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Wyoming People

Nicolaysen excited for learning opportunities

Casper – While the family ranch, Cole Creek Sheep Company, has been operating since the 1890s outside of Casper, Kem Nicolaysen has only been ranching full-time for the past eight years. 

“My dad encouraged all of us to go to school and study what we wanted to study and come back to the ranch if that is what we wanted to do,” comments Nicolaysen. “He didn’t pressure us to go straight into ag. He wanted us to make our own decisions.” 

Before running the ranch full-time, Nicolaysen was a tenure-track professor at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. 

“I have always worked on the ranch as a glorified ranch hand and fence-fixer during the summers, but it really took some time to get used to the managerial side of things with ranching full-time,” says Nicolaysen. 

Challenges

“I think the biggest challenge that is shared with most people in the ag business is cash flow and trying to find good sources of income throughout the year, instead of just relying on a calf or sheep check once or twice a year,” comments Nicolaysen. 

“Cash flow is definitely a difficult challenge and the managerial part has been a hard challenge I wasn’t necessarily prepared for,” he states. “It was a lot of learning all at once. Luckily, all of our employees have been great people to work with.”

He also said that learning to manage both cattle and sheep, as well as managing the human aspect of the business, is challenging.

Diversification

“We’ve been trying to do a little more diversification to help with the cash flow, and my dad has been really good at trying to diversify our operation,” notes Nicolyasen. 

To diversify, they have utilized a wide variety of different operations.

He continues, “We have a good outfitting business, but one thing we’ve been trying to do recently is more farming. Then we can sell more hay and grains and try to expand that part of the operation to make it more efficient, as well as more productive.”

“We’ve also been on a pretty steady path of improving our genetics in our livestock in the last five years, and I’ve been trying to do more marketing with our wool from our sheep. That has done pretty well,” he explains. 

Nicolaysen and his wife Shelly have used the marketing tools of social media and creating a website to help market their wool products from their Rambouillet/Merino cross sheep.  

Advantages

“There are definitely some advantages of being a young producer,” states Nicolaysen. “We live in a time with agriculture where a lot of people are going out of business, and I think that creates opportunities for the people who are still involved, or at least who want to continue in the industry.” 

He continues, “The country is going to rely more and more on ag producers, and I think those of us who are able to stay in the industry are going to be rewarded. By being young and able to take advantage of the opportunity is a good spot to be, and I hope to be able to capture that chance.” 

When asked about disadvantages of being young in agriculture, Nicolaysen replied, “It doesn’t seem like very many people not in agriculture are very aware of the contributions people in ag make, so a lot of times ranchers are taken for granted.”

Disconnect

Nicolaysen mentions when people don’t know what the day-to-day realities are of running a ranching business, and specifically taking care of livestock or farming, people say untrue things or make questionable decisions. 

“A lot of my friends who aren’t in ag are really interested in agriculture, but they don’t necessarily have first-hand experience,” says Nicolaysen. “The unawareness is pretty specific to my generation, whereas earlier generations a lot more people were aware of what it is like to be in ag.” 

“We definitely live in a more interconnected world, and we need to be able to deal with that,” states Nicolaysen. “We have to be willing to be patient and talk about things and not be afraid to challenge ideas or things that are outright wrong.”

He added, “In the ag community, we need to be able to make our voices heard so people can recognize what we do.” 

Advice

Nicolaysen encourageds young producers getting started to not give up or be discourages and to remember what they really love or enjoy about agriculture. 

He also advised young people to let that motivation help them through the discouragement. 

“One thing I’ve really enjoyed since I’ve come back to Casper is getting to know people that are in the ag community who are about my dad’s generation or older,” describes Nicolaysen. “I have learned a lot from those people, and it’s fun to know that a younger generation of people like me are working hard and trying to figure it all out, too.” 

He adds, “I look forward to those types of friendships and learning from my peers because it has been good to learn from my elders. There is a lot we all can share and keep going.”

Madeline Robinson is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  


SIDEBAR:
L.E.A.D.

Kem Nicolaysen, operator of the Cole Creek Sheep Company, mentions that his degree was in literature, not agriculture or business, and it has been a very thought-provoking journey to learn as much as he can to be a better producer. 

One of the things Nicolaysen did to help further his knowledge and appreciation of agriculture was going through the Wyoming Leadership Education and Development (L.E.A.D.) program. 

The Wyoming L.E.A.D. program is dedicated to highly motivated, well-informed rural leaders who will act forcefully, serve effectively and speak articulately for agriculture and Wyoming communities. 

Nicolaysen was a member of the class of 2011, and he says, “This program really broadened my horizons and knowledge base for ag and policy. It also gave me some great lifelong friendships with other young ag producers.”