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2017 Fall Cattlemen's Edition

Sundance – Generations upon generations of the ranching communities still hold a true place in the open state, one in particular locating on the outskirts of Sundance.

Wayne Garman, partner of the Rafter H Cattle Ranch, grew up in the ranching business and fulfills the lifestyle every day.

Early passions

Beginning after high school, Garman began working for his neighbor’s ranch before attending Chadron State College in Chadron, Neb. With a different idea of what he wanted to do in life, Garman took a major in criminal justice and even worked for the Chadron campus police, he says.

However, after experiencing a pick-up wreck in high school and losing his hearing in one ear, Garman believed that such a career path wasn’t meant for him.

“I knew it would be difficult to pursue that program,” Garman says.

After two years in Nebraska and coming home to work on the ranch during his free time, Garman set out to earn a degree in agricultural business from the University of Wyoming. Gaining the knowledge of business gave Garman and his brother Ross the ability to partner together and lease not only their mother’s but also their neighbor’s land.

Running cattle

“We are currently running 300 commercial cows on this leased land,” Garman says.

Though the Garman’s father first started with the Hereford breed when owning Miller Creek Herefords, Rafter H Cattle is predominantly Angus and black baldy based, he says.

With land being hard to come by in terms of purchasing in Crook County, Garman and his brother knew they had to use their leased land to their advantage, running cows and crop rotation.

“We use a crop rotation of hay and grass,” Garman said.

Each year the ranch puts up hay for the winter season, depending on rain to help grow the crop each year. With Wyoming’s climate being dramatic from day-to-day, the ranch tries to use all their resources and other purchases of hay to maintain their herd.

Ranching for the life

Just like anyone would express why they would want to or do stay in the ranching business, Garman believes that he is good at what he does and really enjoys the lifestyle.

“If we do something we like, we never work a day in our lives,” Garman says.

Enjoying such lifestyle, Garman talks about being with the nature around him. One of his favorite parts is riding on horseback during a fall day gathering cows. The scenery and the job he is doing just can’t compare to anything else, Garman says.

Even with the hardships of the unpredictable weather and cattle prices, Garman believes that this is the way of life he was meant for.

Ranching toward the future

As technology reaches strides in agriculture, he states that his ranching techniques are better than ever.

“I now can sit in a tractor, and it does everything itself,” Garman says.

However, a rancher wouldn’t be successful without the help and pride from his wife and family. Dixie, Garman’s wife, is a stay-at-home mother and the rancher’s right hand, helping whenever needed and taking care of the family.

Garman’s daughter, Peggy Sue, is a graduate from Casper College where she competed on the rodeo team. Just like her father, Peggy Sue grew up helping around the ranch and even has a few cows of her own.

“I gave Peggy her first cow when she was one. I wanted to build something for her to use later in life, either for college or such,” Garman says.

Peggy Sue was also active in 4-H with horses and cattle projects.

Related work

Garman’s main job might be an active rancher but also participates in other agriculture activities. In 1996, Garman became extremely active in the conservation district, and he now serves as part of the Crook County Natural Resources District and Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts.

There might be better ways to make money, but successful ranching wouldn’t make it without conservation to help, Garman says.

He is also a proud member and zone warden of the local volunteer fire department.

“A lot of people lose sight of the importance that the volunteer fire department plays for the community,” Garman says. “Our responsibility is crucial when living in this environment.”

In year’s past, Garman also became a hunting guide for a local outfitter, but with a ranch to take care of, he closed that chapter to his life and now hunts for fun. When he isn’t ranching or doing other hobbies, Garman is also a ringman on the side for a friend’s auctioneer company.

As Garman and his family look into the future of their ranch and leases, they see themselves continuing with the ranching lifestyle in Sundance. No matter if the legacy of the ranch will be passed to the next generation of Garman and brother Ross’s children or not, the brothers and partners will always be true to their cattlemen roots. 

Jessica Middleswarth is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. She is a student at Oklahoma State University and is from Torrington. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Moorcroft – Dennis Williams is the son of a homesteader-turned-cowboy, and it was always his dream to own a ranch.

“My dad homesteaded, but he was one of the ones who didn’t make it because 320 acres wasn’t enough,” Dennis says. “He wound up working for a lot of ranches.”

