Wyoming performs well at Forage Superbowl, sees strength in youthWritten by Saige Albert
Following the Wyoming State Fair Hay Show, a number of Wyoming producers sent their highest quality alfalfa hay to the 2016 World Forage Superbowl, held in Madison, Wis. in conjunction with the World Dairy Expo.
“In the World Forage Analysis Superbowl Contest, forage producers enter their highest quality forages in seven different categories to compete for more than $25,000 in cash prizes,” says the event website.
Scott Keith, executive director of the Wyoming Hay and Forage Association, says, “Wyoming did really well at the World Forage Superbowl this year. The event is in its 33rd year, and Wyoming producers consistently do really well.”
Among notable accomplishments this year, Dave Hinman of Hardrock Farms in Wheatland again took the title of Grand Champion in the Commercial Hay Division. He was followed by Kelly Hinman of Lazy 2K Livestock, also in Wheatland, in second place.
Other results include a ninth place finish for Cole Hill of Basin, 10th place for Nicholas Gutierrez of Casper, 12th place for Ervin Gara of Torrington, 13th place for Clay Scott of Triangle X Ranch in Kinnear and 15th place for Camey Fegler of Fegler Farms in Arapahoe.
“One of the neat things that came out of this year was Nicholas Gutierrez winning 10th place,” Keith adds. “Nicholas is only 13 years old.”
Gutierrez won the young producers category in the Wyoming State Fair Hay Show, and he also came in second with his open class alfalfa.
“My family has been growing hay since 2002,” says Gutierrez. “When I was nine, I was given the chance to drive the tractor.”
“Since then, I’ve been hooked on hay production,” he comments.
Gutierrez is involved in every part of producing hay – with the exception of running the stack wagon.
“I do all the dirt work, planting and irrigation for my hay,” he explains.
The secret to producing the best hay possible is to make sure the moisture content is right, Gutierrez says, which involves getting up in the middle of the night to put it up.
“For good alfalfa, I have to get up in the middle of the night and make sure the moisture is just right and that the weight is good,” he explains. “Also, if I’m going to produce the really high-quality stuff, I want to make sure it’s stored in an enclosed area.”
2016 marked the second year of Gutierrez’s participation in the Wyoming State Fair Hay Show, and he says their family started entering hay to market their product.
“Last year, we had a lot of hay and needed to get it out there for people to see, so we entered the State Fair Hay Show,” he explains. “We did well, but not as well as we’d like. This year, we put more hay into the show and did really well.”
Gutierrez’s father Jason comments, “As parents, we are very proud of Nicholas and continue to be impressed with his self-discipline and sense of accomplishment to produce great hay. These experiences have provided Nick with lifelong lessons and opportunities that will provide benefits for his lifetime.”
His mother Elizabeth adds, "Nicholas enjoys what he does on the farm. While many farm kids play games on their phones, Nicholas enjoys experiencing production agriculture."
As he looks to the future, Gutierrez also notes that he’ll continue to produce hay and continue to enter it in the show.
“I love the way alfalfa grows, and I like baling it,” he comments. “I think it bales and feeds better than grass hay, but that’s just my personal opinion.”
Today, he’s pursuing involvement in FFA as an eighth grader at Poison Spider School.
“Ag is my favorite subject in school,” he says. “I plan to keep showing my hay. This is something I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”
Ending a tradition: Thoman sheep leave Upper Green for final timeWritten by Cat Urbigkit
Kemmerer – Domestic sheep flocks have grazed the Upper Green River region of western Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest for more than 100 years, but when flocks belonging to W&M Thoman Ranches came out of the mountains at the end of September, the book closed for domestic sheep in this northern portion of the Bridger-Teton.
Long pressured by environmental groups and federal officials, the Thomans at last conceded this week, waiving their Elk Ridge Allotment Complex grazing permit back to the Bridger-Teton National Forest without preference to another livestock producer.
The deal involved a buyout of an undisclosed sum of the allotments and was orchestrated by the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation. The Thoman’s fine-wooled Rambouillets had grazed this range for 40 years.
Citing the potential threat of interactions between domestic sheep and Bighorn sheep, as well as the history of wolf and grizzly bear depredations, the Bridger-Teton National Forest has committed to not allowing the allotments to be restocked with domestic sheep. The agency has indicated it will consider allowing the currently permitted cattle grazing in the Upper Green to spread into a portion of the Thoman allotments “in order to better address ongoing predation issues” but not until further environmental review is conducted some years in the future.
The loss of the Thoman allotments – four allotments that grazed up to a total of 3,900 sheep from July through September – is the latest in a series of domestic sheep allotment closures by federal Forest Service officials throughout the West.
