Improving the ranch:Garrett’s work to improve ranchland earns them Environmental Stewardship AwardWritten by Saige Albert
Bates Hole – Just south of Casper on Highway 487, Garrett Ranch has a long tradition of ranching, and in the last 40 years, they have focused on improving the habitat on their ranch to improve grazing for both wildlife and livestock.
This year, they were recognized with the 2017 Environmental Stewardship Award, which is presented by the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Sand County Foundation.
“My dad, granddad and uncle started in 1937 up the creek from here, and we moved down to our current headquarters in the winter of 1948,” says Pete Garrett, the ranch owner, who notes that they have gradually expanded their operation to offer more opportunities for their children to come back to the ranch.
Just over 20 years ago, Garrett Ranch acquired the Sneur Ranch, where Pete’s son Steve currently lives.
“Today, we’re a commercial cow/calf operation, and we run mostly Hereford cattle,” Pete comments. “I’m the third generation on the ranch today, Steve is the fourth, and his kids Tyler and Dalton are the fifth.”
Pete’s daughter Laura Miles and her husband Jack are also on the ranch. Steve’s wife Kim is also involved in the operation.
Currently, they winter their cattle on Golden Creek and Bolton Creek. In January, they bring the cows closer to home and their hay meadows.
“Then, we start calving the first of April for 60 days,” Pete explains. “We ship all the steers and light heifers in the fall, and we keep most of our heifer calves.”
The Garrett’s preference for Hereford cattle stems from the history of the operation.
“Herefords paid for this outfit,” Pete says.
His wife Ethel adds, “They’re hardy cattle, too.”
And Steve comments, “The Herefords are also easy to work. They like people.”
“The Herefords have been here since we started,” Pete continues. “We’ve been putting black bulls on some of them, and we’re keeping a few black cows, but the majority of our cows are Herefords.”
Pete explains that, in the late 1980s, the Garretts began working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to implement rotational grazing strategies.
“We’ve done a lot of fence work and water development, so we can go into a four-pasture rotation in they summertime,” Pete says. “On our winter bases, we want the cattle closer to home, and the rotate through our hay meadows.”
Also in the late 80s, the Garretts started burning sagebrush to get rid of heavy, decadent sage with no understory.
“We burned sagebrush with BLM until the early 2000s, and then we stopped because of sage grouse,” he continues, noting that they didn’t stop their work to improve the rangeland and remove decadent sagebrush stands there. “Four years ago, we got permission to go into the heavy draws and start grinding paths up through the heavy sagebrush patches.”
In grinding sagebrush, they leave islands of sagebrush to provide cover and vegetation to capture snow, but the native grasses are able to grow better in areas where the brush has been removed.
“In the first year, we got a lot better vegetation, and the deer and sage chickens really pulled into that area,” Pete says. “Laura was gathering cows up there, and she never went through a patch where she didn’t see sage chickens.”
They have continued grinding sagebrush to provide better habitat for sage grouse, deer and other wildlife, as well as better grazing for their cattle.
Improving the range
In addition to decadent sagebrush stands, Pete notes that they have worked to reduce cheatgrass and cactus stands on their ranch, as well.
“We’ve been spraying cheatgrass in cooperation with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD),” he says. “The antelope migrate onto the ranch in the wintertime, so we’ve worked to get rid of the cheatgrass.”
Pete adds, “We’ve sprayed nearly 20,000 acres of cheatgrass.”
When they purchased the Sneur place, Pete also notes that the land had an abundance of cactus on it.
“We bought the place because it made a thumb into the middle of our ranch, and the first thing we did when we got it was sprayed the cactus,” he says. “Then, we went in and sprayed cheatgrass, and we did a lot of sagebrush grinding.”
Perhaps some of their most widely recognized work comes from the efforts they have taken to improve the water on their ranch.
