Thoman Ranch: Ranching family runs sheep, cattle together
LaBarge – With a love of the land and her animals, Mary Thoman, known as Mickey to most, manages the family ranching operation, W&M Thoman Ranches, LLC.
“We’ve lived on the river since 1953,” says Mickey of their ranch. “I was born and raised out of Kemmerer, and we ran sheep on the desert.”
Mickey’s parents, who emigrated from Austria about 1900, homesteaded on land north of Kemmerer on the Hams Fork River. The family still summers some animals on the property.
“They had a few shorthorns, and they had sheep to start with,” she says. “They always had some sheep.”
When the property where their ranch currently sits, which lies in both Lincoln and Sweetwater Counties, came up for sale, Mickey notes that they bought the place because it was handy and a good location. They’ve been there ever since, running both sheep and cattle.
“We’ve raised all of our family out here,” says Mickey.
Mickey’s family reaches across the state. She was married to William J. in 1948, and they raised a family on the ranch. She has three daughters, Mary A., Laurie and Kristy Wardell, all who live on and help with the ranch. Her two sons, Bob and Dick, have moved away, with Bob ranching in Riverton and Dick working in the oilfield.
Mickey also lost two children. Daughter Catherine drowned in a riding accident when she was 22, and five years later, Bill Jr. died in a cube hauling accident on South Pass at the age of 25.
The first three of their children were raised in sheep camps.
“I also have 21 grandkids and 12 great-grandkids,” says Mickey. “We are expecting two more this year.”
For the grandkids on the ranch, Thoman School, which was established in 1957, provides their education, since Green River and Kemmerer are both over 40 miles away and travel gets rough in the winters. The school is the last of the one-room schools in Wyoming.
Mickey’s grandson Rex, 12, currently attends Thoman School.
Ranching has been a big part of the Thoman’s family life.
“We’ve always run sheep,” comments Mickey, “and we have more cows now than we used to.”
Their herd of Rambouillet sheep runs on rangeland year around, summering on the Bridger Teton National Forest north of Pinedale and wintering on the Rock Springs Grazing Association ranges.
“We lamb our sheep on the Big Sandy and haul them to range. Usually we summer from July 1 until Oct. 1,” she explains. “Our pastures are mainly BLM allotments, and we have shares in Rock Springs Grazing Association.”
Lambing occurs on the range at the beginning of May, and Mickey says, “People who shed lamb can lamb earlier, but we land on the range.”
Her daughters also have a bunch of registered sheep they lamb in March.
The cattle side of the operation runs Herefords, and Mickey says they are adapted to the land and able to take care of themselves.
“We have Herefords, and we have been straight Hereford for forever,” she explains. “I think they are thriftier cows.”
The cattle winter on the desert with the sheep, spending their summers on both sides of the Green River.
With expansion of the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, Mickey says that they no longer have hay ground, instead just pasturing their cattle on the river.
They also raise a herd of Thoroughbred-Quarter horses on the property.
The location of their summer range comes with its own set of challenges.
“There are so many grizzly bears it isn’t even funny,” says Mickey. “We got those allotments in 1978, and before that we were on the Wyoming range.”
She explains that in 1997, some grizzly bears were let out on the river where they release the sheep each summer.
“They let them out when we were shipping sheep,” she says, “and since then, it has been a nightmare.”
They utilize Peruvian sheepherders and guard dogs, protecting both the herders and their sheep with electric fences each night.
“It has helped the sheep a lot, because the bears used to get into our herds at night and scatter them all over,” Mickey says of the electric fences. “It would be a couple of days before we could gather them all up.”
Mickey’s daughter Mary has an airplane that she flies to keep track of the cattle and sheep as well.
Continuing to ranch
Despite the difficulty that accompanies the ranch, and most ranches in Wyoming, Mickey continues to be involved and continues to ranch.
Mickey is one of the 33 founding members of the Green River Valley Cowbelles. She has also been a member of the Wyoming Stockgrower’s Association Board of Directors and Guardians of the Grasslands.
Her involvement spans a number of group and organizations, locally, statewide and nationally.
Because of her involvement, dedication and passion for ranching, Mickey was named 2012 Ranch Woman of the Year in Sublette County.
Making it through
Aside from predators, the Thoman’s have also faced flood, fire and condemned lands.
“In the early 1960s, the ranch was flooded when Fontenelle Dam broke,” say her daughters. “In the 1970s, a careless camper started a wildfire that burned several hundred acres of trees and nearly destroyed ranch buildings.”
They continue that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also condemned part of the family ranch in 1980.
“No matter what, God can be found in the beauty of the outdoors and agriculture,” says Mickey.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.