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Diversified Ag Tour showcases Johnson Co

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Buffalo–More than 70 people gathered from around the state on June 15 for the Ninth Annual Diversified Ag Tour, sponsored by the Wyoming Business Council and Wyoming Women in Ag.
The tour boasted its largest group of participants this year in a daylong excursion in and around Buffalo. Six different enterprises operating in the area were featured, including Prairie House Pottery, TA Guest Ranch, IX Ranch, Last Loop Rope Art, Mountain Meadow Wool Mill and Carder Enterprises LLC/Wahoo Toppings.     
Verna Lawrence, owner of Prairie House Pottery kicked off the tour. She learned how to throw pots in a class at Sheridan College and the experience prompted Lawrence to purchase a pottery wheel and kiln.
After 16 years, Prairie House Pottery is now a full-fledged business, according to Lawrence. She attends numerous craft shows every year where she sells her pieces.
“I love to sell it,” said Lawrence. “I love to give it away. I love to make it.”
The most popular items Lawrence offers are her “thumb bowls” that feature no handle, but a convenient and comfortable thumb grip.
A short trip just outside Buffalo to the TA Guest Ranch took the tour to the site of the Johnson County War. TA Guest Ranch’s deep history is visible in the original buildings, complete with bullet holes in the walls.
Barbara and Earl Madsen have owned TA Ranch and raised cattle for about 20 years. Tours and guests also frequent the ranch between May and October.
The TA Ranch was started in 1883, when a doctor from Laramie built the first bunkhouse. The ranch was homesteaded originally before being expanded by land purchase through the years, explains Madsen.
“Every fourth grade in Buffalo, Sheridan and Gillette visits here to learn about the war,” said Barbara.
The next stop on the tour, IX Ranch, features a satellite herd of Potter Ranch horses from Marana, Ariz. Sired by champion performance horses Dinero, MP Thriftwood and MP Rock the Creek, the high-end horses are raised and trained just outside Buffalo.
Owners Bryan and Rita Long run IX Ranch, breeding mares and selling their foals, and their daughter Bryna helps on the marketing end of the operation.
The studs boast a number of winnings in their rodeo careers. Dinero, a PRCA Rodeo champion, has over $600,000 in earnings, while Thriftwood has in excess of $150,000.
Two Shires are part of the herd, as well, and are intended to be a team by the end of the summer. Bryna explained that selective breeding of the horses to produce offspring with a silver gene will hopefully result in silver manes and tails in the foals.
IX Ranch also has a small herd of Corriente steers they sell for roping.
Mountain Meadow Wool Mill in Buffalo is the first wool mill in Wyoming, and one of only a handful in the nation. Karen Hostetler and Valerie Spanos started the mill in 2004, and gathered used equipment from across the nation.
“We thought it was crazy that Wyoming didn’t have a way to manufacture wool at least into yarn, because at that time Wyoming was the number two wool producer in the nation,” said Spanos.    
The mill takes wool from growers in Wyoming and washes, roves and spins it into useable yarn for sale. The finished products are marketed and sold largely in the handcrafting industry.  
Producers are able to gain a higher profit by selling to Mountain Meadow Wool Mill because they reap the benefits of selling a finished product, and Spanos said producers made about twice as much last year by selling to the mill.
The mill also offers benefits to consumers, including labeling the origin of the fine wool.
“People are very interested in where their wool is coming from,” said Spanos.
Hostetler continued, “We were the first U.S. mill to provide that information to consumers, and we’re the only ones who offer that.”
Hostetler and Spanos continually work to expand and develop the operation.
“Today we just found out that we received a Phase 2 grant for treating our wastewater,” said Hostetler. “That is huge. They only fund a small portion of Phase 2 grants.”
The grant will enable the mill to create a wastewater system to extract the byproducts of washing the wool, and those byproducts can be sold, explained Hostetler. The work is being conducted with help from several universities.
Chele Needens, employee at Mountain Meadow Wool Mill and owner of Last Loop Rope Art, makes decorative pieces and furniture from used ropes.  
Needens takes used ropes, acquired through bargaining or purchase, power washes them, and burns the rope together to make baskets, clocks, lamps and footstools, among other items.
“Anything that is circular and can be covered in rope, I can do,” said Needens. “I’ll try anything.”
After being featured in the April/May 2011 issue of Country Woman magazine, Needens’s business took off, she said. She continues to expand her business and make as much rope art as she can.
“This past December I started dying wildrags,” said Needens. “That has turned into a pretty good business, too.”
Needens buys the silk scarves for Wyo-Skies Wildrags and dyes them in a variety of colors and patterns.
The final stop on the tour was Carder Enterprise LLC/Wahoo Toppings, where Carolyn and Jim Carder make a number of toppings and food items ranging from steak sauce to ice cream toppings. Their wide variety of items are sold online and in stores around Wyoming.
Carolyn and Jim handpick all the chokecherries used in their products in the foothills of the Bighorns and transform it into delicious food products, including jalapeño–chokecherry jam and chokecherry drink mixes.
The Wyoming Business Council tour showed that Wyoming agriculture is more than cattle production and traditional farming, and each of the operations highlighted featured a different and thriving aspect of the diverse industry.
Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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