Hageman family carries on a tradition of continual improvement, willingness to adapt
Fort Laramie — “Continual improvement” has been the over arching theme since the late Jim Hageman and his wife Marion moved their ranching operation from north of Douglas to the Fort Laramie area in 1961.
Hugh Hageman and his wife Lee, who now operate the ranch in partnership with Marion, continue the Hageman family’s tradition of continually improving the cow-calf, yearling and farming operation. “We raise horses, but we don’t really raise them to sell,” says Hugh. “They’re for our own use. The kids are so crazy about horses. They love to halter break them, starting the colts and training them to rope so we do what we can with the horses.”
“Mom and Dad started out on a ranch 40 or 50 miles north of Douglas off of Highway 59,” says Hugh. “They leased that place and ran sheep. They had one of the wettest years on record and then the three driest years on record.” Moving to the Fort Laramie area, the Hageman’s had an opportunity to purchase a ranch from Jim’s uncle and aunt, Peach and Gayle Shaw.
“They brought the sheep down here and the coyotes were so bad they couldn’t keep them,” says Hugh. “They started going to cattle.” The Hagemans have a long tradition in Wyoming. Jim’s grandfather, James C. Shaw, came to Wyoming with a herd of cattle from Texas in 1879. The family has been ranching in the state ever since.
The first ranch the Hagemans purchased in the Fort Laramie area was north of the Hageman’s present day headquarters. In 1969 they added a ranch 20 miles north of Fort Laramie and in 1972 purchased the place that now serves as the ranch headquarters. “We’ve been here ever since and we’ve added smaller parcels here and there,” says Hugh.
“When we bought this place, it was a nice addition because it’s close to the highway,” says Hugh from his home just north of the highway between Fort Laramie and Guernsey. “We ship out of here.” Marion, who was raised in Minnesota and moved to Wyoming in 1952, also lives at the ranch’s main buildings.
Hugh says some of the land they added to the ranch was run-down and overgrazed. “Dad always believed in under-stocking. He always saved grass for winter. He also always realized that if he got more land he had to figure out a way to feed the additional cows in the wintertime. He was innovative in developing irrigation and leveling land. We’ve kept pace so that when we’ve expanded the cows we’ve expanded the hay we grow.”
Beyond the addition of property, the Hagemans have worked to increase production on the property they do have. “We have developed a lot of irrigation,” says Hugh. “We have four center pivots and some flood irrigation.” Three of those pivots sit adjacent to the canal system near the North Platte River as it makes its way through the area. “I also bought a place north of Fort Laramie and I put a center pivot on it,” says Hugh. Hay, and sometimes corn, is raised on the irrigated ground. “We haven’t had to buy feed for 10 years since I developed that other pivot,” says Hugh.
A family approach is taken to most of the work on the Hageman’s ranch. Hugh’s brother, Dewey, ranches nearby and the brothers frequently trade help. “We have three kids,” says Hugh. He and Lee’s oldest, Brett, is attending Eastern Wyoming Community College where he studies farm and ranch management and is a member of the rodeo team. “He’d like to come back to the ranch,” says Hugh.
Their daughter Carolyn is a senior at Lingle High School. This past summer, says Hugh, she did an internship at the nearby University of Wyoming research center, a facility named in memory of her late grandfather Jim. Hugh says she plans to study agriculture when she attends college in the fall.
Lane is an eighth grader at Lingle. “He also wants to come back to the ranch,” says Hugh.
“They’ve all got their own cows and their own brands,” says Hugh. It’s a bit of a family tradition, he says, noting, “My dad gave me my first bred heifer in 1969 and I’ve been building my cowherd since then.
“Dewey has four kids, so we can put together a pretty good crew to move cows or brand,” says Hugh. “Our places come fairly close to connecting and he and I lease some places together.” Beyond the brothers, several friends in the community still trade help. “It’s mostly people we grew up with,” says Hugh. “They’re all people we grew up with and we’re all short help at different times.” Howard Brooks, who Hugh says loves to put up good hay, helps the family with summertime haying. Tyrell Kinberg works on the ranch year round.
After graduating from high school Hugh attended the University of Wyoming where he met Lee, a Casper native. The couple married in 1987.
“I came back when my dad was elected to the Wyoming Legislature in 1982,” says Hugh who completed four semesters at the college. “I left at semester so I was home when the session started in 1983. We worked together for a long time. As long as I was here doing the work he could do a lot of things that needed done in the legislature, in the state and in the agriculture community.”
In 2002 Jim and Marion Hageman were inducted into the Wyoming Agriculture Hall of Fame for their numerous contributions to the State of Wyoming.
Hugh says, “Dad was never very set in his ways. He just adapted.” Jim and Marion started without a penny and made it work, says Hugh. “Everything was borrowed money to buy land or they had the person who owned it carry it. We’ve never had any minerals. It’s all been built out of a cow. Some of it’s been good timing, but usually when land is easier to buy money is harder to borrow.”
Of the family’s willingness to adapt Hugh says, “When calves got cheap, we ran calves over to yearlings. When they were too cheap as yearlings, we put them in a feedlot and fed them.” Running a diversified herd, he says about 75 percent of the ranch’s cows calve in the spring while the remaining 25 percent are summer and fall calves. “That way we hit a couple of different markets.”
In recent years Hugh says they’ve been marketing calves on the August video sale in Cheyenne. “It was good last year because we had our calves sold when the economy collapsed,” says Hugh. The Hagemans have age and source verified the cattle they market, which are a black-baldy and Charolais cross. “We strive for repeat buyers by offering a product that fits their needs and being flexible on the timing of delivery dates,” says Hugh.
Replacement heifers on the ranch are home-raised. “There’s been a lot of debate whether you can buy them cheaper than you can raise them,” says Hugh, “but cattle have to be raised in the area where they’re going to live.”
Also careful to plan for, or at least expect drought, Hugh says, “I figure in this country we’re going to get a drought that almost puts you out of business about once every 20 years. There’s dry years in between, but about every 20 years there’s one that about gets you.”
“2006, 2007 and 2008 were about as bad as I’ve seen,” says Hugh. “You have to do things a lot different. The year before last we sent cows to cornstalks so I could keep the cows, but it was expensive.”
“I take leases when they come up, but that’s been a little expensive,” he says. “You have more pasture but you can’t expand the herd during drought. You’re making payments on your private land plus lease payments and you can’t run any more cows.” Throughout the drought Hugh says he worked really hard to keep his cow numbers up. “When you have to start selling cows because of drought you can really get behind.”
Hugh and Lee say it’s been nice to work with a locally owned bank in Torrington with bankers who understand agriculture. “They’re working to help the local agriculture community stay in business,” says Hugh. “It’s nice to work with a bank where decisions are made at the local level.”
“We’ve developed quite a bit of water over the years and we need to develop more,” says Hugh. “You don’t realize how short of water you can get until you have a drought like we’ve had,” he says. Two years ago he says he was hauling quite a bit of water to the stock. “Dad bought ranches with water. The ranch has more live water than any ranch I know of in the area.” Despite that he says it was in short supply during the drought.
The Hagemans are members of the Wyoming Stock Growers and the Wyoming Farm Bureau. Hugh says he would like to become more involved, but adds, “All of those things are full-time jobs and it’s hard to do both.”
For the time being he and Lee will focus their attention on the “continual improvement” that’s been a Hageman family tradition in the Fort Laramie area for nearly 50 years.
Jennifer Womack is a staff writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. She can be reached at Jennifer@wylr.net.