Keeping it together: Tillards focus on maintaining family ranch
In 1898 the Tillard family got its start in Converse County, and today’s Tillard generations continue to carry on the tradition of running sheep and cattle in the northern half of the county.
Tim Tillard says his family came to the area from Heppner, Ore. after his great granddad’s sheep were killed in the cattle and sheepmen’s war in the late 1800s.
“They’d run into somebody who said Wyoming was a friendly area for sheep producers, and they’d gone through here on a wagon train, so they knew what the country looked like,” says Tim’s brother Marty Tillard.
It was in 1915 that their granddad homesteaded the home place south of Bill, and from there the family continued to expand.
“In the early 1920s my granddad had land, but no sheep, and a guy named Mart Madsen had sheep, but no land, so they became partners in the early ‘40s,” says Tim. “Then my granddad bought him out, and we’ve been trying to add a little here and there since then.”
Of running both cattle and sheep, Marty jokes, “They used to tell us when we were kids that we liked to eat, so the sheep paid the bills, but that we ran just enough cattle to stay respectable.”
The Tillard family has seen many changes to ag business over the years, and Tim says only the strong survived and stayed in the sheep business.
“We’re sheep people, but it’s the predators that will put everyone out of the sheep business. It’s a constant fight,” he says.
“The markets were really bad for a while, so what little margin there was we were losing to predators, so people just got tired of it,” says Marty of the sheep business. “We didn’t know any better – sheep are what we’ve always done, and we’ve worked really hard to get our wool grade and our sheep how we want them, so we didn’t want to give up.”
Marty adds that the ranch uses “every legal means” for predator management.
“We hunt them a lot ourselves, the county has some trappers and we use Wildlife Services, as well,” he says, adding that their neighbor Steve Dilts also helps.
Tim says the predator problem is never-ending, and the problem now is that there aren’t as many sheep around.
“It used to be all of our neighbors worked as hard as we do to get rid of predators, but not anymore,” says Marty.
“I think all breeds do ok in this county – it’s really a good area for sheep, but the market has been Rambouillet for us,” says Marty. “We strive to get a good grade of wool and ship a heavy lamb.”
Speaking on energy development in the county, Tim says he’s been dealing with that industry the last few years.
“It’s good and bad. It really hasn’t changed our operation yet, but it’s also just getting out there,” he says. “It’s starting to pick up. In late November they started the first well out north.”
“Energy development will change the face of the ranch big time, because of access roads, but there’s also some money in it, so where do you dislike and where do you like?” asks Marty.
“We don’t know yet if the pros outweigh the cons,” comments Tim. “A month ago we were working sheep, and I told the boys to get up on the hill and take some pictures, because it’s the last time they’ll see it like it is.”
“Our dad Bud is 88 and he lives on the ranch and is out there every day,” says Tim. “Whatever’s going on, he shows up.”
“You couldn’t blow him out of there with dynamite,” says Marty of their dad.
“For our dad, the powerlines and interstates were a change in his lifetime, but we see them and don’t think anything of it because we grew up with it,” says Marty. “With energy development, we’ll see the change, and our boys will, but the next generation will grow up with it and not realize it was ever different. Life goes on, for sure.”
“Right now we don’t get to do what we like to do, because we’re too busy dealing with the ringing phone,” says Tim of the development activity.
Marty says his ranch north of Glenrock, which the family purchased in 1983, is also in the “biggest red light district in the county” – a wind farm.
“I’ve got to say, they’ve been good neighbors,” he says of the wind developers. “I have no complaints. Once they were erected there was no more heavy traffic, and there are no tanker trucks and no pumper. All the critters got used to them fast – they do make a noise, but it’s nothing like motor pumping on an oil well. They weren’t even completed yet and the cattle were lying in the shade of the tower.”
“We lost a brother in 1991, so now it’s Marty and I and each of the three of us brothers has two kids,” says Tim of the family members on today’s Tillard Ranch. “Four of them are boys, and they all work on the ranch.”
In addition to ranching together, the Tillard family also rodeos together, competing in steer roping, something they’ve done since Tim and Marty were young.
“I overheard my dad one time, he was telling somebody that his plan was that we always had a place to rope at the end of the day, and by the time we got done working and then roping we were too tired to drive to town, and he was right,” says Marty.
“Sheep are good, and sheep have been good to us,” says Tim of the family’s operation. “We do everything the same with our management. We just stay the same, and we can ride out the good and the bad. Our ranch has been there so long that we don’t change a lot.”
“All we’re trying to do is keep together what our dad and granddad worked hard to put together,” adds Tim. “It’s our job to keep it together.”
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.