Jersey Valley Cattle Company
How did a young man from Lynden, Washington with three young children and a town-raised wife end up owning a buckaroo cow outfit in a remote location in central Nevada? The story Mike Stremler related goes like this, “When I was growing up in Central Washington all I ever wanted to do was own my own cow outfit. I spent my vacation time from college in Iowa with relatives in South Dakota on the White River, taking care of cattle. I read every book that I could find relating to the livestock business. I figured that the quickest money I could make to help buy a ranch was shoeing horses so I went to a horse shoeing school in Minnesota. To fill in the slow periods in shoeing for my customers, I started a dairy cow hoof-trimming business. I day worked for ranches and took in outside horses to ride and train. I also ran some cows of my own. Along the way, I bought some real estate in Washington.” Stremler was busy, but he still was determined to find a ranch of his own. He and his wife Barbara started looking. He wanted a place where they wouldn’t need a lot of farm equipment since he didn’t like to mechanic, so they considered Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada. In 2001, they were looking at a ranch near Lovelock, Nevada when the ranch they now own came on the market. Stremler said, “We looked at this ranch, which was in probate at the time. The former owners, the wife shot the husband right here in the kitchen and there was no will so probate court drew it out for three years. During this time nothing was done on the ranch and everything deteriorated. But I liked what I saw and thought the ranch had potential.”
This ranch could run 500 mother cows with their calves year around outside. It is a horseback outfit and is very isolated with few neighbors. They could turn the hay ground into permanent pasture, so they did not need expensive hay equipment. Hay can be bought as needed for saddle horses, bulls, weaned calves and corralled culled cows. The ranch is 42 miles long from north to south covering 380,000 acres. It is primarily Bureau of Land Management (BLM) managed ground that is in an allotment management program with 4 pasture rotations and 1,500 acres of private deeded land.
Mike continued, “That night in the motel I told my wife I thought we should buy this ranch and she said, “You’re crazy. Who are you going to be married to if you live out there?” She couldn't imagine living so far from town and moving away from her family in Washington, but now she has grown to love this life! We signed the papers to buy the ranch and slowly but surely started moving our stuff from Washington State to here.”
It takes a special kind of people to make a profitable endeavor out of a place no one wanted. The Stremlers dug in and began to put their ranch into working shape. Mike recalled, “When we bought this ranch everything was falling down. In the house you could see the sky through the roof and dirt through the floor. There was a yard full of old cars that we had to drag off. The corrals and fences needed repairs. It took about a year before we were here full time. I would go back to Washington and trim dairy cattle’s feet for a couple of weeks then come back and work on the ranch.
“We took in pasture cattle along with the 160 native cows that came with the ranch. We also bought the ranch’s registered Nevada cattle brand. Today we brand with a Lazy JV Connected. The probate court attempted to gather all the cattle they could to help pay bills. Whatever they didn’t catch is what I ended up with. We gathered wild cows and calves with no brands with a rope and dogs.”
The first couple of years were tough but the drought broke in Nevada and the cattle did well on the outside feed. Stremler ran cows for his neighbor then ended up buying the neighbor’s native cattle. They improved the irrigation system and the corral system for weaning on their meadows. He moved a big metal shop from Washington and reassembled it on the ranch. We worked on patching up the house. They put solar-powered pumps on their livestock-water wells. Stremler says, “We practice a ‘golden rule’ I learned in a Ranching for Profit seminar, ‘Don’t buy anything you can’t pay for in one year.’” Slowly the ranch began to take shape. The cash flow from the sale of calves began to look better.
One of the big problems in the past on this ranch was the wild horse issue. Stremler began to fence off the private land and water out in the white sage flats where the wild horses had been concentrated. This fencing plus the horse gathers that the BLM did using helicopters established a better distribution and ratio of wild horses to cows. The land and feed conditions for both wild horses and cattle improved measurably.
Stremler explained, “The trick to dealing with the Federal land-management agencies is to know as much or more about your ranch and the government regulations than the agents do. I attended all the schools or classes I could, such as low-stress cattle handling, ranch management & finance schools, and livestock meetings. I read all of the relevant Federal regulations concerning BLM, USFS, wild horses etc. It is mandatory for the livestock operator to know the federal regulations and how to negotiate with the federal government. It puts the livestock operator in a much better position to answer questions and address problems.”
He went on to add, “We have gone through several different Federal range conservationists in our ten years of owning this ranch. Many times they come here knowing very little about this country and the vegetation and they are not here long enough to learn. One Range Con told me that my cows were “hammering the vegetation.” The problem was that the plant to which she was referring is a variety of greasewood, Bailey’s greasewood, that naturally grows in a stunted-appearing version and the only animal that will eat it is domestic sheep of which we have none. Horses, cows, and sheep have different eating preferences concerning vegetation. Once you observe and learn these preferences you can present a valid case. When the federal agencies come to the ranch I go with them. I have taken most of the same range management classes they have. I want to speak the same language they do. I engaged in a cooperative monitoring program with them. Then I write everything down, send them a copy, and keep our own records. You never know when you will need this information. It is much better to attempt to get along with federal land-managing agencies than to fight them. Know the rules and have a strategy. Knowledge is the key.”
The Cattle Operation
The main source of income on the Stremler ranch is cattle. How they handle and market these cattle is the key to their success. Stremler said, “We run cattle outside year-around primarily on BLM. We save our private land meadows for our saddle horses, heifers, bulls, and weaning our calves.
