Dan Kirkbride is a rancher in Wyoming. He is also a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives.
TWI: What makes a good ranch?
Dan Kirkbride: A good ranch is a living and evolving enterprise. It’s comprised of its natural resources, livestock and people and its ideas and legacy.
Our product here is grass. And grass is about as natural as it gets. Depending on the weather we may have a big crop or a little crop each year. I’d include our water, minerals and wildlife as part of the resources. I see a pronghorn antelope almost every day. There’s no live water where I ranch, but Horse Creek runs for five miles through our Laramie County operation. In Albany County we have historic dinosaur beds. I’d like to think the big skies and bright stars are part of our realm also.
We run livestock to convert the grass into something edible—beef. In the early days we ran sheep. We’ve also had horses, pigs, cats and dogs on the place in my thirty years. I like animals. There’s no malice in them. They’re consistent.
The people involved in a good ranch are your family, guests and the neighbors. A ranch is a wonderful place on which to raise a family. I remember a four-man job moving cattle in 1978 where the crew was my eight-year-old nephew, my 58-year-old father and my 80-year-old grandfather and me, all of us on horseback. Who gets to work with their family like that?
When guests came, I used to overload them with details. Now I want them to absorb a few simple concepts—to feel what it would be like to do this for a living. I try to give them a job that reminds me of them after they’re gone. I try to let them do it by themselves. Often they’ll get the barbed-wire gate for me, I’ll drive through the opening and they’ll close the gate leaving them on the wrong side of the fence. You’d be amazed how many times that’s happened. But I just let it unfold.
Being a trustworthy neighbor means a lot. I’ve received many kindnesses at the hands of my neighbors.
A ranch is a lifelong project where you keep trying new things and making improvements and solving problems. It’s satisfying to come up with new inventions and ways of doing things. You keep learning and many of the best lessons come from mistakes that you made earlier. And then a lot of the improvements are there for you to observe and enjoy over time. Some improvements are as simple as picking up junk and restoring a site back to its natural state. We bought some land once and had a family project cleaning up the previous family’s dump, hauling it all to the local landfill. I remember we picked up a half used bottle of Ranch dressing. Now grass has grown over the area and you’d never know the dump existed.
Then in the end you have a tangible legacy to pass on to someone. Hopefully my successor will enjoy this life and geography as much as I have.
TWI: What is an instance of your work as a rancher that you are most proud of?
Dan Kirkbride: Two things come to mind. I’m proud of how I’ve taken care of the steers over the years. Though they’re only in my care six to 10 months before being sold, I always tried to give them my best every day. It’s not unusual for me to have 20-25 that will eat out of my hand at the end of the winter.
I’m also always proud when I can come up with a little invention to help me do the work by myself. Once I had some sharp and twisty razor wire to roll. I invented a frame to keep it in place during the rolling process. In the end, you removed two bolts and the frame collapsed for removal leaving the wire roll intact. I love it when I can build something simple, but useful.
TWI: Why are you proud of it?
Dan Kirkbride: It’s especially rewarding to invent or improve upon something that once thwarted you. In my early days I built little pens in three or four locations where I could corral a sick calf and haul him back home for treatment instead of having to trail him miles to a central corral. The pens have worked so well over the years that sometimes I can even get the animal in on foot (as opposed to needing a horse or ATV to capture him).
TWI: How have you developed your own sense of calling and theological language for your work?
Dan Kirkbride: Years ago while working with Inter Varsity I heard it said that you’re called to where the world’s great need and your own deep gladness intersect. I hope the world liking to eat counts as a need. I’ve treasured this life—working outside, interacting with my dad and family, carrying on a 123-year-old tradition, working diligently but at my own pace. I have some herder genes in me.
Another influence was some little carvings on the wall in the back of a church I attended one Sunday in Estes Park, Colorado. There were probably eight or 10 different scenes. A woman was giving her child a bath in a washtub. A butcher with a hatchet in one hand was holding a turkey by the neck and eyeing him. A writer strained over a manuscript quill pen in hand in another image. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). After 20 plus years, I’d love to go back to that church and see if the carvings are still there.
TWI: Are there any tensions or complexities that still trip you up when you think about your work being part of God’s work?
Dan Kirkbride: I determined years ago what God wanted most from me was to love Him. I’ve tried to be quick to recognize that he was the author of all the goodness that washed over my life. He’s been friend and guide. I’ve been learning in recent years to be more responsive to his promptings.
Another theme has been to live my life with excellence. I think about how David killed the bear and the lion while out guarding the sheep. This was an exhibition of character and bravery that only he and God knew about, and long before there was a Goliath (1st Sam. 17). There are many days over the years I’ve see no one but my wife and dog (and sometimes not even them). I still try to live with excellence in some small way.
I also try to have a public component to my existence through parenting, church participation, writing, time as a county commissioner and now as a state legislator. But, the foundation has always been, “ how did things play out?” when it was just God and me.