“On the Sneur place, we had a reclamation company come up and remove the tall, heavy brush,” Pete explains. “That made a lot better habitat for antelope in the wintertime to get them off the sagebrush.”
“We also started working on Bolton Creek,” he continues.
Almost eight years ago, Pete says that Bolton Creek was primarily just a mud flat with almost no bank or vegetation.
“We put in what we call insta-dams,” he says. “When we started, WGFD had a project on Muddy Mountain where they were doing aspen work. They hauled the aspen down to the ranch and used it to feed the beaver, but they ate themselves out of house and home, so we started building the insta-dams.”
The dams are built by using fence poles and then putting trees to form faux beaver dams.
“Through these dams, the creek has narrowed up, and the vegetation has grown back in,” Pete says. “We used the broken trees from Winter Storm Atlas in 2013. The City of Casper hauled them out here, and we used them in the creek.”
“This is highly erodible ground,” he continues, “so we’ve continued the work using leftover Christmas trees from the City of Casper.”
Ethel adds, “When we use trees, it’s helpful because they decompose and there isn’t anything left in the ground that we have to worry about.”
In addition to benefits in the creek, Pete notes that their efforts have reduced erosion, keeping silt out of the North Platte River.
Similar strategies have been used to reduce the head-cuts on the creeks and slow the water down so it doesn’t wash out.
“We started putting the insta-dams in during 2010, and we’ve done a little bit every year,” says Pete.
“The creek has really changed because of it,” adds Ethel. “It has narrowed up, and the vegetation is coming back. The willows are starting to come back, too, which is good.”
Success and failure
While they have seen many successes in their work, Pete also notes that not everything they’ve tried has worked out.
“We’ve had some other projects, as well, that I call failures,” he says. “Not everything works, but we don’t know until we try.”
For example, prior to using trees in their creek work, the Garretts used fiberglass piling and rocks in the creeks.
“The rocks washed out, leaving the fiberglass pilings,” Pete says. “It was dangerous for livestock and wildlife because it left shards.”
“It’s been a learning experience,” he adds. “We’ve experimented with things, and we’ve had failures, but we don’t know if it will work unless we try.”
And the success they have seen has been worth the time and effort put into projects.
“We’ve seen our AUMs increase from 500 to 700, and the grass is a lot thicker compared to what it was,” he says. “The creeks are narrowing up, and we’ve seen western wild rye and willows come in. It’s good for this place.”
However, they didn’t do the work with the plan of winning awards.
“It’s awesome that we were even nominated for this award,” says Ethel. “It’s a really prestigious award, and we’re proud to have won.”
Steve adds, “All our hard work was recognized, which was nice.”
“The WGFD has really helped us along the way,” continues Pete, “and we appreciate that they nominated us. We also appreciate being recognized, and we’re going to continue doing this work because it helps the ranch, it’s good for the wildlife, and it’s good for the livestock.”
The annual Environmental Stewardship Tour will be held on Garrett Ranch in the summer of 2017. Look for announcements in late spring about the tour date.
Granting a wish: Wyo works across state lines to grant wishesWritten by Saige Albert
Sheridan – Seven-year-old Cody grew up with a strong connection to cowboys and horses, and when he found out that he was eligible for the Make-A-Wish program, it wasn’t long before he had chosen to visit Eaton’s Ranch in Wyoming to ride a horse as his wish.
“Cody’s initial idea for a wish was for a tortoise,” says Cody’s mother Joelle. “As the wish granters talked to him, he began to change his mind.”
Joelle explains that many years ago, someone passed an Eaton’s Ranch t-shirt down to Cody, and since he was a child, Cody has been enthralled with horses.
“He had a saddle that he put on the dog or the couch,” she says. “He put the bareback pad and bridle on the dog, too. As Cody talked with the wish granters, he remembered the shirt and Eaton’s Ranch came up, so he decided he wanted to go to Eaton’s and be a cowboy and have a ranch experience for his wish.”
