Dennis Horton talks about operating in North Portal area
North Portal – “It’s a good farm, and there are very few people in the world who get the chance to farm a good farm. It’s a pleasure when it happens, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” says Dennis Horton from his location on the Cottonwood Bench north of Riverton. “This is as good a place as there is.”
Dennis’s operation includes corn, pinto beans, hay and alfalfa seed, as well as a cow/calf aspect, and he calves early to finish up before spring fieldwork begins. Originally from Greybull, he moved to the area in 1979.
“I used to work for the Federal Land Bank as a branch manager in Casper. I’d been looking for a farm, so I bought one and started out 100 percent in debt 30 years ago. I’ve never been afraid of work, and I’ve worked at it for a long time, and still do,” says Dennis. “I bought this place in 1986, and the guy who owned it before did a tremendous job setting it up.”
“My cows calve in January and February in sheds, and the last couple years I’ve fattened my calves, primarily because I produce a little bigger calf, and they don’t particularly like them at the sale barn. I was putting in the time to raise them, so there was no reason to let anyone else take that benefit,” says Dennis of his calves, adding he only feeds the top end of his calf crop. “In past years I’ve sold to different people, but primarily through Riverton Livestock.”
Dennis started putting his cowherd together 30 years ago with 30 cows. “I try to keep a cow around 1,250 and 1,300 pounds, and I save from 50 to 70 heifers each year. I don’t have much problem with pulling calves, because I try to use good bulls. The moderately-framed cows generally wean a 580- to 600-pound calf, and they feed good and I don’t have much trouble with diseases.”
Dennis’s cows summer on Kirby Creek near Thermopolis, and he says the North Portal area is good for wintering because it doesn’t get a lot of moisture, and hardly any snow sticks around.
“One good thing about the water supply here is that everyone’s equal. We all have the same water right, and no one guy gets more water than the other guy,” says Dennis of the Midvale Irrigation District. “They have a good system, and the system they put in was put in right. We’ve got a really good manager, and they’ve done a really good job.”
The area was short on water from 2000 to two years ago, but Dennis says the last two years have been really good. “All the snowpack comes from the Wind Rivers, and we have a reservoir at Bull Lake, and some water comes from Dinwoody,” he explains.
“I feed a lot of silage and hay, beginning the first of January to the first of May. It’s a little more expensive operation than some, and it’s quite a bit more intense for management,” says Dennis, who feeds almost all of his corn on the place. “We use a lot of straw, and if we had it, I’d use as much manure as I could get.”
“It’s a little more intense as far as cost per calf, and our break-even costs end up being a little higher, but we generally have a lot bigger calf. If they ever start paying us for the weight we put on them, I’ll be fine. This year they’re paying a lot better,” he says. “As the price of corn goes up, the weight we actually put on will be worth more. What we do is sell pounds, and I’ve always thought it’s crazy to raise a 250-pound calf and get $1.50 per pound, and 80 or 90 cents for a 600-pound calf. That’s part of the reason I started feeding.”
Because Dennis shed calves, he hires a Peruvian worker to help with the cattle and general farm work.
“I’ve had him for three years through Mountain Plains Ag Service,” he says. “He’s a good guy. They come here to work, and that’s what they do – the jobs that are hard to get Americans to do. To stay up all night calving cows is something it’s hard to get a person to do – even if you pay enough. Anymore, people don’t have the gumption to do a job they don’t like. It’s sad, and part of that’s because they’ve never gone hungry. Most of them have never been put in a situation where they work or they starve. We, as a country, have made a terrible mistake by making it too easy for a lot of people. No matter what they do, we will never let them go hungry, and at some point we’ll break ourselves because of it.”
Currently Dennis’s worker is back in Peru for two months, before hopefully returning to the operation. “I’m not positive I can get him back, and that’s part of the deal. If they won’t give him a visa, he doesn’t get to come back,” says Dennis.
Dennis’s daughter Emily was a National FFA officer, and she’ll soon move back to the family place with her husband and daughter. “Emily and her husband Scott would love to farm at some point, so we’ll figure out some way to try to make that happen,” says Dennis, who used to own part of the elevator north of Riverton, which is now known as Wyoming Ag Marketing. “We sold that to them, and her husband will run that, and she’s got her John Deere office there, too.”
Emily’s sister Nikki also lives nearby, working in Riverton as a hairdresser.
“It’s been a good move, and I never regretted a minute of it,” says Dennis of coming to Fremont County. “There’s a tremendous community, with good neighbors. Fremont County’s a good ag area, and Riverton supports ag fairly well.”
“Hopefully I’ll leave it better than I found it,” says Dennis of his farm ground. “It doesn’t have a bad spot or bad ground. If you farm it right and take care of it, it’s good to you.”
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.