The end of the road: Robertsons relocate from Teton CountyWritten by Christy Martinez
Hyattville – Gene and Kris Robertson moved to Big Horn County 18 years ago to escape the rising land prices of Teton County, and have made their home on a ranch outside of Hyattville ever since.
“Teton County is good summer country, but it’s tough winter country, and there’s lots of snow and we had to put up hay, and there wasn’t anything we could afford to buy,” says Gene of their reasons for the move.
Gene was born and raised on the Jackson Hereford Ranch, while Chris was raised at Wilson. The two were married in 1973 and began to look around the country for a different place to ranch.
Today the Robertson’s ranching operation incorporates Hereford/Angus cattle and a guest cabin that serves area hunters and fishermen, and the couple’s daughter Amanda and her husband Cal Tharp have returned to live on and help with the operation.
“Cal’s a great farmer, and I’m a sorry farmer, so it works out well,” says Gene.
While Cal looks after the irrigated alfalfa and grass hay, Gene takes care of going to the mountain with the cows and spending most of the summer there with them. Of this year’s grazing on the mountain, Gene says it’s hit and miss, and they had to wait quite a while to turn out.
“Some of the country looks good, and some doesn’t, and between the grasshoppers and the late season we’ll get through it pretty fast,” he says.
While they had grasshoppers at lower elevations last year, they say this year the insects are far worse on the mountain.
“We had the opportunity to spray the outlying acres of our ranch through cost-share with Weed and Pest, and that paid off,” says Kris. “Last year the grasshoppers ate the grass in the yards, and this year we haven’t seen one.”
Of his reasoning for the Hereford/Angus cross, Gene says with a laugh, “My granddads both grew up with Hereford cows, and now everybody’s gone black, but I’m bullheaded.”
The Robertsons run half Hereford and half black baldie cows and half black and half Hereford bulls, a cross that results in their replacement heifers.
“We have 70 percent black-hided calves, and we save all the red-hided heifers,” says Kris. “The black baldies have the hybrid vigor, and there’s definite growth with them, and I think it’s a good cross.”
“Hereford cows are good range cows, and they’ve been proven to be good range cows for years,” adds Gene. “They’ve got some eye and bag problems in the spring, but, like anything else, if we cull for those things we don’t have that much problem with it.”
“His preference would be to have Hereford bulls, but he doesn’t like the black cows well enough to switch entirely,” says Kris of Gene. “So that’s why we do half-and-half. Someday maybe we’ll do a purebred herd of Hereford cows, because that’s what he grew up with, and raise Hereford bulls for the black cows.”
The cows run on a mountain permit in the Paintrock Basin, which has a campground for public use. Kris says that positive public relations were one of their goals through their guest cabin and interaction with the public on federal lands.
“We thought we had a message to pass on to people – that we’re not raping the ground, and we’re trying to be good stewards, so we try to visit with people every chance we get,” she explains.
The guest cabin was built in 2002.
“It took around seven years to convince Gene to build that cabin, but I thought it would be something to help us diversify and boost our income a little bit,” says Kris.
Of business with the cabin, she says it’s really picked up this year and has been busy. Their guests range from contractors who were working on the nearby community center, to a lion hunter from Cody, fishermen and University of Wisconsin people on a dinosaur dig. Kris says she’d like to expand into areas like retreats and prepared meals, but she says so far the ranch work hasn’t left her the time or energy.
The Robertsons say they’re grateful for organizations like Farm Bureau and Guardians of the Range.
“Both of them have qualified people who stand up for agriculture,” says Kris. “We’re thankful to have them to speak for those of us who aren’t and don’t like to be in the public eye. They make a big difference, and they really help us.”
Of living in the Hyattville area, Kris says she appreciates the community service, including the remodel of an old school into a community center, a project that’s been ongoing since 2003. Annual community events include a Cowboy Carnival, an Old Timer’s Festival and a harvest dinner in the fall.
“It’s nice to live at the end of the road,” says Gene. “We don’t get the through traffic – people have to have a reason to come here. Growing up in Jackson, we remember when it was like this, and everybody knew everybody. These little towns are great places to live and raise your kids.”