Spackmans: raising grass and cows in the Bridger ValleyWritten by Christy Hemken
Their home place is tucked away amongst a few of the many cottonwoods that fill the riparian areas and hay meadows of the valley. “We’ve been here quite a while, but we only just took the place over in 1994,” he explains.
The original family on the ranch established it in 1918, and the Spackmans came from Utah to work there in 1966. “David James came from Park Valley, Utah to this valley and bought the first piece of ground for the ranch, and he had a son and a daughter and they continued to pick up homesteads,” says Bonnie.
Roger says although it’s not a big operation they inherited, it contains private land along with BLM and Forest Service permits which allow them to run a good-sized herd of black cow/calf pairs.
“Up until we took over it was strictly Herefords, because they liked the Hereford cows and they didn’t run as many and held over the calves to yearlings,” says Roger. “Back then it didn’t seem to matter what kind of cows you had, as long as you had a cow and she had a calf every year. That’s one way times have really changed.”
When Spackmans took over they switched the ranch to black cows. “We sold all the Hereford cows to settle his estate, and when we went back in business we started with black cows,” he notes.
Today the ranch runs Sitz Angus and Stevenson Basin genetics as the base of their breeding stock. “We sell the calves each year on Superior Livestock Auction. We’ve been doing that for about nine years, and the video works out well for us. We’ve been really pleased with Superior and they’ve been a reputable company,” says Roger. “We don’t have to worry about our money, and everything’s straight and businesslike. We’ve been really pleased with it.”
Since transitioning the ranch to black cows, Roger says he has been able to increase the weights on the calves. “All in all, we’re pleased with the way things are going with our cowherd,” he says.
Bonnie adds, “Roger and our son Chad run an excellent health program and preg check in the fall and test all our bulls for trich. Because of that and their breeding they’ve been able to increase those calf weights through all the strategies combined.”
The Spackmans have three children who live nearby – Toni Martin, Tami and Chad. They lost their son Scott in a car accident in 1991.
Today Toni is married to Quinn Martin and they both teach school in the valley. They and their three children help the Spackmans during spring work, moving cattle and trailing to Forest and BLM sections.
“When the boys are able they help with the haying, but they’ve got another grandfather on the other side of the valley they help as well,” says Bonnie.
Roger laughs, saying there are not enough of them to go around.
Daughter Tami now works as a student advisor in the Utah State Department of Agriculture in Logan, Utah.
Son Chad works on the ranch full-time and he and his wife Stephanie have two young boys. “The next generation is coming,” says Roger.
Chad graduated from Utah State and returned to the ranch. “He’s been my right-hand man and helped a lot – that’s why he went to college for animal science, he brought a lot of fresh ideas home and we’ve tried to put into practice what we thought would work for us in our operation,” says Roger.
Because Utah State is an ag school with good programs and closer than Laramie, Roger says many kids from Uinta County go there for college.
“Our kids did an outstanding job putting themselves through school on scholarships, and every one of them worked hard,” says Bonnie.
Of the ranching industry, Roger says you’ve got to like it to stay in it. “Between operating costs and the economy and cattle prices that are nowhere in comparison, you have to sacrifice a whole bunch and get by with bare necessities to stay in the ranching business nowadays.”
“It’s just about impossible for young people to get into ranching if they haven’t got some kind of a start, and it’s hard for them to compete with corporations that come in and want to lose money, or hide money,” says Roger. “And it’s a good place to lose it, the way things are.”
“Both Roger and I were raised in ag families, and we’ve gone back through our history and agriculture goes back quite a ways in the generations, so we’re meant to be ag people,” comments Bonnie.
Of living in the Bridger Valley, Roger says it’s a good ranching area. “All you can raise is grass and cows. It’s a harsh area, and we feed six or seven months out of the year, but it’s what I’ve wanted to do all my life.”