Raising kids and cows: Afton couple focuses on family
Afton - Rollin and Tami Gardner operate a family beef cattle and hay operation south of Afton. Rollin’s great grandparents moved to Star Valley over 100 years ago and operated a dairy farm.
“It was just sagebrush then. They cleared 10 acres a year in their spare time,” Rollin recalls.
The ranch was later purchased by Rollin’s grandfather, who suffered a stroke as a young man. When Rollin’s father Reed was 14, his Dad passed away, and he was raised by his grandparents. After earning a master’s degree in dairy science from UW and a stint in the army, Reed returned and took over the dairy in the mid-1950s.
Rollin is the oldest boy out of nine children.
Buying the farm
“Our operation then wasn’t mechanized. When Dad ran out of kid labor, he had to do something different. Tami and I purchased the farm from my parents on January 1, 1990,” Rollin says.
The young couple ran the dairy for 16 years before going out of the dairy business and going into the beef cow and hay business in 2006.
Before purchasing the farm, Rollin attended UW, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science. In Laramie, he milked cows at the UW Experiment Station for over a year, and was the assistant superintendent or herdsman there for three years. After college, he was transferred to the UW Experiment Station at Afton.
Tami grew up on a nearby ranch and farm. At a young age, her father taught her to ride horses and drive a team. She is a valuable part of their current operation.
“I run the swather, baler, rakes, and I help rope when we brand. We rope and drag our calves to the fire,” she says, “I enjoy it. I could take my kids with me on the tractor. I took a car seat in the tractor, and they would sit there while I was haying. I liked having the kids with me. We made a decision I would stay at home instead of going to town to work.”
Hay and cattle
Rollin explains, “We raise mostly hay now, with a little barley and 50 head of mother cows. We are slowly building a cow herd.”
The Gardner’s market about 1,200 ton of hay annually, mostly for horses.
“Our neighbor across road has 1,300 head of horses, so we sell our hay to him,” he says. “We also feed about 80 head of horses here through winter, with a team.”
“I broke the team, and they are mine,” Tami comments, proudly. “Dad always had a team and horses, and he taught me. We have a couple of wagons and a sleigh.”
Rollin adds jokingly, “When it’s 20 below, she won’t come out. I have to feed with a tractor. One of our daughters and a son also drives.”
“We bought a big square baler 10 years ago to do some custom haying. Our operation is similar to a lot of those in the area. This valley was mostly dairies, and then over time the dairies have dropped out. In that last two or three years alone, 10 dairies in the valley have gone out of business. Several of the guys who have stayed in agriculture have switched to beef,” Rollin explains.
Irrigating in Star Valley
“All our grass is irrigated pasture. Our irrigation system is gravity flow, so we don’t have a big power bill. Dry Creek comes out of the canyon, and in the pioneer days, they built ditches and used it for irrigation,” explains Rollin. “In 1969, the Dry Creek Irrigation District put an intake structure in the creek. It fills a 32-inch pipe, comes down canyon and forks into three laterals that come down to West.”
Rollin says that the water drops 1,500 feet, creating 80 pounds of pressure, which is enough to power a sprinkler.
“It’s a community-wide system,” he adds. “We don’t have to pump water.”
“Before 1969, they had water for the first crop of hay, but the second crop was iffy. They usually had water for grain. But, in a dry year like this, there is no way we could make it without the sprinkler systems. All this ground here would be dried up,” he says. “We’ve never had to pump water, and this system costs us $10 an acre.”
The Gardner’s use one pivot they put in five years ago, side rolls and some hand lines to irrigate.
He continues, “When the creek gets low, we have to go on rations. When water gets low we take turns shutting off. The lower the creek gets the more we shut off. There is no storage; it’s all directly off of snowmelt.”
The Gardner’s understand the importance of being involved in the community.
Rollin served as secretary of the Western Region Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Association, director of the Dry Creek Irrigation District, as a member of the local conservation district board and the local RC&D board.
He also served on the Select Sires Cache Valley Board for a time. Rollin’s father was instrumental in starting Cache Valley breeding out of Cache Valley, Utah, which later joined up with Select Sires.
Tami was involved with the Lincoln County Rodeo Queen Royalty in 2012. She also served five years as president of the young women’s group in their church, was a PTO member and 4-H leader.
Tami comments, “Too many people think, ‘I’m too busy to get involved.’ If we just sit back, then our views are not being represented.”
Raising a family
Rollin and Tami have two sons and two daughters: Jesika, Tyler, Justin and Saydi. They also have two grandchildren.
Rollin says, “Star Valley is a great place to raise kids. We could have gone somewhere else, made more money and had more time off.”
“Every one of our kids knows how to work. When our kids apply for a job and say they’ve been raised on a ranch or a farm, they are moved to the top of the list,” Tami adds. “We have succeeded in raising kids who know how to work.”
“Our kids used to take about 20 Holsteins to county fair, and people would ask me why we took so many cows,” she continues. “I’d reply, ‘We are raising kids, not just cows.’”