The 27 Bar Ranch is far from anywhere.
It spreads out across 9,000 acres of unforgiving desert grassland about 30 miles northeast of Madras. It’s a place where paved roads turn to dirt and each season brings a challenge, from blistering summer heat to heavy winter snow that causes barn roofs to collapse.
Nothing has come easy here since Bill and Sadie Nartz homesteaded the land in 1917 and had to haul water by horse-drawn wagon from the creek to their home.
But the Nartz family has remained undaunted by a century of rural life. They are not easily frightened by the daily challenges of ranch living, family members say.
Jody Holmes, the great-granddaughter of Bill and Sadie Nartz, credits her family’s perseverance and dedication to lessons learned while working the land.
“You just have to love the life,” Holmes said. “You have to love the land that you are on.”
Holmes, a 39-year-old, fourth-generation rancher, runs the family business with her husband, John Holmes, her brother, Aaron Nartz, and her father, Jim Nartz. When the ranch turned 100 in 2017, Jody Holmes began researching her family’s history so she could submit a detailed account to the Oregon Century Farm & Century Ranch Program.
The state program, which recognizes farms and ranches that reach the century mark and are operated by the same family, accepted the research and invited the family to be honored at the Oregon State Fair in Salem. On Saturday, the Nartz family went to the fair and were presented with a plaque.
Only two other century farms are in Jefferson County. Crook and Deschutes counties each have one. Across the state, 1,212 farms have been registered with the program.
Even after all the family research, Holmes can’t say for sure what made her ancestors stick with ranching.
“I may not ever know their true motivation,” Holmes said. “But it sure makes you appreciate the fact that they put together quite a ranch to pass on to the next generation.”
Holmes father, Jim Nartz, grew up on the farm with his parents, Willis and Evelyn Nartz, and his grandparents who settled the land, Bill and Sadie Nartz.
The property was used as a dry land wheat farm until the 1970s, when Jim Nartz took control and transitioned it to a cattle ranch. The ranch raises about 200 cattle.
Pieces of the ranch’s past have disappeared over the years. Many of the original homesteads have burned down, including a few lost in the summer of 1996, when two wildfires ravaged more than 100,000 acres in the region.
Despite the difficulties of running the high desert ranch, Jim Nartz said he couldn’t imagine another lifestyle. He is drawn to the work.
“Every day is a different job,” he said. “It’s moving pipe in irrigation season. It’s moving cows. Fixing fences. And maintaining all the equipment.”
Living in the remote northeast corner of Jefferson County requires a certain level of independence.
That self-reliant spirit is something Holmes is passing down to her two children, 11-year-old Coby and 7-year-old Callie.
Coby and Callie are two of five children that attend a one-room schoolhouse for kindergarteners through sixth graders that is taught by one teacher.
When they are not in school, Coby and Callie care for their pet goats and help their mother on the cattle ranch. They ride their own horses and are able to wrangle any loose cattle in the pastures.
“I think it gives them a pretty good foundation for going out into the world,” their mother said. “Farm and ranch kids know how to work, and they know how to care for animals. That work ethic carries over into all aspects of life.”
Holmes would love it if her children became the fifth generation of the family ranch. But she also understands how hard that life can be. All she can do is expose them to the ranch life and let them make their own choices.
“You want your kids to continue it on, but then part of you also thinks if they had a normal 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job, they would have a much more active social life and be able to go on vacation,” Holmes said. “They might be happier somewhere else.”
As the latest generations to run the ranch, Holmes and her father feel a close bond to their ancestors. They view the ranch as something they are holding in trust for the next generation.
It is something they are called to care for day after day, Nartz said.
“It’s not mine. It’s the family’s,” he said. “The work is never done.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, firstname.lastname@example.org