Making the choice
The decision to give up the allotments was a difficult one, and one that members of the Thoman family voiced displeasure. Family matriarch Mickey Thoman and daughter Mary said they believe that the situation had become such that it was best to accept the buyout offer and put their days in the Upper Green behind them.
“I feel in my heart the timing is now or never,” Mary said. “They are running us into the ground.”
The Thomans have spent decades trying to comply with ever-increasing burdensome federal regulations and operating instructions, while adjusting their operations in an attempt to minimize conflicts with recovering grizzly bear and gray wolf populations.
For instance, when grizzly depredations continued to rise despite the presence of herders and guardian dogs, Mary took the initiative to begin the use of portable electric pens for the sheep at night. That voluntary action evolved into a mandatory program in which the pens are required every night, and every detail of their use – from how many panels to voltage, from location restrictions to pen movement every night – is determined by a federal agency.
“We’re going to go bankrupt. How much more trying can we do?” Mary asked, noting that federal officials can say that the Thomans weren’t forced off their allotments, but cooperative efforts from agency officials over the years could be classified as half-hearted at best, and hostile at worst.
“We’ve learned how to deal with bears and wolves, but the bureaucrats I haven’t figured out,” Mary said.
The Thomans aren’t sure where they will be taking their sheep for next year’s summer and fall grazing season.
Federal officials have been unable to identify currently vacant grazing allotments or grass banks where their flocks would be allowed, and the Thomans are hoping that some of their current cattle permits can be converted back to sheep, but federal land managers are again balking, citing concerns for sage grouse and the need to conduct environmental reviews.
Many members of the extended Thoman family, including Laurie Thoman, Kristy Wardell and Dick Thoman were on hand to bring the family’s flocks out of the Upper Green for the last time. Normally this would be a time for celebration as the fat lambs were brought off the mountain, but this year it was a somber affair.
Lusk rancher focuses on youthWritten by Emilee Gibb
Lusk – According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 35 percent of agricultural producers in Wyoming are women, which is five percent above the national average.
Wyoming’s women in agriculture embody the Western spirit in their passion and commitment to the continuation of the agricultural industry.
Lusk Rancher Donna Hanson uses her experiences in ranching and leadership positions to share the importance of agriculture with local youth.
“Women involved in agriculture serve an important role in helping mentor the next generation,” says Hanson.
From the time she can remember, Hanson has been involved with ranching.
“I’ve been involved with agriculture since I was born,” she says. “I started riding when I was about two.”
Hanson’s family raised cattle on the family ranch while she was growing up. She notes that her family moved several times before making their home in Crowheart.
“We lived in several different places until I was eight years old, and then we settled at Crowheart,” says Hanson.
Donna, her husband Dan, sons Ben and Dan and daughter-in-law Lacy manage 1,100 Black Angus cow/calf pairs, plus yearlings, on the family’s 30,000 acre ranch north of Lusk.
The family emphasizes the importance of both economically managing their operation and wisely managing environmental resources, with the ranch receiving a regional Environmental Stewardship Award from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in 2000.
Hanson is a pivotal part of all aspects of the ranching operation from working cattle to business management.
“I ride quite a bit and help with the calving and weaning,” says Hanson. “I am also in charge of the books.”
The ranching lifestyle is filled with many challenges, says Hanson, particularly in managing the ranch around Wyoming weather and adapting to ever changing governmental policies.
“Living in the county that we do, we’ve had tornadoes, fires, hail and floods, so Mother Nature is definitely a challenge,” she comments.
Despite the challenges, she continues to appreciate the lifestyle.
In addition to her involvement at the family ranch, Hanson is an active participant and volunteer in numerous community organizations.
“Within the organizations that I work with, I hold many different roles,” says Hanson.
Some of the organizations that Hanson is involved with include Niobrara County Cattlewomen’s Association, 4-H, Niobrara County Homemakers and the local school board.
“I’m heavily involved with 4-H as a leader. I’ve been a leader for 30 years,” says Hanson.
Each year, she also participates in the Legend of Rawhide event for Niobrara County to celebrate the history, legend and western heritage of the county.
“It’s a live performance play that is a community event that we put on every year,” explains Hanson.
Sharing the importance of agriculture with their children is an important role for women to fulfill in the agricultural industry, says Hanson.
“Not only do women in agriculture support their husbands, they help their children realize the importance of agriculture,” she continues.
Women’s involvement with agriculture is also important for educating other community members through activities in 4-H and promotional events that agricultural organizations help with.
“I work a lot with youth through the Niobrara County Cattlewomen’s Association,” explains Hanson.
Through that involvement, Hanson is in charge of coordinating the Ag Expo, for the county, allowing her the opportunity to share her story and the value of agriculture with local youth.
“I’m in charge of the Ag Expo and one of the really rewarding things to me is being able to help youth understand the importance of agriculture,” she continues.
