We searched for our next Servas host, Kari, who said that we couldn’t miss her 1800 acre cattle ranch. But even with our GPS, we got confused and ended up in a bentonite quarry owned by Halliburton.
The bentonite workers laughed and stopped what they were doing. Realizing we wouldn’t get out on our own, they led us to where Kari had been waiting. Bentonite is a kind of absorbent clay formed by the breakdown of volcanic ash that is used especially as a filler as in kitty litter. Halliburton, however, probably makes other use of it.
The area is very familiar to Kari, who has lived on her ranch since 1942. Recently, she lost her husband of 58 years in a tragic farm accident. He had often taken Servas guests up in his plane, which he used to oversee the livestock on the ranch. Kari doesn’t do that, but we enjoyed our stay–and she served us great beef, of course, wonderful vegetables like corn and green beans freshly picked from her garden, and even home-churned yummy ice cream! I ate bacon for the first time in about six years. It was delicious!
Barry and I had never been on a cattle ranch. We learned that the farm relies on dogs–energetic and intelligent border collies–to work the cattle. Caleb, Kari’s grandson who lives on the land and works the farm, says a good dog is worth three men.
We got to go with Caleb to pick up a backhoe. He had used it to put out a fire on the land–and an example of the variety of work that needs to be done on a ranch.
Asking him about ranch life, we learned several interesting facts. His grandparents’ ranch had been for cattle and sheep “until the two-legged and four-legged critters” put them out of the sheep business. The two-legged thieves had the biggest impact. With the advent of trailers (who remembers when we didn’t have them?), it is very easy for someone to come in the night and roundup a whole trailer full of sheep and drive them to the other side of the Missouri River (about 240 miles ) where no one checks on the brands. One time, the investigator the family had hired was at a sheep auction and spotted the family’s sheep. When the sheriff was called, he did nothing. It’s easy to re-brand sheep. Just rubbing a little dirt into a freshly painted-on brand makes it looks genuine. So the sheep are gone. Now, the ranch is for cattle.
The ranch land is wide open spaces with little vegetation. It takes about 20 acres of eastern Wyoming range to pasture a single head of cattle. The family runs about 800 head of cattle along the Belle Fourche River to Devil’s Tower. Most of the land is not suitable for agriculture. We vegetarians say that land should be used for planting in order to feed more people. However, the reality is that crops would not grow here without a lot of fertilizer and irrigation. On this ranch, the cattle get to be wide open spaces — at least until they are sent to the feedlots. Keri, her daughter Roxie, grandson Caleb, his dad, and brother all have constant work and challenges to make the ranch survive.
We liked the food and the company. Kari is great at telling stories and gives colorful descriptions. In commenting on a biker couple that she had seen at her church fundraiser breakfast during the Harley-Davidson annual rally in Sturgis, Kari said the man was huge and the woman very tinsy tiny with lots of piercings and tattoos. “She probably likes to dust knickknacks” was Kari’s conclusion.
Caleb talked about corn that is being processed into ethanol. He and his dad, Jim, figure from the time of planting the corn to delivery that it takes about one-and-a-half gallon of oil to produce 1 gallon of ethanol. Ethanol, Caleb says, also wrecks havoc on small engines.
In other information for us, Caleb says farmers have a new way of planting in soil that at one time had been tilled. Farmers first spray Roundup, the best-selling herbicide (made by Monsanto)– on everything in a field. The farmers are then to wait a week although Caleb knows farmers who say that isn’t necessary. Then a new kind of seeder goes over the field on which everything has been killed. With no tilling involved, the machine punches appropriately spaced holes and drops a seed into each hole. Such a method avoids topsoil being blown away, which is good. I do wonder, however, about how the Roundup can be prevented from seeping into the water table. Aren’t some things killed in the soil important for the growing plants? Then, of course, is the question of toxic exposure. Caleb says he’s worked with pesticides and herbicides all his life, and he doesn’t glow in the dark or anything like that–at least not yet.
As for the benetine quarry, Caleb says once the mining is done, the mining company puts the land back better than it was. The mine pays the farmer for the minerals and the trespassing rights and builds roads. However, Caleb’s family had to fight Halliburton to buy a 40 acre piece that is surrounded by the family’s land. The family didn’t want the mining company to sell that 40 acres to some strange outsider.
Recently, we heard from Kari. She says this year her garden with lots of pears, apples, and raspberries as well as many vegetables was kept varmint and bird free. The extremely dry fall resulted in sickness and death of weaned calves and deer. Elk proliferated, so all the hunters were able fill their quota.
At 79, Kari is still going strong working on her ranch, holding major leadership roles at her church, and doing bookkeeping for the irrigation district. Also Kari is now a great, great gandmother for the second time. She knows she is truly blessed.
She would, however, love if her grandsons would get married. We can vouch for Caleb–he’s 28, a handsome and very hard-working guy. Do you know someone who would like ranch life and wants to meet him? A match would make his grandmother very happy. Let me know. We enjoyed our visit.
As Barry and I drove away from the ranch land, we stopped at a Unico station in Belle Fourche where we got 18.12 gallons in our 19 gallon tank (since gas stations are few). In the restroom, graffiti noted,
“Good morning, Beautiful
May you have a blessed day.
You never know where you’ll find a message from God. However, the land is beautiful and the people interesting and kind, so I shouldn’t have been surprised.