Hardy to assume Wool Growers presidencyWritten by Jennifer Womack
That’s exactly what he and his late wife Joy did in 1965 when they brought sheep back onto the Hardy Ranch. Over time, says Gene, sheep have been profitable more years than cattle.
Gene’s father homesteaded on property the family still owns in 1920. The ranch he founded in Wyoming is nearing its 90th anniversary and is now home to the second, third and fourth generations of the Hardy family. Gene’s daughter Michelle Musselman, along with her husband Shaun and their two children Hardy and Haley, are partners in the ranch.
“We were strictly cattle in the beginning,” says Gene who has called the ranch home lifelong. “Dad didn’t go into sheep until 1934.” For the first year he owned the sheep, the former owner stayed on as a herder and helped with them. Gene’s dad ran the sheep until the lacking availability of labor forced him to sell them in the early 1940s.
“We were strictly cattle until 1965 when Joy and I decided we were going back into sheep,” says Gene. “We started with a couple of bunches we bought and kept building up our numbers. We’ve been running sheep and cattle ever since.” Historically running Hereford cattle, like many Wyoming ranches, Gene says they began the gradual shift to Red Angus by replacing their Hereford bulls in the late 1970s.
Both the calves and the lambs are sold private treaty off the ranch in the fall, says Gene. Smaller lots are run through area sale barns. While not members of the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative, Gene says the cooperative has benefited the entire industry.
“In some ways this country is more desirable for sheep,” says Gene, “but with proper management they both do well.” The Hardy family has gone to great lengths to ensure the mutual success of their livestock and the resources. “We have worked extensively with NRCS on management practices, more fencing for rotational grazing and water developments,” says Gene. “We’ve made a great amount of progress in the last few years.”
In 1979 the Hardys purchased a ranch in northwest Nebraska. Gene says the uranium development on their ranch reached a degree that they either had to sell livestock or buy more land. Until recently the Hardy’s cattle spent part of the year in Nebraska, but Gene says this past year they leased the Nebraska property.
Wind development has made its way onto the Hardy Ranch’s horizons, literally. From the hill beyond Gene’s house wind turbines line the distant skyline. The family doesn’t, however, have plans to bring the development too much closer. Gene doesn’t see the turbines as sustainable, costing too much money for too little electricity in return. He does, however, understand the position of those ranch families who are pursuing it as a means of revenue generation. When it comes to minerals issues of any sort — mining, oil and gas or pipelines, Gene says, “You earn every penny you get.”
“Joy and I joined the Wool Growers in 1967,” recalls Gene, noting that they joined the Wyoming Stock Growers Association that same year. The couple did more than pay their dues, jumping in with both feet to volunteer their time and influence industry decisions for the betterment of all producers.
“I’ve held leadership positions in both organizations,” says Gene. In the early 1990s he was one of the WSGA’s second vice presidents and has volunteered countless hours on committee work. More recently he served a term on the Wyoming Board of Agriculture. From 1973 until 1985 he was a member of the Wyoming Livestock Board. Challenges facing the board, he recalls, were as numerous then as they are today.
It was during the early 1980s that Gene says the agency dealt with a scabies outbreak in cattle. “We had to dip the cattle as it was prior to pour-on insecticides that killed the mite that causes the disease,” says Gene. While cattle had historically been dipped, few ranches had kept their dipping vats in place. “It was wintertime and we had a terrible outbreak. It was cold out and we were dipping cattle. The state built two portable cattle dipping vats with semis pulling them.” Infected cattle, and those with fence line contact, all had to be treated.
It was also during Gene’s tenure on the WLSB that the state first lost its class free brucellosis status. “Here we are 20 to 30 years later with a worse problem,” he says. “You try to be a voice that hopefully will accomplish some good for the industry,” says Hardy, “but sometimes you wonder if you gain much over the years. The issues just keep coming back up.” In the case of brucellosis he says cattle producers have dealt with the issue, but that real solutions lie in addressing the reservoir in wildlife.
As chairman of the county association of predator boards, predator management is an area where Gene has long volunteered his time and continues his strong involvement. Legislative support for local predator programs, he says, have provided for the projects that are beneficial to both livestock and wildlife to continue.
“We’ll never get back to the glory days of several million sheep in Wyoming,” he says, “but I’d like to see younger people take an interest in the sheep industry. Some people say sheep are too much work, but in our operation they’re no more work than the cattle.” He sees where the scenario is different in western Wyoming where sheep are run with herders instead of within fence lines.
Gene’s support for youth stretches to Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom, an organization he says is important in educating the next generation about agriculture. “The program is very beneficial to the young people here in Wyoming,” says Gene.
“I’d like to see more markets for wool and meat developed,” says Gene. He sees room for growth in the industry. “There’s a demand for lambs and for short-term ewes, maybe not in big numbers but they’re selling to a broader area of the country.” Gene takes the reins from current WWGA President and Kemmerer rancher Dave Julian when the WWGA meets in unison with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association in Casper early December.