Thaler family continues to strive for improvement
La Grange — When the Thaler family won the National Environmental Stewardship Award in 2006 some may have seen it as a “finish line” of sorts, the top in the ranching world.
Three years later, with three generations of the Thaler family gathered in the living room, it’s obvious the list of goals and ideas continues to grow and expand. Dennis Thaler and his wife Sandy’s enthusiasm for the direction the ranch is heading is met with an equal dose of excitement from their son-in-law and daughter Kevin and Brandy Evans. The arrival of their now one-year-old son Hadley, says Kevin, has given them yet another reason to ensure the family’s ranch has a long and prosperous future.
Since 2006, says Dennis, “We’ve taken more cropland out and planted it to grass. We’ve also put in more fences and water.” Water work is a passion and a hobby for Dennis and Brandy, who provide well-witching services across the area. Witching is a skill and a tradition that’s been passed down through multiple generations of the family. “Dennis and his dad witched the irrigation wells,” says Sandy.
“We believe in it and that’s part of it,” says Dennis. “We try and find a good stream and then we go up and down that to find another one that crosses.”
Not too long ago the “water finding team,” put their talents to use close to home. For 50 years the family had been fighting with a well that just wouldn’t produce the amount of water they needed. Less than 50 yards away from the original well Dennis and Brandy found a spot that’s now producing 28 gallons per minute. “Here that water was that close all those years,” laughs Dennis.
“This has been a great year,” says Dennis of 2009. “If we could have had more years like this lately, we would be doing a lot more.” In 2006 the family’s intensive rotational grazing plan improved pastures and grazing beneath center pivot irrigation, and earned them national recognition as top stewards of the land.
Using the improved pastures, Kevin says it’s mid-July each year before their cattle are turned out on native rangeland pastures. The ranch is a cow-calf and yearling operation, back-grounding their cattle at a feedlot they own near La Grange.
“It was a shock to us, to go against outfits with 200,000 acres and win,” says Dennis of winning the national award. The award came in the wake of years of partnering with the local Conservation District and Natural Resources Conservation Service for continual improvement of the ranch. “Our goal was to make every acre as productive as we could get it,” says Dennis. National recognition was a nice bonus.
“It’s enticed our interest to get more involved in the stewardship programs,” says Brandy of winning the award. Dennis stepped up to co-chair the Environmental Stewardship Committee of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. The committee selects the annual finalists and the winners of the award. As part of that duty, Dennis says he has an opportunity to visit the ranches of finalists each fall.
“It’s amazing what you can learn and bring back,” he says of both helping with each year’s judging and attending the annual tours held at the year’s winning ranch. After visiting the Papes’ ranch at Daniel, he returned home and partnered with the outfitter who leases his hunting rights to open the ranch for hunting by those with disabilities. While he hasn’t yet seen much interest in the hunts to date, Dennis says it’s a goal his family hasn’t yet abandoned.
Multiple other goals are being pursued simultaneously. “We’ve been working on our recordkeeping,” says Brandy. “We’re working with the University of Nebraska in forming a more realistic way to track our cattle.” A new cattle tracking program is being created from scratch with the Thalers providing the types of questions cattle operations need to be able to answer.
Brandy says, “We’re trying to make it simpler and more realistic.”
“We have three different herds,” explains Kevin of the cattle that run on three different segments of the ranch. He’s hopeful the new program will allow them to figure numbers like weaning percentage on a per herd basis and ranch-wide. Each calf on the ranch is weighed individually at weaning time and the family enters the data.
“We want to be able to type in a cow’s number and go right to her data,” says Kevin. Quick access to that type of information could aid in multiple ranch decisions, such as which cows to cull on any given year. Information on a given heifer, or her dam, may also aid in choosing replacements.
“I married the neighbor boy,” jokes Brandy when asked about her decision to return to the family ranch after attending college where she played volleyball. It’s obvious, however, that’s she’s as passionate as the rest of the family about agriculture and the future of the ranch. In addition to her work on the ranch, Brandy operates a web design business from her home.
“This is pretty much what I’ve always wanted to do,” says Kevin who returned to the area after attending Northwest Junior College in Colorado. “Since Hadley was born, we both have decided we want him to have the choice if this is something he wants. It’s pushed us more to make sure it’s here so he has the choice.
Kevin A.I.’s the ranches’ heifers each spring and has a talent for cattle management. In addition to his work on the ranch, he also maintains a herd of his own cattle.
“We’ve been getting good information back,” says Kevin of the ranch’s cattle once they arrive at the processing stage. “With our artificial insemination program we can decide which direction we want to go.” By using A.I. on the first calf heifers and keeping replacements from those cattle, Kevin says they can more quickly reach their goals for change within the cowherd.
Kevin says, “Most of the heifers’ calves go back into the herd, which is a big change from years ago. We can build out of our first calf heifers with the A.I. genetics we’re getting.”
“We were getting our cows too big,” says Dennis. “Kevin’s helped bring those down and the cows have moderated the last few years. It’s tough to think you can bring your cow weights down without affecting your weaning weights, but our weaning weights are staying the same.”
“In the long-run,” says Kevin, “with improved pasture and irrigated pasture, our stocking rate will go up with the smaller cows.”
“With the help of the conservation districts, NRCS, Goshen County Weed & Pest, Extension, Game & Fish, Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Wyoming Private Grazing Lands Team and our help on the ranch, they have all played a huge part in in helping us,” says Dennis. We’re always trying to improve and raise the best cattle we can.”
Brandy adds, “We’re open to new ideas, flexible and we work hard at it.”
“It takes a commitment to the systems Dennis installed years ago,” says Kevin. “You can’t put those in and let them go. Once they decided to do that you have to maintain it. The improved pastures really helped during the drought.”
It’s also a tradition that stretches back to the days before the ranch’s present-day caretakers. “A lot of the things my dad and my great-great uncle did,” says Dennis, “we were able to build upon. My dad was big on stock water pipelines so on a lot of our projects we only had to add a half mile or a quarter of a mile here and there, add a few fences and we were in business.” In making the transition to intensive rotational grazing, Dennis says well-placed water is a necessary ingredient.
Three years and an ever-growing list of goals later, it’s obvious the quest for improvement that earned the Thalers national attention, remains alive and well. It wasn’t the finish line, but an important lap in the endurance race to continually improve the land, the cattle and life on the family ranch for all three generations of the Thaler family.
Jennifer Womack is a staff writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at Jennifer@wylr.net.