Embracing Change: PH Livestock strives to continually improve and provide for future generations
Niels Hansen and his sister Anna Helm own PH Livestock, located near Rawlins, and his son John and fiancé Tawsha Lubbers manage the ranch. Niels’ wife Barbara, his daughter Stephanie Irvine, son-in-law Reese Irvine and niece Heidi Helm all help out on the ranch.
The Hansen family has a long legacy of ranching in Carbon County.
“Our family emigrated over from Denmark in the 1890s,” says Niels. “Two brothers in Rawlins were ranching at the time. My father came over and went to work for one of the ranches, and that’s the ranch we are on now.”
“The ranch came together in 1899, originally starting out as raising remounts for the cavalry,” says John. “We transitioned into sheep and then started mixing in cattle. In 1984, my dad sold the sheep, and now we are cow/calf and yearling stockers.”
Niels acknowledges the many changes the ranch has experienced over his lifetime. He says the value of horses fell in the 1940s because the military stopped using them.
“Because there was no market for horses, our ranch added a cowherd and kept the sheep operation going as we moved along,” Niels says.
Eventually, the sheep market dropped and it became increasingly difficult to fend off predators.
“We moved out of the sheep operation and went to running yearling cattle together with our cowherd,” Niels says.
The ranch also evolved due to changes in weather.
“Years ago, before my time, the family raised hay, but in the 1950s, my dad discontinued raising hay because we were already getting to a point where the water was too unpredictable, so they dropped that part of the ranch,” Niels says.
Checkerboard land management
Many Carbon County ranches are intermingled with government-owned land creating a checkerboard effect.
“Political changes makes projects in these intermingled checkerboard lands pretty challenging to get through,” John says. “It’s a different challenge, and this is what makes ranching in Carbon County a lot different than the rest of the state.”
“We are grateful for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Rawlins Field Office,” he adds. “They have a really great staff we couldn’t live without.”
Improving the land
In 2000, the ranch received the BLM Rangeland Management Stewardship Award, and was co-winner of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) Stewardship Award in 2004. Niels acknowledges ranchers give back to the land through their everyday operations.
“In my mind, everything ranchers do is conservation,” he says.
PH Livestock focuses much of their attention towards water management projects.
“We have a really aggressive water development program going on,” Niels says. “Especially now with these extended dry years, we are drilling water wells every year and adding more and more pipeline to disperse the water we have. When possible, we tie all of these different wells into the pipeline system so if one well goes down, the system continues to work while we get it repaired.”
Niels also says they’ve done a lot of sage brush and range treatments to improve sage grouse habitat and production on the land.
“The brush is getting too big and dense, so we have treated a lot of ground and thinned the brush and improved everything,” he says.
John plans to maintain current conservation practices and develop more in the future.
“It’s always been ingrained into me if you don’t take care of the ground, the ground can’t take care of you,” he says.
PH Livestock also offers diverse hunting programs. Antelope, elk and mule deer can be found on the allotments.
“We run on seven BLM allotments, all of them inside the checkerboards,” says Niels.
Niels says they struggled with a high volume of hunters coming onto the land and being destructive, so they needed to control the numbers.
“We work with a local outfitter on one allotment so we can generate a little more income,” he says.
The outfitter also works with Holy Pursuit’s Dream Foundation, which provides hunting trips to children who have or have previously had a life threatening illness or disease at no cost to their families.
They also work with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) to manage hunters.
“On the allotment west of Wamsutter, we worked with the WGFD to put in a hunter management program, so the WGFD does the patrolling and they handle the permits to access it,” says Niels. “We work with the WGFD to develop the rules for the ranch and set the number of licenses for each species we will issue during the year.”
The rest of the ranch is open free of charge to hunters with written permission.
Niels has been active in many organizations impacting Western ranchers. He has served as chairman of the Wyoming State Grazing Board, president of the WSGA and president of the Public Lands Council.
“In the early 90s, with politics at the time, my wife and I decided we needed to get more involved on the issues, so since the early 90s, I’ve spent much of my time working through these issues trying to stabilize the industry so the next generation has the opportunity to get in the industry if they so choose,” says Niels.
Niels is in the process of transitioning the ranch to John.
“My goal is to help John make any conversions he wants to make and to help him move forward,” says Niels.
John has wanted to manage the ranch for as long as he can remember.
“I love being out in the country and working with animals,” he says.
“We want to stay economically viable, take care of the ground and always try to constantly improve it, which is challenging with as dry as we are,” adds John. “We want to constantly be changing our systems and rotations and improving every day.”
Kaitlyn Root is an editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.