Rising to the challenge: Kuhbacher Ranch adapts to ever changing environment, markets
Rockypoint – Located in northeastern Wyoming, Kuhbacher Ranch has been in operation for 100 years, says third generation rancher Jerry Kuhbacher.
“My grandad homesteaded in 1907 at the place we’re at now,” says Kuhbacher. “We still live on the same 160 acres he homesteaded on.”
Kuhbacher and his wife Gayle, along with their sons and families, operate the family ranch, where they raise hay and cattle.
As he reflects on expanding the ranch, Kuhbacher explains the operation has continued to evolve over the years.
“In the 1970s, when I’d buy a place, I would break a lot of that good soil out. I was planting winter wheat,and we had some hay acreage, too,” he comments. “I built to about 5,000 acres under tillage with a fallow wheat program.”
Kuhbacher continued increasing acreage for the ranch through the 1970s.
“We’ve ended up with 11,000 acres,” Kuhbacher notes. “Now, since 1999, we’ve gotten everything put back into grass and alfalfa.”
Through the years where the Kuhbachers were farming a large amount of land, he raised sheep to utilize the remaining land.
“I’d buy a lot of lambs in the fall, and they had good feed through the fall and winter,” he continues.
Now, the ranch has transitioned to cattle and hay production, he explains.
“It’s evolved over the years. There are 5,000 acres of hay ground, and there are 6,000 acres of grazing pastureland,” states Kuhbacher.
Kuhbacher explains the ranch typically runs 300 cow/calf pairs through the summer and has a program established where they sell a certain number of pairs in spring.
“It can go as high as 400 pairs in the summer in wet years, but in the drier years, we’ve been holding back to about 300 pairs,” he says. “We winter at least 400 head of our own cows, and we bring in a certain amount of cows to winter for other people.”
The ranch typically winters approximately 1,000 to 1,200 head each year.
“We’ve wintered up to 1,800 head of range cows, but as a general rule, we’re usually in the 1,000 to 1,200 head range,” comments Kuhbacher.
The ranch hasn’t purchased calves in several years but does periodically purchase bred cows to maintain their numbers, he says.
“When we purchase cows, we stick mostly to Black Angus,” he comments.
In addition to their cattle business, the ranch also raises grass and alfalfa hay for their cattle, but Kuhbacher notes the dry weather has been a challenge.
“The last two years, we’ve had lower production because it’s been real dry,” he says.
In a typical year, the ranch produces 5,000 to 6,000 tons of hay per year using dryland field management.
While the hay produced is primarily for their cattle, Kuhbacher explains they have also marketed hay in the past.
“Over the years, we’ve sold quite a bit. We always keep enough to maintain our cattle numbers,” he says. “Even with the dry weather, we have got a fair amount of carry over hay, so we’ll be fine this winter. We just haven’t been able to sell much hay the last two falls.”
Love of the challenge
“I was still a sophomore in high school when my grandparents on my mother’s side decided they wanted to retire,” explains Kuhbacher. “I had to make up my mind when I was a sophomore whether or not I wanted to ranch for a living.”
He notes his father didn’t want to purchase the ranch unless Kuhbacher planned on returning to work with him.
“I ended up saying I would, and I guess that’s the end of the story,” he laughs. “I’ve been here all of my life.”
According to Kuhbacher, managing his own ranch over the years has had its challenges.
“I started out real small, and the ranch didn’t have much around then. Dad bought me 400 head of sheep when I came back,” he says. “We had to go through all of the fences and put five and six wire fences around us.”
Kuhbacher continues, “I don’t know how to say it other than it’s been a challenge through the years. Of course, we loved it, and it’s deep in our bones. We wouldn’t do anything else as long as we can keep ranching.”
Kuhbacher explains the ranch is transitioning to his sons Justin and Michael and their families.
“They do the lion’s share of the work and decision-making day-to-day,” he says. “I’m fortunate I’ve got two good boys, and the ranch tradition is carrying on.”
As they look at ranch management strategies, Kuhbacher notes drought management has been a high priority.
“We had a period between 2000 to 2005 that was really dry. By the time 2002 came along, in the fall, we were real short of water,” he says.
Kuhbacher continues, “I started a three-year program putting underground water lines in throughout the ranch. That helped us winter a lot more cattle because we had good water year-round.”
According to Kuhbacher, the family plans to keep continuing and improving the land in coming years.
“Our future plan is to keep on the same program carrying forward as far as I can see,” Kuhbacher concludes.
Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.