Yearlings add value to Cornelison RanchWritten by Christy Hemken
“My grandfather came out to Wyoming in 1903 as a baby,” says Dennis of his family’s early history in the state. “His family came out and bought this place from a bank and ran sheep.”
When Dennis’ grandfather died his grandmother’s nine children ranged from the oldest boy at 18 years old to the youngest at six months. “The oldest boy became the father figure of the family and he took over the work. My aunt was the youngest, and she’s still alive at 95 years old,” notes Dennis.
There were three boys total, and one went back to New York to study engineering in college. He returned the area and contributed his knowledge, including a raised water tank next to the cabin that provided running water by gravity flow. “He’d spin the pump handle up and down with a Model T to fill the tank, and they used that for 20 years,” says Dennis.
Dennis says after his father died he and his brother inherited part of today’s ranch. After purchasing the rest of the ranch from an uncle and a brother and buying out several neighbors in foreclosure, the Cornelisons now occupy the river bottom along Sulfur Creek and Bear River, neighboring the Proffit Ranch.
“We’ve been in the privileged position to purchase surrounding land, which we have along with three sections in the mountains that belonged to my mother’s side of the family,” says Dennis. “We’ve put it together to where it’s a fairly big operation – big enough we don’t have to go to town for a job.”
“The land is contiguous, which makes it worth more to me,” he adds.
While the ranch puts up much of their own hay throughout the summer, Dennis says they also buy hay in the area every year, from 400 to 600 tons, to get their cowherd and yearlings through the winter.
Of the operation’s shift from sheep to cattle, Dennis says that’s because of the predators. His wife Gayle agrees, saying every year the coyotes got worse until they decided to move to cattle.
“The year we started using 10-80 we ended up with more lambs in the docking pen than we thought we had, but then they banned 10-80,” says Dennis of the coyote control.
However, Dennis says his personality fits cattle better anyhow. “When we first started our operation we had 40 head of cows and 200 or 300 sheep, then we built the cattle operation from there and added the yearling operation. The cows are black, but they’re made up of every breed you can imagine.”
Gayle says they now have more control over their cattle genetics than when they ran in common on the open range.
Dennis says he uses Gelbvieh, Limousin and Charolais bulls. “We sell our calves private treaty as 900-pound yearlings through an order buyer. We’ve done it that way for a long time and it works for us.”
He says last year their sales had perfect timing. “We escaped the bullet and missed the down year. If we’d hit it they would have had a 15 cents difference in market price, and that’s huge.”
Dennis says he can make more money on holding the yearlings and marketing them at a 900-pound weight than calves at 700 pounds.
Of ranch management, Dennis says they put in a center pivot 18 years ago, as well as gated pipe, although they do still run some hand line.
“If we had to live on hand lines we’d be tough out of luck,” says Gayle.
“We use a lot of fertilizer, and our strategy is as simple as trying to get the best hay crop and the best calf crop we can and sell as many yearlings as we can,” says Dennis.
Of changes to their hay meadow management, he says they’ve increased production from one to two tons per acre. “It’s a combination of applying fertilizer at exactly the right time, and good irrigation. You have to put the water to it at the right time, and over all of it, rather than subbing 30 acres. You’ve got to get the water over the top of it.”
In addition to the meadow improvements Dennis says they’ve Spiked and sprayed 2,4-D on their range to control brush, as well as fencing and rotating grazing. They’ve also timbered on the mountain. “Without timbering those pastures become a moonscape with trees,” says Dennis. “Managing the forest is all intensive labor, and not very enticing.”
However, with 2009’s good water year Dennis says some of the forest meadows were three feet tall with timothy and orchard grass. “It was the best I’ve ever seen it. June was magnificent. I thought it was going to rain, and then it rained and it never quit,” he says, adding that it stopped right before their first crop of alfalfa. “We were wondering if we were going to be able to get it up.”
The extra water this year also helped keep wildlife off the hay meadows a little longer. “We have a huge elk problem on the center pivot, but they stayed up a lot longer this year,” says Gayle. “Usually they’re here in June, but this year it wasn’t until the end of July that we saw them.”
Dennis says they never used to see elk in their country, but now there are too many. The ranch has worked with Game and Fish to open an early season and have a late hunt until the end of January. They also have a Hunter Management Area on part of the ranch and let hunters on other areas with permission.
“Sometimes there are as many as 200 elk on our pivot,” says Dennis.
Of their four children, son Randy has stayed on the ranch. “He’s here full time, and he enjoys it. He works hard at it, and he’s good at mechanics,” says Dennis.
Of the ranch’s location, Dennis says it’s a hidden valley ranch. Gayle agrees, saying, “I thank Dennis’s grandfather every day for finding this spot.”