Discovery Channel’s widely successful reality show “Alaska: The Last Frontier” (2.7 million viewers per episode) features three generations of the Kilcher family who live off the land that Yule Kilcher homesteaded over 80 years ago. The Kilcher family resides and lives off of their 640 acre homestead, just outside of Homer, Alaska. There are many episodes that feature the family either hunting, fishing, cattle driving (using horses) cattle rearing, or range riding, making the show appealing to a wide variety of t.v. viewers.
So why is FillyGirl writing about Alaska: The Last Frontier? Because we have burning questions that have gone unanswered. For example, why does Atz spend his whole summer in a tiny cabin, away from his family, range riding on his horses, for his brother Otto’s cattle? Why doesn’t he have his own cattle? How did he become the cowboy in the family? The answers should be simple, but when you look at the facts, they just aren’t. The cattle ranch hierarchy/structure that we are familiar with, just doesn’t seem to work here. If you watch the show, you’ll note the following: Atz consistently, and perhaps overly, refers to the cattle as “Otto’s cattle.” As opposed to just saying “the cattle,” it’s almost as if he’s jealous or bitter about it. Perhaps their father left the cattle exclusively to Otto? Did they both have the chance to invest and start in the cattle business, but only Otto was willing to take the risk? The point is, they don’t share or co-own the cattle. You’ll also note that there are probably only 50-70 heads in the herd. That means this isn’t a “big business” and in fact, Otto claims they just use the beef from the cattle to either barter with or eat. Why is this important? Because in the typical cattle ranch hierarchy, you’ve got the ranch owner who pays a ranch foreman (if the owner doesn’t oversee the daily activities himself), and ranch hands (cowhands) to work his land and tend to his cattle. One would think the arrangement between Atz and his brother Otto is simple- Otto probably pays Atz to fend off bears, rescue cows stuck in the mud, castrate and tag calfs, and look after the overall well being of his cattle. But if Otto isn’t making money off his cattle, where does he get the means to pay Atz? Not to mention the money to pay for all the fuel his tractors, bull dozers, quad bikes, chain saws, snow mobiles, and a river barge (that he once used to move cattle) consume. Oh, and let’s not forget his generator that seems to operate for over half the year, with diesel in Alaska costing about $4 a gallon. He wasn’t always a rich t.v. star, so where did the money used to come from?
Between the success of the show, his famous daughter (singer Jewel), and all his other activities like songwriting, recording artist, entertainer at private parties, and more (you can read everything he does at www.Atzkilcher.com) Atz may not need money now. But maybe he once did, and it still doesn’t explain why he would make the sacrifice to live alone at the Head of the Bay all summer long. Unless, of course, it’s not a sacrifice and he’s happy to escape the close-knit family for a while. His bio says he writes songs and weaves his baskets while there, but why do all of this for Otto? He could live in solitude a couple of months out of the year at the Head of the Bay, and not have to endure the rigorous life of a range rider (he’s no spring chicken as he’s the eldest of 8 children). Is it simply because he’s the oldest Kilcher living on the homestead? That would make sense if they were “family/community” cows, but they’re not. How did Atz become the cowboy of the family anyway? Why doesn’t he rear his own cows or at least partner with Otto? Why did it take Otto 10 years to introduce a new bull (from the lower 48 states) to his herd?
The more we learn about the show, like the fact that Eivin (Otto’s son) admits to using electricity from the power company, the more questions we have. I mean, Discovery Channel describes the show as a family living “off the grid.” I hope this doesn’t turn into another “Bear Grills controversy” (another show that was produced by the Discovery Channel). Not to worry, either way, we’ll keep watching for all the cattle and horse scenes. Plus, that Otto is one funny guy!