PETER BAUMANN

Laramie Boomerang via Associated Press

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) -- A ranch woman's work is never done.

About 30 minutes after Desiree and Leisl Stonum sit down to talk about their family's 116-year ranching history in Albany County, a steer shuffles past the living room window.

Leisl Stonum immediately knows who's responsible.

"The pigs keep opening the gate," she said. "I can't get them to quit; they're very smart."

Leisl Stonum runs out the door and quickly gets the situation under control she closes the gate and coaxes the steers and pigs back where they belong.

It's just one in a long list of tasks that fill Leisl and Desiree Stonum's life at the Flying Heart Ranch.

After having seven children die under the age of five in Laramie, Christian and Maria Gabrielson moved about 18 miles south and west of town, where they founded the Flying Heart Ranch. Ever since, the ranch has been passed on to generation after generation, and now is run by Desiree and Leisl.

The 5200-acre ranch has had its share of ups and downs drought in the early 2000s coupled with rising fuel and operating costs led Desiree and her father, the late Gil Engen, to sell off a majority of their cattle. At its peak, the Flying Heart Ranch ran about 300 head of cattle.

"You don't make a lot of money off of it. Diesel fuel was going up and out of sight (in cost), my dad was 80 years old and between me and him we decided it was time to get rid of the cows," Desiree Stonum said. "What we've been doing since is selling hay and leasing it out."

But there are still cows for which the Flying Heart Ranch is home. Leisl takes care of about 20 cattle on the ranch, but both she and her mother plan on growing the herd again, when the time's right.

"My mom and I want to get this place running again to full capacity, as long as the economy does what we want it to, and that's a hard thing to predict," Leisl Stonum said. "The cattle cycle goes up and down in a big wave."

Her mother added that many ranchers deal with the burden of having to sell cattle every year, whether the market is up or down. Uncertainty is simply part of the ranching life.

"It fluctuates, it's not like having a job and getting paid x' amount of dollars, you don't know what's going to happen the next fall," Desiree Stonum said.

But neither Desiree nor Leisl Stonum would ever want to do anything else in life. Leisl, who graduated from Laramie High School in the spring, said that ranching runs through her and her mother's veins. While many enjoy a quiet evening at home, Leisl usually spends her evenings working.

But it never feels like work.

"It's my time to take a break from the world when I go outside and work. I love school, but working is my break," Leisl Stonum said. "It gets boring some days, or extremely frustrating when things don't go your way but when things work out, when the fence is finally done or you're done haying, you have the greatest feeling of accomplishment. Nothing else in the world can rise to that."

Both Leisl and Desiree attribute their love of ranching to their family, especially Gil and Ialene Engen, who both passed away within hours of one another on Dec. 4, 2009.

"I was with them pretty much all day (growing up)," Leisl Stonum said. "They really showed me the hard work that a ranch takes, and the family love it takes, too."

While many of her classmates have aspirations of moving to a city or working more closely with a desk and water cooler than horse and hay, Leisl Stonum can't imagine herself doing that with her life.

"Being at a desk all day, I couldn't be productive. I would honestly think I was doing nothing with my life," Leisl Stonum said. "I would just be thinking, wow, this is a real waste of time. You could be outside, conquering the world on your tractor and instead you're sitting around holding a pen.' I couldn't do that. I wasn't born to do that."

Through their work on the Flying Heart Ranch, Desiree and Leisl both hope to honor the memory of Gil and Ialene, and to help bring the ranching life alive to those who may not know much about it, just as Ialene did through her work with organizations such as the American National Cattlewomen's Association.

"(She) lived and breathed ranching. She embodied the true ranch woman because she did so many things for the ranchers and women today," Leisl Stonum said. "She really opened the eyes of a bunch of people who really didn't know what ranching was all about. They thought of ranchers as these old, weathered people who are just grimy and dirty all the time."

When people would meet Ialene Engen, their preconceptions of what makes a rancher were shattered, Desiree Stonum added.

"She always presented everything very well. She was a good speaker, a good homemaker, a good mom," she said. "She always had her hair done, even when she had a broken arm."

___

Information from: Laramie Daily Boomerang - Laramie, http://www.laramieboomerang.com

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Recommended for you