Good Life is Even Better on ”Park” Ranch
Robert Beasley, The Cooperative Consumer, Oct 31, 1961
Johnsons stand over the spillway from the Big Laramie River into the Pioneer Canal, which carries water to the Johnson Ranch.
If farming is a good life, Wesley Johnson’s style of farming, or ranching, must be the best life. Johnson doesn´t plant or cultivate or strain to harvest any crops. He doesn´t even own a plow.He can see some of America’s most beautiful scenery every time he glances from his home’s windows. The trout-filled Big Laramie River flows through his “back yard”.
Johnson’s “Park Ranch” is 20-some miles southwest of Laramie, Wyo. It gets its name from its many little tree-circled meadows or “parks” carpeted with native grasses. The parks are perfect winter quarters for cattle.The ranch straddles the Big Laramie where the river flows out from between mountains onto the Laramie plain. The Johnsons’ buildings and most of their land is on the river’s north bank. Some of the land is on the south bank, spread out across the first gentle rise towards the peak of Jelm mountain.
Johnson’s uncle bought the ranch back in 1878. When he died, it passed on to Johnson’s dad. And Wes Johnson bought the place in 1924; he moved on to it in 1927. He and his wife, Carol, and their son and his family operate the ranch now.Besides those grassy-floored “parks”, the ranch’s most important assets include a couple of “rights” – the right to take irrigation water from the Big Laramie River and a permit to graze cattle from June 16 to Oct. 1 in the mountainous Medicine Bow National Forest six miles from the ranch. The Irrigation rights were granted to the Johnsons back in 1879 and ’80. That makes them old enough to be valuable in the West, where the man with the oldest rights gets first claim on the often limited supply of water.
The Johnson herd – basically 100 Hereford cows and their calves – leave their winter quarters in the ranch’s parks in the spring and walk five miles north to a spring range. In June, they clump up the trail to the cool, relatively insect-free national forest.In the summer, the Johnsons do their only “crop work”. They put the hay from the native grass in the parks around the ranch up in neat, “buck-fenced” stacks. And in September, they trail their Herefords down from the national forest.The cows spend their winters munching the native hay; their calves – except animals kept for the breeding herd – are sold to feeders. Johnson calves usually go to feeders in the Red Oak, In. area. In mid-february, the cows begin dropping their calves. As soon as all the calves have arrived and have been branded and vaccinated, the year’s cycle begins again.
Rustic corral on Johnson ranch is busy place in late winter and early spring. Calving is done in buildings at right. Later, calves are branded and vaccinated in the corral.
Mountain Meadow Drama
During our day on the Johnson ranch, we watched the first act in one of those little dramas that make livestock raising such rewarding, interesting work.A neighbour had spotted a Johnson cow, apparently in trouble on the summer range in Medicine Bow National Forest. Everett checked. He came back with unhappy news: The cow was suffering from foot rot, a mean, debilitating condition happily rare amomng range cattle.
We went with the Johnsons – Wes, Everett and Everett’s wife, Margaret – into the forest to look for the cow. We found her, thin and limping on a swollen left hind foot, in the edge of some timber just off a mountain meadow. Her calf, blocky and bright, quick and spooky, darted through the woods ahead of the cow as the Johnson men, armed with ropes, went after her. They caught her in a few minutes.
With the calf watching apprehensively but from a distance, Everett needled antibiotics into the cow’s flank, splashed a healthy dose of iodine on the bad foot, and jammed some elephant-sized pills down her throat. He and his dad wanted to truck the animal back to the ranch, but they hesitated running her calf down into the dangerous timber. So they left the cow, tethered to a tree, with good hay and a tub of water in easy reach.
The Johnsons wrote later that they decided to bring the cow down from the mountain by truck. They built a stockade around her in the woods, left the stockade gate open and waited “for nature to take its course”. When the calf stepped up for dinner, Everett closed the stockade gate on him. And he and his mother rode home, where good care and feed healed her quickly.
The rancher’s work is by no means finished when the cattle are trailed to the summer ranges. The herd is checked constantly for injury or disease, and medication is administered on the spot. This cow, afflicted with a bad case of foot rot, is given a penicillin shot by rancher Everett Johnson in the Medicine Bow National Forest range near Foxpark.