Never ask a man the size of his spread

Suzanne Sturtevant, a state park supervisor, made this interesting comment on the Eagles & Agriculture tour of Carson Valley. Sturtevant was inferring that asking a rancher how many cattle he runs is like asking him how much money he has in the bank.

Sturtevant was talking to a group of people who had climbed out of a tour bus outside ranch headquarters of the Dangberg Home Ranch on Highway 88, just south of town. The Home Ranch, a state park, to be opened someday to the curious general public has history of the Dangberg settler family's businesses and ranching operations in Carson Valley.

The Park Cattle Co. owns the land surrounding the Dangberg headquarters and is actively running cattle on it. It was a pleasure to be a guest on their property while Suzanne, and Dennis Jensen, the cattle manager for the Park Cattle Co. talked about cows and ranching.

There were five stops on the 2007 Eagles & Ag tour, Settelmeyer Ranch, Galeppi (Byington) Ranch, Home/Park Cattle company ranch, Heise Land and Cattle (Clarence Burr) ranch and Mack Land and Livestock (Renee Mack) ranch. I was a tour bus guide accompanying a certified bird expert and a group of individuals who were curious enough about agriculture and raptors in Carson Valley that they paid money to be driven from ranch to ranch to visit with the owners and/or ranch managers to observe and ask questions.

Some questions fielded as an agriculture guide were about how many large ranches are there in Carson Valley and what are they planning? My uncertified answer was 30 or so depending on what you call large, a hundred acres or hundreds of acres and what the long term plans for these ranches are, are usually decided by others with little inquiry with the ranchers.

Why do cows calve now? Some ranchers breed their cows to calve now, in the cold, to keep insect pests to a minimum, and then when the calves are a few months old and interested in eating grass, spring grass will be growing along with them giving the maximum benefit. Some ranchers breed cows to calve in the Fall to get size on the calves before shipping them to ranches out of the area when snow comes. Some ranchers try planning births and sales of animals to take advantage of the summer barbecue season (higher meat prices). Others simply sell their animals when the grass gets short and the animals need to be in a feedlot for more gain.

Is there a lot of pressure on ranchers to sell? Yes. But it is not about wanting to build-out land.

You consider selling if there is no one to take over your operation who likes hard, dirty work, little pay, and long hours yet bright enough to fix or doctor anything mechanical, electrical, vegetable, mineral or animal. Anyone who is well versed in water law, government regulations, tax law, financial planning, community development, agronomy, veterinary and heavy machinery operations can find better pay almost any where else than on a family run cattle ranch. But balancing that sell pressure is trying to imagine finding better work any other place than your own ranching operation.

Eagles & Agriculture Tour Carson Valley is well worth taking for the interesting questions alone.

-- Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley cattle rancher.


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