Calgary

Generations of strong ranching women part of Burton family history

Women have played a big role in the Burton family ranch since its founding in 1890. Today, fourth and even fifth generations of women are carrying on the ranch's farm-to-table traditions.

Today, fifth generation helps carry on Burke Creek Ranch's farm-to-table traditions

The last names may change, but a tradition dating back to the late 1800s continues on the Burton family ranch. 3:43

The Burton family is heading into a fifth generation of women working the land.

Kim Wachtler, a fourth-generation rancher, likes to tell her daughters they come from a line of strong ranching women at Burke Creek Ranch.

"My intention is to really generate that love for the land so that the children are inclined to carry on as the fifth generation with their cousins, rather than be the generation to sell," Wachtler said.

The Burton family founded the cattle ranch, 40 kilometres west of Claresholm, in 1890. 

"If there's anything I know about my matrilineal heritage is that the women in my family … [have] all been recognized as strong, hard-willed, hard-working, stubborn, and they never back down," Wachtler said. 

The mom of two hopes her daughters will carry on the tradition.

"It's not unique to my family, but the women in my family, starting with my great grandmother Minnie — she was out here working alongside my great-grandfather Fred [Burton], breaking horses, milking cows, raising the calves," Wachtler said.

"She could ride and do anything — as well, and I've heard actually, better than — my great-grandfather. I've heard that there wasn't a horse she couldn't ride."

The couple raised horses and sold them to the RCMP.

Wachtler said she never got to meet her great-grandmother Minnie, but that she was definitely inspired by her grandmother, who carried on the legacy.

Kim Wachtler and daughters Cate, 10, and Fara, 13. Wachtler likes to tell her daughters they come from a line of strong ranching women at Burke Creek Ranch. (Jo Williams)
The ranching history of the Burton family women dates back to the late 1800s, when Minnie Furma and husband Fred Burton settled the ranch 40 kilometres west of Claresholm. (Submitted by the Burton family)

"My grandmother wasn't a horsewoman, but she was out also supporting all aspects of the operation, from calving to herd health and all the administration and business decisions," she said.

"There's no doubt in my mind that this ranch wouldn't be here today if she wouldn't have been there to work alongside my grandfather, and carry on from that original generation to the second generation."

Wachtler said the role of women has often been overlooked by history, pointing out that a memorial to area pioneers does not list the names of any women on it.

"Women have played an integral role in settling out here and developing a business that's been able to carry on for 130 years," she said. 

Wachtler plans to do the same with her daughters Fara, 13, and Cate, 10.

"I really think it's important for my girls to learn both about the industry, the production of beef, but really also just to generate a love for the land, the life, a respect for all that we get from this ecosystem," she said. 

Wachtler said her family has always nurtured the land they consider to be part of the family.

"This ecosystem that we're standing in here today, this is an endangered ecosystem," Wachtler said. "The fact that there's ranchers like us and our neighbours out here, ranching these lands, grazing cattle the way that bison did, as long as we're raising these animals responsibly and using the grass respectfully, it's a net positive impact on the environment."

Today, Wachtler's father Rick Burton and brother Adam Burton run the day-to-day operations, and Wachtler splits her time between the ranch and Calgary. Lately, she's been bringing her business background to the family ranch.

Kim Wachtler, right, and her daughter Fara, 13, pose in front of a barn that has been on the family ranch since the late 1800s. (James Young/CBC)

Since COVID-19 hit beef supply chains, the family has launched a free curbside delivery program for their grass-fed beef. Wachtler said the family's farm-to-table approach is now more timely than ever.

"I think there's such a growing market of people like myself who are very health-conscious and they want to understand their food source," she said.

"Ideally, it's an opportunity to begin deglobalization of the food supply. It's my opinion that we need to learn to purchase our food locally, and seek out the local, fresh, natural choices rather than the processed, packaged and shipped-across-the-ocean choices that have come with globalization."

Wachtler's daughter Fara will be among the fifth generation to work the land. 

"I think it's really exciting, and different from the city. It's fun to do different chores. Like in the city it's just sweeping, and then out here it's moving cattle," Fara said, adding that she enjoys learning skills like branding and herding cattle alongside her cousins.

"I feel really proud to have hardworking women in my history."

With files from James Young

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