Developing the desert, Tanner starts Buffalo Creek Farms
Ten Sleep – In March 1971, Kenneth Tanner, Martin and Jan Mayland, Walter and Crol Maylan and Guy and Becky Henderson partnered to drill a water well that would change the landscape on their Ten Sleep property.
“My husband applied for a Desert Land Entry with his partners in 1967, and it took a while to get the BLM on board,” says Paula Tanner, widow of the late Kenneth. “After receiving permission from the government, the group drilled a water well that would change the BLM property’s landcape. We drilled our first and second water well, but it took us a while to get to the point where we are now. We’ve been trying to make a go of it for a while.”
Paula notes that they accomplished their goals prior to Kenneth’s passing 2012.
Going to the desert
“Desert Land Entry is property owned by the BLM,” explains Paula. “We had to develop the land to receive the property. Then, it is priced very cheap.”
However, by the time improvements are made, costs add up.
“We drilled wells, bought sprinkler systems and irrigated the property,” she says. “It is crazy how it all worked out.”
While the BLM was hesitant to grant Desert Land Entry, Paula notes, “The group of partners persisted and began developing the BLM lands. My husband was a geologist. He saw the opportunity to drill a well on the land, and once we had a well, we could develop the land.”
Aside from work to establish the farm, Kenneth also developed mines, but his life ambition was to farm. By developing the Desert Land outside of Ten Sleep, they were able to accomplish their goals.
“We are pretty proud of this place,” Paula adds. “I’m proud that we were able to make it happen.”
Today, Paula’s son-in-law Casey Johnstone runs Buffalo Creek Farms.
“I’ve been here for almost 30 years,” Casey comments. “My father-in-law started this place and did a lot of work. They drilled wells and put pivots in, and I’m continuing it today.”
“We raise hay and malt barley,” he says. “I’ve also got some cows.”
Their alfalfa creates the primary source of income for the operation.
“We sell big square bales of hay and are able to get three cuttings out of this country. Most of it is sold,” Casey continues. “We also have barley in our rotation.”
The barley, he explains, is important as a rotation crop.
“Every five or six years, we tear up our alfalfa fields, because alfalfa stands start to get bad after that long,” he says. “We plant the barley as a rotation.”
While they have also contemplated venturing into growing beans or other crops, Casey says, “We are really set up for hay, and it works well.”
Improving the operation
Their fields are all irrigated by artesian wells and a reservoir on the property.
“We fill our big reservoir in the winter, which provides enough pressured to gravity flow the water to our fields,” Casey explains. “The pressure decreases our pumping costs.”
Casey also says they began planting Roundup Ready alfalfa this year.
While they have yet to see benefits, he comments, “We just put in the Roundup Ready this fall, so I’m not sure how it will work out yet. We’re just trying to keep things a little cleaner.”
Buffalo Creek Farms also raises Black Angus cattle crossed with Herefords.
Casey introduced the cows to Buffalo Creek Farms nearly 25 years ago, choosing Black Angus for their black-hided calves and Herefords for their disposition.
“We run a cow/calf operation,” Casey comments.
Each year begins with heifers calving in March, and then he shifts his focus to the farming operation.
“We start farming as soon as we can because we want to get the barley in as early as possible,” he explains.
“I background them in our feedlot until the end of January,” says Casey.
The feedlot couples with their alfalfa production well, and Casey says if they have off-quality hay, they feed it to their own cattle, rather than selling it at a discount.
“We also have the residue that our cows can pasture on, and that seems to help out, as well,” he says.
Other revenue options
“Our banker always said my husband was a creative financier,” comments Paula. “We did a lot of different things.”
For example, Kenneth pursued mining, including some interest mining bentonite to keep the farm going.
Included in their efforts, Paula and Casey note that dinosaurs were discovered on the property in 1989.
“We hired someone to dig those bones, and we are involved with the companies who are still digging on the property today,” she adds. “That helped us to survive the tough years.”
“We have paleontologists here in the summer, rent the property and share the profits,” says Casey. “That helps out. It is kind of like an oil well.”
The dinosaur bones on their property are unique and provide great opportunity because they are articulated and allow researchers to assemble whole dinosaurs, rather than just bits and pieces.
In the arid climate around Ten Sleep, Casey says, “It helps to have a little moisture, and we live in a pretty dry place.”
At the same time, they have seen high hay prices the last few years, which helps.
“The price of hay will go down, I’m sure,” he continues. “However, it costs a certain amount to put up hay, and we need close to $150 a ton to make a profit.”
The other side
Despite the challenges, Casey notes that he will continue to stay involved in the ag business.
“I really like to farm and ranch,” he says. “It is always something different every day, and the work doesn’t get too monotonous.”
At the same time, he also notes that his son Jesse is getting more involved in the business and helps out regularly.
Casey also likes being his own boss, saying, “The money might not be that good, but it gets better the longer we stay with it.”