The Hanson family, several other local ranching families and the Natural Resources Conservation Service were pivotal in establishing the Ag in the Classroom program in Niobrara County to further reach youth.
“Teachers bring their students out to different ranches throughout the year, where they learn the varying aspects of ranching, including soils, grasses and water,” says Hanson.
Hanson’s advice to women who are starting off in the agricultural industry is to get involved with local agriculture organizations and become an agricultural advocate.
“I strongly advise that women become agricultural advocates and get involved in different organizations, whatever they are interested in like Cattlewomens, Stock Growers or Farm Bureau. There are several organizations out there,” says Hanson.
She explains that organizations use different approaches to agricultural advocacy, allowing women to find one that best suits their advocacy style.
“To get started, I think women should just pick the organization they feel most comfortable with. There are so many good ones,” continues Hanson.
The relationships that women build with like-minded individuals in this organization will help encourage and direct them as they learn how to be an agricultural advocate.
“If young women pick the organization that they like the best and get involved with the leadership in that group, the members and women of that group help mentor them to do a good job,” she concludes.
Lally continues line of strong womenWritten by Saige Albert
Savery – As she looks back at her life, Meghan Lally sees strong women who have guided her path toward the ag industry her entire life.
“I’ve been back on the ranch for 15 years,” Lally comments. “During that time, I’ve seen a large increase in the number of women in agriculture, and we’re seeing bigger acceptance of women in the industry.”
Lally notes that she has a history of strong female role models in the ag industry, which was instrumental in her choice to return to her family’s ranch, Ladder Ranch.
“My mom is the heir to our ranch,” she says. “My dad grew up in Florida. My grandpa let my mom be the heir to his operation, and my parents have continued that and let my brother and I continue the operation.”
At the same time, she adds, “My mom is my best friend and a real inspiration for me.”
Growing up on the ranch, Lally says she never saw a resistance to women in ag.
“We grew up in the desert with my parents and the sheep. We were always there and always working,” explains Lally. “I hear that there is a lot of resistance to women in agriculture, but that’s not something I’ve ever seen.”
She also notes that her grandmother, while not intimately involved in the day to-day ranching activities, was a ranch wife who took care of the home.
“Grandma taught me how to cook, sew and raise a family,” Lally says. “She was incredibly involved in the community and always took care of us.”
“Even though she wasn’t working on the ranch, she was an important part of the place and an influence to us all,” she adds.
Lally says that she has felt strong support from her family throughout the entirety of her life.
“My family has always been supportive of me wanting to come back to the ranch,” she says, “but they were supportive of me when I didn’t want to come back, too.”
Coming back to the ranch
Though she grew up on her family ranch, Lally says that she had an Air Force ROTC scholarship, and she didn’t plan on returning to the family ranch.
“The summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I spent three months working in South America on ranches,” she comments. “I realized that I like working with livestock and being on the ranch.”
Lally continues, “I called my dad and said, ‘I think I want to come home.’ I changed my major to farm and ranch management and graduated from college. Then, I came home, and I’ve been on the ranch every since.
Today, on their family operation, Lally manages their sheep operation, does the bookkeeping and also manages the recreation portion of their operation. She and her husband Brian have four children – Siobhan, Seamus, Maeve and Tiarnan.
“Being able to have my kids with me, teaching them to appreciate where their food comes from, being able to see the wildlife and enjoying the beauty of our ranch is really important to me,” Lally comments.
Outside of the family ranch, Lally has also jumped in to be involved in a variety of different board and councils.
“I’m currently vice chair of the Environmental Quality Council, and I’m also vice chair of the Little Snake River Conservation District,” she says, adding that she has also served on the Wyoming Board of Ag and the local clinic board.
“It’s important to be involved in the local community organizations to make sure that things are done, done right and that the community stays viable,” Lally explains. “As far as the state organizations go, it’s important to be a part of the industry that we are in.”
She adds, “It’s important to be involved in general because, if we don’t speak out for our interests and our industry, who will? By being involved, we get to know what the message is going to be, and we don’t rely on other people to do it for us.”
As she continues to ranch, Lally comments that she looks forward to continuing to work with her family.
“It’s important for us to work together,” she explains. “Even though I manage the sheep and my brother Eamon manages the cattle, we do what needs done every day and work together.”
Any large tasks on the ranch, such as gathering, docking or shipping are done as a family.
“We all do what needs done,” Lally says. “We enjoy working together, and our kids get along and work well. It’s important to us to continue to do that.”
She hopes to continue their work and make the ranch as successful as possible, not only with the ranch but in the conservation work that they do.
“Taking care of our land is important to us in the ag industry,” Lally comments.
Working the ranch
As they continue into the future, Lally says that continuing their conservation work will be important.
“The conservation aspect of our whole operation is really important,” she says. “We want to be the example of how agriculture and conservation can work together to not only survive but improve the operation.”
