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feet on the ground - the lundgren ranch, photo of woman on horse herding cowsChris Lundgren with some of the Charolais cattle raised at the ranch. Photo courtesy Don and Chris Lundgren

photoDon Lundgren in his well-used tractor. Photo by Sheela McLean

A few miles north of Winthrop, where the Chewuch River runs down from the national forest and begins to bump into private land, is a family business with cattle, horses and snowmobiles that accommodates guests on a working ranch. It’s called the Chewack River Ranch, and it’s been in the Lundgren family for over a half century.

Leonard and Lila Belle Lundgren bought about 3,600 acres along and above the Chewuch River from Otto and Kay Wagner - the Methow’s timber barons - in 1956. From their wheat and cattle ranch in Kansas, they had come to visit Lila Belle’s sister in Chelan. They liked the area so much that Lila Belle decided she “wanted to move somewhere where it wasn’t so dusty, dry and dirty,“ explained her son, Don Lundgren. The Methow Valley was where they settled, taking over the working ranch and making it their own. They started with 350 head of Hereford/Angus cross cattle, which they grazed on their extensive land holdings.

Then, in 1967, they tried something new: instead of Hereford/Angus cattle they tried a half Charolais and half Hereford cross - and that worked well. Their ‘long yearlings’ (somewhat over a year old) were weighing in at 1,000 to 1,100 pounds instead of 700. “That’s why we started using all Charolais,” said Don.

photoLeonard and Llila Belle Lundgren with a 49’ers Day Parade trophy they won. Photo courtesy Don and Chris Lundgren

In 1968 they bought two purebred Charolais bulls in Ellensburg. Gradually, their herd became more pure. If one line of cows is bred to pure-bred Charolais bulls for five generations, then those calves are also considered Charolais, Don explained.

“Our main business is the cattle,” he said. For some 40 years, the family has been selling purebred white Charolais. “We’re really pretty proud of our Charolais.”

They use artificial insemination to keep the genes mixed and the strain healthy: a rancher can have his cows “breed to a bull from clear back in Missouri,” Don said.

Chewack River Ranch cows bear some 25 to 30 purebred Charolais calves each January and February, Don said. “We market mostly two-year old bulls. Some cattle are sold for meat in October and November.

But cattle aren’t all: “We’re horseoholics,” Don laughed. They raise and deal in purebred quarter horses and paints - about 45 at last count. They also offer guided horseback rides, from an hour to a full day, through their scenic cattle range.

photoChris (Brown) Lundgren was the First Butte Lookout when she first came to the valley. Photo courtesy Don and Chris Lundgren

“Cody raises and trains horses and is a team roper, Beau raises and trains horses and has a cutting horse stud standing at the ranch,” said Chris Lundgren. “Beau is a cutter and a team roper, Lacey is a cutter, they are all three great horse people.”

“We enjoy our horse life together as a family, always riding for cattle, raising and training good ranch horses,” she added. “Don is an exceptional horseman.”

When they ride to bring cattle in off the range, they’re often on horseback for 10 or 12 hours, Chris said.

The Chewack River Ranch now sports a roping arena, and last year, they had their “first annual Fourth of July team roping” at the ranch. “It was just fun,” said Don. In June they held a cutting horse clinic.

In 1996 they started a snowmobile rental business for winter activity on the ranch. Don keeps 10 snowmobiles ready to go.
Leonard and Lila Belle sold the lower part of the 3,600-ranch in the early 1970’s. Don and Chris now operate on 500 acres of private land, plus grazing allotments on national forest land.

Don married Chris Brown in 1981. She had come to the valley to work for the Forest Service, which she did for several summers as a lookout on First Butte, marking timber, fighting fire and building trail. Their three children still “all own cows,” said Don. Beau has started his veterinarian’s training: Cody is a taxidermist and a certified farrier (horseshoer). Lacey is a beautician with her own business in Ellensburg.

Don has two siblings still residing in the Methow Valley: Richard Lundgren and Judy Zutter. His other siblings, Dean, Margie and Nila, do not live in the valley.

photo of tractor unloading hay balesDon Lundgren moves delivered hay into his barn while the ranch dogs wait for their next job. Photo by Sheela McLean


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