How long has farming /ranching been in your family?
Since 1889. Hip's great grandparents William and Bessie Tillett set up their homesteaded on Crooked Creek and started the TX Ranch. The TX brand came from Texas. Hip's great grandfather William “Billy” Tillett purchased it there. The brand was originated in Montana and Wyoming by Billy Tillett. Ma Strong, Bessie's mother lived down the creek one mile below Hip and Loretta's house. We call it the Brittan Place. Ma Strong also ran a bar and hotel in Lovell, Wyoming, 20 miles from Crooked Creek.
Has a lot changed on the farm over the years with the economy?
Yes, somewhat. That is why Abbie (Hip's mother) started the guest ranch business in 1976 as a second income. The ranch couldn't survive with only livestock as an income with all the farming, ranch and land expenses.
Have you had to learn new skills or diversify on the farm over the years?
Yes we have learned new skills to adapt to the weather conditions on the ranch, such as growing winter pastures. During winter we have around 1,700 to 1,800 large animals to feed during very severe and cold conditions. We have to run the ranch as cost effectively as we can and we purchase new equipment when we can afford it. During the winter having new equipment really helps as it starts easier then if something is old. It helps, but it is very expensive. Winter is tough as parts break, diesel turns to gel and cattle can get sick. We also have to get out and feed to the cattle no matter how bad the weather is.
Watching the episode with Jamie in Wyoming, life on the farm seems idyllic – beautiful scenery, wide open spaces. I am sure though that there is more to farming life – is it a tough way to make a living?
Danny, it is tough however, very rewarding as well. It does give a person a very good and positive work ethic in every way. No matter what, when the going gets tough everyone comes together, works harder and gets through it as best as possible. Even at our guest ranch many of our guests have the ranch's interest at heart and seem to do the same thing.
What are some of the day-to-day challenges of farming life?
Weather is a great challenge in this livelihood and, as I said, it greatly affects the livestock's health during winter. Our calving season relies greatly upon weather conditions. Calves are born wet and if it's too cold, they may get cold too quickly and be unable to get up and get the colostrums (mother's first milk), which is only available for about 9 hours after birth. They will likely be exposed to sickness and also dehydration. We can take care of them with new better bagged colostrums.
Cows that have their first calf have far more trouble and require our assistance much more. This is why we have a heifer-only pasture, which has easy access to the corral. This means we can help pull calves and take care of them. This pasture is also for any older cows and any animal that we feel may need help so that we can help them live.
Irrigation can be a challenge as well. We sometimes have droughts, which mean we get many grasshoppers. This can be a problem as they take over and eat the crops. We can also sometimes get weevils, which is a small worm that can eat the crop as well. We have floods that can cause a lot of damage as well. Break downs are very time consuming with quite a few miles in-between repair shops. Finally there are the ongoing expenses like taxes, feeding, breakdowns, veterinary bills, insurance, equipment, the guest ranch, vehicles, livestock, interest, etc etc”¦ Having said all of this we would not change our life for anything!
Had you heard of Jamie before?
Hip hadn't heard of Jamie before and I had only heard of Jamie once or twice on the Food Network station. I have only seen Jamie a few times on TV so I don't really know too much about him. We don't get a lot of spare time to watch TV. We're so sorry to have missed out, but we now feel so fortunate to have met him. We will keep up to date with what Jamie is up to on his website and we're looking very much forward to his TV show!
What has been your experience of British people?
Actually we have had a very good and positive experience with the British people who have come to stay at our guest ranch. They have very good manners, do not complain, are cheerful and quite the troopers when visiting our ranch.
Were you impressed with Jamie's skills on the farm?
We were very impressed with Jamie's ease with his cooking skills, his mannerisms, humor and eagerness. He was very comfortable and familiar with cooking outdoors, cooking in Dutch ovens and open campfire cooking. The food Jamie prepared was wonderful, moist, tender, flavorful; unbelievably excellent meals! We were very impressed with Jamie's knowledge of and interest in the history of food and all the types of food that he knew about as well. We felt that Jamie was eager to learn and loved the outdoors. He tried anything that came his way here on the ranch; camping, riding, branding, castration, overnight on the trail, gathering cattle – you name it and he didn't let too much get in his way either (although castration may have made him feel a bit squeamish!) Jamie was also very good about asking a lot of the right questions. The questions were easy to answer and he was truly interested. We loved the experiences he gave us too!!!
Lassoing looked really hard – is this something that you need to learn from a young age?
It does help, however, you can certainly learn at any age if you have the interest and you practice. Range roping is quite a bit different then arena roping, you don't want to cause too many disruptions in the arena whilst you are dragging the calf out.
How did Hip feel when he discovered that Jamie had snuck some of the food items into his pack when they went out to retrieve the lost cattle?
He did comment on how excellent the food that Jamie prepared over the open fire that night was. Hip told me and many other guests this season that he loved the steak Jamie cooked on the rock along with all the other surprises Jamie had up his sleeve that evening.
Anything else that you would like to add about Jamie's visit?
We truly enjoyed Jamie's visit. We were very impressed with how well everyone on Jamie's crew got along, how well they worked together and also how long they have been together too. That truly tells us all a lot! It was fun to get to know everyone. We want to thank everyone for visiting us and for some great times, well spent and shared together and for some of the very best food and meals ever! THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH!
For more information visit the TX Ranch website
About the author: Danny McCubbin is the website editor for JamieOliver.com