Family, love of ranching is woman's lifeblood

<I>The Eagle/Dave Whitehill</I><BR>Sharon Livingston poses on her ranch near Long Creek. Livingston received the "Cattleman of the Year" award.

LONG CREEK - The threads of family run deep in the life of Sharon Livingston, binding her to the grasslands and rolling hills of her ranch.

It is a love affair passed through many generations, a closeness to the land her grandson Evan Cameron, 5, already feels as he runs through the barn and brings treasures to show her.

They share love of a song, too, the old familiar "Back in the Saddle Again."

Livingston, 67, is often in the saddle, both at her ranch and in a myriad of civic duties, including as current president of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association.

Recently, the Grant County Stockgrowers honored her as "Cattleman of the Year," a new award to highlight outstanding ranchers in the area.

About 35 people gathered Saturday on Livingston's land to hear about her ranching history, then celebrate the award at a barbecue at the Long Creek School.

"I'm very proud of the fact, we were able to stay here. It wasn't always easy," Livingston said.

Her great uncle, great-grandparents and grandparents owned land in the area. Livingston spent the first three years of her life in a two-room house on her grandmother's homestead.

"This place right here belonged to my great uncle Will Carter," she told the crowd gathered outside her barn. Ultimately, her grandfather offered to sell some of the land that is now the ranch to Livingston's husband, Fred.

After some discussion, they agreed on terms. "My grandfather said, 'You give me a thousand. You can sign a note for $5,000 and that'll be the down payment,'" Livingston said.

"We got the land. That was a great feeling," she added. Later, she and her husband bought additional acreage from her brothers and sisters, consolidating the holdings. It took 34 years to pay off the land; her husband died in 1992, before the mortgage was paid.

The family now owns 5,100 acres and rents another 1,500 acres. "Right now, we run more than 200 cows and about 15 head of replacement heifers down here and I'm proud of what we have," Livingston said. She holds no public land permits.

The cattle are primarily Angus.

"My grandfather is up on the hill. And if he knew that, he'd probably turn over because he was a dyed in the wool Hereford man, but it kind of came to the point that Angus looked like the way to go," Livingston said.

The past few years, the Livingston ranch has used video auction markets to sell calves. This year, the ranch is testing use of a radio frequency identification button attached to a calf's ear to track the animals, although Livingston stresses that such tracking should be "market driven" and not mandatory.

"My family is extremely involved," in the ranch she said of her three children and their offspring. Her son, Fred John, works as a partner on the farm with Livingston, who credits him with keeping things operating. "If you think it's easy to work for your mother, I can tell you its not," she said. "Without Fred John, I guarantee you I wouldn't be here," she added.

She also credits friends. "You never get through life without friends and people to help, because we don't hire anybody," she said.

Ranching is not easy, but is rewarding, she said.

A tough time occurred in 1983, when the Livingstons sold their cows and started running 3,500 yearlings.

Unfortunately, "We got hooked up with a guy that was a shyster," she said. He owed them $35,000, which he didn't pay. Meanwhile, the family had to come up with nearly 15 percent interest on money borrowed from the Farm Credit Service, she said.

Creditors threatened to force a sale of the ranch. "We were in dire straits...I said you're not going to do that," Livingston said.

She and her husband sought jobs elsewhere to keep the land. She taught school and coached volleyball in Ontario. Fred Livingston drove truck for money. Family members took over operation of the ranch.

Eventually, times got better.

In selecting Livingston as "Cattleman of the Year", the county stockgrowers looked among their members for someone with a well-managed ranch, civic mindedness and active involvement in stockgrowers' issues, among other criteria.

Livingston emerged as top-runner over five other people considered for the award, said Cici Brooks, of the stockgrowers association.

"This ranch has lots of grass and that's because she's taken care of it. The cattle are good cattle and they take care of their cattle. They keep up the ranch in the tradition of their family, and I think that Sharon really deserves the award," Brooks said.

Livingston also has served as a county fair board member, past president of the Grant County Cowbelles and been active in the stockgrowers association, as well as, the local and state cattlemen's associations.

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