Jacksons find diversity through hydrabed sales
Chugwater — It’s been 100 years since Virgil Jackson’s grandmother boarded a train in Iowa and headed west in search of her own homestead.
She settled on a claim on the mesa between Chugwater and Goshen Hole, starting what has become a 100-year-old farming and ranching operation. “His grandmother came out here by herself from Iowa,” says Virgil’s wife Peggy. “When they came out here and got 320 acres they thought they had so much. They didn’t realize the difference in the soils right away.”
“We moved back here in 1961,” says Virgil. He and Peggy live on what was his grandmother’s place.
After Virgil graduated from high school in Chugwater and Peggy from Torrington, the couple met while attending Eastern Wyoming College (EWC) in Torrington. While they were attending the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Virgil’s dad said he was ready to hand over farming on the place Virgil and Peggy now call home.
“His dad farmed this place for his grandmother,” says Peggy, “and his dad gave it up and let Virgil farm it.”
“We were only in Laramie one semester,” says Virgil. “As soon as dad called we raced right back.” In later years they bought the place.
The Jacksons, who married in 1960, will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in 2010. They raised their two children on the farming and ranching operation. Their daughter Jerrene lives in Wheatland and their son Derek Jackson lives in Torrington. “He’s taking over the dryland farming,” says Peggy.
In the 1980s the Jacksons operated a custom spraying and drilling operation, converting farm ground into the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program. “We put in thousands and thousands of acres for others to go into CRP,” says Peggy, noting that a portion of their ground was also enrolled in the program. “That business is one of the things that kept us alive in the 1980s.”
Virgil and Peggy continue to put up hay on two small circles and run the cattle. “We lease grass and then we have our own grass,” says Virgil. “We run the calves over to yearlings and sell them in April and May at Torrington Livestock Markets.” Running primarily black cows that calve in May and June, Virgil says starting three years ago they began purchasing Red Angus bulls in hopes of gaining some hybrid vigor. The resulting calves, he says, are mostly red.
“He puts up lots of hay,” says Peggy.
Some of it is sold, but Virgil says, “We try to keep over a lot of hay. Dad always told us that having hay was like money in the bank.” While they’ve had to feed more hay than usual the past couple of years due to harder winters, Virgil says. “We don’t hit our grass very hard so we try to winter on grass as much as we can.”
The family raises their own replacement heifers. “We hardly bring anything in,” says Virgil. The past two years their grandson Tyler, a sophomore who is on the livestock judging team at EWC in Torrington, has selected the replacements.
“Tyler really loves the cattle part,” says Peggy.
“He does a good job,” adds Virgil.
In 1984 Virgil and Peggy began selling Hydrabeds and in 1993 incorporated the business as Lone Tree Ag Company. The flatbeds have hydraulic arms for feeding hay and other duties, but still allow room for the pickup to pull a gooseneck trailer.
“It’s been a really big help,” says Virgil of having the business on the ranch over the years.
“I can’t sell anything,” says Virgil of his reaction when he called inquiring about the Hydrabeds 25 years ago. For the most part, he and Peggy say the Hydrabeds started selling themselves after people caught on to the product’s value.
“We’ve met a lot of people,” says Virgil. “We’ve sold over a large area and people have been really good to us.” Nearly all of the Hydrabeds they sell are mounted for the customers. They pay a young neighbor who is trying to get started in agriculture to do the mounting and welding.
“It took eight to 10 years before we were selling many,” says Virgil. “We had to sell two to get the dealership.” One of their neighbors owns and still uses one of the original Hydrabeds.
Good for more than feeding hay, people use the hydraulic flatbeds to load four-wheelers, carry panels and more. Virgil and Peggy constantly hear stories about the new ways people use the machines.
“A lot of people say that even if they got rid of the cattle today, they’d still have a Hydrabed,” says Virgil. Beyond the sales, Virgil says they can make repairs and rebuild Hydrabeds.
“They’re so versatile,” says Peggy. Augers, square bale hay flakers and hydraulic cake feeders are available for the Hydrabeds.
“We sell them to a lot of people who work in town and want to feed their cows on their way without having to start the tractor and then go back and warm up the pickup,” says Virgil.
Jennifer Womack is a staff writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at Jennifer@wylr.net.