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Working with the family: Graham Ranch is the product of family working side by side for 77 years

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Moorcroft – “Family is the best part about this place,” says Sherry Graham.

The Graham Family has ranched northeast of present day Keyhole Reservoir since the early 1940s. George and Iola Graham, along with their children, moved to the area from the Parkman community north of Sheridan.

Joe Graham, now 93, was 16 years old at the time and accompanied his parents and their 35 cows on the trip. They moved to the area on a promise from a relative that they could lease the ranch he owned along the Inyan Kara Creek drainage.

Graham was initially drawn to the area, says Sherry’s husband Dave, “because the grass reached the bottoms of his stirrups.”

Building the operation

The stock trailed to the area included 14 head of milk cows, the remainder range cows with calves at their side and the beginning of Graham’s cow herd in Crook County.

Cream from the milk cows, set out in a can for the mailman to haul to Moorcroft, was traded for groceries, which the mailman also delivered.

The family soon began buying land of their own beginning with the 3,000-acre “Calhoun place.” One of the more recent additions to their ranch is the place where young Joe Graham first lived when his family arrived in the area.

Joe and his late wife Eunice were married and had begun their lives on the family ranch at the time Joe was drafted into World War II.

“He spent quite a little time in Germany,” says Dave.

Upon returning home from the war, Joe ranched in partnership with his parents until his father passed away and then continued that partnership until his mother’s death in 1960.

Smart expansion

A frugal lifestyle and smart investments, says Dave, allowed the couple to grow the ranch over the years. What started out as 3,000 acres is today 10,000.

Joe and Eunice had two children, Dave and his younger brother Dick. By the late 1960s both sons had married.

Dave and Dick married sisters, Sherry and Janet Thompson of Moorcroft. Both couples have now been married over 50 years.

Joe and Eunice thought of the girls like they were their own daughters.

In 1998, when Joe decided it was time to turn the reins over to the next generation, he passed along 25 percent each to Dave, Dick, Sherry and Janet.

Dave says of his dad, “He thought enough of them, our wives, that we each got a quarter.”

“When he turned it over to us, there was no debt,” says Dave. “My Dad has always been a stickler for keeping the payments made, and we were all trained to be frugal.”

Dave and Sherry have two sons, Scott and Marty. Dick and Janet have a son, Jeff, and two daughters, Amy and Jennifer. That generation, much like those before them, contributes to the ranch and the work to be done.

Grandchildren are also part of the crew on a regular basis, carrying on the tradition of family working together.

Inside the operation

Grahams run their ranch as a cow/calf and yearling operation.

“We save back about 50 replacement heifers each year,” says Dave, “and have for a long time.”

In the earlier years, the ranch ran primarily Herefords, often purchasing bulls from the Wyoming Hereford Ranch at Cheyenne. They started crossbreeding in the mid-1970s, and today, their herd is all Black Angus.

“We try and run about a 1,350- to 1,400-pound cow,” says Dave. “We seem to realize more profit out of her offspring by doing that. We try and keep the milk up on them, and we try and buy some really good bulls to put back on them.”

For the past 25 to 30 years, the Grahams have purchased most of their bulls from Mangen Angus.

“They have the best guarantee on the market, and they honor it,” says Dave.

Calves, which arrive each year beginning mid-March with most born in April, are ran over to yearlings. Rather than spaying the heifers, the Grahams run them in an area where they can try and keep them open.

“If we don’t breed our heifers,” says Dave, “buyers have options to either breed them or feed them. We never did spay. We’ve just tried to keep them open, and it’s worked for us.”

Selling cattle

The ranch’s yearlings typically sell each August at Belle Fourche Livestock across the state line into South Dakota.

“That’s been a pretty good market for us,” says Dave. “They know our cattle and what they can do.”

Dave says that when Dean Strong was running the barn they started hauling their cattle in on Tuesday for the Thursday sale.

“We don’t feel like we lose anything. Their hay is pretty good, and we gain our shrink back,” he says.

He says it also allows the cattle to clean up a bit before they hit the sale ring.

Quality genetics and timely rains had this year’s yearling steers tipping the scales at an even 1,030 pounds across three loads when they went through the ring in Belle Fourche early September. While some in northern Wyoming struggled with drought this summer, Dave says a couple of timely rains helped keep their steers on the gain up until sale time.

The Grahams raise most of the hay they feed their cattle. On occasion, like this year, dry weather has left them purchasing hay to make up the difference.

Goals for the future

“We’re trying to pass the ranch down, just like Joe did to us,” says Sherry.

She’s proud of the five generations who can often be seen working side-by-side on the ranch.

“We’re working on estate planning,” says Dave, “and it should be passed on if the kids want to continue it.”

What George and Iola Graham set out to build 77 years ago, the family hopes to continue long into the future with quality livestock, productive hay meadows and a family that enjoys working together.

Jennifer Womack is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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