Guilds dedicated to continuing multi-generation ranching tradition
Piedmont — As far as old Wyoming family ranches go, they don’t get much older than southwest Wyoming’s Guild Ranch.
“We’ve been here since 1867,” says Kelly Guild, the seventh generation to live and work on the Guild Ranch.
“Charles Guild came over from England,” says Kelly’s father and ranching partner, Earl Guild. “He ran the Pony Express Station for a year and he moved up to Piedmont and had a store. He started picking up homesteads until he put together what we have now.” Now a ghost town, Piedmont lies within the Guild’s ranch. The Pioneer Trail also transects the property.
“You don’t spend more than what you make, unlike our government right now,” says Kelly. It was Grandfather Guild’s philosophy and Kelly says it’s one of the primary rules by which the ranch operates. “If you only spend what you make, you get by. You repair tractors and you run balers longer than you should. You get by with what’s available.”
Bringing in the second cutting of alfalfa early September, the Guilds say they’re lucky to get two cuttings. The ranch averages 7000 feet, in elevation and Earl says they typically have a hard freeze by early September, but this year it was delayed.
“The alfalfa has helped us a lot,” says Kelly. “We used to have to grain calves to get them to maintain through the winter. Now we can put a quarter pound a day on them with alfalfa and wild hay. That’s perfect for what we do here. We want to maintain them through the winter so when they hit grass in the spring they’ll put weight on.”
Calving gets underway on the ranch early April. “We’re usually turned out by May 15,” says Kelly. “We run from here to up in the mountains near the high Uintas.” The ranch headquarters are located about 20 miles east of Evanston and just a few miles south of Interstate 80. “We have a little BLM,” says Kelly, but the ranch runs largely on private land and private leases.
“We go right to the Wyoming state line,” says Kelly of their more southern country. In the fall he says, “We start bringing them back down, weaning calves and vaccinating them in October and November.” The ranch ships yearlings mid to late September each year.
During his time on the ranch, Earl says the yearlings have gone from 600 to 1,000 pounds. “We run an Angus, Hereford and Limousin cross, and mostly now they’re a Limousin and Angus cross. We raise our own replacement heifers.”
Earl says, “We’ve got a fellow that’s been buying for Producers Livestock out of Greeley for over 50 years now, I’ve sold to him all of my life.” Earl says the gentleman’s son has now been coming to the ranch to purchase the cattle.
Kelly says they’re considering niche marketing, realizing their taller, leaner Limousin cattle may fit in some of the growing specialty markets.
Improvement of their rangeland and their hayland has been a primary focus for the Guilds. “We’ve been spraying sagebrush and improving the range as much as we can afford,” says Earl. “We’ve increased our hay from 600-700 tons to 3500 to 4000 tons.” The addition of a center pivot and two wheel lines has been central to that expansion.
Earl says they are living with the consequences of one decision they wish they had made differently. “We made a big mistake years ago when we planted meadow foxtail at the suggestion of the county agent,” he explains. “It’s taking over our ranch and especially our timothy meadows.” The foxtail is also coming up in those areas where they’ve fed the hay bales containing it. While it’s good forage at the right time of year, Earl says it’s compromising some of the more desirable feeds.
Wintertime feeding is done with tractors, but Kelly says they continue to keep teams of horses around for those times when the snow gets deep. Earl can remember the days when there were 16 to 20 teams working in the ranch’s hayfields. “It took a half a day just to get everything harnessed,” he laughs, “and then you’d have a runaway or two and they’d break stuff up.”
Much of the ranch has plentiful live water. Earl attributes that to the forethought his ancestors had to build reservoirs and develop the water. Earl and Kelly have expanded some of the storage, both to meet irrigation needs and to enhance a trophy trout fishing business that Kelly’s brother operates on the ranch.
“We’ve never been regulated on the Muddy,” says Kelly. An ability to work with the neighbors and manage the water to benefit multiple families is something he says they take pride in.
With 142 years in the ranching business, Kelly says he hopes to see the family’s tradition carry on long into the future. “It’s frustrating to me that we have to fight our federal government all the time over trying to keep these places and live on them,” he says. After traveling to Greeley, Colo. to testify against Rangeland Reform in the early 1990s, Kelly says he returned home with the realization that his comments hadn’t mattered. Like too many issues anymore, he says, “Their minds were made up before they got there.”
But the onslaught of challenges stemming from the federal government doesn’t stop there. “We went down to Salt Lake City, Utah to a lawyer for the estate planning here lately. The fellow said, ‘Well you know when the estate is settled, with the inheritance and death taxes where they’re at right now, you’ll just have to sell part of it.’ Those people don’t comprehend that it’s not for sale, that you don’t want to sell any of it. To them it’s just a simple matter of numbers.”
Kelly and his wife Dixie call the ranch home, as do Kelly’s parents Earl and Jody. Involved in the conservation districts, Kelly worked with his mother in putting together the first agricultural expo for Evanston area students. He remains involved in the local conservation district.
Kelly chose to return the ranch after attending junior college in Utah where he played football. He hopes his own son will choose the same path. “It’s nice to have your freedom, instead of punching a clock and being told what to do,” he says.
“The great part is the way of life to raise your children,” says Kelly. “Your kids can go to work with you every day. You have to go in knowing that you’re not going to get rich. If you think you are, you’re not going to enjoy it. You have to do it because you enjoy it. You’re going to make enough, and that’s all you really need.”
Kelly asks, “Other than agriculture, is there any other business out there where you can work side by side with your dad for 30, 40 or 50 years or more? And, maybe your kids and grandkids will be there, too.”
He also appreciates the tradition. “There’s a reason,” says Kelly, “why you’re here and for what you’re doing. Not just our ancestors, but somebody gave a lot for us to live in this country. You owe something back for what they gave.”
“Without the purpose of handing it to the next generation,” says Kelly, “there are other occupations much better than this to make a living.”
Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.