Lilly and Morgan have been riding for as long as they’ve been able (on the ranch, that translates to around 4 years old). They are independent, strong, and skilled.
“I have been through a large chunk of the West and do love a lot of other places, but Montana is definitely special. I cuss it every winter when it’s 30 below and I want to ride, but between the people, sense of community, beautiful country, and my family’s connection here, I can’t imagine how different my life would be if I hadn’t grown up here.” -Lilly Brogger
“It isn’t unusual for me to be the only woman at brandings, gathering cows, etc., and because my mom is so capable and that was just the norm, it wasn’t until I was 20 or so that I stepped back and realized how amazing the example she set for me is. I have never seen my gender as a limiting factor, which is common in ranching families, because women are expected to work too. However, there are plenty of men in agriculture as well who will try to do your job for you because they are so traditionally minded that they can’t see how a woman could do a man’s job. Nothing feels better than having a better horse, roping better, or being more helpful than that man that looked down on you. My attitude about this no doubt comes from my mom. She has never been a self-proclaimed ‘feminist’ but I now realize that she embodies everything that a capable woman should. She can fix fence and then cook an amazing meal at the end of the day, which is what ranch women are about. And the coolest part about it is that she has never pointed to gender as a factor, she simply does things. It’s really hard to respect yourself when you are actively having to remind yourself to do so, which is what a lot of women do because they didn’t have an example like my mom. My mom engrained it in me so I don’t have to think about it. Even though I am not doing daily ranch work right now, this has served me in so many ways in my life. I have a significant other that treats me like an equal, my peers respect me, I treat myself with respect, I’m not afraid to ask for what I want…the list goes on and on. My dad married my mom because she is so capable, which makes me feel very lucky” -Lilly Brogger
“One of the biggest misconceptions I deal with is people come to Montana and they think this is a state full of “big rich farmers and ranchers” when really that couldn’t be further from the truth. Production agriculture is a tough career to jump into and most of us that are in it don’t do it for the money I can tell you that. We do it because our families did it and we love the lifestyle. There is a lot of risk in production agriculture. The weather, politics, and society drive the price for our product and it is totally out of our control. Agriculturalist have a thankless job. We work our fingers to the bone and hardly ever turn a profit- in fact it is often lots of us operate at a loss but we pick ourselves up- stretch last year’s income a little further, and pray that next year’s crop prices are better. We do all of this while continually being criticized by today’s society and the kicker is- most of the people who criticize us wouldn’t even last a day working along side us. Producers owe their everything to the land and the animals they raise. We would never take that blessing for granted. That food in the grocery store came from average people like me and the Brogger family and a lot of that stuff may have even come from Montana. We are the number 1 producer of lentils in the nation and we are in the top 10 for beef production.” -Morgan Kuntz
This week, we’re tipping our hats to Emily Travis. She’s a full time seasonal firefighter in California.
“I began working as a full time seasonal firefighter in 2014 after finishing up my fire academy and EMT training. I’ve worked on an engine responding to wildland fires, structure fires, traffic accidents and medical emergencies. Summers are very long, and you often work through the months with no days off on the fires that burn in California. The job is tiring but very fulfilling and you become very close with the crew that you work with. We all work together often times through the night carrying heavy gear and hose up steam mountains with little sleep…my advice for young women getting into the fire service would be the same as for young men. Work hard, get an education, stay in shape and keep getting better. It’s a really fun job and has so many aspects that you can specialize in that really keep the job interesting you just have to see what that is.” -Emily Travis
When she’s not braving the wilderness, protecting the great state of California from the flames, she’s hard at work at Five Marys Farms in Fort Jones. It’s a beautiful spot in the Scott Valley with a population of just under 1,000 people. The area is a historical landmark, where many people carry on the traditions of the ranching community.
“Even though I didn’t grow up on a farm, I raised animals for 4-H &FFA. We bought our pigs in the spring time and had the responsibility of raising them for the show in August, then selling our animals for slaughter and figuring out our expenses versus what we sold the animal for and what we profited.
It’s a pretty common activity for kids here and it taught us a lot about hard work, the realities of life and death, where our food comes from and making an investment and seeing a return. At the time it was just normal but it really gave me a good basis of the importance of hard work.” -Emily Travis
You can also see Emily featured in this tribute to all those who make Labor Day possible.
Life changed drastically for the Heffernan’s when they left Silicon Valley to run a farm in Northern California. Mary, Brian, and their 4 daughters also named Mary, now run this beautiful plot of land in Fort Jones, selling their meat locally and online across the nation.
“Sometimes it can be a little overwhelming to have so many animals in our care. There are no days off in ranching. When we first started doing this I was struggling to find time to get all the chores on the ranch done and still get to the household chores like laundry and cleaning AND cook a good dinner for my family every night. I was worried about having enough time for the girls too. But what I quickly learned was that they could step up to the plate and help with all of these chores and tasks – and we’d be spending all of our time working together as a result. It’s a lot of work around here, but it’s a pretty great life doing all of it together.” –Mary Heffernan
Now let me introduce you to the younger 4 Marys:
MaryFrances, or Francie, is the oldest at 9. She loves dogs, looking after all the animals, and reading books. MaryMarjorie, or Maisie, is 8 years old. You’ll often find her following her dad around the ranch, helping out in any way she can. MaryJane, or JJ, is a fashion-fashion-forward-6-year-old fireball. While sweet little MaryTeresa, also called Tessa or Tiny, is a perpetually happy 4-year-old with a giant smile on her face and typically a tiny animal tucked away in her arms.
I’ll leave you with a word of advice from Mary about being a mom:
“The more you expect from your children, the more capable they become. Letting them solve problems on their own and have some independence is the best gift you can give them.” –Mary Heffernan
“I hope in 10 years and in 50 years–I am doing exactly what I’m doing right now, working hard right alongside my husband and my family everyday to care for these animals and the land we have. I hope our children continue to be involved and to come back often with their families or maybe choose to be a part of the ranch in the long term. I see a local couple in their 80’s driving by every day to go feed their cows together and every day I see them I think ‘I hope that’s us when we are that age!'”