170-Year-Old Tenino Area Ranch Has Been in the Colvin Family Since 1850


A tall wooden-pole entryway holding a rustic metal sign bearing the name “Colvin Ranch” sits on Old Highway 99 East about 2 and a half miles west of Tenino. It’s what greets customers to one of the oldest family-owned ranches in Thurston County, said Fred Colvin, whose family has raised cattle here for 170 years.

Fred’s great-great-grandfather Ignatius Colvin traveled to this location from Missouri on the Oregon Trail, finally arriving in 1850 to start his homestead. Fred has lived on the farm here since he was 4 years old, and it’s one of only three century-old family farms left in Thurston County.

Taking over ownership of the ranch was a gradual process for Fred, who worked the farm with his dad until his father died. Fred bought out all his father’s cattle from his mother, who lived for another 20 years or so.

“I don’t even look at ownership as that big of a deal because it’s been in the family so long,” Fred said.

The ranch is now 550 total acres, all in one block, and stretches about a mile along Old Highway 99 East. Fred and his wife Katherine’s house sits on a slight hill a couple hundred yards from the highway and overlooks most of the property.

The ranch sells direct-market beef and pork meat, and most of it stays in Western Washington. The majority of the sales, around 70 percent, are direct to consumers, while 25 to 30 percent go to stores in the Olympia area, such as the Olympia Food Co-op locations, Spud’s Produce Market and Farm Fresh Market. The ranch also attends Proctor Farmers’ Market every Saturday in Tacoma.

“That is for products sold under USDA standards,” Ranch Manager Alex Durney said. “We also have quarters, halves and wholes sold under WSDA standards.”

Durney moved from Idaho to Thurston County to attend college and began working on the ranch two years ago. She does a little bit of everything on the ranch but concentrates mostly on marketing while Fred does much of the outside work on the farm.

Customers can order meat from the ranch’s online store at colvinranch.com, and can pick up their products at the ranch or at a dropoff location in Olympia. The majority of the ranch’s business comes from customers in south Thurston County to north Pierce County, with a little business west toward Aberdeen and south in the Centralia and Chehalis area.

The ranch has seen an increase in demand since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It has been able to sell everything they produce the last few years, and this year has been the same scenario, except it sold out much earlier than usual. The ranch typically begins butchering for halves and quarters in May and continues every month through November. But this year the ranch was sold out for the entire year by April.

“A lot of demand, we’ve had a lot of inquiries, new customers” Fred said. “People were concerned early on that they weren’t going to have food so they wanted to stock up. It’s something they felt they could do themselves and take charge of a situation that had been imposed on them.”

The farm has always been a cattle ranch since the Colvin family moved here. The property, a vast, brown hay prairie during the August summer, is more of a ranchland grazing area than a typical western Washington valley. Scatter Creek does border the southern edge of the property but there is no irrigation and the land can’t be used for really anything else beside raising cattle, Durney said.

“If you go back 100-150 years, people were raising a lot more of their own food,” Fred said. “So the ranch was more diversified back then, but we’ve always had cattle. This type of ground is really appropriate for raising cattle. The prairie doesn’t flood or get muddy. It’s difficult to raise any other types of crops because there’s a lot of rocks.”

Colvin Ranch has 250 cattle with about a third being cow/calf pairs. It takes about three years for a newborn calf to reach butchering size. The Colvins started raising pigs eight years ago and currently have 16, but can have anywhere up to 35 at one time. The number fluctuates throughout the year as the ranch does not raise the pigs from piglets and does not breed them. It buys the pigs locally from Lewis County and the Olympia area, usually in the late spring and again in late summer.

One of the most rewarding aspects of owning and running the ranch, Fred said, is the isolation, especially during the pandemic. Life moves a little slower out here, there’s less contact with people, less risk of infection and a greater appreciation for the small things in life

“I think everyone’s perspective the last four or five months has really changed about what’s important with the pandemic that we have,” Fred said. “We’re really fortunate that we live here, that we can work here, and if we want to take time off from our job we can do so in a nice environment and not have to go somewhere to get away from people. So I think that’s really been important to us. On top of that, it’s the family legacy. We really enjoy that. We’ve been very fortunate to continue what our ancestors have put together.”

More Information on Colvin Ranch

Owners: Fred and Katherine Colvin

Location: 16816 Old Hwy. 99 SE., Tenino

Phone: 360-264-2890

Hours: By appointment

Website: colvinranch.com

Social media: www.facebook.com/colvinranch

Email: fred@colvinranch.com