“Dad taught me how to really ride and break a wild horse,” he continues. “They called dad Wild Horse Charlie, and he could do anything from a horse. He taught me everything I know about riding.”

In his early years, Dennis worked on ranches in Crook County, crediting Wenande Land and Livestock and the Robinson family for teaching him much of what he uses on the ranch today.

Early years

Dennis married his wife Grace in 1975.

“Grace worked as a school teacher, and I worked on ranches when we first started,” Dennis says. “We got this place in 1985. We started with 23 acres, and we’ve really grown since then.”

Grace comments, “I kept saying that this dream was possible.”

When they started, Dennis notes that they acquired a herd of Targhee sheep from Wenande Land and Livestock to get them started

“That family taught me everything I know about running sheep,” Dennis says. “He treated me really great.”

  Dennis saved back all the ewes each year to continue to build the herd over time.

At the same time, he had the chance to lease a few parcels of land, and they continued to build the sheep operation. When land was available, they bought it or leased more to continue to grow.

The land around Moorcroft is good sheep country, says Dennis, noting that they deal with the challenges in the area and still maintain high production.

“We strive for 110 percent lamb crop, and usually we can hit that,” he comments. “Sheep markets have also treated us well. We can get a check from the wool and from the lambs, which helps us out.”

Even in years when grass is limited, Dennis says the sheep do well, eating sagebrush and surviving on less than would be required to feed cattle.

“We use Great Pyrenees dogs in our sheep, and they do a good job keeping the coyotes out,” he explains. “We’ve tried everything, but the guard dogs are really amazing. They work well for us.”

Adding cattle

“Sheep have paid for two ranches, but when the cattle market was so good, we added a few cows to this place,” Dennis says. “We built the cattle operation in 1990.”

He continues, “Back in those days, the sheep market was a little sluggish, so I thought we should diversify a little bit.”

Today, they run 600 cow/calf pairs, plus yearling cattle.

In addition to further growing the operation, Dennis explains that cattle and sheep work well together, and they can run cattle in areas where coyotes cause severe depredation of the sheep herd.

“A balance of sheep and cattle really works well,” he says.

Continuing to grow, change

The Williams family is always looking for an opportunity to grow and change to improve the operation.

“Last year, one of our neighbor’s hair sheep got in with a few of our ewes,” Dennis says as an example. “We had about 20 lambs born in March that were a Targhee cross, and they grew really well.”

When the sheep went to market at the end of summer, Dennis says they saw a profit, so this year, they’re going to continue using the cross.

“It started as an accident, but we found a niche market that gave us a little more per head,” he explains. “We’re going to try is again this year.”

Hay land

When Chase returned to the ranch, he took a special interest in the farming aspect of the operation.

“When I got home from college, I wanted to farm,” Chase says. “I thought if we could farm, we’d get 100 percent of the hay, instead of sharecropping with someone else.”

As a result, he’s pushed himself to convert 200 acres each year from pasture land and sagebrush to productive hay fields.

“People told me that it would take three years to make that transition,” he explains, “but I thought I could do it faster. I mow it, disc, then plant a cover crop the first year.”

Chase utilizes oats as his grain crop, and he says by shortening the transition from three years to one year, he can reduce weed infestations on the property.

“We can only run as many cattle as we have hay for, so we’ve got to raise a lot of hay,” he says.

“I have to hand it to my dad. He worked and built the ranch single-handedly,” Chase says. “When I came home, I wanted to contribute, and this is how I can do it.”

He comments, “I feel like we’re at the point now where we’re really going to start growing even more.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Alva – “You can be whatever you want to be, but you’ve got to go get it,” says Beth Reilly of the advice she gives her own four boys. “We can’t stand here and wait for someone to give it to us.”

It seems to be the advice by which Beth and her husband Pat live their own lives.

“Our great-grandfather homesteaded here in the late 1800s,” says Beth, whose maiden name is Mahoney. “We have a long history in this area.”

They first settled in the Centennial Valley between Spearfish and Deadwood, S.D. After coming to the Alva area to hunt because game was more plentiful there, the family decided to move that direction.

The family homesteaded and was able to purchase neighboring homesteads.

