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Turning cattle into cash

Agriculture.com Staff 07/07/2010 @ 9:09am

If you've ever seen the Lemhi Valley in Idaho, it's not hard to imagine why Michael and Carolyn Thomas chose to return there to ranch with his parents. Salmon, population 3,000, is located at the forks of the Salmon and Lemhi Rivers. The first white explorers to arrive were members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Sacajawea was born here, in the shadows of the rugged Bitterroot Mountains. Located only a few miles north of the Continental Divide, Salmon is a paradise for white-water rafting, fishing, and hunting.

As natives like Michael know, it's a beautiful place to live, but a hard place to make a living in agriculture, the main industry. A total of 92% of Idaho's land is federal or state-owned.

Michael and Carolyn were married in 1989, and they worked in Boise after completing college. When their children, Heather and Nick, were born in the early 1990s, they decided that they wanted to get back to ranching.

"I couldn't wait to get away from the ranch," Michael says. "As I got older, I realized that I wasn't running away from agriculture. But I wanted to come back as my own boss."

The Thomases have ridden a winding trail to get back into ranching. They personify the adage, "Where there's a will, there's a way."

If you've ever seen the Lemhi Valley in Idaho, it's not hard to imagine why Michael and Carolyn Thomas chose to return there to ranch with his parents. Salmon, population 3,000, is located at the forks of the Salmon and Lemhi Rivers. The first white explorers to arrive were members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Sacajawea was born here, in the shadows of the rugged Bitterroot Mountains. Located only a few miles north of the Continental Divide, Salmon is a paradise for white-water rafting, fishing, and hunting.

In 1995, they leased a ranch near Arco, in southern Idaho, where Carolyn had grown up. Her dad, a vo-ag teacher, had raised Angus there.

Combining the two ranches, the Thomases have 1,300 to 1,400 private acres, including 250 irrigated acres. They also have a Bureau of Land Management grazing lease.

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