Love of the life: Jensen Ranch continues family passion in land and livestock
Colony – Located along the Belle Fourche River, Jensen Ranch prides itself in their quality cattle production and management of the land, says rancher Janet Jensen.
Jensen, her husband Thorval, Jr. and the couple’s children Lee and Tami manage the family’s operation that has been in business for over 70 years.
Jensen Ranch patriarch Thorval Jensen, Sr. grew up the son of a Danish Lutheran minister who was a traveling trouble-shooter for the Lutheran church in Nebraska.
In the 1930s, Thorval, Sr. and a friend made their first marks in Wyoming and began the roots of the Jensen family in Wyoming agriculture.
“They came to eight miles south of Moorcroft on Buffalo Creek on the homesteader train filled with farming supplies from Cozad, Neb.,” says Jensen.
She explains that Thorval, Sr. was able to make a profit selling corn and hogs to oil field workers who preferred the taste of corn-fed hogs to slop-fed hogs.
An enterprising businessman, Thorval, Sr. purchased land for alfalfa production and later acquired ranches in the area as he had opportunity where he broke into sheep and cattle production with his wife Lillian.
“In 1946, Thorval, Sr. heard of land for sale along the Belle Fourche River, which belonged to three VVV ranches that had gone bankrupt,” Jensen says, noting that the current ranch is comprised of part of that land transaction.
Thorval, Jr. and Janet assumed operation of the land in 1966, spending their working career developing the resources the land had to offer. Nearly 1,200 acres of land were cleared, leveled and finalized into useable hay land and crop land.
Jensen also notes numerous miles of canals and irrigation works were developed, with large impoundments constructed to provide supplemental irrigation water.
Jensen explains that the couple’s two children Tami and Lee originally pursued careers outside of ranching before returning to the family operation.
“Tami went to the University of Wyoming (UW) and got her degree in accounting. She worked in Arizona, Texas and Idaho with a helicopter crew doing firefighting contracts,” says Jensen.
She continues, “Lee went to UW and got his bachelor’s degree in range management and master’s degree in water resources management before working in mining for Black Thunder Coal Mine in the eastern Powder River Basin.”
Tami returned to Wyoming to take over the bookkeeping of Jensen Ranch and Jensen Construction.
After Thorval, Jr. suffered health complications in 2009, Lee managed the family businesses while still working in mining for three years.
“In 2012, he came home with his wife Heidi and their children Tucker, Hadlie and Gunner,” she comments. “We will always be thankful for the support Lee received from Black Thunder Mine.”
The Jensen Ranch is primarily a cattle operation, with both Thorval, Jr. and Janet, as well as Lee and Heidi bringing in herds to the ranch.
“Lee and Heidi put together a cowherd while he worked at Black Thunder Coal Mine and brought them into the operation,” Jensen says.
Both fall-calving and spring-calving herds are managed at the ranch.
All first-calf heifers are artificially inseminated (AI) with no bull service and opens from this period are re-inseminated as fall calving first calf heifers with bull service. All second-calf heifers are AI-bred, as well, Jensen explains
Most pregnancy testing is conducted by Lee, and AI breeding is now done by Lee’s son Tucker and long-time employee Jeremiah Aurand.
Because of the irrigation available on the ranch, Jensen explains they typically hold their current calf crop over as yearlings to take advantage of the feed base, using the feedlot and feed bunks in pasture conditions for the cattle.
“We use water from our three storage dams onto diked and leveled land,” says Jensen. “We own shares in irrigation water storage in Wyoming via Keyhole Reservoir, as well.”
In addition to their range operations, the ranch also manages a feedlot where they care for clients’ cattle for turnout to summer grass.
“We use the feedlot and feed bunks in pasture conditions for these cattle,” Jensen continues.
According to Jensen, Thorval, Sr. and Lillian were passionate about their agricultural pursuits, with Thorval, Sr. preferring land and irrigation management and Lillian preferring livestock production.
“Lillian A.M. Jensen introduced the first Angus and Charolais cattle in Hereford cattle country,” explains Jensen. “She introduced Suffolk and later Cheviot sheep for meat production and not the wool usually bred for in this area.”
Jensen continues, “They passed this love of land and livestock to their children and grandchildren.”
She notes Thorval, Jr. always thought his parents did jobs on the operation in the most strenuous way and therefore worked diligently to make improvements to make the ranch more efficient.
“He vowed to do things the easier way by engineering facilities and designed irrigation systems to be less labor intensive,” she states. “Thorval, Jr. was always rebuilding equipment to stand up to vigor’s of the agricultural process.”
As she reflects on their life in ranching, Jensen says the most rewarding aspects for her revolve around her family and stewardship of the land.
“I enjoy being able to work with our children and grandchildren. Our goal is to always try to leave the Jensen Ranch and our livestock better than how we received the land,” she concludes.
Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.