Family members gradually return to B.C. ranch

On the Farm: A ranch started in the 1950s is now home to three generations, raising Herefords and Border Collies

CRANBROOK, B.C. — Putting a fence post in the ground here isn’t easy.

The bedrock that lies beneath most of the 10,400 acres of grazing land at Pine Butte Ranch is unforgiving, sometimes requiring A-frame posts to hold up the more than 80 kilometres of fence.

When Ray and May Van Steinburg bought the dairy farm in 1952 — turning it into a purebred Hereford operation a few years later — they didn’t think twice about the bedrock, the steep mountainsides or the densely forested acres. Their goal for the Pine Butte Ranch, located on the Saint Mary’s Prairie at the base of the Rocky Mountains, was single-minded — to establish a purebred operation that would produce the best cattle, while respecting the land at the same time.

They also wanted to raise a family on the rolling British Columbia grasslands that featured spectacular views of three mountain ranges: the Rockies, the Purcells and the Selkirks. The dream of having a family evolved slowly but steadily as the Van Steinburgs adopted their four children, aged two to 18, over a span of two decades.

Edric Van Steinburg tends to the Border Collies at Pine Butte Ranch with his aunt, Lynette Van Steinburg. | Christalee Froese photo

Two of those four children took over the reins of the sprawling Pine Butte Ranch in 2010. Hugh McLuckie, who worked on the farm from the age of 18 and was later adopted, operated the ranch alongside Ray Van Steinburg for years. His younger sister, Lynette Van Steinburg, a corporate learning consultant in Vancouver, decided she wanted to make Pine Butte Ranch her home again as well.

After Lynette convinced her employer that she could work remotely from Cranbrook, she partnered with Hugh to take ownership of the original Pine Butte Ranch land, 1,300 acres of which had been protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada in 2006.

“I wasn’t necessarily moving back to own the ranch, I just wanted to be somewhere that felt like home where I could afford to buy some land and build,” said Lynnette, adding that her older brother offered up the perfect solution.

“Hugh said, ‘why don’t you just build in the yard?’ ”

Lynette, now aged 50, began making plans for a multi-level home that included stunning views of the surrounding mountain ranges out of the living room window and dramatic vistas of Pine Butte out of her kitchen window. Hugh, age 67, and Lynette now live on the ranch together.

The purebred Hereford bulls at Pine Butte ranch have weights on their horns to train them to curve downward. | Christalee Froese photo

They run an operation that includes 180 head of purebred Herford cows, a herd of horned Herford bulls, 20 sheep and nine Border Collies.

Their nephew, Logan Van Steinburg, began feeling the pull of ranch life as well. In 2015, after he had two children and had tried his hand at a career in sales, Logan made the move to Pine Butte to live alongside his aunt and his uncle.

“I was helping out with the bull sale and I realized that I got more enjoyment working with the cattle for a short time than I did most of the time in my normal job,” said Logan, who moved into his grandparents’ house at Pine Butte Ranch in 2015. “Hugh was talking about hiring someone to help him out one day and I said, ‘why don’t you hire me?’”

Counting Logan’s two children — Edric, nine, and Hadley, 12 — there are now three generations working to keep the founding principles of the ranch, established by Ray and May Van Steinburg, alive.

“One thing Ray really stressed is that he wanted to make sure that we all got along,” said Hugh.

As Hadley picks eggs, Edric rides on the tractor with his dad, Lynette walks the dogs (which are raised, trained and sold) and Hugh tends to the cattle, it is obvious that operating as a three-generation team is working.

“When you save a calf or you see 50 calves running across the pasture in the spring, there’s just nothing more rewarding,” said Lynette.

Logan added that being able to raise his kids on the ranch is the opportunity of a lifetime.

“I’ve stayed involved in things like 4-H and to be able to pass on those skills that fewer and fewer people have to my kids is pretty special,” said Logan.

Hugh McLuckie knows all about fencing — he estimates there are more than 80 kilometres of fence line at Pine Butte Ranch. | Christalee Froese photo

With the sprawling amount of lease, deed and permit land that makes up the grazing acres on the ranch, it might be assumed that it is difficult bringing the cattle back home in the fall. However, Logan and Hugh said that the day hunting season arrives, so do all of the cows, standing at the gate and awaiting entry.

The three Pine Butte Ranch operators said there are many challenges associated with raising cattle these days, including high input costs and an ever-increasing number of neighbours buying land for acreages. However, they welcome the challenge and say the rewards come when their cattle are brought to live auction each year in Kamloops, B.C., and Lethbridge, Alta.

“There are some days when I wonder why I get up but we’re motivated enough to want to improve upon what we’re doing,” said Hugh. “We have extremely good clientele for our bulls and that’s our motivation to keep improving.”

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