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Working Ranch April/May 2016

t was 50 years ago, when fi ve ranchers sat around a kitchen table at the southern end of the Wind River Mountains and hashed out a plan to buy grazing land together. The year was 1965, and, at the time, the Farmers Home Administration, a now-shuttered USDA agency with most of its functions transferred to the Farm Service Agency, wrote loans to groups of ranchers looking to purchase land to create grazing associations. “The charge was led by Robert Eaton,” recalls Gary Zakotnik, a charter member that ranches near Eden Valley, Wyoming, “and we bought two ranches from Leonard Hay and Eldon Spicer to form the Little Sandy Grazing Association. “Some people dropped out thinking the price was too high - it was costing fi ve dollars a month to run a cow on the association, and you could buy grass for three dollars a month. The difference is that you were actually retiring some debt, and when you fi nally paid the association land off, you owned something. When you’re renting grass, all you get are receipts.” Their goal was realized in 2014; the 15 current association shareholders fully paid off the loan and are now investing membership dues in improvements to fencing, irrigation, corrals and livestock wells. Zakotnik and his wife, JoAnn, are the only original members left in the association that now includes deeded land combined from fi ve smaller ranches along with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grazing leases attached. The holdings total approximately 180,000 acres able to support 2,000 mother cows. The membership has seen shifts over the decades, at fi rst from the Eden Valley and Farson area, then spreading around to the east side of the mountains to Riverton, Wyoming, and today half the cattle are from Wyoming and the remainder Utahans. “The ranchers from Utah truck their cattle home,” says Seth Jones, a Farson cattle producer. “They stay ahead of the game because they have winter range, so they turn out and don’t feed hay like we do. We spend just as much on haying and tractors as they do on trucking and winter range.” Jones is the newest member, having purchased his shares from his uncle, Mark Jones, in 2010. He grew up riding the association though, as his grandfather, Neil Jones, was one of the founding members with Zakotnik. The association provides the young rancher access to grazing enabling him to increase his cow numbers. “Everyone wants into Little Sandy because it has deeded ground,” Jones says. “Public leases are blue sky, the BLM calls to tell us how many animal unit months we have, and they might decrease it from the year before.” WORKING TOGETHER The association hires a cow boss, an irrigator and a few riders to care for the cattle for the six-month long grazing season. “We delegate one hired person to watch the grass and give a report,” Jones explains, “and the association also sends out one of the shareholders as an elected grass manager. We compare reports for an agreeable decision on movement.” Members gather for an annual meeting, and the board meets every The Little Sandy Grazing Association holdings total around 180,000 acres of deeded and BLM range able to run 2,000 mother cows during the six-month turnout. Incorporated in 1965, the Little Sandy Grazing Association provides steady grazing for the 15 member families. APRIL / M MAY 2016 I WORKING RANCH I 75


Working Ranch April/May 2016
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