Next level ranching: Rifes, Land Trust carry on beef-raising tradition for the 21st Century

SUBLETTE COUNTY, WYO — Down Daniel way is a historic spread originally homesteaded by the Carl Lidbeck family in 1899. For well over a century the working ranch has played a pivotal role in carrying on a Wyoming tradition—producing quality beef and preserving open space and habitat for wildlife.

Rife family enjoys a little time in the saddle outside Moab, Utah. (Courtesy)

When admitted city-slickers, the Rife family, bought the property a few years ago…well, the community had to be holding its breath.

But fear not, turns out the Rifes are ranchy. Jason, Sonja, and their children Margaret and Max established the Rafter Double R Ranch and their grass finished beef business—the Killpecker Creek Cattle Company. Jason is a retired chemistry professor at Virginia Commonwealth University with a west Texas ranching background. Sonja has a degree in biology, so between the two they have soil health, land management, and cattle genetics down to a science.

With land easements in place on 765 acres of the 1,100-acre ranch courtesy Jackson Hole Land Trust, the Rifes took their cattle operation to a whole next level. They quickly founded their beef business out of a desire to provide people with healthy, sustainable food, using practices that support the wellbeing of the land.

“I, personally, think that we can save the planet if we all understand and pay attention to where our food comes from, how it’s raised and processed, packaged and shipped,” Sonja says. (Sonja Rife)

“We’ve gone from saying ‘we raise beef,’ to saying ‘we raise grass,’ to saying ‘we raise a healthy soil biome,'” said Sonja Rife.

Soil biome?

The Rifes refine the variety of cover plants they grow. The ranch is grazed on a rotational basis using principles of holistic management—a technique that seeks to improve soil quality through strategic grazing. During the summer, cattle are shifted to new pasture daily through use of portable electric fencing, intensively grazing a small area before being moved on to new grass.

And that’s not the only thing this high-tech cowboy family has stepped up around the ranch. Take a closer look at those ‘Oreo’ cows.

The Rifes raise Belted Galloway cattle. It’s a primitive breed that traces its roots back to the rugged hill country of southwest Scotland. They’re hardy cows that do well even on the poorest of windswept pasture. The Rifes say Belties finish well on grass and are well-suited for high altitudes and long winters.

“We are USDA certified grass-fed, no-hormone and no-antibiotic,” Sonja said. “We’re tremendously proud of our meat.”

In addition to supporting their livestock, the ranch’s practices also create an organically healthy environment for wildlife, such as the raptors that roost on the nearby cliffs and migrating shorebirds that visit to forage in marshy areas of the ranch. The ranch land also plays host to migrating pronghorn and wintering moose.

“We are privileged to be able to live here in one of the most beautiful places on the planet,” Sonja said.

To keep things as natural as possible, the Rifes refine the variety of cover plants they grow, moving cattle as needed. (Courtesy Sonja Rife)

Private landowners like the Rifes are critical pieces in Northwest Wyoming’s conservation puzzle, according to the Land Trust. The Rafter Double R Ranch has enjoyed protection since 2005.

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