I have tried to learn and ask advice from everybody I could on every aspect of ranching. For instance, we use a management tool for the breeding program on our first-calf heifers called a 48-hour calf removal or 48-hour weaning, the Wiltbank Method. We do this when their calves are all over six weeks old. This temporary, 48-hour removal of calves from cows prior to breeding has been shown to cause the cow to cycle and they will breed back much better and the calves will be born closer together. We keep the calves in a weaning lot with an electric fence next to the cows where they can see each other, but they can’t get together. Then they mother-up just fine after the 48 hours. This program gives us a 96-98% rebreed on our first-calf heifers.
“We found that weaning first-calf heifers’ calves in August works for us. The reason for early weaning is these young cows go into the winter months in much better shape than if you had a big calf sucking the cow in fall. We wean calves on the older cows in September/October.
“Our heifer calves weigh around 400 pounds at weaning. The steer calves weigh around 450. We sell on the Superior video auction in July, so I lock in a price in July on my calves with the delivery date in November. We sell the rest of our calves that we can’t class up for a video load through the Nevada Livestock Auction Barn in Fallon.
“We separate the cows with heifer calves from those with steer calves. I want the heifer calves to travel with their mother in the roughest part of the ranch in the Stillwater Mountains on the west side. By doing that, when I select my replacement heifers in the spring, they will know the country and how to travel to feed and water. We usually keep the heifer calves with their mothers over winter and then market the heifer calves we don’t want to keep in the spring.
“The steer calves remain in the flats so they are easy to gather when it comes time to ship in November. This ranch is a cow/calf operation we do not keep calves over as yearlings. We are sure to leave enough grass for next year. Our cows are fat and we have a good calf crop each year. We practice low-stress cattle handling and have very little sickness. We do very little doctoring on the weaned calves. Healthy Calves are our cash crop.”
Mountain Lion Hunting
Stremler told another aspect of the ranch, “We got the ranch and cows in fairly good shape after a few years and I don’t need to feed cows in the winter months so I have time to pursue mountain lions with my dogs. I had done a fair amount of bear hunting in Washington and some lion hunting. This country is surrounded by good mountain lion habitat and some years the lions are a problem, killing calves for our neighbors and us.
“One day we were hunting lions in the Stillwater Mountains and had just treed a lion that had been killing our calves. A couple of fellows who owned Nevada High Ridge Outfitters were hunting in the same area. We struck up a conversation and they later asked me if I would like to be a sub-guide for their outfitting business. They would arrange and book the clients. So I got a sub-guide license and take their hunters mountain lion hunting. This arrangement has been a good supplement to the income for our ranch.
“I use the Plot breed of hounds. This particular pack of dogs is part of a strain that have been bred for lion hunting for about sixty years and they will catch a lion for my clients if the conditions are right. We are over 90% successful.”
Stremler says, “One of the big reasons that this ranch runs as well as it does is my family. Barb helps with the ranch work, but a big part of her time is spent taking care of our six children.
“Our three older boys, Christian 18, Cole 16, and Clay 14, can all ride, rope, work cows and hunt mountain lions. We home school our children, so in the morning the boys do their homework for the day, then our outside work starts around 1:00 pm and we work until it is dark.
“For social activity, the two older boys are in High School rodeo and Clay will be next year. During the rodeo season we travel around the state of Nevada to a different rodeo each weekend. This is good for the boys and for my wife who gets to visit with rodeo kids’ parents each weekend.
We have not encouraged my three boys to continue in the ranching business. I would like them to cast out in the real world for a while and find out what they want to do. Then if they decide that they want to ranch I am sure we can work out a deal.
“We have three younger children that we adopted. Cassidy will be 11 in May. We adopted her through Christian Homes Of Abilene in Texas. Her mom picked us and it was quite a surprise to me when Barb informed me that we were getting a little black child. After she arrived from Texas at 5 pounds 11 ounces it was an instant fit to our family. We were as proud as if she were our first. Three and a half years ago we decided to adopt again. This time we went through the foster care program in Reno. There is a real need for parents for minority children. We adopted Craniesha who is nine, and her half-brother Drew who is five. It took a little more time to adjust with older children but all worked out well. All of the children work on the ranch irrigating and riding. The decision to adopt originated as a way to share our blessings and as a result we have been blessed with three very special kids.”
The down side of the Jersey Valley Ranch location is an hour-and-a-half drive on primitive roads to town or to medical service, no mail service, and no public school for the children. Blown pickup tires, gas, and diesel costs are big expenses. The ranch does have electric power and telephone lines that were brought in years ago by a previous owner. This allows the residents to have a telephone and computer. But the remoteness of the ranch is what keeps a lot of people out of this country and is what makes it affordable for people like the Stremlers to ranch. This remote country only appeals to a certain kind of people. Mike Stremler and his family have the ambition and pioneering spirit to make a successful ranching business for themselves using their minds, hard work, and their faith.
Jersey Valley Cattle Company
Mike and Barb Stremler
PO Box 1078
Winnemucca, Nevada 89446
For mountain lion hunting information:
Nevada High Ridge Outfitters
P.0. Box 1323
Lovelock, NV 89419
(775) 538-7047 - Gary
(775) 273-7122 - Keith
Article by Mike Laughlin
Photos by Lee Raine