Ag Involvement: Platte County banker continues passion for ranching
After growing up on a dairy farm on Highway 34 between Wheatland and Laramie, Keith Geis always knew he wanted to end up on a farm or ranch. As a kid, his parents raised 100 head of dairy cows and had 500 acres of irrigated row crops, which meant Keith was no stranger to long days and hard work at a young age.
After high school, Keith wanted to explore his options, so he went to the University of Wyoming where he received a degree in economics. After graduation, he took a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture before moving his career to banking.
Throughout his lifetime in the banking industry, Keith always kept one foot in agriculture.
“In the early 1980s, there was ‘Black Friday’ where the stock market crashed. I came home and told my wife Marie what we had lost in the downturn in the market, and I didn’t even have any fun losing that money. I thought I might as well buy some cows so I could enjoy gambling with my money,” Keith says with a laugh.
Keith says this moment was the catalyst which inspired him to get back into the production of commodities. He became a self-proclaimed weekend warrior, banking for 50 hours a week and ranching in the evenings and on the weekends.
“This was a really positive thing. I was experiencing the same challenges my customer base was experiencing. I could relate to them on a much more meaningful level,” says Keith. “It gave them the opportunity to ask, ‘Since you’re somewhat familiar with this, why don’t you give us a hand?’ And that was meaningful.”
He adds, “One of the best parts has been being willing and able to extend a helping hand with any agricultural operations I have done business with, it’s a big part of the enjoyment – building those meaningful relationships.”
Year-to-year operation, overcoming challenges
In the early 2000s, Keith and Marie bought a property on Laramie Peak, which now serves as headquarters for their operation. When asked about the terrain, Keith chortles and says its rough.
“It’s about 6,000 feet in elevation, and it has a lot of granite outcropping. About 25 to 30 percent of the landmass can’t grow grass. Where the grass can grow, it’s good, hard native grassland though,” says Keith. “This year is probably the driest year I’ve seen, a lot of the livestock water dried up. But, the cows still have a good body score, and quite frankly, I don’t know where they were finding the feed, but the calves did really well too.”
Keith and his family run black cows and Hereford bulls, and are very happy with the hybrid vigor they have achieved. During the winter, cattle are shipped down to Cottonwood Creek, east of Interstate 25, where Doug and Kent Brickman care for them through calving season.
Without the facilities for calving on Laramie Peak, Keith gladly goes down and helps the Brickmans with spring work before bringing the pairs back to the mountain in the summer.
Like many other ranchers across Wyoming, Keith voices accessibility to winter feed at reasonable prices is an ever-growing challenge. Southeast Wyoming is known for being a premier area for dairy hay production, most of which is sold outside of the state.
“It’s difficult to compete with this market for winter feed for cow/calf operators. It just isn’t economically feasible, and it doesn’t make economic sense. It is a challenge that is spiking for all of us,” explains Keith.
In spite of these economic challenges, Keith says there is no place he’d rather be than in the ag industry. Being surrounded with like-minded neighbors and business associates who be can trusted and depended on is something unique to the ag industry.
“The ranching industry works on a set of values one won’t find in a lot of businesses today. It’s a great industry to be involved in, and it’s also an industry that allows us to give back in a lot of different ways,” notes Keith.
“Most everybody in the industry recognizes this. One can find some real self-satisfaction in participating in an environment, which allows us to help other people. Ultimately, the ag industry will leave the world a better place than we found it,” he concludes.
Tressa Lawrence is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.