By 5 a.m., my dad Tom can be found on the couch: pen, paper, calculator and notebook in one hand, a strong cup of coffee in the other. He steadfastly puts his ag economics degree to use, running the numbers on whatever latest idea he or another member of my family has come up with to survive the drought searing Eastern Wyoming this year.

As of mid July, Wyoming’s largest salebarn, Torrington Livestock Market, reported sales up 940% compared to normal. The barn typically sells about 3,500 head in May, and this year sold 18,500 head. Normal June marketings are about 1,800 head, but were over 17,000 head this year. To date, the barn is up about 32,000 head from a year ago.

My family operates a cow-calf and yearling operation in Niobrara County, a semi-arid region of the state that generally receives less than 12 in. of precipitation annually. In addition to our livestock operation, we own a hay- and cattle-hauling business, and a mobile record and document destruction business. I also do writing and photography work. All these additional businesses are based on the ranch, and, by 6 a.m., my dad’s figuring for the morning will be interrupted by a flood of phone calls from folks selling cattle and needing a truck, looking for hay, or wanting paper shredded. 

Family is top priority

Family is number one to us, and we all work together to make our multi-faceted operation work. As a family, we have discussed and identified a number of goals for our ranch, the topmost one being to pay it off, regardless of any challenges we face. Another objective in our outfit is to look for ways to positively change and grow, and to improve our efficiency; we see 2012 as a year that will certainly highlight areas in which we can improve.

During the region’s last dry streak, from 2000 to 2009, adding the hay- and livestock-hauling business was one way we paid for hauling our own feed. Grass is all we grow here, and my dad’s goal when he started trucking was to be able to haul enough for others to pay for the feed we suddenly had to haul for our own cows, and it did. That was huge for us.

Over time, dad built such a customer base that my brother Kyle joined the trucking business, which also enabled him to return to the family operation. In the 2011 hay-hauling season, they hauled 10,000 tons of hay, and roughly 60 loads of cattle for area ranchers. We project 2012 to be significantly busier.

My ability to do the daily ranch tasks means my dad and brother can quickly respond to their customers’ needs. That flexibility and diligence has built numerous relationships over the years that allow them to not only meet their customer’s feed needs, but our own this year, despite the drought and the fact that the 2011 hay reserve went to Texas.