Worth the BucksWritten by Jennifer Womack
Douglas – Watching his daughter Tracy wrestle a range ewe she’d raised as a bum lamb in the show ring in the late-1970s, Bob Hageman looked at his wife Judy and said, “We’ve got to get some better sheep or forget it.”
“We bought our first five old ewes in 1977,” says Tiffany Hageman of the purchase made from Peterson Brothers at Lance Creek that launched her family into the registered Rambouillet business. The family had long raised sheep with their current range flock, operated under Mountain Valley Livestock, dating back more than 80 years.
“Our commercial herd is one of the oldest herds in Wyoming,” says Bob. The family knew first-hand what made a good buck and set out to produce it. Hageman Sisters is a partnership between Bob, Judy, Tiffany, Tracy and Tracy’s daughter Makayla. Bob, Judy and Tiffany live near Douglas, while Tracy and her husband Steve Dilts live near Wright.
The Hagemans purchased a buck from a family by the name of Schuman at Clearmont. A fine-wooled ram from the late Paul Pfister at Node further improved their sheep, as did the purchase of a certified ram from Mel Riley at the University of Wyoming. “We did a little experimenting with the bucks that probably nobody else did,” says Bob. “It just happened to work that this certain type of ram on certain ewes produced outstanding sheep.” They also purchased Smylie Brother’s ewes when the brothers went off to college. Dean and Max Smylie are now veterinarians in Douglas.
“That increased the herd quite a little,” says Bob, noting their desire to enter the business slowly. Sheep for the 4-H project were the primary goal, but demand for the bucks and the great deal of enjoyment the family took in the endeavor soon resulted in a growing business.
It was 1980 when the Hagemans attended their first Wyoming State Ram Sale, then held in Casper. Converse County’s Dick Strock bought the pen of rams for $525 a piece, says Bob, noting at the time that was a lot of money. “That’s still a lot of money to pay for a ram,” says Bob. Strock made several more purchases over the years, says Bob. Repeat customers are something the Hagemans look for as it’s a testament to the fact people are happy with their rams. They feel honesty and integrity have kept them in the business all these years.
Three years ago one of the family’s rams took the record as the sale’s highest selling ram in history. Bringing $4,700, the ram sold to a consortium of Texas breeders. Besides the market-topping sale, the family’s rams traditionally are amidst the best selling at the annual event. It’s not the only place they take top honors, with notable wins at the Wyoming State Fair shows for breeding sheep and fleeces and at the American Rambouillet Association Show and Sale.
“We provide information at the sale about the bucks that other people don’t,” says Tracy. “We have information on wool grades, weights, staple length and more.” Bob says wool from the rams is sent to Texas where data is evaluated.
“You need to know for yourself, too,” says Tiffany, noting it also allows the family to gauge improvement.
The Hagemans will bring 31 rams to town for this year’s sale. Additional rams are for sale private treaty at the ranch following the sale. Since the beginning the family says they’ve raised about 1,800 bucks, many of which have been sold through the Wyoming State Ram Sale.
“We trim all of those and get them all fixed up for sale day,” says Tiffany.
About the first of August the rams are brought back to the home place north of Douglas where they’re placed on a feed ration. Bob says while people may claim they prefer lighter rams, it’s the healthy looking, larger bucks that top the sale. “They need to have enough flesh on them to make it through that first breeding season,” he says.
Hageman Sisters also provides the bucks for the family’s Mountain Valley Livestock and purebred stock not retained in that flock is added to the commercial flock. Not wanting to lose their hard earned product, Bob says they learned early on to sell the bucks and keep the ewes.
“It’s hard work,” says Tiffany of what’s kept the business successful. “It provides lots of family time. The people in our county support it. We stand behind our product and sell to the same people every year. We couldn’t have stayed in business without our friends and neighbors.”
While the family has sold rams all across the nation, Bob says it’s the local support that makes the operation work year in and year out.
“We’re crazy about it,” says Tiffany.
“Plus we get to be together to do it,” says Tracy. “It’s a wonderful thing to do as a family.
“If the family works together,” says Bob, “it brings you closer together. The money is not the issue when you get into it. This has been fortunate because we were able to turn it into a business. That’s not what you start out for.”
Judy echoes that sentiment, noting the lessons her daughters learned showing through 4-H. For granddaughter Makayla, she says it’s been a way to learn how to work hard and gain many other important lifelong skills. “This is a Sunday deal, after school and holiday deal,” laughs Judy. Each of the family members pitches in to keep the work done.
“If you want to be successful you’ve got to go out and work at it,” says Bob. “If you have lots of bucks to sell you call people up and you sell them.” For Bob it’s been extremely rewarding, a way to have the higher-quality sheep in the show ring he desired as a youngster participating at the Converse County fair.
“We’ve been in business 31 years now,” says Tiffany. “We pretty much live in the barn in February.”
Bob still speaks words similar to those he uttered the day the family decided to enter the purebred business. “The goal is to keep getting better,” he says.