The Saratoga Sun -

Double 8 awarded by WSGA

Elk Mountain Ranch receives award for stewardship efforts

 

February 5, 2020

Mike Armstrong

Owen Williams, manager of the Double 8 Ranch

"My grandpa moved to Double 8 in July of 1951 to manage the ranch for the Scott family." "The Scott's bought it in June of 1951."

Owen Williams is the third generation to manage the Double 8 Ranch near Elk Mountain. This year, under his care, the Double 8 won the Wyoming Stock Growers Association's (WSGA) Environmental Stewardship Program and Award, in partnership with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture.

The Double 8 is made up of 10,000 deeded acres. It is six miles south of Elk Mountain. The Medicine Bow River runs through the middle of the property and the Medicine Bow National Forest borders it lands.

The award recognizes Wyoming cattlemen whose natural resource stewardship practices contribute to the environment and enhance productivity and profitability. Each year a different Wyoming ranch is chosen for these qualities.

There are several focuses of the WSGA.

The association advocates on issues affecting the cattle industry, Wyoming agriculture and rural community living. It provides members with current information on happenings in the cattle industry and the activities of the association. The WSGA also promotes the role of the Wyoming cattle industry in resource stewardship, animal care and the production of high-quality safe beef.

The WSGA is an American cattle organization started in 1872 among Wyoming cattle ranchers to standardize and organize the cattle industry but quickly grew into a political force that enjoyed great influence throughout the Western United States.

Cattlemen began to lobby the powerful territorial government, and befriended John A. Campbell, the first territorial governor of Wyoming, who served from 1869 to 1875.

The WSGA organized roundups, scheduled cattle shipments and tracked cattle brands, and was active in stopping cattle rustling.

In the late 19th century, while Wyoming was transitioning from a territory into statehood, the WSGA was one of the few large scale organizations that wielded any type of authority in the region. The WSGA was very influential in shaping Wyoming's state government and statutes. Many of the WSGA's rules and regulations became state laws.

WSGA members also formed the core of the famous Cheyenne Club. It became one of the wealthiest and most exclusive establishments on the frontier.

The WSGA was involved in the Johnson County War that ranged from 1889 to 1893. The conflict is often the basis for many western movies.

Over the years, the WSGA has burnished its heavy handed reputation of being an association that was for the rich cattle barons to the progressive association that helps Wyoming ranches with techniques on raising livestock.

Williams says the stewardship award is important because it honors the work his grandfather and father did for Double 8. He is grateful for the support and confidence the Scott family has shown to the three generations of Williams' management.

"My grandfather and Walter Scott Jr. became friends at Colorado State University," Williams said. "Walter wanted to own ranch property and grandpa wanted to manage a ranch and it was the beginning of the relationship between the families."

The younger Williams grew up on the Double 8 and, from that experience, he knew he wanted to run a ranch like his father and grandfather.

"My father grew up here and so did I," Williams said. "I went to elementary school here in Elk Mountain and I graduated from HEM in 2001. I got a B.S. in Ag Business and Econ degree out of the University of Wyoming."

Williams graduated in 2003 and went to work for the Overland Ranch. Then he went to a ranch in Lusk where he met his wife.

"I came home in 2006 because my dad was needing help," Williams said. "I actually responded to an ad he had in the paper. So I called him and asked if he would consider me."

His father not only considered Williams; he hired him.

For five years Williams worked under his dad, then in 2011 his father retired and Williams became manager. His father left the ranch last year for lower elevation.

Williams has two kids and both are interested in ranching.

"I have a son (Corbin) who is 11 and a daughter (Talle) who is eight and both enjoy the ranch," Williams said. "It is interesting, my son likes the equipment side of it all and my daughter likes the livestock side."

He said there is no push on his part for them to take over, but he is happy they enjoy growing up on the Double 8.

Williams was nominated for the award by the Medicine Bow Conservation District. He said it was an honor to be nominated and more so to win.

