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Leaving it better: Wishbone Ranch prioritizes improvement, preparation for coming generations

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Hulett – “Most of my great-grandparents came to Crook County in the 1880s and were involved in agrarian pursuits with varying degrees of success,” says Merle Clark of the Wishbone Ranch.

He explains that his great-grandfather began a sawmill and raised sheep and cattle until the 1930s, and then Clark’s grandfather took over the operation.

“My father and mother, Dee and Barbara Clark, worked on ranches and gradually put together a dandy sheep and cattle ranch,” he comments.

While every generation of his family has been involved in agriculture, Clark notes that each individual made their own start and took a different path.

“I worked at a heavy construction company and sideline ranched until 1989, when a widowed Jesse Pearson, sold me her two section ranch. That was the break that got the ranch started,” he continues.

Current operation

According to Clark, the family ranch has gradually built to 5,000 deeded acres with shares in the Rocky Point Grazing Association and private and government leases to allow the ranch to run 300 cow/calf pairs and replacements.

“We’re primarily a cow/calf operation,” he explains. “At different times, we run yearlings, and we raise our own replacements. I winter graze out about 50 percent of the cattle.”

The Wishbone Ranch primarily runs Black Angus cattle, with strong genetic influences from Redland Angus in the Big Horn Basin.

“We have 1,275-pound cows that get by on what the sun grows and don’t require work calving in May to June,” says Clark. “We now select bulls from our calf crop and from Ryan Neiman.”

Clark notes the ranch strives to continually improve efficiency and remain low input.

“We try to keep our costs down, our efficiency up and make the cattle take care of themselves,” he stresses.

The Wishbone Ranch raises approximately 800 acres of dryland hay to feed their cowherd.

“It’s a grass-alfalfa mixture, and we seed our fields about every 10 years,” notes Clark.

Rewards and challenges

While he worked in the construction industry for 20 years and enjoyed it, Clark explains it was always his desire to return to ranching.

“I enjoy doing ranch work and the day-to-day activities of taking care of the cattle and the range,” he says. “I just enjoy what I do.”

He continues, “I look forward to getting up every morning, and it wasn’t always that way when I had crews to take care of and construction work to do.”

Clark notes one of the most rewarding parts of ranching is being able to raise his family to be stewards of the land.

“Living on the land seems to instill young people with timeless values and a grounded outlook,” comments Clark. “No matter the resource, it all boils down to being a people thing. Good people will make good decisions.”

According to Clark, there are always challenges in life, with some of the most difficult being beyond control, such as politics and markets.

“However, once a person gets everything paid and begins to feel confident in their abilities and station in life, they develop a confidence that they can meet just about any challenge,” he continues.

Next generation

“Susan and I are proud to send four quality people to lead productive lives,” says Clark. “They’ve developed their life skills at the ranch level, but they went out and made their own paths in the world and continue to do so.”

He notes their son Spencer and his wife Karyn are involved in education, their daughter Sydne and husband Tim are in the medical field and their son Mitchell is pursuing his education at Black Hills State University.

“Our daughter Lauren is on the ranch and plans on taking over the ranch,” he explains. “She is also involved in livestock marketing.”

As he looks ahead, Clark notes he plans to increase and better the ranch to leave it to the next generation better than he found, and to continue to help the next generation prepare for upcoming challenges.

“I think it’s important for the next generation to develop a certain mindset. We need to give them confidence, so they can meet the challenges that are going to come in the future,” concludes Clark. “The world is changing at an ever-faster pace, and we’re going to have to have the resources to deal with those coming challenges.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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