Set in the picturesque North Thompson Valley just north of Kamloops is one of the oldest purebred Hereford ranches in B.C.’s Interior.
This year Little Fort Herefords will celebrate 80 years in operation, built on the hard work of several generations of the Jim family, who still own the ranch today. They also own Jim’s Food Market gas stations and convenience stores across the road from the ranch in Little Fort as well as just north in nearby Clearwater.
Like all ranches, it is a busy place during calving season, which is where we found Chris Jim.
At 30 years old, Chris has been around the family ranch his whole life. He returned to work full-time at the ranch about seven years ago and is raising his own young family there now - sons Graham, 9, and Deakon, 17 months, with his partner Cassidy Kurtenacker, who also works as a veterinarian technician/assistant at nearby Barriere.
“I like the lifestyle - handling the animals and watching them grow,” Chris said of what brought him back to working at home. “Some days, you wonder why you want to do it, but mostly for me, it’s the only job I’ve ever really enjoyed.”
Chris does all the hands-on work with the cattle at the Little Fort property while Chris’ dad, Kam, juggles duties at the ranch and stores where Chris’ mom Pam is busy working too.
Kam has also lived in Little Fort his whole life and is trying to retire in the next five years.
“Retiring for a rancher means going from 80 hours a week to 40,” Chris said, laughing.
Just as HARVEST wraps up a tour of the 155 cow/calf operation this spring at the ranch, which is hemmed in by the North Thompson River and busy Highway 5 corridor to the east and mountains to the west, Kam drives up in his Dodge pickup truck with two of his five dogs sitting on his lap looking out the window.
A quiet man like his son, Kam reluctantly allows a quick picture to be taken, then heads on his way, suggesting we talk to his brother, Kym Jim.
Kym is an internal medicine specialist and nephrologist in Red Deer, Alta. Until recently, he was also the clinical department head for internal medicine in Alberta Health Services’ central zone for the past 22 years.
In all, four brothers own the family ranch with their partners; Kam and Pam in Little Fort, Kym and Sarah in Red Deer, Kyn a radiologist in Grande Prairie with his wife Melissa, and Kee, a veterinarian and feedlot operator, with his wife Camille in Calgary.
Kym manages the business and science end of the ranch, which specializes in raising and selling purebred Hereford bulls for breeding stock.
“Raising purebred cattle is a bit of an addiction,” admits Kym, who HARVEST caught up with in person at the 86th Annual Williams Lake Bull Show and Sale.
Little Fort Herefords has been bringing their prized bulls to the storied Williams Lake show and sale since 1995. Even before that, the family showed bulls at the Provincial Bull Show and Sale in Kamloops from 1960s until the event ended in 2003.
“It’s something all of us have done our entire lives. It’s ingrained in us. Being outside, raising cattle … it’s hard to explain,” Kym said of maintaining his deep connection with ranching, despite having a demanding career as a doctor. “You’re in love with it.”
“I grew up doing 4-H. For myself personally, it was 40 years ago this year that I brought my first bull to a show and sale.”
In 1979 his dad, Gung Loy Jim, gave him a cow; in 1981, that cow had a calf; and in 1983, Kym showed that calf as a bull.
For Kym, the ranch work gives him a break from the demands of medicine, although he’s still focused on the science of it all.
The Jims have been honing their skills in the business and improving their herd for generations.
Their grandparents, Ng Shee Jim and Kam Kee Jim, immigrated from China to Lillooet in 1909 to work on the railway and open a general store. In 1919, they moved to Little Fort, where they opened a store and hotel and purchased a dairy farm.
Kym and Kam’s father, Loy, was born in 1920. The ranching operation grew over time, and in 1943 Loy and his wife Marie purchased their first purebred Hereford cattle, creating Little Fort Herefords where it was the dairy farm.
By 1971, the Jims and their sons were the first producers to bring bulls to the Kamloops bull sale that were the result of artificial insemination (AI).
At the time, the practice was controversial but is commonplace by today’s standards.
The advantages of using AI and embryo transplants include affordability and access to the latest genetics. For example, a rancher likely would never be able to afford to buy a prized bull (which can sell for $500,000 in the U.S.), but they can purchase vials of that semen for a fraction of the cost.
Little Fort Herefords use science to help develop their breeding program with a keen eye for enhancing their cattle’s net feed efficiency through formal, individual testing of the animals.
More efficient cattle require less feed and have a smaller environmental footprint, Kym explains.
Embryo transplants, meanwhile, allow them to take their best cows, breed them to the best bulls, and get multiple calves in one year from that pairing.
Their ongoing efforts to improve the herd have paid off over the years with the accumulation of many trophies and ribbons, and a name associated with quality purebred Herefords.
At this year’s 86th annual Williams Lake Bull Show and Sale, a Little Fort Hereford two-year-old bull was named grand champion at the show. Ironically, this bull was bred using the natural method of turning out the bulls with the herd in the spring of 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic uncertainties.
Life is back to normal at the ranch now, with the next generation learning the ropes.
Both of Kam’s children, son Chris at Little Fort and his daughter Jenny and her partner in the Chilcotin, work in ranching.
When asked what he thought of his children carrying on the tradition, Kam noted it’s a tough business.
But it is one that needs them for the future, if you ask Kym.
“There is a long-term concern that there are not enough young people in ranching to take over the next generation,” said Kym. “It’s the same challenge we face in all kinds of jobs in Canada. We need more people.”
The future of Little Fort Herefords, however, appears bright and one poised to carry on in the small community they all love.
You can find Little Fort Herefords on Facebook.