Wyoming women of agriculture: Retired teacher and longtime sheep and cattle rancher shares her story of success
Lusk – Kathleen Johnson, a successful sheep and cattle rancher in northern Niobrara County has been involved with the ranch- ing industry since she could walk. Growing up on her father’s ranch in Albany County, the Hall Ranch, Kathleen learned about animal husbandry from a young age.
“I fed the bum lambs when I was three years old,” says Kathleen. “If you were able to get around and walk, you always had a job.”
Helping her father on the ranch in her younger years inspired her to continue with the ranching lifestyle. Ranching and teaching youth about livestock and ranching has been all she has known, Kathleen shares.
Ranching lifestyle and livestock attributes
Throughout Kathleen’s life, she has been heavily involved in the ranching community, raising commercial Angus cattle and Columbia sheep. Kathleen doesn’t purchase any replacement animals, but focuses on raising quality livestock that have adapted to Wyoming’s harsh conditions to keep as replacements.
“If you’re going to ranch, you might as well use the livestock that has adapted to the environment,” she says.
An important attribute of Kathleen’s livestock is uniformity and hardiness.
“Producers want their livestock to be uniform and look alike,” she explains, noting she appreciates the uniformity and hardiness of her Black Angus herd. “My cattle are good survivors in the kind of environment I’m ranching in.”
“Her cows are not babied,” says Buttons York, Kathleen’s daughter. She says first-calf heifers receive special care during calving season, but mature cows are expected to perform as good mothers. “All of my mother’s cows calve out in a four section pasture by themselves. They have to survive and mother their calves.”
Kathleen has three children – Buttons York of Lusk, Katie Smith of Gillette and R.J. Jackson of Rozet. Buttons has a particular interest in continuing with the ranching lifestyle and raises registered Angus bulls alongside her mom.
“I’ve really enjoyed my life in production agriculture,” Kathleen says. “At my age, I can’t work very hard anymore so I have to rely on the younger folks in my family or others to do the daily work.”
Several of her grandchildren have an interest in ranching and help out when they can. Elly Wurdeman, Odessa Mathias and Laramie Seymour are several of Kathleen’s grandchildren who help with the ranching operation.
In addition to her family, there are several young neighboring ranchers who help out on Kathleen’s ranch, including Dakota Forkner, Colt and Blake Travnicek, Jeremy Faye and Cheyenne Seymour, who is Laramie’s husband.
Ranching duties include, but are not limited to, day work and riding health checks on calves. Without their help, Kathleen says it would be tough.
Community involvement and overcoming obstacles
Giving back to the younger generation is impor- tant to Kathleen, and she has been continually exploring opportunities that will allow her to do so.
“I have previously done estate planning work, but I’m also looking at my operation and trying to find some ways to help the next generation of agricultural producers involved,” she shares.
Kathleen enjoys support- ing 4-H programs and purchases livestock at the Niobrara County Junior Livestock Sale where youth exhibitors sell their steers, goats, lambs and chickens.
Living a ranching lifestyle has not always been easy for Kathleen and her family. For many years, Kathleen taught school in Saratoga, Laramie and Wheatland to make ends meet while ranching.
“It’s been my experience in life that droughts and blizzards are challenging, but survivable,” says Kathleen. “It’s the skyrocketing inflation, fuel prices and politicians that make life really hard for farmers and ranchers.”
“Some politicians’ policies tend to really cause harm for agriculturists, to a point where we can’t recover or makes it extremely difficult for us to recover,” she adds.
Fishing in free time
When Kathleen was not busy with her duties being a wife to her late husband, Dick Jackson, mom to her three children, grade school teacher and a sheep and cattle rancher, one could find her in a river with a dry fly rod.
“We lived close to the Laramie River,” she shares. “When I was little, I fished in the creek, and of course those fish went to the house for dinner.”
Throughout her lifetime, she has been a near world class fly fisherman, adds Buttons. Today, it would be a bit difficult for the 90-year-old woman to go fly fishing, but if there is a will, there is always a way, Button notes.
“You have to get a chair to sit in,” jokes Kathleen. “So, you can fly fish out of your chair. You have to get the correct fly sitting on top of the water so the fish will bite at it and you can catch him.”
If there are grey and tan flies or millers sitting on top of the water, she suggests using a grey or tan dry fly of the right size in order to catch a fish.
Success takes a lot of practice with not only fly fishing, but in ranching as well, she adds.
Advice for future generations
There are a lot of opportunities, experiences and life lessons that come with ranching. It takes a lot of time, effort and hard work, but Kathleen’s biggest piece of advice, above all, is to go to school and get an education.
“I’m glad that I was a rancher and didn’t do anything else,” she concludes.
“If you make a mistake along the way, it’s okay, but you just have to make another decision to correct it.”
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.