Originally, Cody’s little brother Asher was too young to ride horses, according to ranch rules, so Cody decided to wait a year until his brother was old enough.
“Cody wanted to make sure that his brother was old enough to ride so we could all ride horses as a family,” Joelle says. “It was nice that Eaton’s allowed us to do that. Cody’s love of horses started at a young age, and this wish really helped that to come true.”
Joelle, her husband David, Cody and Asher traveled to Sheridan from their home in Maine in June 2016.
“This was our first real family vacation,” Joelle says. “This is the first time we’d gone anywhere new together as a family, and the night we had to leave from the trip, the kids were in tears. They didn’t want to leave Wyoming.”
The week they spent together was a special time for their family, which provided the chance to bond, with nothing else to worry about.
“That time together as a family with nothing else to worry about and the freedom of being in a little oasis at the end of a dead-end road in such a beautiful area was wonderful,” Joelle comments. “Having the big adventure as a family was fun, and it helped remind us how important it is to be connected even stronger as a family. Cody’s wish gave us that opportunity.”
Back to Wyoming
In Wyoming, Sheridan’s Van Dyke family had some similarities with Cody’s family.
“We were in Texas while my husband was starting some horses, and my son Asher was riding a bum calf,” says Amber Van Dyke. “He fell off, and we took him to the hospital. After a CT scan, we discovered he had cancer on his kidney.”
They remained in Texas for several months for surgery and initial treatments. Then, they were transferred to Sheridan to finish his chemotherapy.
The family had heard about the Make-A-Wish program before, but they didn’t know much about it.
“My mom is a pediatric nurse for the doctor who did Asher’s chemotherapy,” Amber says. “She told us that the doctor thought Asher was a candidate for Make-A-Wish.”
The Van Dyke filled out the paperwork, were contacted by Make-A-Wish Wyoming, and in several days, Asher was accepted to the program and began thinking about his wish.
Asher wished to go to Disneyland and be a Jedi. They took their seven-day trip to California in early August, and the whole family – including Amber, Asher’s dad Paul, his sisters Faith and Grace and older brother Seth, came with him.
“The first day at Disney, Asher got to train to be a Jedi. They got dressed up and went through the training, with their light sabers and everything,” laughs Amber. “They got to fight Darth Vader and Kylo Ren – the bad guys from the Star Wars movies. It was a good trip and a lot of fun.”
However, before Asher took his wish trip, he got to be a part of Cody’s wish at Eaton’s Ranch.
“Make A Wish contacted a professional photographer in Sheridan to do a photo shoot for the family from Maine that was coming to Eaton’s Ranch,” Amber says. “The photographer is a personal friend of ours, and she thought it would be really neat for the boys to have cowboy attire for their trip. She asked her sister-in-law, an equine therapist here in town, who she should ask to make the handmade chaps for the boys from Maine.”
Paul Van Dyke, Amber's husband, who owns Van Dyke Saddlery and Stock Horses, was asked to make two pairs of chaps for the young boys.
“It was really short notice, but we had been really blessed by Make-A-Wish, so Paul said he’d do what he had to do to get the chaps done,” Amber says. “It was this little boy’s wish to be a cowboy – to live the life we live every day, so he found the time to make the chaps.”
The Van Dykes sent the chaps to Eaton’s Ranch with a note, asking if it would be possible to meet the family, since their son was also a Make-A-Wish Child.
“It was really need and a special connection,” Amber says. “We drove out to Eaton’s Ranch and connected with the family. Our children are all really close in age, so they had a great time together. It was a special connection, and we feel really blessed to play a part in giving back to Make-A-Wish.”
A deeper connection
As the Maine and Wyoming families chatted, they discovered several similarities in their stories.
“It was really neat to connect with another Make-A-Wish family,” says Joelle, adding that there were unique similarities between their family and the Van Dyke’s in Wyoming.
