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Home on the range

Agriculture.com Staff 02/12/2007 @ 10:42am

The Gilbert family has been ranching near Buffalo, South Dakota, longer than the town has been in existence. Ray Gilbert's great-grandfather, Parker, was one of the first homesteaders in Harding County, the northwesternmost county in the state. And it was Parker's son, Frank, who pulled a sheep wagon into the geographical center of the county and declared it to be the town of Buffalo, which later became the county seat.

More than 100 years later, Ray and Linda Gilbert ranch the same homestead, use the same brand, and even live in the same house as Ray's grandparents.

With that kind of history in a ranch and a community, one might assume there would be a great deal of pressure for the next generation to carry the torch and to continue the Gilbert ranching tradition. Not so.

Ray and Linda's children, Lloyd and Andrea, always had chores and responsibilities on the ranch but were never pressured to take over. "It should be their choice," Linda says.

Andrea now lives in another Buffalo - the one in Wyoming - and works in the technology field.

Lloyd attended college in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and joined the professional rodeo circuit, touring the country. But when he and wife Patty had their first child, he decided it was time to settle down.

"We wanted the kids to go away to school and encouraged Lloyd to travel around the country and rodeo," Ray says. "When he came back, I felt he knew what ranching would involve. From all that he's seen, this is what he likes the best."

Now Lloyd, Patty, and their children - daughter Sawyer, 4, and son Grey, 2 - live down the lane and across the road. A hop, skip, and a jump in Harding County terms, but far enough that you can't see one house from the other.

Patty works at a medical clinic in nearby Buffalo, but she does her fair share on the ranch, as well. Between work, the ranch, and being a mom, it's a busy ­- but happy - life. "When you have kids, you're never off the clock," she laughs.

Ray and Linda enjoy a close relationship with grandchildren Sawyer and Grey. The kids love spending time at their grandparents' house, playing with the dog, riding horses, and being ranch kids.

In ranching and in life, there's no telling what the future holds. No one understands that better than Ray. His father, Lloyd, died when Ray was just a boy, leaving his mother, Helga, with a ranch to run, and Ray and sister Helen to raise.

That kind of hardship would be enough to send most people packing, but Helga's pioneering spirit allowed her to persevere and keep the ranch running. "She's one tough lady," Linda says. Now 84, Helga only recently moved to an assisted living facility in the Black Hills.

Ray's parents incorporated the ranch in 1960. When he and Linda took over, they bought Helga's shares. Helen, who lives in Phoenix, still has a few shares also.

Ray learned firsthand that tomorrow is never a sure thing. That's why he and Linda have taken a proactive stance to ensure the security of their children and the ranch, working with an estate planner through the county Extension service and purchasing long-term care insurance.

They formed a family corporation and gifted some shares to their children. Lloyd then bought his sister's shares. "Andrea never planned on coming back to the ranch, and I always did, so she's been great to work with," he says.

Trusts and insurance also help Ray and Linda feel more confident that whatever the future holds, they'll have a legacy for their children.

Like many couples, Ray and Linda now find themselves stuck in the middle. "We're the sandwich generation," Linda says, with both elderly parents and children to take into consideration. "Unfortunately, what happens is that sometimes we don't take care of each other."

Ray and Linda would eventually like to retire or cut back enough to do some traveling together. But with the ranch and community activities, "That keeps everybody pretty busy right now," Ray says.

Linda is involved in producer group Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA), and is the District 1 director for the South Dakota Stockgrower's Association. Ray held that position in the 1980s when Linda's father was president of the organization. They are the first husband and wife to hold that title.

Lloyd also takes an active role in the community and won a seat on the school board even before his kids were old enough for kindergarten.

The Gilberts have made some adjustments to the business to make room for Lloyd. "We're increasing cow numbers and believe there will be enough for everybody," Ray says.

Ray has encouraged his son to become more involved with buying and selling cattle for the ranch. Lloyd and Patty also have their own herd, independent of his parents.

By leaving home for college and the rodeo, Lloyd got an education, experienced life, and made valuable contacts. Now he could live anywhere, but he chooses to raise his family on the ranch. "I was always going to come back," he says.

The Gilbert family has been ranching near Buffalo, South Dakota, longer than the town has been in existence. Ray Gilbert's great-grandfather, Parker, was one of the first homesteaders in Harding County, the northwesternmost county in the state. And it was Parker's son, Frank, who pulled a sheep wagon into the geographical center of the county and declared it to be the town of Buffalo, which later became the county seat.

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