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Diversification tour highlights successful operations

Written by Liz LeSatz
Lusk – Instability is a word agriculturists know all too well, and many have turned to diversification to help balance the uncertainty. The sixth annual Diversified Ag Tour spotlighted some of these producers and gave other agriculturists tools to take back home.
    More than 40 people were on the trip and Wyoming Business Council Agribusiness Division Director Cindy Garretson-Weibel said it was one of their best turnouts. Sponsored by Wyoming Women in Ag and the Wyoming Business Council, the Diversified Ag Tour featured Niobrara County farmers and ranchers.
Gaukel Grown and Ground
    In 1999, Keeline-area wheat farmers Julie and Kevin Gaukel were faced with the need to generate more income to support their family. “We didn’t want to have a job we endure to support the life we love,” said Julie.
    The answer was to diversify, and Gaukel Grown and Ground was born. The family produces 13 varieties of all natural stone-ground whole-wheat products including flour, mixes and cracked cereal. The company is a family affair and Kevin, Julie and their three children grind the flour, develop the recipes, create the packaging, do the marketing and sell the products.
    Their passion for agriculture resonates from the family and is evident in their willingness to teach the next generation. The Gaukels conduct “living classrooms” where classes of elementary school children come to learn about the work and contribution of agriculture. So far the students have been from Niobrara and Converse counties but the Gaukels encourage others to promote living classrooms in their area.
    “I’ve had kids come out to the farm and ask, ‘This is where food comes from?’” said Kevin, a fourth-generation farmer. “That’s a big inspiration to keep educating.”
Rockin’ 7 Ranch
    Brad Reese has a passion for hunting and ranching. So, after college a commercial hunting lodge on the family ranch, the Rockin’ 7 Ranch, was built and the result has brought diversification in a variety of ways.
    The success of Reese’s diversification experiments have been mixed. Reese and his family hit a winner with their deer and antelope hunting packages, but failed with a trial-run in bird hunting and a meat processing plant. Instead, the Reeses found unusual success in offering prairie dog hunts. The tour’s crowd roared with laughter as Reese described his hunters shooting off hundreds of rounds at the varmints and loving every minute of it.
    Reese said his experiences have taught him three important lessons. The first lesson is to devise an operation with a “moat” around it. He said the diversification project should be protected from competition in order for producers to name their own prices. Lesson two was to start small and be flexible. He warned against stretching too thin and straying away from the original operation. Finally, Reese advised producers to think about their diversification project’s margin.
    “Don’t buy yourself a job,” he said. “You need to decide how much trading you want to do with your way of life for the business.”
Wyoming Aquaculture Center
    The Wyoming Women’s Center is a place people would rarely associate with fish. However, the women’s prison in Lusk is putting inmates to work and teaching them valuable life and job skills in the raising of tilapia fish.
    The Aquaculture Center has been up and running since August 2006 and is already creating success for the business and the women working there. Inmates must meet certain requirements and are interviewed for the program. The 16 participants learn everything from care of the fish to daily water testing.
    The fish are raised from less than an inch long to about 1.5 pounds before being shipped. They are sent fresh or live to markets with their first shipment going to a Denver market.
    It was apparent the inmates love the work they do in the aquaculture facility. Prison officials said the participants are learning valuable job skills many of them didn’t before possess.
    “Some of these women didn’t ever have anything expected of them before now,” one official said.
    The aquaculture center hopes to be profit earning in two years and hopes the growth, learning and value of the program never stop.
Waldock Partnership
    With energy booming in the state, oil and gas companies are wondering what to do with the worn out tires from their enormous equipment. That’s where Waldock Partnership comes into play. The only tire processing facility in the state, the company takes tires from the mines and recycles them.
    Old tires have a surprising number of uses. Quinton Waldock uses tires for livestock feeders, quasi loader buckets, fall protection for playgrounds and plant mulch. He even uses magnets to pull the steel from the tire sidewalls to sell.
    The business started 15 years ago and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Waldock said at this point he’s promoted his products through price incentives and educating people about the materials’ uses.
    “At some point the volume of tires in this state is going to be a problem,” he said. “I’ll take care of as much as we can.”
    Liz LeSatz is the Summer 2008 intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be e-mailed at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..