Bringing the world to Wyoming: Daly family adds guest ranchWritten by Saige Albert
“In the early ‘80s we could make the ranch cash flow, but we didn’t have any money for family living, so we decided to start the guest ranch,” says Dennis Daly. “The neighbors were doing it, and we decided to try it. It has worked pretty well.”
Guests from around the world visit Two Creek Ranch south of Douglas to get a taste of the cowboy life. The working cattle ranch keeps between 10 and 13 guests at a time, with clientele coming from around the globe.
“Eighty to 90 percent of our guests are international,” comments Dennis’s son Shawn.
Dennis’s wife Nancy adds, “They do cowboy stuff. When Dennis is doing a lot of horseback riding and working cows, we take guests, and they get to be a real cowboy for 10 days.”
The ranch offers nine different guest opportunities that reflect ranching, including calving, branding and trailing cows. Each opportunity gives guests the chance to fit their schedule, budget, ability and interests.
Many of the guests are familiar with horses and riding, but the Daly family says the language barrier can be challenging.
“The biggest challenge with the guest ranch is water,” says Nancy. “Cooking in a camper trailer for 12 people is a challenge, too, but Lisa and I can handle it.”
The operation provides no extra entertainment or activities for the guests aside from what is available on the ranch, and the Daly family sees a lot of repeat guests.
“It’s not a dude ranch,” adds Shawn’s wife Lisa.
“They get to see parts of Wyoming that most tourists don’t get to see,” continues Nancy, noting that in their cow work alone the guests cover a lot of county.
The cattle operation has been around since 1966 with a herd of Hereford cows. Dennis says he got into ranching in a less traditional way, however.
“Dr. Stevens was my economics professor in college who always said there were three ways to get started in ranching: the womb, the tomb and the alter,” explains Dennis. “He said that I was trying to prove him wrong.”
Dennis succeeded in starting an operation from the ground up.
“We started with Herefords and used a black bull because Angus had the performance records with their registration papers,” says Dennis. “We decided that was a good way to go because it seemed pretty important.”
He also notes that the ranch has been keeping performance records on their commercial herd since 1967. Today they utilize computer programs to track the information.
“We choose our heifers by our performance records, not the color or anything else,” says Nancy. “We have very good heifers following that.”
The family winters their animals near the home ranch, but cattle spend summers on the Laramie Plains, over 75 miles away.
“We trail our cattle to the Laramie Plains,” says Dennis. “It’s 75 miles from here, and pretty far from a sale barn, so we sell the steers on video.”
Additionally, the family sells bred cows by private treaty.
The Dalys raise all the winter feed for their cows and figure rations based on computer programs. Typically, they feed from December through April.
“We take our silage bales and wrap them in plastic,” says Shawn. “There are not very many people in this part of the state who do that. We can bale the silage green, and cows really like it.”
Dennis adds, “We can retain more of the nutritive value by wrapping it, and we have less waste. We also make haylage out of the third-cutting oats and alfalfa mix.”
When feeding, Dennis says round bales and bale feeders have been very useful. They supplement with additional protein when the cows are on grass. Calving begins in February with heifers and the cows start in March with a short 45-day calving period. The facilities both on the home ranch and on a leased ranch provide good protection, allowing the Dalys the chance to get most of their calves indoors during the cold weather.
In their cattle operation, Dennis sees land as a major challenge. Their land is very spread out, but because the summer range is high, it is very good, and the ranch headquarters provide enough shelter for wintering cows.
“There isn’t any land around here to buy,” he comments. “We can’t expand here. Irrigation is also challenging.”
Dennis says the Platte River provides a good source for water, but the other creeks on the property only run high for several weeks each year.
Because of these barriers, Dennis has worked to improve his land in a number of ways. Utilizing their local NRCS office, they have accomplished a number of conservation projects.
“We work a lot with the NRCS in developing pipelines, adding gated pipe and using solar wells to develop springs,” explains Lisa. “We can have water where there isn’t water.”
The installation of a system utilizing surge valves allows them to conserve water through efficient irrigation. The system involves a solar powered computer that switches water back and forth in fields.
“We run water to a T, and the valve turns the water one way for a little while, and then the other way,” explains Dennis. “It uses about half as much water and does a better job of irrigating.
Their ranch also sits in grazing land reserve with the NRCS that protects against developments, similar to a conservation easement, but with a limited time frame.
“If you name it we’ve done it,” says Shawn concerning conservation. “We’ve taken virgin land and added crested wheat and alfalfa, we put in pipelines and water systems, sprayed sagebrush and poisoned prairie dogs.”
The improved pastures amount to 400 acres of crested wheat grass in previously unworked soil. The pasture is now very productive and supports large numbers of cows.
“We had 320 heifers on 470 acres for two months until we ran them off,” says Dennis. “It gives us some early gain and that really helps.”
The local NRCS staff is good to work with, adds Lisa. She also notes the ranch won the area conservation award in 2002.
“We like to keep the operation very family-centric,” says Lisa. “It’s the big community events, like brandings, and the idea that neighbors help neighbors. We like to keep things traditional.”
Dennis adds, “I like being my own boss. I wake up surrounded by work and I don’t have to go do it – that’s kind of important.”