Ladder Ranch has been instrumental in installing structures on Battle Creek, the Little Snake River and Savery Creek to improve fish passage and the health of streams on their property.
The conservation district was instrumental in similar improvements on the rest of the Little Snake River and Savery Creek. “Enhancing Battle Creek and the Little Snake River have been really big, important projects,” she says.
“I love being able to go out and see the birds, wildlife and our livestock coexisting,” Lally comments. “Watching the deer, lambs, elk and Sandhill cranes all in the same pasture in the same spot is really exciting, and being able to show that all to my family is important to me.”
Ag involvement earns honors for ThalerWritten by Saige Albert
LaGrange – Dennis Thaler’s family started ranching in southeast Wyoming in 1916, and today, Thaler continues the ranch as the third generation on the property.
“What started as a 320-acre homestead has grown into a 20,000-plus acre farm and ranch,” says Wayne Tatman, a former University of Wyoming Extension educator. “Dennis took the reins of the operation in 1965, when the ranch’s goal changed from buying more land to improving what they had and optimizing their natural resources.”
Thaler, his wife Sandy and his daughter and son-in-law Brandy and Kevin Evans, run the ranch, which will celebrate its centennial this year. The ranch runs a cow/calf/yearling operation, along with a backgrounding feedlot.
They also raise small grains, oats, millet, wheat and alfalfa-grass hay.
Lex Madden of Torrington Livestock Auction adds, “Dennis has been a leader and mainstay in many ways in Goshen County throughout his lifetime.”
In recognitition of his leadership and service to the agriculture industry, Thaler will be inducted into the Wyoming Agriculture Hall of Fame Aug. 17 during the Wyoming Ag Hall of Fame picnic, held in Douglas.
“Dennis has been a driving force for agriculture in Goshen County and the state of Wyoming for more than 28 years that I have worked with him. He has been involved in many different aspects of agriculture,” adds Steve Brill, retired supervisor of Goshen County Weed and Pest.
“Dennis, like his uncle and father, has been an agriculturalist, innovator, conservationist and top-notch manager in every sense of the word,” Tatman comments. “He has improved his natural resource base several fold by his efforts to implement integrated management systems to both improve the production of the land base to run more cows while also improving the land resource, enhancing wildlife habitat and conserving and improving the environment.”
Thaler has utilized a variety of available programs to improve water resources and implement new grazing systems that encompass a holistic grazing management philosophy.
Madden adds, “Dennis and Sandy have worked to improve the genetics of their cattle and consistently top the market with their livestock.”
In his ranching career, Tatman says that Thaler has worked with a variety of organizations to improve his operation, including the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Weed and Pest and more.
“Maybe one of the most impressive aspects of his management philosophy is that he practices a systems approach, whereby his management team consists of everyone involved in the operation, in addition to other stakeholders,” Tatman explains. “A teamwork approach is truly practiced and utilized to plan and implement management decisions.”
In recognizing his work on the land, Thaler and his family were awarded the 2006 Environmental Stewardship Award, a regional and national award, and he is a member and co-chair of the Goshen County Coordinated Resource Weed Management Program.
Example for the community
While he spends much of his time on the ranch, Thaler is also actively involved in the community.
“In looking at the size and scope of the Thaler operation, one of the most amazing impacts it has on the community, county, state and region is that the family is readily willing to share all their experiences with everyone – from school kids and teachers to fellow producers, agency officials, research personnel, commodity groups and others,” Tatman says.
Robert Ward, a LaGrange rancher who grew up with Thaler, continues, “Dennis is definitely one of the most civic-minded people I know. He has set the bar pretty high for the rest of us on more than one occasion, and his commitment is highly evident throughout his ranch.”
The Thalers host tours, field days and workshops on their operation regularly to inform others about their practices.
At the same time, Thaler has been involved on a number of community boards and is a member of county, state and national organizations, including the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, Wyoming Stock Growers Association and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. He was also instrumental in founding the Wyoming Private Lands Grazing Team.
Tatman and others also recognize that at the same time he improved the ranch, Thaler also worked to pass it on to his family.
“Dennis has worked tirelessly to improve the graze-ability of the ranch to be able to pass it on to future generations,” says Madden. “He is working to do this by bringing in his son-in-law Kevin Evans to take over the ranching operation.
Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts Executive Director Bobbie Frank says, “Dennis is one of those quiet guys who makes a big difference.”
She continues, “He is an example of a thoughtful leader and a true conservationist. He is dedicated to the industry through and through.”
“He is an innovative, sound thinker, as well as a risk taker,” Tatman comments. “A manager on the cutting edge that readily accepts challenges and risks, Dennis is a mover and shaker, a solid businessman and an exceptional manager of natural resources, livestock, crops and human capital.”