Wyoming Hereford RanchWritten by Christy Hemken
A descendant of the Swan Land and Cattle family of ranches, the Wyoming Hereford Ranch (WHR) is still going strong today, although with a slightly different focus from its date of origin.
“Swan Land and Cattle set aside 65,000 acres for the Hereford ranch, and it’s bred Herefords ever since,” says present-day ranch manager Steve Anderson. “The current owners, the Sloans, bought the ranch some 30 years ago, and they’re the first owners to live on the ranch.”
The Swan Land and Cattle Co. is said to have been instrumental in the movement of Herefords to Wyoming, other mountain states and the Northwest.
Anderson says at 125 years the WHR is the oldest known continuous breed operation in the U.S. Definite plans for the ranch’s anniversary have not yet been decided, although Anderson says a traditional branding might be in the works.
With only 59 calves to brand this spring, he says the ranch can afford the luxury of a little inefficiency once in a while.
“The ranch is only a fraction of what it once was,” says Anderson of the herd’s small size. “Because of both prior management and drought we need to give the land some rest and we cut the herd to 59 bred cows last fall.”
“We won’t be the Hereford producer we once were, but we still have quality animals here,” he says. “A producer will come here not because he wants a large number of bulls, but because he wants a good bull from a known Hereford breeder. We’re still a very good source.”
Because of polarity between the ranch proper and the cattle operation, Anderson says the ranch now operates with minimal crew and more focus toward diversification. Four full-time employees, including Anderson and his wife Cathy, look after the cattle and the ranch grounds, which are a show place.
“We’re a traditional Hereford breed ranch that happens to have a barn we lease out for events, and we have 15 rental properties,” says Anderson. “We’re akin to a little municipality out here.” All the rental properties are located right on the ranch’s main grounds, within a quarter-mile of the ranch headquarters.
“We have college kids and professional people and everyone in between,” says Anderson of the ranch tenants. “People live out here because it’s an oasis. Most everyone works in Cheyenne.”
Anderson says part of his job description is spending time showing off the ranch to people and listening to stories from people who have worked with the ranch in its past. “It’s fun to read the guest book, about how the ranch has influenced peoples’ lives through the years,” he says, adding, “There’s so much to do it’s hard to slow down and visit with folks but it’s always rewarding when we do.”
He says on any given day duties on the ranch include irrigating hay meadows, mowing the little park, painting a house, welding an implement, renting the facility to a bride, interviewing prospective employees and renting out homes. “We have a lot on our plate, but they’re things that are fun to do.”
One unique group of ranch visitors is the bird-watchers. “The Audubon Society touts how great we are for birds, because all kinds come through here for the water,” says Anderson.
One day in 2007 90 species of birds were found on the ranch, while on that same day only 120 species were found in the entire county. Many birders leave rave reviews online of their experiences at the WHR, describing the ranch as a “classic Western desert oasis,” where the “birding is great, and it’s out in the middle of nowhere.”
“The history of the ranch is its strong suit and that history is sometimes overwhelming to think you’re a part of it,” says Anderson. “My wife and I are just here to work and do what needs to be done, and now our names will be connected to it.”
“It’s not the oldest ranch out there, but there are not a lot of ranches that have the history and recognition we do,” he says. “The livestock we’ve produced over the years would rival any ranch anywhere. The diversity and numbers of people and the names that have been involved with the ranch are astounding.”