“Their son Asher was six when we came to Wyoming,” she explains. “Cody’s little brother is also named Asher, and he was also six at the time.”
The boys’ fathers also began chatting, discovering that they knew mutual people from their work environments.
“It was neat to have those connection and for them to take the time to come out and see us,” Joelle added.
Value of the program
Today, Cody is eight years old and still talks about the trip to Wyoming.
“In mid-December, Cody wanted to get up in church and talk about how he was thankful to go to Eaton’s Ranch,” Joelle says. “Eaton’s ranch was amazing, and the people there were wonderful. It’s the little things that matter.”
Amber has had a similar experience, noting that they still talk about Disneyland, and the kids recount their trip on a regular basis.
“Make-A-Wish was a great experience,” Amber says. “It was wonderful on every level, and they treated us like royalty.”
Both Amber and Joelle look back on how welcoming the program was for the whole family.
“They didn’t leave my younger son out,” Joelle says. “When a child has a life-threatening illness, it affects the whole family, so they included our Asher in the whole buildup to the trip.”
Joelle adds that the wish experience didn’t end when they returned home to Maine.
“I still get notes from Cody’s wish granters,” she says. “And once in a while, the local chapters keep in contact and keep us involved. There’s a big connection that we feel that someone was there to make our lives and my kid’s life a little better and, bring joy and free spirit back.”
This article is the third article in our series on Make-A-Wish. Check out parts one and two in the Oct. 1 and Nov. 5 Roundups.
WyFB recognizes membersWritten by Emilee Gibb
Laramie – In addition to setting new policy and installing new leaders for 2017, Wyoming Farm Bureau (WyFB) honored the recipients of the Friend of Farm Bureau and Distinguished Leadership Awards during their 97th annual meeting, held in Laramie Nov. 10-12.
Friend of Farm Bureau
WyFB nominated retiring Congressman Cynthia Lummis, Sen. Mike Enzi and Sen. John Barrasso to the American Farm Bureau Federation for the prestigious Friend of Farm Bureau Award.
“I am standing in front of people who have provided me wise counsel and good guidance, input and ideas, thoughtfulness and have been great stewards of the land, the water and the air in our beloved state of Wyoming,” said Lummis.
Lummis commended WyFB and Wyoming agriculturalists for their dedication to caring for Wyoming’s heritage and resources.
“This organization is special because it’s comprised of people who care so very deeply for our state, do as I, and we will continue to work together throughout our lives to continue that wonderful tradition of Wyoming being the most exceptional, most wonderful state in which to be involved with agriculture, to raise a family and to have a small business,” she said.
She expressed her appreciation for the support and guidance that the WyFB has given her during her service in the legislature.
“To have guidance and wise counsel and to be with WyFB means a great deal to me,” said Lummis. “Family and faith go together with this organization and agriculture. I salute this organization. Thank you very, very much.”
WyFB recognized Crook County President and Northeast District Vice President Frank Hawken as the recipient of the 2016 Distinguished Leadership Award.
WyFB President Todd Fornstrom explained that Hawken has been involved with the WyFB throughout his life.
“He has served the Farm Bureau in every capacity from the local president to staff for the WyFB,” said Fornstrom.
Hawken’s work ethic set him apart and is an example to those that he is leading, continued Fornstrom.
“He is the epitome of a servant leader, always leading by example and working hard to achieve any goal,” he commented.
In addition to Hawken’s service to the WyFB, he also is actively involved in other local organizations.
“He lends his leadership to numerous local service organizations and causes. He is always quick to volunteer and does so graciously. Frank’s unselfish attitude makes any organization he’s involved in flourish,” concluded Fornstrom.
Applications are here!Written by Emilee Gibb
Rapid City youth wins Merit Heifer show with donated heifer from Wyo coupleWritten by Saige Albert
Billings, Mont. – Among a wide variety of shows and events, the NILE’s Merit Heifer Show brought big success for one South Dakota youth. Raina Perli of Rapid City, S.D. was one of 22 youth who received a heifer this year. Perli received a heifer from Dave and Dianna Oedekoven of Oedekoven Angus for the 2016 Merit Heifer Program.
