This 18 year-old Colorado ranch girl has a good idea where she’s headed…right back to the ranch
By Troy Smith
Bill Ekstrom describes the Klinglesmith family as the type of people that respect tradition without being tradition-bound. As Rio Blanco County’s Extension agent, Ekstrom is in a pretty good position to observe the ranching community around Meeker, Colorado. He heard things too, of course – things that have influenced his opinion regarding the Klinglesmith clan and their LK Ranch.
“Nice people. High-quality cattle. Really good stockmanship,” Ekstrom counts off the attributes, which also include an innovative attitude toward management. “Still, it’s a cowboy kind of ranch. A lot of the work is done horseback. The whole family is involved and they all seem to be pretty good at it.”
Ekstrom recalls an instance, from a few years ago, when one of the younger family members demonstrated the kind of horsemanship and stock handling skills honed on the LK spread. Lori Ann Klinglesmith, then 14 years of age, entered a ranch horse competition hosted by Rio Blanco County. According to Ekstrom, the competition included 10 different riding and roping events, which showcase the versatility of the horses and their riders.
“This is a contest that attracts mainly adults, and Lori Ann won it. At 14, she beat them all and took home the (trophy) saddle,” tells Ekstrom. “She’s the real deal.”
Considering her background, Ekstrom is not surprised that Lori Ann, now 18 years old, aspires to a career in ranching. Maybe it’s genetic, the culture in which she was reared, or the combined effects of nature and nurture, but Lori Ann’s ranching inclination is strong. She believes ranching is a calling that she is meant to answer.
“I want to learn the business; I already love the lifestyle,” affirms Lori Ann. “And this is home for me. Right now, I can’t imagine living my life anywhere else or doing anything but ranching.”
Lori Ann and her younger sister, Lila, represent the youngest of three generations involved with the LK Ranch. They are the daughters of Lenny and Jackie Klinglesmith, who share primary responsibility for managing the multi-faceted operation. Still playing an active role, however, are Lenny’s parents and ranch founders, Lowell and LoAnn.
Mighty high “low” country
Located about eight miles south of Meeker, the LK Ranch headquarters place includes some 13,000 acres of deeded land – 12,000 acres owned and another 1,100 acres of leased property. Grazing and hay production on the home place is augmented by access to both Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) grazing lands. It’s a diverse production environment ranging in elevation from 6,000 feet in the “low” country to nearly 8,500 feet on the mountain grazing allotments within White River National Forest.
At the core of the operation is the commercial cow herd – about 900 black and black-baldy cows that are bred to Charolais bulls. The terminal-cross calves are born in late-March and April, on BLM land, where the herd is managed under a high-intensity, short-duration rotational grazing system. In early-June, the pairs are trucked to the home place, and trailed to adjoining USFS land by June 20.
“The pairs come off the forest permits in October,” explains Lenny. “After weaning, the calves are shipped to a custom backgrounding lot near Olathe (Colorado) where they’re grown to 800 pounds or so, and then marketed.”
The cows spend the winter on deeded ground, grazing hay meadow regrowth supplemented with grass hay as snow cover and pasture forage availability dictate. It typically requires about 1.5 tons of hay, per cow, to see the herd through the winter feeding period. In early spring, prior to the start of calving, the mature cow herd is moved to BLM grazing allotments.
Since brisket disease can be a problem among cattle not born at high-elevation, LK Ranch sources replacement females from area ranches. Up to 300 heifers, per year, are purchased and bred by AI to Angus sires. Bred heifers graze pastures on deeded land until July 1 when they, too, are moved to USFS grazing allotments in the high country until fall. Eighty to 100 AI-settled heifers are chosen as LK replacements. The remainder are sorted into packages of AI-bred or bull-bred heifers and marketed.
LK Ranch also runs a grass-yearling enterprise, purchasing up to 500 head of five-weight calves each year. Numbers fluctuate, depending on the availability of forage for grazing. Calves sourced in early-spring are placed in the same Olathe grow-yard until grass-time. The calves, consisting of both spayed heifers and steers, are then summer-grazed on the deeded land, near the home place, targeting a fall sale weight of 800 pounds.
A ten cow start
Before shifting emphasis to feeder cattle production, the Charolais seedstock enterprise established by Lenny’s parents played a prominent role. LK Ranch still maintains a small registered Charolais herd, utilizing artificial insemination and embryo transfer, to raise bulls for the Klinglesmiths’ own use and a few to sell. Lori Ann personally owns ten Charolais cows, which have served as her FFA supervised agricultural experience (SAE) project.
“My plan is to increase my Charolais herd over time. I recently joined the American Angus Association and I hope to eventually start a registered Angus herd as well,” Lori Ann explains. “I also plan to start buying some grass calves of my own.”
Lori Ann has a little money in the bank – money earned through her Charolais cows and 4-H steers. Along with providing entrepreneurial experience, the yearling enterprise is meant to bolster funds needed for college. Enrolling as a freshman at the University of Wyoming, this fall, she plans to major in agricultural business.
