Mother, daughter make strong teamWritten by Nicole Michaels
If an excavator could move both heaven and earth, it would have done it for Bonnie Whitt.
Fortunately, moving a little dirt with a power shovel proved to be enough.
Bonnie, now 51, once traveled Wyoming as a heavy equipment operator. That’s how she bankrolled her dream to own a ranch of her own.
“Back then as a Wyoming girl,” says Bonnie, “who wasn’t college educated, I could run iron or work a patch to earn the big money.”
She quickly earned credibility and worked with focus. Bonnie followed the stars but kept her head. It was good old-fashioned hard work that made the way.
That was 30 years ago.
As a single, young mother of a three-year-old daughter, Bonnie says, “We were on our own. We have always been on our own.”
Mother showed daughter Britt at an early age what it meant to work together but to have the confidence to dream big.
Britt’s first 4-H event took two 24-foot stock trailers to set up. She went on to be Miss Cody Stampede as a teen and soon had some money put up for vet school.
On the ranch
Today their 100-acre operation sits in the foothills of Meeteetse.
The duo runs 50 mother cows and 60 ewes and raises a good hay crop. A productive lease helps make it all work, but it’s a team-effort by mother and daughter.
“Ranches this size mean somebody works in town to make it all work,” says Britt. “Usually, that means the woman works, and the man runs the ranch. In our case, my veterinary practice provides the town job, and we help each other with both sides of the operation.”
From the ground up
They started in 2008 with a herd of older ewes jugged in pallets and tarps. They got beat up by rain and snow.
“We had a 200 percent crop. It was good but bad news,” Britt says.
They lost one lamb, and only because the ewe laid on it. Their perseverance set the standard for future endeavors.
A wired barn with heat lamps is in place now. The buildings were salvaged, given for the work of tearing them down.
The registered Hereford herd is also making its mark.
The mother-daughter team has also developed a small herd of nice horses they use, some milk cows and milk goats, as well as a few chickens.
Bonnie often reflects on a hardworking life well-lived.
“All this doesn’t matter. That matters,” she says, pointing to a giggling grandchild.
Britt is cut from the same cloth and operates by the same high standards and with the same work ethic. She is 28 and in her first year of practice as a veterinarian.
Bonnie told Britt from a young age, “We are working in a man’s world, doing a man’s job.”
Britt notes, “She was the mother who gave me my first lipstick in school and said, ‘You might want to wear this.’ She also taught me how to gut my first buck.”
Facing the obstacles
The typically compassionate nature of women can be an ally and an obstacle, say the Whitts. They agree with each other that women tend to feel overly responsible when livestock is sick or dead.
Physically fit and skilled to do the job, the pair say much of ranching comes down to having mental toughness, something women can master as well as men.
“When we have been doing this long enough, our body tends to fire no matter what. It comes down to being mentally tough,” Bonnie says.
In the last year, the death of Slim Whitt, Bonnie’s father, hit hard, but his influence made a strong impact on Bonnie and her daughter. Slim’s influence dates back to the rail spurs of Lysite.
Looking toward the future, Bonnie and Britt agree that their financial goals are modest, on the scale of “keeping the lights on.” Staying in the ranching business is more of a calling.
When meals are brownies and hot dogs on the go, and a night’s sleep means falling fully clothed on top of the covers, Bonnie keeps a positive outlook.
“Sometimes bad things happen, and it sets us down hard on our back pockets, like getting bucked off,” she says, “but there are no failures. There are only learning curves.”