Bearlodge

“This little area is tucked along this side of the Bearlodge Mountains and gets as much snow as anywhere,” says Beth, “and the snow doesn’t come off until late. Being tucked in the trees here, we don’t get the wind, so it makes the most out of the 15 inches of moisture we receive annually.”

She continues, “Sometimes, it’s late to thaw here, and our crops are slower growing than those out on the prairie. But, we stay green, so the game stays here, and what makes for good game country makes for good cattle grazing.”

Raising cattle

Thompson Livestock out of South Dakota summers yearlings on the ranch.

“We have traditionally been a cow/calf operation, but just because grandpa and dad did something doesn’t mean it pencils out today,” says Beth.

The yearlings arrive in the spring and are shipped back out each September before hunting season gets into full swing. It’s an approach that saves the ranch having to ship in winter hay and the cattle are gone before hunting season gets into full swing.

“We don’t have much for fields,” says Beth. “There’s no way, if we’re fully stocked, that we can have enough hay to make it through the winter here.”

The ranch does have a small herd of cows and calves. The steer calves are fed out, either on grass or grain, and sold through the family’s custom beef business.

Guest ranching

Hosting hunters on the ranch is a 54-year legacy.

“Those first hunters still come,” says Beth, noting that one of the hunters reminds her that he’s been visiting the ranch since before she was born.

From the hunting, broader guest services were launched. With the buildings and infrastructure in place to host guests, Beth’s parents first began operating as a guest ranch in the 1970s for about a 10-year stint.

Pat and Beth have put that business back in full operation, hiring Kendra Meidinger to oversee the ranch’s guest services.

“We want to project a working cattle ranch and what that looks like today,” says Beth. “We have a rotational grazing program. We split about 1,000 head of yearlings into two groups. Every group is moved every 14 days onto fresh grass.”

“They’re in two groups so, if things work correctly, we’re moving a group every week. That works perfectly for the guests who all get in on a cattle drive,” Beth continues. “We make the point that we’re not just moving them for the guests but as a best management practice.”

Guests also have the option of accompanying the ranch crew when they’re haying, fencing and doctoring, which is done with a dart gun. None of the activities are required, but they are an available option for guests.

Tire tank business

Another business, which now employs five people full time, began on the ranch in the late 1970s, early 1980s with Beth’s father, Gerald Mahoney. She says her family jokingly refers to the time period as the “winter of burning rubber.”

Mahoney, tired of stock tanks that did not hold up, was trying to tear the top off of a large mining tire.

“I’m glad he kept working on it,” says Beth of the effort that resulted in Giant Rubber Water Tanks, “because it’s turned into a really good business.”

When Pat and Beth purchased the tank business from Gerald, he had already established a dealer network and sold tanks into quite a few areas but hadn’t pushed the business to its full potential.

The Reillys have grown the dealer network to 140 from all across the country and a branch business in Brazil.

Diamond Livery

It’s the water tank business that also led Beth to their latest venture, construction of a livery where the ranch meets Highway 24 between Alva and Hulett. It’s the same area where an Old West town, named Bear in tribute to the family that once homesteaded there, is being built.

The ranch also hosts trail rides from this area, catering to guests on their way to nearby Devils Tower National Park.

Summer 2017 resulted in unexpected rapid progress for Bear, which was being considered on a five-year plan following construction of the livery. Some historic buildings, many of which originated in Devils Tower National Park, became available.

Beth and Kendra jumped at the opportunity and are now searching for an old schoolhouse and a historic church to add to their Old West town. There will be a mercantile, a family-friendly saloon and the world’s largest tire swing, built in tribute to Giant Rubber Water Tanks.

Long-term, Bear is slated to become a host site for many activities including weddings and Sunday church services. RV hookups may be another option.

“Setting goals and having those things out there, stuff just falls in your lap if you’re forward planning and thinking,” says Beth. “And, that’s kind of been the way we have progressed. If we have the dreams and if we’re not scared to dream the dreams, then a lot of times the stuff just makes itself available to us.”

Jennifer Womack is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Carolina Noya lives a simple, yet peaceful, life. The Wyoming goat herder spends six months of the year out on the Wyoming prairie in a sheep wagon with a herd of goats, several guard dogs and Mother Nature for company.

Noya runs her business, Devils Tower Goats, herding goats through pastures while keeping a watchful eye on them as they gobble up leafy spurge and other noxious weeds.

