Preservation and conservation: Sommers siblings strive to preserve ranching history and land stewardship efforts through diverse operation
Pinedale – For siblings Albert and Jonita Sommers, preserving ranching history, maintaining a western way of life and conserving the land they live on are high priorities.
Though the Sommers run a diverse operation including raising both a purebred and commercial herd, they are also busy marketing beef locally through a farm-to-plate program, donating a portion of their original homestead to the Sublette County Historical Society and turning their operation over to a younger generation. Even with everything on their plate, these overarching goals have remained steady.
The Sommers sibling’s multi-faceted operation got its start over a century ago when Albert and Jonita’s grandfather, Albert “Prof” Sommers, moved from Kansas to Kemmerer.
“My Grandfather Sommers moved out to Wyoming on the railroad to be a school teacher around the year of 1900 and homesteaded in 1907 with his brother,” Albert explains. “He married my grandmother, May, in 1911, and she also homesteaded. He had friends and relatives homestead nearby as well, and this is how he put the ranch together back then.”
Albert further notes after Prof passed in 1928, May continued running the ranch, teaching school and raising four children by herself, all while on the brink of the Great Depression.
In 1947, May turned the ranch over to her son Bud, who then turned ownership over to his children – Albert and Jonita, the current owners of the Sommers Ranch.
“Neither Jonita or I have children, so we are in the process of turning the ranch over to our neighbor’s son Ty Swain, his wife Matty and their two children,” Albert says.
Today, Ty and Matty own and operate the majority of the ranch, including a commercial cow/calf and yearling operation, while Albert and Jonita run a small herd of registered Hereford cattle.
“Jonita and I run about 30 to 45 head of registered Hereford cows. We also raise a few bulls – some we sell locally and some we keep,” he says. “We have always loved the disposition and high muscling of Herefords, and for the most part, they don’t carry as much brisket disease as other breeds. This is important since we run cattle at such a high elevation.”
Albert explains the commercial herd is made up of Angus/Hereford cross mother cows, and ownership of calves is retained from weaning until they reach about 18 months of age.
Additionally, Albert notes cattle on the Sommers Ranch overwinter on native grass grown on the irrigated and sub-irrigated land between the river and irrigation ditches. In May, the registered herd is moved to leased pasture, while commercial cattle are turned out on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grazing allotments adjacent to the ranch.
“In mid-June, our commercial cattle are trailed on the Green River Drift – a two-week, 70-mile drive from BLM allotments to the Upper Green River Allotment of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, where they stay until October,” Albert explains.
From there, the Sommers’ cattle are gathered, worked and overwintered at the ranch’s headquarters, then the cycle begins all over again.
In addition to running the purebred operation and helping with the commercial cattle, Albert also runs a farm-to-plate business known as Sommers Ranch Grass Fed Beef.
“Cattle being sold in Sommers Ranch Grass Fed Beef were born and raised on our ranching operation in this valley. These cattle eat grass and are fed hay year-round on our private land and federal grazing leases,” notes the Sommers Ranch website. “The cattle are under our control during their lifetime prior to being utilized for Sommers Ranch Grass Fed Beef. We do not feed or otherwise introduce added hormones to our cattle. After slaughter, all beef carcasses are put in a dry-aging cooler for approximately 14 days until processing.”
Albert explains processing either occurs in Idaho at a U.S. Department of Agriculture plant or in Laramie at 307 Meat Company.
“We then sell quarters, halves and wholes locally or to various places throughout the state of Wyoming or to a few surrounding states,” Albert says. “We also sell individual cuts to a few local retailers, and we have hamburger being sold out of the Heart and Soul Cafe and Half Moon Lodge in Pinedale, as well as the Big Sandy Lodge in Boulder.”
On top of the cattle operation and local marketing effort, the Sommers siblings have also dedicated a large portion of time to preserving their family’s original homestead and the ranching history that goes along with it.
“In 2010, we participated in a joint effort with Grindstone Cattle Company to conserve 19,000 acres through multiple conservation easements held by the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust,” explains Albert. “We fixed up some of the original homestead buildings and donated them, along with the easements on the land under them, to the Sublette County Historical Society.”
Albert says today the Sublette County Historical Society operates the Sommers Ranch Homestead Living History Museum, which is open to the public for three days a week during the months of June, July and August.
“During the fall, the historical society and their volunteers bring in students from all over the state for a hands-on experience in homestead-era culture,” Albert states. “They get to wash clothes by hand, collect and clean chicken eggs, leathercraft, rope a dummy, type on a typewriter, sew on a treadle sewing machine, find blocks of ice in the ice house and talk on a hand-crank telephone.”
“The whole idea behind the living museum is to preserve ranch history onsite,” he continues. “Fewer and fewer children come from a farming or ranching background, so we thought it was important for young kids to continue to have an opportunity to see what it’s like.”
Albert adds, “The easement means land around the museum will never be subdivided, so it will always have the visual effect of an old ranch homestead.”
One of the most important goals for Albert and Jonita is continuing their family’s longstanding legacy of land stewardship and conservation.
In fact, in 2001 the Sommers’ were recognized by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department as the Landowner of the Year in the Jackson/Pinedale Region for their dedication to wildlife management, and in 2012, they received the Wyoming Leopold Conservation Award for their stewardship efforts.
“My father always said if we don’t take care of the land, the land won’t take care of us,” says Jonita in a YouTube video recognizing the Sommers Ranch as the Wyoming Leopold Conservation Award recipient.
“We have been in this business for 100 years as a family, and if we had not been good stewards of the private and federal lands, we wouldn’t be here now,” adds Albert. “We can’t misuse a resource and have it still provide us with what we need for 100 years. I believe all ranchers are land stewards, and I think our ranch is very representative of the high quality of ranching that exists in the Green River Valley.”
For more information on the Sommers Ranch, Sommers Ranch Grass Fed Beef and/or Sommers Ranch Homestead Living History Museum, visit sommersranch.com.
Hannah Bugas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.