Corbett family ranches along Sweetwater
Jeffrey City – “It used to be the cheapest place in the country to raise cattle. I don’t know that it’s that cheap anymore, but the grass is good,” says Jack Corbett of the area around Jeffrey City in which he and his family raise calves and feed yearlings.
“I wasn’t born here, but it was about 1951 the first time I showed up,” says Jack, noting he was raised in the Lander area. “I worked up and down the river on just about all these ranches, and finally went to work for Albert Meyers. He started letting me run a few cows, and pretty soon we leased a place, then bought it and leased other places. All that took about 50 years.”
Jack says his parents had a ranch, but also a big family. “My dad worked for the state for quite a while, and my mom cooked at a restaurant in Hudson,” he explains.
Today the Corbetts’ home place sits west of Jeffrey City about 14 miles, and they also lease pastures east of Jeffrey City. “We keep our cows and calves on this place, and run the yearlings on the home place and some here, too,” he says from the pastures east of Jeffrey City. “We keep our own yearlings over, and we spay some heifers and run steers, too.”
“We can put a 300-pound gain on the cattle in the summertime, but I guess I came here because of the people. They’re the kind of people I want to be associated with,” says Jack of his move to the area.
“We started out with Herefords, like everyone else, and we left the horns on so they could fight off the coyotes,” he remarks. “But we could see the market would demand black cattle, so ours are probably 95 percent black now, and there’s some Red Angus in them, too.”
Jack’s daughter Stacy and her husband live north of Jeffrey City on the family’s JJ Ranch, while his son Troy and his family have a farm at Pavillion, which works in conjunction with the ranch.
“He didn’t make a farm out of it, it’s more like a ranch,” says Jack. “He had to get his kids to school, so he bought the place north of Pavillion and he winters the yearlings over there and calves the two-year-olds, bringing them here in the summertime. And, we always thought if you had a ranch on the Sweetwater you ought to have a farm at Pavillion.”
The Corbetts’ cows are wintered on the river, which Jack says stays open most of the time. “We have to feed hay starting around the first of March, but we winter on cake and grass, mostly,” he says.
“When we first leased this place 30 years ago, there were 5,000 to 6,000 people living in Jeffrey City, now there might be 20,” says Jack of the changes to the town. “At one time there were 600 kids in that school, and I think there are three or four now. The school only goes to sixth grade, and that’s why Troy moved, because his kids were getting older, and it would be a 120-mile bus ride every day going to Lander, and in the wintertime going over Beaver Rim is not much fun.”
In addition to ranch work, Jack serves on the Popo Agie Conservation District board, and has for 10 years, and is a part-time brand inspector for his neighbors.
“The conservation district works on a lot of things, but mostly irrigation projects,” he says. “In that flood they had around Lander, there were a lot of headgates washed out, and we’re trying to get money to put them back in. The director, Jeri Trebelcock, is really good at securing money. If somebody has a big ditch that washes out, we can get money to fix it.”
Jack, who’s now part-time, has been a brand inspector in the area since 1971. “My neighbor, Lee Whitlock, was a brand inspector, and he made me do it,” jokes Jack. “He said, ‘You’re going to be the new brand inspector, and here are the books.’ So that’s what we did.”
Jack says today he looks after the local producers, so they don’t have to call an inspector out of Rawlins, Riverton or Lander. Of inspecting livestock through the years, Jack says he liked the chance to see other people’s cattle and what they were doing.
This year the Corbetts marketed their yearlings with the Madden brothers’ new Cattle Country Video. “It went pretty good – we sold early, at their first sale,” says Jack. “We might be off two or three dollars right now, but when the dust settles it won’t make much of a difference. We were happy with it, and when we deliver them we’ll know more about it.”
“We’ve sold one other time on the video, but mostly we’ve sold to contract buyers, who are getting fewer and fewer, and I think the video is a coming thing,” he says.
The Corbetts have freeze branded their calves for the last three years, and Jack says it’s worked pretty well.
“In the spring, when we freeze brand these calves, it doesn’t hurt them anywhere near what a hot iron brand does,” he says. “On a hot iron-branded calf, you can’t take off and trail him for three or four days, and then for three weeks he’s dead-haired. When we freeze brand, we can take off and trail them 20 miles the next day, and they’re not hurt, so consequently we get a little more gain on them.”
He says they can brand just as fast as a hot iron. “We have brass irons and an AI tank for liquid nitrogen, and we pour it out into a cooler we’ve insulated a little better to keep the irons cold, and it works fine and we’ve not had any problem at all,” he says. “We also brand our horses that way, and we’re pretty happy with it.”
“Ranching is what I always wanted to do,” says Jack. “It’s nothing fancy. We’re just in it to make a living, and we do what we can.”
With seven grandsons, ages 14 on down, Jack says he keeps busy getting horses gentle enough for the little ones to ride. “I don’t know if I’ll win or the horses will,” he comments.