Noxious weeds

The goats make a diet of the leafy spurge that plagues Crook County.

“Crook County is the capital of leafy spurge,” Noya jokes. “But the goats love it and are totally addicted to it. Over 90 percent of their diet is leafy spurge, and the other 10 percent is sage, pine trees, oak trees and any underbrush they can reach.”

“Basically, they utilize a plant like leafy spurge that is useless for grazing most animals and produce delicious meat from it. Leafy spurge is about 18 percent protein, so it is a healthy diet for goats,” she explains.

They will only consume grass if they are forced to, Noya continues.

“They really prefer broadleaf plants. They will also eat plants like thistle and Hounds Tongue. It is not something we can train them to do, though. It is something in their system that makes them really like it,” she says.

Noya shared a story from a few years ago when she took in 800 kid goats during the spring.

“They came from Texas when there was a drought, and they had never eaten anything green. We put them out on pasture, and within an hour or two, they had learned what spurge was and liked it. We don’t have to teach goats to eat spurge. They will go for it on their own.”

“When they are out of spurge, they will start looking for a hole in the fence and follow it to the neighbors,” she says.

Continuing effort

Although the goats can eventually eat themselves out of job, there will still be seeds in the ground, so the plant is still there, Noya explains.

“We usually try to graze each area of spurge three times, in the spring, fall and again the next spring. The goats can keep it under control, giving other grasses a chance to compete with it,” she says. “If the native grasses can come up, the spurge will not take over. Controlling spurge is not a quick fix. Grazing at different times than when we usually would can prevent it from going to seed and allow other grasses a chance to absorb the moisture to grow.”

During the winter, the goats are still on the job clearing up underbrush, pine trees and junipers.

“They really like it,” Noya explains. “The trees have tannin in them, which is a natural dewormer. We like to see them clear it as high as they can reach, so if we ever have a fire, it won’t burn as hot.”

“The goats can thin an area without hurting the trees. It allows more grass to grow since daylight can get in,” she explains.

Improving the land

Noya sees the goats as providing a service to improving the land.

“They aerate the soil with their feet, and they add organic fertilizer to the soil,” she says. “They can also graze in areas that a sprayer cannot get to.”

She continues, “Overall, they add life to the soil, rather than spraying, which can kill the bugs and microorganisms living in the soil. They can also eat under the trees, where we can’t spray.”

Noya has found ranchers in the area receptive to grazing their leafy spurge with goats because it is a good option.

“Spraying is costly. We can’t spray under trees or close to water, so there is still no guarantee it will get rid of all the weeds. I have been grateful to the ranchers who open up their gates and pastures and are willing to give the goats a try for weed control,” she says. “I’m not afraid to promote a goat.”

Managing goats

The key to grazing goats is management, Noya explains.

“I try to overgraze the weeds but not the grass,” she says. “If we can get the weeds under control, the ranchers can run more cows because they have more grass. When I go to someone’s ranch, I am with these goats day and night. I herd them all day and bed them down at night. If it is possible, I use electric fence to bed them down at night to make it a little easier for the guard dogs to keep predators out.”

Without the guard dogs, grazing goats would not be possible, she says.

“The biggest challenge is the predators,” Noya explains. “The dogs have to fight off mountain lions that sometimes trail the goats for weeks,” she says. “It is hard on the dogs, but it is hard on the herder, too. The dogs look at the goats as their responsibility, and they will do everything they can to protect them.”

As long as the herd stays together, Noya says it is much easier to protect the herd.

“When a goat lags behind or wanders off, they are more likely to be attacked,” she explains. “It is very hard when the mountain lion attacks one dog. They don’t stand a chance.”

The goats also love to travel and climb.

“If there is a big patch of spurge, they will graze for an hour or two, then bed down for a while. They walk as they eat taking a bite or two off a leaf, so I just circle them back. They need the exercise, and it’s how they like to graze,” she says.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Hulett – After 70 years in business and four generations having called the land home, Ista Ranch continues to have a youthful energy and a willingness to implement new ideas.

After marrying in 2008, Alan and Hannah Ista made the ranch their full-time home in 2012. Both had been working at the coalmines and helping at the ranch on their days off. The move from Gillette to Hulett meant a better life for their family including Emma, now 6, and her younger brother Bridger, 5.