"They select one ranch out of the entire state," Williams said. "It is a lot of work to showcase what you are doing, but it was a very nice tribute to my dad, my grandfather, the Scott family and Walter Scott. They have done an excellent job over the years managing land, water, and wildlife."

He said the Heward Ranch and McFadden Ranch in Carbon County have been recipients to this award and the owners of both have helped Williams over the years.

"Those are both forward thinking guys and I really appreciate what they do," Williams said. "They really are great."

Williams said the Double 8 is progressive.

"We work with Game and Fish on wildlife and water development and we are working with them on Wick Ranch (owned by U.S. Game and Fish)," Williams said. "We work with the public and the government and yet we run the ranch as a stand-alone business to make a profit. This leads us to a lot of decisions on grazing concepts, production concepts with cows (the ranch has 1,800 head) and a good part of our business is little bales for the horse market in the Front Range in Colorado. We put out 4,000 tons a year. That is 130,000 bales a year. They weigh 75 pounds a bale. We ship them out for backyard horse market."

By having the bale business, he works closely with Carbon County Weed and Pest to make sure noxious weeds don't get into the bales.

He said the ranch does a lot of cross fencing, looks out for habitat and does soil and grass analysis for consumption by cows and elk.

Williams said cross fencing cuts the pasture in half and causes less stress on the grass.

"The key to healthy grass and soil is the rest period," Williams explained. "Cross fencing allows this. We have been doing a pasture a month and then get them out of there. We are hoping to get it to two weeks."

The Double 8 also leases 14,000 acres from Elk Mountain Ranches and BLM land.

"We are running about 25,000 acres of leased ground," Williams explained. "35,000 acres all told are what we are running. 4,000 are irrigated acres."

He said the reason they got the Wick acres was because of elk. Williams said elk were constantly grazing on their land, so they are doing the same land management on the Wick acres and hope the elk go to this area. Game and Fish is pleased with this concept and has given Double 8 a five year lease with a five year renew.

"Last year was the first year, so hopefully the grazing principals that bring the elk to Double 8 will work at Wick," Williams said. "It costs us a lot of grass to feed the elk on our land, so I am thinking if we can get the elk to go to the 12,000 acres on the Wick land that the Game and Fish owns and draws them to that land, it helps me. It takes elk grazing pressure off our place and the elk goes to land that is controlled by the government."

Double 8 not only has cattle grazing on their land, it has a herd of 900 goats during the summer and elk are one of the reasons.

"The goats are used for brush control," Williams said. "We also found we can herd elk with them. We found we can move those large amounts of elk off our irrigated meadows with goats. They don't like goats for some reason. We have strategic goat placement so we can move elk. It has been a big benefit."

He said the goats were purely for land management and in the winter time they go to Oklahoma.

Another thing the ranch did that has changed how they operate was have the calving season May to June instead of April to May.

"One of the best decisions I made as a manager was to move my calving date," Williams said. "That was huge. The grass is greener and, although the average calf is a little lighter, the warmer weather keeps them healthier."

Williams reiterates the stewardship award is not an accomplishment by his efforts alone.

"The ranch, the Scott family and my family who has managed it are the winners, not me," Williams said. "I wanted the ranch to get this award for what it has been doing for decades. Plus, I got five guys that have been working really hard for me. We have tried a lot of new stuff and techniques and these guys have put in a lot of effort. Some have put in over a decade of their life. They deserve this recognition."

Williams said, from the standpoint of the stewardship award, the different grazing trials has been an accomplishment that stands out. He said the award gives him pride for the Double 8.

"The real accomplishment of this ranch, and what I take is our biggest success and it isn't easy, is to be a stand-alone profitable business," Williams said.

He said having the ranch in Elk Mountain is even more impressive.

"Elk Mountain is a harsh environment," Williams said. "To have a livestock producing ranch that is a stand-alone business is a real accomplishment."

 

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