Factoring in a little help from her mom and dad, Lori Ann’s initial yearling enterprise plan calls for the purchase of sixty 500- to 600-pound calves. Along with purchase cost, her spreadsheet lists feed and yardage costs for the 65 days that calves are in the backgrounding lot, plus cost of supplements fed during a grazing period of a little over three months. Also included are costs of freight, spaying of heifers, two percent death loss and miscellaneous items. Assuming a purchase price of $1.30 per pound, Lori Ann projects a business expense tally of $912 per head.
“If I own the calves for 163 days, and they gain (an average of) 1.4 pounds per day, their sale weight should be 803 pounds. My break-even price would be $1.14 per pound,” calculates Lori Ann.
“I’d like to make a profit of $100 per head,” she grins, “but for that I’d need a sale price of $1.26. The current price is $1.20.”
Lori Ann actually expects the calves to exhibit a higher average rate of gain – up to 1.25 pounds per day in the backgrounding lot and close to two pounds per day on grass – but she’s trying to be conservative. And a conservative approach also calls for risk management. Accordingly, Lori Ann’s plan includes the purchase of a feeder cattle option contract.
“An option protects you from a drop in prices, but still leaves you some profit potential if the market goes up,” explains Lori Ann.
If, when the gavel drops on the sale of Lori Ann’s feeder cattle, the price is $1.20 per pound, she figures the likely profit would be $51.80 per head. After subtracting the cost of risk insurance – estimated at $1000, she projects a modest per head profit of $35 and change.
Work it off
Now, the careful reader might wonder why Lori Ann’s cost accounting did not include pasture costs for the summer grazing period, but this is where her parents’ help kicks in.
“We told her that we would provide the grass. She will work it off. She’s a good worker, so we’re not worried about that,” says Lenny, admittedly proud of his daughter’s work ethic and her basic understanding of what it takes to manage a ranch in the mountains of northwestern Colorado.
“I believe that following the finances on her own yearling program will help give Lori Ann a better understanding of how important record-keeping is. She is going learn just how small the profit margin can be, and thus the importance of keeping expenses down and protecting yourself from a downward move in the market,” offers Lenny. “She will gain experience in marketing the cattle to a cattle feeder, and possibly look at the potential for retained ownership through the feedlot and to the rail. Hopefully, she will learn to look at all of her options and make choices based on facts and sound planning.”
Lenny and wife, Jackie, are confident that her college experience will provide Lori Ann with exposure to research, technology and other new developments in agriculture. It should help her affirm whether ranching really is her true calling.
“Who knows? She may find an altogether different interest to pursue,” says Lenny. “If not, at least she will know that returning to the ranch was the correct decision and not look back, 10 or 20 years from now, and wish she had looked at all the options.”
Lori Ann Klinglesmith loves the lifestyle. Her entire family does. The Klinglesmiths love what they do, and they treasure their freedom to operate a diversified ranching operation in a way that’s beneficial for livestock production, wildlife and the environment. Several years ago, the family chose to sell the development rights associated with their deeded land, in a way that protects its natural resources and their livelihood.
There was a time when Lori Ann’s parents and grandparents seriously considered leaving northwestern Colorado. Like a lot of ranch folk in the inter-mountain West, they felt the pressure of real estate developers seeking to buy and subdivide privately-owned ranch properties. The Klinglesmiths came awfully close to selling out, packing up and moving their outfit to another state. But the location of LK Ranch also helped provide a way for the Klinglesmith family to stay put, plus expand and diversify the operation, through the sale of conservation easements.
Surrounded by public land, LK Ranch’s nearest neighbors include the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service (White River National Forest) and the State of Colorado (Oakridge State Wildlife Area). The area provides a diversity of habitat, ranging from rolling hills dominated by sage, at lower elevations, to conifer forest in the higher country. It’s home for elk – lots of elk – plus mule deer, greater sage grouse, wild turkey and many other wildlife species. And LK Ranch straddles a migration corridor for wildlife moving through the White River Valley and over the Grand Hogback ridge.
Through negotiations with entities interested in protecting open space for both wildlife habitat and agricultural production, including Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and the Yampa Valley Land Trust, the Klinglesmith family sold conservation easements on their deeded property. Money received helped them purchase additional adjoining privately-owned properties to merge with their original base of operation. Between 2007 and 2011, conservation easements were established on all 12,000 acres of Klinglesmith-owned land, plus 1,100 acres of leased land.
“Now, all of our deeded land (owned and leased) is under conservation easements. The development rights are held in trust, so the land can’t be subdivided,” says Lenny Klinglesmith, explaining that the easements stay with the land forever. “It will remain in agriculture and as wildlife habitat, in perpetuity.”
As part of an ongoing effort to integrate management of livestock production and wildlife, LK Ranch enrolled in the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Ranching for Wildlife program, which enables Colorado hunters to gain access, free of charge, to private land owned by participating ranches. The Klinglesmiths operate a guided hunting service for paying clients too, but 10 percent of the elk and mule deer tags issued to the ranch, each year, are placed in a public drawing open to resident hunters only.
According to Lenny, a commitment to conservation has helped LK Ranch grow, diversify and become more sustainable.