Art Sigel doesn’t pull any punches when talking about his move to Wyoming and his designs on becoming a gentleman rancher.
“I came here with the idea of owning a ranch, having my family together and spending a lot of time hunting and fishing,” he says.
Had you asked him then to define six-weight stockers, management-intensive grazing, low-stress livestock handling or brisket disease, he would have given you a blank stare.
And then maybe a colorful word or two.
“When I moved to Wyoming, I didn’t know what the hell a stocker operation was,” he admits.
In 10 short years, not only have Art and son Ed become successful stocker operators, they and other family members have used “planned success” to transform an ailing ranch into a highly productive operation.
This is quite an accomplishment, considering Art spent his career as a chemical engineer and Ed an airplane pilot. Neither had any knowledge whatsoever of running a cattle ranch, let alone a ranch that would turn a profit.
The Hecht Creek Ranch is now doing just that, and though Art and Ed are newbies to agriculture, they are far from novices. In fact, their story might spur food for thought when it comes to your own beef-production system.
Art, who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, spent 40 years working in chemical industries before retiring a decade ago as chief executive officer of Velsicol Chemical, an Illinois-based company with offices around the world.
“I had a very successful career, a very satisfying career, but when I retired I wanted to move on,” Art says. “For many years, I thought about being in the West.”
Art and Dorothy, joined by Ed and another son, Matthew, along with their spouses, looked for ranches across Colorado, Wyoming and Montana before settling on the 2,278-acre Hecht Creek Ranch nestled in a high-altitude valley between the Snowy Range and Sheep Mountain southwest of Laramie, Wyo.
The three couples pooled their financial resources to fund half the purchase price and then took out loans from a private lender to finish the deal.
R&R no, work yes
Though Art originally focused his eyes — as well as his fishing rod and hunting rifle — on recreation and relaxation, his devotion to improving the land and raising quality cattle grew quickly. In fact, the ranching bug bit Art so hard that he now talks passionately about his newfound, second career.
“I don’t think of myself as a cowboy, but I do call myself a rancher,” the 74-year-old says proudly.
Ed adds: “Initially, our ranch was more of a place to live and be together as a family, but it has definitely morphed into a business. In fact, the ranch has been paying for itself the last seven years. It covers the mortgage on our land, building improvements and equipment, and it allows us to hire two part-time employees during the busy season.”
To pay day-to-day bills and help sustain the ranch’s future, Matthew works full-time as an agent for Farm Bureau Financial Services, sells about a dozen ranch-raised, grass-fed beef to local residents each year and helps with irrigation, while Gina is employed as a school counselor. The couple has three children.
Ed, meanwhile, works as a full-time pilot for the University of Wyoming, while his wife, Harmony, cares for horses used for commercial trail rides on the ranch and is reconstructing an old log house — a house that she took down piece by piece and is now putting back together. They have two children.
Like his father, Ed immediately loved almost everything associated with operating a ranch, and, with the help of other family members, they started building for future generations.
“Flying is an adventure, and so is ranching,” Ed says. “They are both a lifestyle, and they are both providing for our family.”
Art adds: “I am very grateful for being given this opportunity to be with my family and to spend time outside working cattle and doing physical labor. I just wish I would have found this business and this lifestyle much earlier in life.”
Oh, what about that rifle and fly rod?
“I don’t spend any time hunting and fishing,” Art says. “In my spare time, I cut firewood to get us through long winters.”
Robert Waggener is a freelance writer from Laramie, Wyo.