Ranching in the mountains: E.O. Bischoff Ranch runs cattle in dangerous countryWritten by Saige
Lovell – When Eugene Orval Bischoff’s family purchased the Moss Ranch from the Snyder family of Lovell in 1948 he had plans to be the first cattle rancher on the land.
“The Snyder’s ran sheep. Before them, Moss also ran sheep,” says E.O. Bischoff Ranch President Pam Kysar. “We’re the first ones to run cattle.”
Their operation, known as Bischoff Livestock then, stretched from the Cottonwood Canyon area east of Lovell to Heart Mountain.
When the family split in 1992, the ranch was split three ways. The Elaine Moncur family still runs part of the Heart Mountain portion of the ranch, and Loretta Bischoff runs the land south of Devil’s Canyon. The present day E.O. Bischoff ranch covers nearly 8,000 acres on the north edge of Devil’s Canyon.
“We also have a farm,” says Kysar. “In order to have a Forest Service lease, you have to have at least 40 acres to winter your cattle on.”
Kysar says that they run their cattle on BLM leases on the Big Horn Mountains as well.
“We run our cows up there from the end of April until nearly November,” says Kysar, mentioning the intermingled public and private lands.
“We trail our cows from the farm across the causeway,” says Kysar. “We usually stop there for overnight, but most of the old cows know the way and keep on going.”
“The next morning, we go up to the area called John Blue and leave them at the top. We have one section up there that is deeded up there, as well as part of our BLM leases,” says Kysar. “We leave the cows there for ten days to two weeks before we move them.”
Kysar explains that it is necessary to pipe water from their school section to some of the BLM land, which has no springs or water sources.
“We usually kick the cows to the edge of the canyon and then take them down the canyon that same day,” says Kysar. “They don’t like to go down there, but that’s the only way to get to the rest of the ranch.”
“We get them to the ranch and keep moving through the canyon,” says Kysar. “If there was any other way we could do it, it would be done differently.”
The trek through Devil’s Canyon is not only dangerous because of the steep cliffs throughout, it causes a number of cattle losses each year. Kysar remembers that the family bought new cows and lost ten of the heifers because they went over the edge. The ranch loses at least ten calves every year from the trip, says Kysar.
After moving cattle up to the ranch property, Kysar says that most of the family leaves for the summer except her brother, Max Bischoff and his son Tyrell.
“It usually takes us about a week to get all of the cows to the ranch,” says Kysar. “They stay a month on the deeded land, which includes a hay pasture and brome field, and then they go onto BLM.”
In a typical year, the family drives several truck loads of supplies to the ranch, where Max and Tyrell live all summer long, tending the cattle, moving them between BLM and Forest Service leases and deeded lands and maintaining the property.
In November, the cattle are gathered again and trailed back to the farmland in the Big Horn Basin for the winter.
This year, operations for E.O. Bischoff ranch went a little differently. Because of excessive snow, the cattle were two weeks late getting onto to the BLM leased lands.
“We couldn’t get in over the top because there was too much snow,” says Kysar. “We couldn’t get in through the canyon either, because there was too much water.”
Kysar notes that her brother was stranded at the ranch this year for nearly 30 days straight because water levels were too high to drive, ride a horse or even walk out. Roads were submerged, and their bridge was washed out.
“I had to rent a helicopter to drop in supplies,” says Kysar. “We brought in groceries, salt and gas. They were stranded in there two other times this year.”
The Bischoff’s run Angus cattle, but are not currently running at capacity, because of drought conditions in the recent past.
Today, the 14 shareholders that control the E.O. Bischoff Ranch have voted to sell the property. However, because of the quality of the land and the high price, after seven years on the market, the remote nature of the ranch has deterred potential buyers.
Kysar is working to have the property surveyed and get conservation easements on the remaining land.
“We’ve got a conservation easement of 1,900 acres and are working to get it on the home part of the ranch,” says Kysar. “That’s another 5,200 acres.”
The easements will help to protect the ranch from future developments. In order to complete the process, however, the land has to be surveyed, something that has never been done at the E.O. Bischoff Ranch.
“At some time it must have been surveyed. It has never been surveyed saying we owned this land,” says Kysar. “There are no records of a survey, but you can still find some of the stones that were etched as markers.”
Right now, surveyors are working on planting posts every 500 feet along the border of the property.
Along with Max and Tyrell, Max’s wife Mary Anne, son Cade and daughter Chelsea help out, along with Kysar’s husband Jim and sister Deborah and her Family, as well as Wade and Jack Bischoff and other family members. A number of friends also help in ranch efforts. Each year, there is lots of work to do to get ready for cows, including putting up and repairing fences and getting water going that keeps them all busy.
“We don’t get vacations,” says Kysar. “If you have time off, you go to the ranch and help out.”