Family diversifies small operation
Glenrock — Keith and Wendy Lankister and their daughters Clara, Faye and Josey live on and manage the Duncan ranch south of Glenrock. The family recently transitioned to an organic beef operation and also operate “Homegrown & Healthy” and “Maryanns Beans” from their home.
The Lankisters explained their operation during the Wyoming Business Council Diversified Ag Tour in mid-June. About 60 participants traveled to the ranch as part of the four-stop tour.
“We calve in the summer starting June 5 and wean the following March. Then we run those calves through the summer again and harvest them the following summer at 24 to 30 months of age. We may push some a little and harvest them in November if they’re heavy enough this year,” explains Keith of the cattle operation.
He adds the family tries to keep everything in one herd the majority of the year and has placed an emphasis on grass management.
“For us, converting to organic beef was easy, partly because the majority of our management practices already qualified us. We didn’t have to change our mindset a whole bunch, it was mainly a matter of paperwork,” says Wendi.
“We try to run everything on grass 12 months of the year. We supplement during some bad winter storms, but we’re always thinking 14 months ahead into the next growing season.
“Our philosophy, in its simplest form, is to graze every grass plant one time, then leave and let that plant fully recover before we come back to it. We aren’t completely doing that today, but we’re getting closer through a higher intensity, shorter duration grazing plan,” explains Keith
Wendi adds the grazing plan utilizes a lot of temporary electric fence that is moved frequently.
The Duncan Ranch is very conscious of its carbon footprint and doesn’t use a lot of fossil fuels. Feeding hay is done either with a pickup or two-horse team in the winter.
“We contract some hay and that’s probably our biggest use of fossil fuels,” notes Keith.
The biggest challenge the Lankisters face in going organic is weed control. They are fortunate in that there is no cropland adjoining their property. If a lot of spraying was done on neighboring properties the ranch would be required to put a 20-foot buffer around its perimeter. “With this ranch only being around 8,000 acres, that would have been a deal breaker,” says Keith.
“Our neighbors are willing to work with us. If we have a weed problem they will call and tell us and we can address it,” adds Wendi.
The Lankisters are working on some biological control practices, but for now Keith says all weed control has been done manually with a shovel or hoe.
“We actually have two companies. Lankister Livestock is the production end, and Homegrown and Healthy is the marketing end. I’m Lankister Livestock and Wendi is Homegrown and Healthy, but we hire each other,” explains Keith of the couples’ multiple businesses.
Mary Ann’s Beans is another business Wendi took on about two years ago.
“Since purchasing Mary Ann’s Beans we’ve completely changed the labeling to make it more attractive for a retail product store, using different colors and larger stamps,” explains Wendi.
Homegrown and Healthy and Mary Ann’s Beans are marketed through multiple outlets. One is a local farmer’s market the Lankisters attend from July through September every Tuesday evening and Saturday.
Beef is frozen and vacuum packaged. “People like to see what they’re buying, and when they’re paying $15.99 per pound for a ribeye, paper wrapping just doesn’t work,” explains Wendi.
Mary Ann’s Beans are currently sold in states from New York to Nevada and are available across Wyoming and parts of Colorado. Keith and Wendi attribute much of their broadening customer base to attending a wholesale show in Denver, Colo. through the Wyoming Business Council.
One of Keith and Wendi’s biggest priorities is keeping everything as local as possible.
“All the labels for Mary Ann’s Beans were redesigned in Glenrock. The stamps were made in Casper, and the printing is done there as well,” notes Wendi.
“We use Dan’s Processing in Evansville as much as possible for our beef. But to cross state lines beef has to be USDA-inspected, and the closest USDA-inspected plant is in Pierce, Colo. We have stuck with them to increase our flexibility,” explains Keith.
“But it is the closest local USDA-inspected plant to Glenrock. We try to keep in mind what ‘local’ means in different areas, and use it to the greatest extent possible,” adds Wendi. “That’s why our logo says: ‘Buy local, eat better.’”
Homegrown and Healthy recently partnered with Grant Family Farms in Grant County, Colo. and will market its organic beef through the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group. The group provides a variety of organic meat and vegetable products to communities and delivers weekly to a community drop-off point.
The Lankisters will begin marketing their first crop of organic cattle as early as this November. They currently supply beef to Glenrock schools and are working to get local beef into school systems. Their Homegrown and Healthy business continues to expand with repeat buyers, making Wendi very happy.
Daughters Clara, Faye and Josey also have a business selling eggs. Their primary customer base includes local neighbors and prices are currently at three dollars a dozen.
“They had to write up a business plan and explain what their goals were,” says Keith. “The idea behind that was to keep interest in the project. They have their own checking account, and the lady that opened the account was their first customer.”
“We want to prove you can make it with a herd of 100 cows,” says Keith of the family’s plans for the Duncan Ranch and their own businesses. “We enjoy working together on an operation this size.”
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.