Three Women Transforming Ranching in Eastern Oregon

Cory Carman, Jill McClaran, and Carrie Hermens are on the top of Oregon's meat game.

By Kelly Clarke March 2, 2015 Published in the March 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

From left: Jill Mcclaran, Cory Carman, Carrie Hermens

“The women out here are not sit-at-home types,” says Cory Carman with a laugh. That’s an understatement. As a fourth-generation cattle rancher in Eastern Oregon’s rugged Wallowa Valley, she’s constantly juggling the past and the future: herding cows and helping deliver calves one morning, then tackling rangeland sustainability issues and micromanaging one of the state’s most ambitious grass-fed-beef operations that afternoon. In 2003, homesick for wide open spaces and ready to return to the challenge of working with her own animals and managing an evolving ecosystem, the Stanford grad traded a job on Capitol Hill and returned to the West. Now she watches over 400 head of hormone- and antibiotic-free cows from birth to butchering, ferrying nearly 15,000 pounds of Wallowa-raised meat every month to Portland markets and restaurants like Higgins and Laughing Planet. Carman is by no means the only lady in this game. When she launched a buying club in 2013 to introduce her beef to more home kitchens, she tapped two of the hardest-working ranchers she knew to contribute pork and lamb: Jill McClaran and Carrie Hermens. Each year, the Carman Ranch Buying Club delivers Oregon meat to more than 500 Portlanders. “There has always been a respect for and a dependence on women to make farming and ranching work,” says Carman. “Our grandmothers were integral parts of the ranch; but it was a man’s world when it came to running the business. Not anymore.”

Jill McClaran, 30

McClaran Ranch
Joe McClaran established his family ranch near Joseph, Oregon, in 1919; nearly a century later his three great-granddaughters all returned from college to run the operation with their parents. Jill McClaran raises pigs for the buying club, but devotes the bulk of her days to the ranch’s 1,000 head of cattle. Unlike other ranchers, McClaran lets her cows graze all winter long, driving them on horseback into the remote Hells Canyon Recreational Area. “That’s the way we’ve been doing it for the last 100 years,” she shrugs. “We’re pretty determined, I guess.”

Cory Carman, 35

Carman Ranch
In 2007, Carman and her husband, Dave Flynn, took the reins at her family’s 80-year-old ranch. Carman says her earliest memories are of being outside on the ranch with her family and their herd of Angus and Hereford cows—the same land she now shares with her own kids. When raising cattle, she sees her gender as an unequivocal asset. “I tend to notice if a calf is sick before my husband does,” she says. “I feel like I’m programmed as a mom to pay attention to droopy heads.”

Carrie Hermens, 38

Hermens Ranch & Hilltop Kennels
Hermens ranches a 400-strong herd of cattle with her parents and husband, Levi, but arrived at her own side project—selling whole lambs each spring—through her other love: rearing stock dogs. “Cattle can injure dogs, so you start training them on herding sheep. Also, the kids can help take care of the sheep and you’re not worried about a ewe killing them,” she says. “Myself, I prefer a lamb chop over steak. Ours are tender, juicy, and not gamey at all—I lived in Mongolia as a kid and ate lots of mutton.”

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