Like most young adults, Cloe Parker was eager to spread her wings and explore more of what life had to offer. Two and a half years ago, she ventured from her family’s ranch—Parker Pastures—in Gunnison, Colorado, to gain experience at other ranching businesses. She imagined that someday, she might use that knowledge to start a business of her own. She’d always enjoyed the work. It offered peace and solace in a detached, sometimes distressing world.
“I’ve learned that ranching is very connecting and centering and grounding. Whether it’s watching a new calf being born or listening to the birds sing, there are all of these experiences that are very beautiful and healing,” Cloe says.
Meanwhile, Cloe’s family was listening to the sound of birdsong more than ever back at home on Parker Pastures. That’s because in 2020 they partnered with Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Initiative (ACR), a program that certifies bird-friendly ranches across America’s rangelands. Participating ranches—like Parker Pastures—work with Audubon to implement management plans to bring back North America’s imperiled grassland birds.
In 2021, ACR biologists recorded 41 bird species on Parker Pastures, including Mountain Bluebirds, Wilson’s Snipe, and Vesper Sparrows. Meanwhile, Cloe’s family was hard at work running the family ranch and all was business as usual—until it wasn’t. That winter, Cloe received terrible news: her mom, Kelli Parker, had been diagnosed with cancer.
“I came back home. It just felt like it was the right thing to do,” Cloe recalls. “But I was also very grateful for the experience that I gained elsewhere and the ways that I pushed myself so that I could take care of our company.” Still, she says, it wasn’t easy to run the family business through a crisis.
“There were so many challenges. Some just basic like, I’ve never done this before, how the heck do I do this? Or, is there going to be enough money in the bank account to pay bills? A lot of that responsibility landed on me, navigating the ups and downs of business, but also ranching. There’s cows out there, I’ve got to go move cows.” It was a lot to juggle at just nineteen years old. Her parents still supported her, “But it was different when it was me and I was in charge and I’m the boss,” Cloe remembers.
Luckily, she thrives under pressure. “Ranching and business is such an opportunity for personal development, so through all of those trials and hard times, I just leaned into that instead of having a victim mentality.”
In addition to her perseverance, Cloe credits the support she received from others, like her parents, for helping her navigate the transition into managing the business. “I’m grateful for my parents always giving me opportunities,” she says. “And the other ranches that I’ve worked for, too… I think there were a lot of things that were meant to be so that I could do what I’m doing now.” And what she’s doing now is something even bigger: Cloe Parker was named the new owner of Parker Pastures by her father, Bill, in February of 2023.
As the new owner of the Parker Pastures, one of Cloe’s favorite parts of the job is being able to help provide high-quality, nutrient-dense meat for people to enjoy with their families. “Food is such a centerpiece for connection and relationships,” she explains, “I get to be a part of that and it’s such an honor.”
Creating those kinds of connections is important to Cloe, especially in a world that can feel chaotic and detached. “I feel like we live in a very disconnected world even though it’s called ‘connected’ because we have social media, etc.,” she says. “Bringing people into the beauty and magic that happens with connections to the land and the animals is something I’m super passionate about.” Sharing their love of helping the environment is core to Parker Pastures.
Throughout all of the changes at Parker Pastures over the years, it’s remained a haven for birds. A flock of Gunnison Sage-Grouse—a federally endangered bird—was even spotted on the ranch in 2022. Scientists estimate there are only about 5,000 Gunnison Sage-Grouse that remain in the wild. With such a small population, quality habitat is extremely important for their survival.
On well-managed ranches, beauty and wildlife are in no shortage. There is, however, one beloved piece of Parker Pastures that is absent: Kelli Parker, Cloe’s mother, passed away in June of 2023. It’s another challenge that Cloe is facing with strength and wisdom.
“I hope my story is an example to other people that even when things are hard or don’t go as planned or are different than what people said you should do or even what you thought your own life would look like, you can persevere and you can do really hard things. And on the other side of that hard is a lot of beauty and a lot of strength,” Cloe says.
At Parker Pastures, that beauty and strength shine through birdsong, golden grassland, happy cattle, and the connections that Cloe continues to tend there.
In June, the Audubon Conservation Ranching community lost a monumental figure when Kelli Parker passed from this world to the next. Kelli’s contributions to agriculture and her community were known far and wide and she was a prominent figure in the regenerative agricultural movement. She will be forever remembered as a wonderful mother, an excellent steward of the earth, and someone who valued family, community, honesty, and integrity. She is and will always be missed.