Perli, an 18-year-old senior at Rapid City Christian and the daughter of Keith and Jacque Perli, has been showing cattle for as long as she can remember.
“I got my first heifer when I was four,” she says. “I didn’t start showing them, but I remember helping since when I was a clover bud in 4-H.”
“It’s been our family tradition that we have cows and come to county fair to show them,” Perli continues. “My desire to do that has really grown as I’ve continued to show cattle.”
Several years ago, Perli received a heifer from the South Dakota Legacy Program, which is similar to the Merit Heifer Program at the NILE.
She was excited about the results of being involved in the program, saying, “I really learned a lot working with other outside genetics and producers.”
Then, two years ago, her mother Jacque visited the NILE, learning about the Merit Heifer Program and sharing the information with her daughter.
“I knew I wanted to get involved in the program, so I started my application in July,” Perli says. “We had to make a five minute YouTube video about our facilities, why we should be selected and the activities that we’re in. Then, we had a second application that was a paper application.”
Along with the written application, applicants were required to submit three letters of recommendation. An essay is also required for the applications.
“I received a letter saying that I had been chosen for the Merit Heifer Program, and the Oedekovens were my donors,” she says.
Learning about the industry
Perli says that she received her heifer in October.
“The Oedekovens were generous and let me pick between 10 and 15 heifers,” she comments. “I wasn’t able to make it to Sheridan to look at the heifers because I was in volleyball. I looked at the heifers and pedigrees, and I visited with my mom.”
Perli adds, “I chose my heifer because of her femininity and her feet, combined with how familiar I was with her pedigree. It matched up well with the genetics that I have in my herd already.”
When the heifer was delivered to her home, Perli says she jumped right in.
“I got my heifer in October, and our first report was due in January,” she comments, noting that program participants were required to submit monthly reports on their participation.
In addition, participants were required call in to a group conference call each month for the first four months of the year.
“We had a monthly conference call where someone who was knowledgeable in the industry talked to us about topics like artificial insemination, breeding, nutrition and other things,” she says. “Our monthly reports had questions based on those calls.”
Perli notes that her partnership with the Oedekovens was really valuable.
“Any questions that I had, they answered,” she says, “and they didn’t make me feel like I was asking stupid questions.”
While students in the program were required to maintain monthly contact with their mentors, Perli says that she often was in contact with the Oedekovens several times a month.
“I had a lot of questions,” she comments. “The Oedekovens were always very encouraging. They answered my questions, and they were very helpful all around.”
Perli adds, “I’d like to give a huge thank you to the donors of this program. By stepping up and giving kids this opportunity, they help make this generation more aware about agriculture and stay committed to the industry.”
Winning the show
“NILE is a really big deal,” Perli says. “People come from across the country. There are a lot of different breeds represented under one building. It’s just an honor to win there.”
Perli adds that her goal was to take the heifer and represent herself and the Oedekovens as well as she could while also representing the Merit Heifer program to the best of her ability.
“I had to go out and show, and that’s all I can do,” she continues.
Perli began at the Angus show, where her heifer didn’t place in her class.
“We were up against some really stiff competition,” Perli comments. “The next day, in the Merit Heifer Show, the judge told me to go stand up by the crowd. I was shocked when I realized that mean I won.”
She continues, “It took a couple of days to sink in. It was unexpected but very exciting.”
Perli recommends that youth should be involved in the Merit Heifer program, if possible.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” she comments. “I learned so much, not only through dealing with and meeting new people but also through showing cattle. It is a valuable program.”
“The Merit Heifer program is about more than just showing,” Perli continues. “It’s about learning about the cattle industry. It’s more in-depth than just showing cattle.”