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Modoc Rancher of the Year Ray Ackley owns, manages Dry Lake Ranch near Tulelake
Ray and Kathy Ackley, above, will soon celebrate 50 years of marriage at their Tionesta-area Dry Lake Ranch. A shiny belt buckle, below, was given to Ray Ackley for being named Modoc County’s 2014 Rancher of the Year.
TIONESTA — Ray Ackley doesn’t always attend the Modoc County Cattlemen’s annual banquet.But this year, organizers wanted him, make that “needed” him, in Alturas for the gathering.
Why?Because Ackley, 68, who owns and manages his family’s Dry Lake Ranch south of Tulelake near the community of Tionesta, had been selected as this year’s Modoc County Rancher of the Year.
And, because they wanted to make it a surprise, organizers arranged for a friend to call Ackley and his wife, Kathy, and tell them that Gary Wright, a neighboring rancher, had been selected for the honors. The Ackleys were told they were enlisted to contact Wright and ask him to join them at the banquet. When they called Wright, who was in on the scheme, he readily agreed to attend the banquet.Ackley figured shenanigans were afoot when he and Kathy arrived at the Brass Rail Restaurant in Alturas because “all the family and kids were there. But it was a surprise.”
For some, the surprise was Ackley hadn’t been selected years earlier.He’s a second generation rancher who has developed a bustling cattle ranch that also grows high-quality hay.
Father, a veteran, wins homesteadHis father, Orvin, was a World War II Army veteran who won a Tulelake Basin homestead after his name was drawn from the pickle jar. Orvin and his wife, Berneta, selected a homestead in the Copic Bay area.
Although Ackley grew up on the homestead, where his family raised pigs, chickens and, eventually, a small herd of cows, and despite his deep involvement with Tulelake High School’s FFA program, he originally planned to be an engineer, not a rancher.That changed during his junior year at Tulelake High, when his father asked his 16-year-old son if he’d like to “partner up” on buying a ranch south of Newell called the Tionesta Ranch. Before he was out of school, Ackley was the co-owner of a ranch.
“The first 10 years, I thought it probably wasn’t the right choice,” he says.Trade with Forest Service for Dry Lake
The ranch provided winter feed for the family’s expanding cattle operation. Within a short time, the Ackleys traded the Tionesta Ranch to the Forest Service for a piece of land called Dry Lake, so they named their new property the Dry Lake Ranch. The father and son also received a range permit for lands that surrounded the ranch.Life was busy on other fronts, too. While in high school, Ackley met and fell in love with Kathy Anderson. She was still in school when she and Ackley were married in 1964. They’ll celebrate their 50th anniversary Dec. 19.
“We didn’t have to,” Kathy quips of their teenage marriage. “We just did.”Just as the family and ranching operation were expanding, Ackley and his father bought land along Highway 139, which has become the heart of the ranch’s farming operations. Ackley says it took years of leveling and rock picking, a process that continues, to make the land productive. Ten percent of the hay from the ranch’s 1,000-plus acres of irrigated lands is shipped overseas while most of the rest goes to race tracks and elite feed stores.
From its small beginnings, the ranch’s cow-calf operation now has about 500 head of Angus and Angus breed cattle.Because of endemic economic uncertainties inherent with ranching, along with what he calls “government stupidity,” Ackley says he and other ranchers and farmers have relied on and benefited from technology that has increased production and from research from college agricultural programs. He’s also learned to focus on what works, and what doesn’t.
In the 1950s, his father tried to grow potatoes, an experiment that flopped.“My dad promised my mom and my sister and myself, ‘I’ll never ever do that again,’ ” Ackley remembers with a chuckle. “This country is only good for cattle, hay and grain, and we’ve been successful using that philosophy.”
Rancher credits help from family membersRay Ackley says he’s benefited from working with his father, Orvin, while growing up and for many years when they were partners at their Dry Lake Ranch near the Modoc County community of Tionesta.
“It’s his background I’ve paid attention to,” Ackley says. “But you have to be innovative, too.”He’s practiced that philosophy by pursuing available opportunities to supplement the income at his Dry Lake Ranch. Ackley does various construction projects, such as building roads, power lines and pipelines. He’s bought, sold and freighted hay. Most summers, he uses farm equipment on contract forest fire operations. He drilled wells in 2000, a year before the Klamath Basin Water Crisis, when water was cut off from irrigators, and in 2001 sold water from those wells to neighboring ranches.
For several years, Ackley combined work and pleasure by operating a hunting and fishing guide service.During the 1980s, when his and other cattle herds were threatened by scours, a calf diarrhea that causes more financial loss to cow-calf producers than any other disease-related problem, Ackley enlisted the help of a young veterinarian named Doug Whitsett. At his own expense, Ackley participated in a trial program that created a successful vaccine for scours, which had been causing a 30-percent death rate.
He’s quick to emphasize the ranch isn’t just about him. He credits his wife, Kathy, for overseeing an always swelling amount of government required paperwork, including contracts and legal matters. Their son, Orvin Ray “Lucky,” is a partner with the ranch.The couple has three grown daughters, Rhonda and Joe Hemphill, Diane Patterson, and Robin and Craig Huntsman.
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Page Updated: Sunday November 16, 2014 06:23 PM Pacific
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