Pat Venable lives on a ranch near Klamath Falls. It’s a small Oregon town on the dry side of the Cascade mountains that run north to south in central Oregon to the California border. The Venable family runs a cow/calf operation, caring for about 500 mother cows. Their herd summers here and they’re moved south to Tehama County, California when the weather turns cold and snowy in the late fall.
“Here in the high desert, we don’t have the grass for them in the winter,” she said, “and feeding them hay gets to be expensive.”
When I talked with her earlier this month, the local weather report was calling for temps in the high teens, an early cold snap and the season’s first snow had already fallen. “We’re usually in the low 50s during the day and below freezing at night this time of year,” she said.
Time to move that herd south to Tehama County, a six-hour journey to some lush pasture just southwest of Red Bluff, California. “Our cows seem to know where they’re going; it’s easy to get them on the trucks for the trip.”
“We moved here from Sacramento in 1966,” she told me. “Dad had a cattle ranch near there but when they built Highway I 5, it cut right through the middle of the ranch. He sold out and moved to Klamath Falls and we came with him. In 1974, we bought part of the ranch.”
“I’ve known two things in my life,” she told me. “Cattle and cooking.”
She raised two kids, now grown, which of course meant a lot of cooking. Her son, John, is in the cattle business and her daughter, Julie, lives in Medford, Oregon. Two grandchildren hold out the promise of yet another generation of ranchers in the Venable family.
That second thing led her and a partner to open a catering business in 1986. She had been a Cow Belle since the late 60s and had often ‘catered’ their events. It was something she enjoyed and when her friend, another Cow Belle member, suggested a business relationship, she grabbed the opportunity.
“We catered weddings, civic events…everything. We enjoyed it.”
It was a business that kept her very busy until she retired in 2004. ‘Retired’ is a word that fails to describe what she’s been doing since then. Retired is usually defined as ‘no longer working or having stopped working, typically after having worked for many years.’
“I got involved in the National Beef Cook-Off and went to Washington, DC for it in November. It was part of an event that drew almost 25,000 people. It was a great opportunity for consumer interaction and we got to talk with a lot of people about the benefits of beef.”