The Geis Family
Gwen Geis, a fourth-generation rancher in Campbell County, appears to be perpetually in motion, helping run ranch operations, taking care of grandkids and serving as president of the American National CattleWomen.
It's never a dull day around here between the ranch, businesses and her volunteer work, Gwen said, laughing. Last week, she worked from daylight to after dark, maybe 12 to 20 hours a day. “I don't look at it as a job. It's just our way of life.”
The Geis Cattle & Sheep Ranch is one of Campbell County’s longtime family ranches, owned by brothers Gerry and Kevin Geis and their respective wives, Gwen and Bobbi. Located 15 miles south of Gillette in northeast Wyoming, the ranch is about 30,000 leased and owned acres on rolling hills. The ranch runs approximately 350 cow/calf pairs of predominantly Angus and 2,000 head of sheep.
Gwen and her husband involved with operations on the ranch in addition to owning a small oilfield service business and being dealers for CowBos, a liquid cow feed. The couple has been married for 36 years and has three grown children and eight grandchildren.
She is quick to point out that the ranch is a family operation. “We all bring something to the operation whether that is time or skills. We have all been involved in outside jobs or organizations and everyone pitches in and steps up to make sure everything gets done.”
Geis comments, “That can make for late nights and long weeks but it is just part of our operations and way of life.” Geis’ have also always been fortunate enough to be able to call on extended families and neighbors for extra help when needed.
The two families are quite close, living about a mile down the road from each other. “We usually share two or three meals a week together, so we can keep up with who's doing what and where.”
Promoting beef is very important to Gwen. She has been involved in the local CattleWomen organization since high school and held all the offices at the local and state levels. Today she heads up American National CattleWomen, a national nonprofit with nearly 1,000 members that has a 65-year history of uniting women in agriculture to focus on its core concepts of beef promotion, education, and legislation.
Now her daily routine also includes conference calls, text, and emails working with women across the country on beef industry issues.
“For me, CattleWomen opens up the opportunity to share my story with others,” Gwen explained, pointing out that ranchers need to talk more about their dedication to the animals and the land.
“We're taking care of our animals, that's a part of who we are. And it's not just the men; it's the women as well.”
In the spring, Gwen and her sister-in-law Bobbi conduct ranch tours for a dozen kindergarten classes from Campbell County and sometimes for tourist groups. The students and their parents come out and spend half-a-day and learn about the wide variety of animals on the ranch, specifically the cows, sheep, horses, and chickens.
The tour gives the students an opportunity to learn where their food comes from. “We talk to them about the relationship between the cow, milk, and cheese. We talk about beef and where the leather from their shoes, belts, footballs, and basketballs come from.”
One of the questions Gwen asks the students is, “What do you do with your plate of food when you're done at the end of supper?” "We give the scraps to our chickens to eat, and we eat or sell their eggs."
The Geis families are largely self-sufficient, raising most of their meat, eggs, and vegetables. "We do have a milk cow, but mostly she's here for the bum lambs and calves. Typically, the only thing I get at the grocery store is milk and a loaf of bread once in a great while."
Gwen and her husband Gerry are proud of being fourth-generation ranchers in Campbell County. The ranch, itself, has been in her husband’s family since the early 1920s. "Our land means something to us.”
Not everyone has have been able to continue to keep a ranch within a family and keep things together, Gwen explained.
However, like many ranchers today, sometimes they have relied on outside income to keep the ranch going, meaning working a full-time job in town, Gwen explained. "There have been times that each of us has been the only person on the ranch through the day. There have been times that I've done all the farming and then feeding the cows in the wintertime. Sometimes it has been my sister-in-law here."
She has held jobs ranging from a school bus driver to operations supervisor in a local bank. "I've had town jobs, but I always have returned to the ranch. Being a rancher and part of the land is who I am."
Gwen notes that she and her husband are fortunate at this point in their lives. "We're pretty much a team. When we walk out the front door in the morning, we're going in the pickup to spend the day working together. Not many couples can say that."
FEATURE DATE: 2017