Lonetree Ranch was originally founded by the Wadsworth Family in 1918 and was one of the largest cattle operations in the Cowboy State in the early 1900s.
Photos and interview by Sam Raetz.
Tell us a little bit about Lonetree Ranch: In 2009, my family purchased the ranch. We’re located in Southwest Wyoming, up against the Uinta Mountains. We run cattle in the high country and mountain ground in the summer, and down in the valley along the Henry’s Fork River during the rest of the year. The ranch has wetland, arid desert, and traditional mountain terrain. We run primarily Angus cattle in a commercial herd, made up of mother cows, their offspring, and young steers. The ranch consists of over 30,000 acres of land.
What’s the typical day like for you and your staff during the busier days of the year?
Our days vary with the season. We try to ranch in sync with Mother Nature, so days in summer are long and busy from dawn until dusk taking care of the cattle grazing growing grass in high country pasture. We host a lot of friends and family during the summer; we enjoy seeing the ranch through their eyes. In the fall we are preparing for winter. We wean our calves, check out mothers cows to see if they are pregnant, fix fence, and watch the wildlife that begins to migrate through our area. During the short and cold days of Wyoming winter, we feed cows and do most of our business planning for the year. Regardless of the season, we start early. I like to work early in the morning and try to do a little office work and run my team of cattle dogs before the kids get up. We have two little girls and they keep all of us on our toes and busy. Once the day gets going, we focus on operational activities such as moving cattle, monitoring grasslands, cooking meals, going over annual plans, and paying bills. A big difference between ranching and other professions is it’s not only our job, but our home, hobby, gym and creative outlet. I try to make time and recognize each of those in my day to day even if I don’t leave the property for weeks at a time.
What’s Rural Southwest Wyoming like?
Living in a rural community is a very unique experience. We really cherish the open space and being able to live in sync with Mother Nature. It’s really a privilege to live in a time where can live where we do and connect via technology with friends and family around the country. Ranching today is quite different than what it was a hundred years ago. Sometimes I wonder if I would be cut out to be a rancher pre-technology. *laughs* Amazon Prime really helps.
What are some people’s biggest misconceptions about cattle ranching?
I believe the life cycle of cattle and the beef production chain are not well understood. Most beef cattle spend the majority of their life on range contributing to the ecosystem that has evolved for a long time with grazing animals. When grazed appropriately Cattle replicate how large herds grazed before them, helping to maintain regenerative grasslands.
Why is it important that consumers know where their food comes from?
Consumers can vote by how we chose to spend our money. The food system that we’ve created in the U.S. makes it really easy for people to have access to all kinds of food regardless of the season. For example, in tiny Southwest Wyoming in the middle of nowhere, I can drive less than 45 minutes and get a coconut or kiwi. The system that has allowed us to have access to goods otherwise inaccessible has put a handful of middle-men between the people that grow our food. When you begin to look further into how or where something comes from, we’re able to support the people and ethics that we value with our money. When we purchase beef, vegetables, or anything that is traditionally or locally sourced, we are voting for people that are producing a product that is aligned with our beliefs.
Can you talk a little bit about how you use dogs to work the cattle?
We use a particular breed of dogs called Australian Kelpies. The breed is primarily a sheep line dog originated from the Australian Outback. Kelpies are heading dogs, which means they move cattle from their face, rather than a heel dog. Because of the face-to-face interaction, they are able to move cattle with their brain rather than with force. Kelpies instinctively understand a system of pressure and release, allowing them to communicate with the livestock using a common language, which lets them handle cattle with low levels of stress on the cattle rather than biting or other violence. I lived in Australia for awhile, where I was exposed to this kind of dog. I became curious about their progressive technique and learned everything I could about them. When I moved back to the United States, I brought a team of dogs with me. Everyone on the ranch has adopted using Kelpies when working with the cattle because it allows us to move a lot of cows with very few people. Not only does it help the ranch hire less cowboys, but it’s a safer method for our cattle. Our Kelpie’s are instinctually connected to the cattle and sometimes humans can be counterintuitive.
There’s been a recent surge in efforts to mitigate the environmental impacts of beef production how are you working to increase/achieve sustainability on your own ranch?
Caring for the land in a way that allows for agricultural production but also a healthy ecosystem for wildlife is fundamentally our purpose. In order to care for the land in the best way, we use our cattle as a tool to graze the land and mirror what bison, elk, antelope, and other animals have done for the land both past and present. Everything we do starts with soil. To keep the soil covered with plant matter and healthy, animals must graze it in a particular way.
What’s your favorite part about being a rancher?
Being connected to nature as a livelihood. I’ve developed a profound respect for how fast life can change and because of that, I’m more grateful for each day.