Heart and soul operation: Lusk ranchers work tirelessly to build successful ranch
Hat Creek – Throughout history, cowboys and cowgirls have dreamt about the days when they could look out over their own herd, scattered across their own piece of land. Pat and Jo Ann Wade’s hard-earned piece of heaven lies north of Lusk at the bottom of the Hat Creek Breaks.
The husband-and-wife duo both grew up in eastern Wyoming ranching families – Pat lived north of Torrington and Jo Ann is from east of Node. When they were married, the two began working towards their goal of owning and operating their own place.
In the beginning, Pat and Jo Ann held outside jobs to support their ranching goals. Jo Ann worked for both the conservation district and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Pat worked a few jobs on ranches, in the oil field and even drove truck. In addition, the Wades owned a wild game processing business – all with the goal of building their herd and buying a ranch.
The young couple started out buying small groups of cows or year- lings to run on leased pasture. The Wades share, at the time, their most prized possessions were portable panels, a portable loading chute and squeeze chute, their stock trailer and a few good horses.
“We bought what cows we could afford and paid cash in the mid 1980s, when everyone thought there would never be another good day in ranching,” Pat jokes. “We run Red Angus cross cattle, and we started out with a motley bunch.”
Jo Ann says, “I think our first bunch of yearlings was 10 or 20 head. My mom and dad found a small piece of grass to lease that would run that many, so that’s what we did and it was a big deal to us.”
After years of not living where they ranched, Pat and Jo Ann ran across the opportunity to purchase a ranch in 2005 – 26 years into their marriage. The owner at the time wanted the ranch to go to a family who would appreciate and protect the history and integrity of the ranch. Pat, Jo Ann and their young son fit the bill perfectly.
The ranch, located north of Lusk, is home to the Hat Creek Stage Station – the only stage station between Cheyenne and Deadwood, S.D. still standing. The land is rich in history and scenic views.
“It was a long time coming,” Jo Ann says.
Over the years, Pat and Jo Ann worked to continue adding positive traits to get their cowherd where it is today.
“We try to keep our cows somewhat moderate and find the tough balance between smaller-framed cattle that still have performance in the feedlot,” Pat explains.
“It is really important for cows to be really functional,” he continues. “We like them to be really easy fleshing. We don’t supplement much, and we always make sure they have forage but expect them to make their own way – we want a cow that can stay fat and take care of herself.”
The Wade’s cows calve outside, and it is important for them to calve on their own.
“We calve our heifers out to the extent we can – don’t get me wrong, we keep our eyes on things, but we want them to do it as much on their own as possible,” Pat says. “I made up my mind quite a few years ago that a cow ought to know more about having a calf than I do.”
Nonconventional cattle production
In 1994, Pat and Jo Ann started retaining ownership of calves and feeding cattle out. They spay heifers to run as yearlings and have the option of selling or retaining ownership through slaughter.
“Due to the nature of how we got started, we’ve had to do some things in a fairly non-traditional way,” Pat shares. “We’ve wintered cows on cornstalks since the early ’90s, as it was a place foracowtobeinthewin- tertime and we didn’t have any other place.”
Pat and Jo Ann have fed out cattle with the same feeder in Henry, Neb. since the beginning, and continue to winter cattle on cornstalks based on the same relationship build in the early ’90s. The Wade’s operation as they know it today was shaped throughout the years by necessity, and their strong relationships continue to prove successful.
Success based on faith and support
As Pat and Jo Ann reflected on the years leading to their many stories of success, they share it is possible to get started in agriculture.
“There are so many people who say getting into ranching can’t be done now, and it can be done,” Pat says, noting he grew up on a leased ranch. He also shares they have many friends who are starting out the same way. “We started out with not much at all, but we have been very blessed.”
Jo Ann adds her mother and father are still running their own operation well into their 80s. “There is going to be a lot of work,” she says. “But, as Pat says, we are blessed.”
“We have had the support of so many good people here,” Pat notes. “Niobrara County is a great address to have.”
Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to roundup@ wylr.net.