Crofts family operates on large allotments
Sweetwater Station – Rob and Carla Crofts currently manage a merger of two family ranches on an operation headquartered along the Sweetwater River. They’ve made the transition to Angus from Hereford-cross cattle, and the operation includes allotments to the north of their Sweetwater headquarters and on the south end of the Wind River Mountains. All the work is done horseback, and there are no ATVs on the ranch.
“My family homesteaded in the area in 1883, and Carla’s family came from Nebraska and Gillette in the 1930s,” says Rob. “Her dad first worked for George and Donna Flagg up the river, then bought this place from the Scarlett Estate and we bought it from her dad in 2007.”
Rob says their two families ranched in the same allotments, although he grew up on what was initially a sheep outfit now converted to cattle. Today Rob’s brother, Joe Crofts, runs cattle on the part of their family’s outfit that lies north of the Gas Hills highway.
Rob and Carla married in 1984 and Rob worked for several farmers in the Riverton area including Carroll Riggs, Pinces and Huelles. In 1990 they moved to Farson to work for Radosevichs on a cow/calf operation and came Sweetwater in 1994, bringing 100 mother cows with them.
“We’re scattered over the county, with places on the mountain, down here, and under Beaver Rim. We couldn’t do all this without the help of Rick Wilmes, he helps us and runs his own cows with ours,” says Rob. “We run all our calves over to sell as yearlings which we sell in early October. We can leave our cattle out until the middle of November, so we don’t wean until late. Over time, the yearling market is a lot more stable than the calf market.”
“We’re not exempt from any of the federal issues,” says Rob of their allotments. “The biggest thing we face now is sage grouse. We don’t run a cow anywhere that isn’t a core area. We have a lot of grouse here, and I think the thing that’s been so overlooked in the process is why they are here. They can’t say livestock are the problem, because it’s livestock country where people graze and hay that you find concentrated populations of sage grouse. The focus should be what worked so well, and why we still have them.”
Another management issue is wild horses. “People refer to them as wild horses, and we call them feral horses,” he says. “Between grouse and horses, and now the wolves on the mountain, we have some challenges. We have a lot of environmental pressure, and we’re under the gun every day.”
“My great-grandfolks were homesteaders and our commitment to Wyoming has been there since it was a territory,” says Rob. “We’ve been in the livestock business for a long time, and it’s important for the public to see the way we value the land. I feel fortunate to do what we do.”
Rob describes their ranch as an “intermingled outfit,” with state, federal and private lands. “We’re scattered over 70 square miles, with a little under 5,000 acres of deeded land, but everywhere we have land there’s water, and that’s where we get caught on all the issues. Wildlife is important to us, and we take care of it like it’s our own.”
Of the fall roundup, Rob says, “We go on the fall roundup in the Big Pasture, where we spend 12 days riding to gather the yearlings, bulls and canner cows. There are six operations running in that allotment.”
Rob adds that it’s important to him that the ranches in the area still work together. “They have a cook and a cook shack, and all the horses are mixed together, the horse herd and the beef herd are both trailed from camp to camp. On the beef roundup we’ll move in the afternoon to the next camp, Rick and I live in a teepee during roundup.”
The cattle gathered in early fall are taken to a pasture running from Sweetwater Station to Ice Slough, where they stay until they’re divided for shipping. “It’s all a community effort. It’s excellent, and we couldn’t do it without our neighbors,” notes Rob.
In the Atlantic City Common on South Pass, Rob says the permittees were innovative and didn’t wait for the BLM to encourage them to fence major riparian areas. The Crofts run with five other ranches in that allotment. “If we wait for the BLM to encourage us to do things, it’s too late and we’re behind the curve. That’s why we’ve gotten along so well through the years in that allotment,” he comments.
“We have winter,” says Rob of the area along the Sweetwater. “We get snowed in, and it gets to where we can’t get in and out. We have a lot of wind, and that’s good to move the snow around and open it up, but we still have to feed.”
The Crofts put up native hay, purchase some hay and winter their mother cows on Dan Pince’s farm in Pavillion. “We bring them home a week before they start calving, and that cuts down on wintering costs.” They winter their calves at the home place on Sweetwater in two bunches, riding through them each morning to check for sick calves in the first two months after weaning.
“There are a lot of things to like about ranching here,” says Rob of his area of Fremont County. “It’s important to have wide open space – that’s the best thing.
Until you’re over here on the west side of Wyoming, you don’t realize how vast it is or that Fremont County produces the quantity of livestock it does.”
Looking to the future, Rob says all three of his kids are interested in coming back to the ranch, but he encourages all of them to leave for at least a little while before coming back. “When they come back, they have their hearts set on making it,” he comments. “That’s part of the industry’s downfall – a lot of generations haven’t been anywhere but mom and dad’s place. Some don’t even go to college, but just stay there and take care of home.”
Rob says of his neighbors, “The families have been here for years. They’re closely associated, and there’s turnover in the ranches, but it’s from one generation to the next. You don’t see that as much other places. It’s still livestock and cattle country here. We have very little recreation or oil and gas.”
Rob currently serves as Region 5 Vice President for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, something he feels is an honor and a duty. “I do not take it lightly. Ranchers really are the reason why it’s still the way it is – the wide open space and everything Wyoming’s about. With only 1.5 percent of people in the United States involved in agriculture, it is vital that we all be active in our community and in agriculture organizations.”
Rob served on the Fremont County Cattleman’s Association as an officer for six years, served two terms as the chairman of the water committee for Wyoming Stock Growers, currently serves on the Fremont County Fair Junior Livestock Sale Committee, the Fremont County 4-H Council, and as a Fremont County delegate to the board of directors of Wyoming Stock Growers.