The family joined Alan’s parents, Jerry and Judy, who have operated the ranch since Jerry’s dad, Ernest Ista, passed away in 1966.

Early beginnings

“My folks got married in 1937 and leased a place until 1947, and then, they bought 800 acres here,” says Jerry. “They expanded it in the 1960s, and that’s how we got started.”

When Ernest Ista first arrived in the Hulett area to work, it was the beginning of the Great Depression.

“During the 1930s,” recalls Jerry, “he said he earned a dollar a day and his room and board in the summer and just his room and board in the winter.”

Jerry’s mother Helena, who came to the area to teach school, earned $75 a month and taught until she and Ernest were married. At that time, married women weren’t allowed to teach.

Following graduation from Hulett High School, Jerry attended the University of Wyoming for a year and then transferred to Black Hills State University, where he played football.

While attending college, Jerry met Judy Mick, and they married in 1965. After teaching just two years in Buffalo, where Jerry started the wrestling program, the couple was faced with the decision of whether to return to the family ranch in Hulett or continue teaching.

Both Jerry and Judy are tremendously thankful for the path that they chose.

Growing and developing

Three times during the 1970s, Jerry and Judy purchased land and further added to the ranch’s holdings.

Alan and Hannah also added real estate to the ranch when they returned home. Alan also brought skills he’d developed earning an ag degree at Dickinson State University and later on a nine-month agricultural exchange to Australia.

In the mid-1980s, Jerry and Judy sold the cattle, so they would be free to attend the kids’ activities.

Looking back, Jerry laughs, “I thought I could be a farmer and sell wheat and grow hay in Crook County, but we needed something else and to be diversified.”

Rebuilding a cowherd

As the family rebuilt its cowherd with Black Angus genetics, they also altered their approach and moved to fall calving. Calving season at their ranch ends in August, and by mid-September, the calves are branded.

“We wean in February and sell a load of steer calves with late April to May delivery,” says Alan.

The calves sell on Superior, a place the Istas say they’ve found strong interest in their calves.

Marketing tools

They choose to participate in several programs, hoping to earn the attention of additional bidders. Their calves are certified all-natural with no hormones given.

Their calves are also Global Animal Partnership (GAP) certified, an endorsement pertaining to the way the cattle are handled. Jerry said that most of the practices outlined in GAP, such as table branding and not using a hot shot, were things they were already doing.

“We’ve got to keep good records,” says Jerry.

Sick calves, for example, can be treated with antibiotics and should be, but those calves must be marked and become ineligible for shipment with the all-natural calves.

“We use two calf tables,” says Hannah.

While one person bands and brands at one table, another person is giving vaccines at the other table, and then, they switch. It’s a set-up that she says adds efficiency to branding.

New this year, the ranch added a grassfed endorsement.

Because they supplement winter feed with peas and wheat hay, they weren’t sure they qualified. Peas, explains Jerry, aren’t considered a grain, but are a legume under the grassfed program standards. Wheat hay is within feeding guidelines so long as it is hayed before it gets to the bloom stage.

The family is looking forward to May to see if the endorsement further bolsters the interest in their calves.

Before growing field peas, they first tried soybeans and a few other crops. The deer liked some of the crops a little too well. Field peas, however, have worked well and can be fed using the grain tank on the EZRation bale processor that the family uses during the winter months.

The processor also allows for two bales of varying quality, such as the alfalfa and wheat hay the family raises, to be ground into a single windrow.

Family

Jerry and Judy’s daughters both live in eastern South Dakota with their families, and both are married to farmers. Sheila is married to Bob Berndt and is an elementary school teacher. Paula is a veterinarian, operating her own practice in Browns Valley, Minn. She’s married to Bryce Heinje.

While attending Colorado State University, Paula drew on the resources there and sent home corral plans that resulted in the present design. Pie-shaped with an alleyway along the perimeter, cattle worked in the corrals can be sorted one of six different directions. The alleyway feeds into a loading chute along the county road, ensuring access from the gravel during inclement weather.

As Alan and Hannah look to the future of the Ista Ranch, they hope to carry on the family’s ranching and farming traditions while keeping an eye on new opportunities and a desire to pass the ranch along to their own children.

Jennifer Womack is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..