DesEnfants find family-based living, strong community through ranchingWritten by Jennifer Womack
“Greg is a master of mechanics,” she says. “His equipment looks like a bone yard, but it all works. We’ve tried hard to stay out of big debt.” In order to help meet that goal, she says, Greg has been willing to drive and use old equipment and he doesn’t complain about it. Peggy says she did buy him a new tractor seat for Father’s Day this past year.
“I can give my dad credit for that,” says Greg of his ability to mechanic. “He taught me how. My dad retired and has a shop north of town and does metal work.” Greg says he sometimes calls on him for help with repairs. Of the ability to fix almost anything, he’s famous for saying, “Somebody made it, didn’t they?”
“You use what you can afford,” says Greg. Peggy runs the rake, which she pulls with a 1949 Ford tractor. “The newest tractor is a 1969 model,” says Greg who operates the baler while Peggy’s dad, John Baker, swaths.
With all dryland crested wheat and alfalfa hay ground, Greg says it would be hard to justify too large of an investment in machinery. But, he adds, “In all the years I can remember as a kid, I don’t remember my dad having to buy hay. We’ve had to buy hay three times in the 28 years we’ve been married.”
As a young couple the DesEnfants made their home on the ranch when they first married. Peggy grew up in nearby Lingle where her dad retired from Rose Brothers in the late 1980s as the parts manager. “I knew nothing about ranching and some days I still don’t,” she laughs.
Greg’s grandparents had given each of their three grandsons a piece of land. In years to come the Greg and Peggy began leasing his parents’ part of the ranch and purchased some ground from Greg’s cousin. While they’re reluctant to spend money on items that wear out and depreciate in value, Peggy comments, “Land’s the best investment. They’re not making it any more.”
While there isn’t any live water on the DesEnfants’ ranch, Greg says they are blessed with good groundwater. “Greg and his brother do some well work for neighbors,” says Peggy. Over the years the family has also installed pipelines to distribute the well water across pastures.
In 1983, the same year Greg’s parents leased them the ranch they’d homesteaded and moved into Torrington, Chicago Northwestern built a railroad through the ranch. Union Pacific has since bought out Chicago Northwestern and the rail that transects the DesEnfants’ ranch.
“We use underpasses,” says Peggy of their means of crossing the tracks. While the older cows have grown accustomed to the routes beneath the tracks, she says convincing yearlings to go through can be interesting at times. “Some of our neighbors go over. We did that once and got caught on the tracks.” While they didn’t lose any cattle, she says it wasn’t something they wanted to try a second time.
The rail did result in an adjustment of the family’s grazing plan. They now winter their cattle on one side of the tracks and summer them on the other. UP is supposed to maintain the fences along the track as well as provide compensation in the event of a fire.
To date the DesEnfants say they’ve been lucky with only one fire of any size on their ranch. Greg says the fire came before the days of improved fire-fighting equipment up the road at Prairie Center.
“Three or four years ago we fought fire on Christmas Eve,” says Peggy of another blaze that kicked up near the railroad tracks on a neighboring property.
The DesEnfants operate their ranch as a cow-calf and yearling operation. Raising their own replacements, they hold all of the cattle over to yearlings, marketing the steers and surplus replacement heifers at nearby Torrington Livestock Markets.
“This is the first year in a while where we’ve been able hold our yearlings over and summer them,” says Peggy. “This was a good year.”
Greg adds, “For the past two years we sold in February.”
The DesEnfants have two children. Their daughter Dodi, a nurse in Scottsbluff, Neb., and her two-year old daughter live in Lingle. Their son, Ty, has three little girls who are five, four and one. He and his wife also live in Lingle where he’s a pastor at North Hills Church.
“We have the best neighborhood,” says Peggy.
“The majority of our close neighbors are people I grew up with,” says Greg.
“They’re good neighbors and it’s a social neighborhood,” says Peggy. She says the neighborhood was even closer when the elementary school was open at nearby Prairie Center. School programs in the days when their children were small, she says, would draw a full house.
Despite lacking students to keep the school open she says, “We still get together.” Nearly 25 people attend a Bible study offered at the community center in Prairie Center and neighbors can often be found helping on one another’s ranches.
“You need to be a good neighbor because eventually you’re going to need your neighbors,” says Peggy.
“Shared work is big,” says Greg noting everything from branding to shipping.
“We may have never made a lot of money, but we’ve made a great life and it was a great way to raise our kids,” says Peggy. “The grandkids love to come out here.”
Last year the DesEnfants took their young granddaughters to the salebarn with them on sale day. Peggy says the girls had a few favorites in the pen. Luckily the chorus of young girls saying, “Please don’t buy our cattle,” didn’t slow the bidding, but it did earn a lot of laughs from passersby.