We know her from her Twitter account, where she candidly takes her audience with her into her daily life as a rancher, but she is also the founder of another Twitter page aiming to give agriculture a voice: Ag of the World. This is the story of Chyenne Smith, an Idaho rancher and horse breeder.
Originally from Roundup, Montana, Chyenne Smith (44) is the co-owner of the J Lazy S Angus Ranch in Salmon, Idaho. Chyenne has a Visual Communications Degree and used to run her own construction company, but today, she is a full-time rancher. And the story of her ranch starts with a love story…
“I didn’t really decide to be a rancher, though I suppose I had a choice in it”, Chyenne says.
“I met a man when I came here to visit friends over the 4th of July and we became friends instantly, talking every day until he proposed marriage six month later. We were married the next June. He had started trying to ranch when I met him, having bought five acres and five heads of cattle and leasing a neighbour’s ranch and another neighbour’s cattle.”
Liking the area and loving the idea of returning to her childhood passion of riding horses, two years after Chyenne’s marriage, the couple discussed buying a bigger place: “going all in it just seemed like the right thing to do, and it has been a grand adventure still all these years later.”
Ranching in the Rockies
Located on the Salmon River and completely surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, Chyenne’s ranch is located near Carmen, a tiny community with a population of 3200 and a popular tourist location for hunting, fishing, hiking and all other types of outdoor recreation.
“Carmen Idaho is easily one of the most beautiful places in the United States”, Chyenne explains, “our weather and terrain are everything from river bottom and almost marshy to high desert dry and rocky, to high mountain meadows with snow still in July and trees and mountains as far as you can see in every direction.”
Almost all the land in the county is agricultural: “I’d venture to say that 90% of the land in our county is ranch land and has always been.” Salmon was founded on mining and logging and still has some mining, timber and cattle. Lemhi county cattle are well known by buyers as being very hearty cattle and very tasty beef.
Due to the ranch’s geographical location, Chyenne and her family get every type of weather. They depend on irrigation to grow grazing and hay, use the surrounding mountains to graze cattle in the summer and grow, cut and bale their own feed for the winter months and have predators and wild animals to deal with.
“We have to ranch with predators like bears, wolves and coyotes and share our landscape’s feed and water supply with deer, elk, pronghorn and moose. Predators cause the easy to see problems of eating our cattle, but more often cause us more work in trying to keep the cattle on the mountain and off the highway when wolf pressure is high, right before the elk start calving. Our biggest problem with the wild grazers are the damage they do to fences and when they occasionally get into our haystacks.”
First generation ranch
J Lazy S Angus ranch is a first generation ranch, which is pretty unique. Chyenne and her husband Jay, a fourth generation rancher, purchased half of it 15 years ago and the other half 6 years ago.
“His family moved here just shy of 100 years ago and still has many multi-generational ranches today. We own 200 acres, lease a neighbouring ranch of about 500 acres and run approximately 300 mother cows.” At J Lazy S Angus ranch, Chyenne and her family raise black angus in a commercial and registered herd for beef and sell registered bulls.
“Half of our ranch was once a dairy but unfortunately, I don’t know the family or their history, just that they aren’t here anymore. It has two homes on it, one we live in and one we’re able to rent out, a huge red barn that’s at least 100 years old and several very useful outbuildings.”
J Lazy S Angus ranch grows hay on almost all of its land, which is all irrigated. For that purpose, there are flood irrigation, pipes, pods an pivots, the water supply coming from the Salmon River. The wild grass hay and alfalfa grown on the grounds are round baled to feed from December through May, making the growing season from late April through September: “we put up two crops of hay every year, sometimes a third if we have really good spring rains, and grow up the third or fourth for fall grazing for our cattle as they come home from the mountains.”
Raising cattle… and horses
“Our greatest achievement is buying and running this ranch”, she continues. “It is almost unheard of to start from scratch in farming or ranching and it’s certainly not easy financially. We’ll be paying for this place into our seventies! We’ve not only procured enough land to ranch, but we’ve also built up a really fantastic herd of cattle.”
J Lazy S Angus ranch also raises their own riding horses, Chyenne’s personal passion. Jay’s family had been raising Morgan horses for at least 50 years as ranch and range riding horses. “As soon as I stepped onto one, I fell in love with them. I’ve been riding since before I could walk and honestly the breed of a horse doesn’t matter one bit to me, but Morgan horses are very spirited, have excellent balance and unequal endurance in our steep mountains, not to mention their smooth and fast extended walk.”
When Chyenne first moved to the ranch, she came with a Quarter horse mare that she quickly bred to the family’s Morgan stallion, giving her the first Morgan Quarter Horse cross. “I can’t think of a better horse to ride ever. We now have a stallion of our own and two brood mares to try to replicate that first thrilling gelding that I still ride today.”
if you can do the work, you’re perceived as an equal by the people that matter
Being a woman in agriculture
“Perceptions between men and women in agriculture are not much different than any other profession I’ve worked in. In my opinion, if you can do the work, you’re perceived as an equal by the people that matter.”
“That’s probably my best piece of advice to women: figure out the people that matter and ignore those that don’t”, says Chyenne, who’s worked in male dominated fields her whole life, the majority of that being construction before ranching.
“Knowing how to do the job usually shut any naysayers up immediately and when that didn’t work, the embarrassment the naysayer had to endure when others told them to leave me be was enough to satisfy me. I don’t understand the constant need to point out that I’m a woman and I don’t really give any time to people that have a problem with me”, she continues.
“I’m thankful, always, for the work women did before me in levelling playing fields and don’t find it necessary to re-fight battles that have long since been won”, she adds, stressing that she understands that young women still feel struggle and is in no way undermining that. “I just know that when I faced it, I overcame it by working harder. The greatest gift my parents gave me was the understanding that no job was beneath me.”
This article was published in Women in Ag Mag 2021-1. Click here to read the full article.
Text: Kim Schoukens
Pictures: Chyenne Smith