Bard Ranch Company: From humble roots, Johnston family continues expanding ranching empire
In the early 1940s, Eldon Johnston established Bard Ranch Company with money he made by hauling fuel during the war through his trucking company, Johnston Fuel Liners. After saving enough money, Eldon bought his first ranch, which is still owned and operated by Eldon’s descendants, although the place may be slightly unrecognizable from its humble beginnings.
Today, Bard Ranch Company, headquartered in Wheatland along Chugwater Creek, is an incredibly diverse operation comprised of a vast stretch of land sprawling across Platte, Albany and Goshen counties. The ranch includes a cow/calf herd, a summer yearling operation, a feedlot and irrigated farm ground.
Building an empire
The Bard Ranch Company is currently owned and operated by Eldon’s son Mike Johnston, his daughter Amy Miller and his son-in-law Brandin Miller.
Amy explains after attending college at the University of Wyoming, Mike returned home to help Eldon on the ranch, and over the course of several years the pair expanded the operation by purchasing ranch and farm land in Platte and Albany counties.
“My granddad was the first person in this part of the country to dig a deep irrigation well,” Amy notes. “After digging his first well and hitting water, he purchased more farmland and continued developing the water. Obviously, without water, we wouldn’t be nearly as productive as we are today.”
Without the hard work and determination of Eldon in those early days, the Bard Ranch Company wouldn’t be what it is today – a very successful and diverse ranching and farming operation.
Amy explains the family expanded operations and presently run a Black and Red Angus cow/calf herd operation on their ranch in Platte and Goshen counties, a summer yearling operation on their ranch in northern Albany County and a 3,500-head grower feedlot in Platte County, where they mainly feed out customers’ cattle.
“On the summer yearling operation, we ship cattle to the ranch in late May and the cattle graze irrigated meadows and mountain pastures until September when they are sold and shipped to a feedlot to be finished,” she shares.
“At the feedlot, we have customers bring us calves in the fall. We feed and care for them until about May, or June when the cattle go to summer grass, or the heifers are artificially inseminated here and then shipped home to their owners,” she continues
Additionally, Amy says the main ranch and farm are located in Platte County, east of Wheatland. Here, the family utilizes center pivots and flood irrigation to raise grass hay, alfalfa hay and grass/alfalfa hybrid hay.
“Over the years, we have put large pipelines in where ditches became too deep and hard to keep dams set in. It has made flood irrigating so much easier and more effective,” Amy says.
“We utilize a lot of the hay we raise, but sell a considerable amount to other ranchers and people in the community as well,” she continues. “We sell high-testing hay to an Amish community in Iowa.”
In addition to hay, the Johnston family also raises corn silage to use in the feedlot, combine corn they sell or use, sugarbeets, wheat and pinto beans. In the fall, the family plants turnips and triticale on farmland for winter grazing.
“Cows and calves are turned out on irrigated pastures along Chugwater Creek during winter months. We feed cake to the cows to supplement them through the winter while they mainly graze the meadows,” Amy explains. “We are lucky to only have to feed hay to cows during storms as the irrigated meadows provide adequate feed all winter.”
Success, lifestyle, education
Like any ranching business, Amy says being successful is a high priority for Bard Ranch Company, although ranching is so much more than success.
“The lifestyle is what I really enjoy,” she says. “It is the hopes and dreams that come with every year, whether it is a baby calf being born and trying to produce the best market animal to the consumers or planting seeds to raise corn, hay or wheat to feed animals and people around the world.”
“It is so important to educate ourselves, our neighbors and the world about agriculture,” she continues. “Having younger children gives us an opportunity to educate their friends, teachers and communities whenever we can. My goal is to make Bard Ranch Company successful enough my children can raise their children here, and so on.”
Amy believes it is also important for producers to serve on boards and volunteer time to help out in local communities. In fact, she currently serves on the Farm Service Agency Platte County Committee, Wheatland Rural Electric Association, Platte County Weed and Pest Board and the advisory committee in Platte County for the State Engineer Office’s Board of Control.
“If we don’t take the time to sit on boards, someone else will, and they may have different views or ideas for our communities and land,” she states.
She also highly recommends joining the Wyoming Leadership, Education and Development (L.E.A.D.) Program.
“I was a member of class seven of the Wyoming L.E.A.D. Program, and I highly recommend this two-year class through the Wyoming Agricultural Leadership Council to any person in the agricultural community,” she says. “It offers individuals a way to meet many different people across the state and the nation. The program provides ideas, contacts and confidence to talk about and support agriculture.”
Although ranching comes with a long list of challenges, Amy reiterates her love and pride for the ranching way of life.
When asked about an accomplishment she is most proud of, she says, “I am just proud to be a rancher.”
She further notes it is important to stay hopeful when things start to get tough.
She says, “For me, it is the hope and dream of continuing a legacy started way before my time – I want to keep it going for future generations, and that is what keeps me going when things get tough. Everything can be hard. We just have to enjoy what we are doing and have a good attitude.”
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.