Starting from scratch: Clark family builds cattle operation from ground
Cokeville – “The thing about us that is a little different is we started from scratch,” says Cokeville rancher Kim Clark.
The journey for Kim and his family hasn’t been easy, but it’s been one that has resulted in the creation of a successful operation in the southern end of Lincoln County.
“I grew up on a small ranch, and right out of high school, I started working on ranches,” Kim explains. “I ended up working on a big ranch for an attorney that was running about 12,000 cattle, and it was a tremendous education.”
In the position, Kim spent summers in Idaho and Wyoming, traveling to California for the winter. However, after he married and started a family, his children were growing older, and he felt it was time for a change.
“I was always gone, and my wife Jill was trying to take care of the kids,” he says. “I decided to find a regular job, so we could run a bunch of our own cows.”
In 1991, Kim attended and completed training at the Law Enforcement Academy with the goal of working for the Wyoming Livestock Board in enforcement. On his first attempts to secure the position in 1992, he was turned away for lack of experience and instead continued working for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office.
“At the same time, we started putting together a little bunch of cows, even though we didn’t own any ground,” Kim says. “We leased some ground instead.”
After being named Wyoming’s Peace Officer of the Year in 1998, Kim was hired by the Wyoming Livestock Board and has been working for the organization ever since.
“We also continued to build our ranch,” he says. “Essentially we just keep building up, growing and adding cows, and it works.”
Red and black
Kim’s operation runs both pairs and yearlings, and he notes that both himself and his wife hold down regular jobs at the same time.
His daughter Stephanie works full time on the ranch. Stephanie’s husband Dru Haderlie also helps on the ranch, but he also works for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture.
“We ranch going 100 miles an hour,” Kim says smiling.
Both Red and Black Angus are run on the operation, and Kim notes that because Angus are marketable cattle, it works well.
“We are slowly moving to Red Angus,” he mentions. “They are super cattle, and we really like the Red Angus.”
In breeding their cattle, Kim says they work to raise their own bulls and have developed an A.I. program. They also run a purebred herd – both Red and Black Angus – that they utilize.
They family runs on leased BLM and Forest Service land that extends from Cokeville through Star Valley to Jackson.
To support and feed their cattle, they also put up the native hay on their lands. This year, the Clarks also decided to purchase some additional hay to feed, mixed with some straw.
“We sell our steer calves in the fall and retain our heifers,” Kim explains of their ranch’s marketing strategy. “The heifers are sent to a feed yard, then put on grass and bred.”
They sell the open, spayed and some bred heifers, and return the remaining bred heifers to the herd.
“Bred heifers are worth a lot of money,” he continues. “We wanted to delve into that market, and we have some good places to go with the opportunity for tremendous weight gain. It has worked pretty great.”
Making it work
With the weather and economic issues that are affecting agriculture every day, Kim sees some benefits to living in Cokeville and starting a ranching operation.
“We’ve never been entirely droughted-out,” Kim says. “It’s been awfully dry, but we’ve always been able to raise a crop.”
This year, he says that frost has been more of a problem.
“We got frost clear into July,” he comments, his resulting alfalfa crop has suffered.
“Our wild hay that we got water on had a really good crop,” he continues. “Our range is extremely dry right now, but we are right on the edge of the mountain, and we seem to get enough moisture to make it work.”
Working together to develop
And to make the operation work, Kim says the help of his family is integral.
“I have a super crew,” Kim says, mentioning that Stephanie, Dru and their children Keegan, Kalob and Kelli all help on the operation.
His wife Jill has also been important to the operation.
“When we first started putting this thing together, Jill got a job and paid for the BLM permit that we bought,” he explains.
As a family operation, they work together to make sure hay is harvested, cows are taken care of and the operation runs smoothly.
“I enjoy ranching,” comments Dru, who notes he didn’t come from a ranching family.
Rather, in seeing his children raised on the ranch, he has noticed a work ethic and level of responsibility that doesn’t develop in children raised in other environments.
“I always wanted to be a cowboy,” he says, “and now it’s about our kids – they are the future of the ranch.”
“It’s tough in this day and age, especially with this economy, to make ends meet,” Kim comments, “but every year, we seem to get our bills paid and make it work.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.