Ranches don’t only produce beef, they nurture fresh generations dedicated to the betterment of land and livestock.
Throughout her childhood and now teenage years, Emme Norsworthy has been allowed to play hooky from school here and there to take part in events critical to her family’s Thermopolis, Wyoming, ranch. While there’s plenty of work to be done daily on the ranch, there are several pivotal days throughout the year when big jobs are tackled. Jobs that rely not only on the help of the entire family, but on that of a close-knit community of neighbors and friends.
Shipping day is one of those events. On this day, herds are gathered from the sagebrush-dotted range and calves that are fast overwhelming their mothers are split off to begin their own journeys. As the dust settles behind trucks hauling the freshly weaned steers to their new home on lush wheat pastures in Kansas, Jim and Terry Wilson, Emme’s grandparents, can breathe a sigh of relief. It’s a day when the job they’ve been perfecting for decades is once again rewarded and they can start again fresh.
Ranchers go long stretches between paychecks and a lot can go wrong in that time. Seeing quality calves into which they’ve invested time, money, sweat and emotion being sent safely on their way is a cause for celebration. Jim and Terry enjoy sharing this important day with their granddaughter, just as they did with Emme’s mother, Billie Jo Norsworthy.
Mounted on her spry sorrel, Emme cheerfully helps gather and sort cattle and she is a shadow to her mother, grandparents and the rest of the V Ranch crew whenever there’s work to be done. Despite not being in school on those days, she’s learning plenty about what it takes to be a successful and responsible rancher. They are skills Jim and Terry hope she’ll use to continue the family ranching tradition in the future.
Finding A Future
Emme’s inquisitiveness and enthusiasm for all things traveling by four legs bring a warm smile to Jim’s face. He wasn’t always sure of the end game for the ranch and reputation herd he built with his high school sweetheart, Terry. Their only daughter, Billie Jo, had gone off to college earning a master’s degree in music with a focus on flute.
“One day she called and said, ‘Mom and Dad, is there a place for us at the ranch?’ I never thought someone who played the flute would want to come back to the ranch. It was a good day for us,” Wilson says.
Wilson remembers his own start down the path to building what is now known as the V Ranch. Born and raised on a registered Hereford ranch, Jim initially partnered with his parents. Then, he and Terry branched out on their own. They took a brave leap looking to turn other ranchers’ lemons into lemonade in the 1980s when devastating agricultural bankruptcies made land in the area plentiful. They scraped and borrowed to buy up land in the rough countryside around Kirby, Wyoming, as it came available.
“I don’t know if we were that smart or that dumb,” Jim says of their success in building a ranch during shaky financial times. “We worked extremely hard and we gambled. We didn’t know you could go broke and we just lucked out and started buying cattle to stock the place. We’re kind of living the dream.”
Those initial investments have flourished into a 60,000-acre ranch. The remote and ruggedly beautiful red-tinged rocky terrain supports a 950-head strong commercial herd of high quality Salers-Angus composite cattle. Both the land and the cattle bear the mark of a family who is passionate about what they do.
The herd has a reputation for prime genetics capable of consistently producing beef that is as economical as it is tasty—the result of countless hours of data collection, research and following the cattle all the way to harvest. The Wilsons’ genetics have been sought out and incorporated by many other area herds.
A lasting base
If it were ever to go up for sale, their land would be just as desired. “With ranching there’s a great sense of responsibility,” Terry says. “We have a responsibility to the animals, to feed them, take care of them and make sure they’re healthy. We also have a responsibility to our land and our community.”
From spending thousands of dollars to monitor and protect sage grouse habitat to serving on boards and taking action on their own property to improve water quality in their community streams and rivers, the Wilsons dedicate a sizeable portion of their time to leaving the land and wildlife populations better than what they found.
“It’s a privilege to own the land and to make our living from the land,” Jim says. “You have to spend time giving back. You can’t just continually take, take, take. We believe in sustainability. We’re temporary here and we want to make the land better for who owns it 100 years from now, whether that’s our family or someone else’s.”
By working side by side with their daughter and granddaughter over the years, Jim and Terry have passed along not only their knowledge of the land and livestock, but their commitment to the wellbeing of both.
Now in their mid-60s, Jim and Terry are working to transfer the ranch they’ve poured their lives into building to Billie Jo and her family. Handing over the reins may be difficult for any business owner, but making way for the next generation is something the Wilsons are proud to do.
“We acknowledge Billie Jo’s dedication and look forward to helping her succeed while stepping back,” Jim says. But not before he gives the next generation a little boost, too.
“Emme gets our bum calves to raise. One heifer calf she raised as a bum did really well and ended up being the start of her herd. She’s now one of the best cows in our herd has a great calf every year,” he reports with obvious pride.
Profits from Emme’s herd will likely help fund her college education. An education the Wilsons would be thrilled to see put to work continuing the family tradition of responsible ranching.