Running a successful ranch is a family operation
Intro: The Nieslanik family has been farming and ranching in the Roaring Fork Valley since 1929. Jim and Sharon and their family own the original homeplace on Spring Valley. Jim’s brothers John, Paul and Robert have ranches in and around Carbondale.
Jim: Both sides of my family are from Poland, but Dad met Mom in Sheridan, Wyoming. They were married in 1922 and moved to the ranch on Spring Valley in 1929. They came with five kids and a baby, and my mom’s parents followed shortly after.
They moved off the ranch and into town in 1964 when Sharon and I got married, and in 1966 we bought the ranch from them. We had enough for the down payment, and they financed us.
Sharon: I don’t know much about my family’s origins. We’ve been here for quite a few generations. I do know that my dad’s family came from England. I was born in Collbran, Colorado, and we moved to Rifle when I was 3. I lived there until I went off to college at CSU. After college, I came back to Meeker and worked as a county extension home agent for three years, until Jim and I were married.
Gallacher: Jim, you were honored as the Entrepreneur of the Year by DECA last year.
Jim: Yeah, it was nice to be recognized, but the award is really for my whole family because nobody runs a ranch alone.
Sharon: I think that award helped some people realize that farming and ranching is a business and that we are all entrepreneurs. When you stop and think about the whole operation, you are managing people, monitoring livestock, planting and harvesting crops, processing food, taking care of the financials and overseeing all aspects of a complex operation. It’s a big management program.
Gallacher: How did you pull that off as a family?
Sharon: We just did what had to be done. We all worked together including the children. They all had their jobs to do. Our kids are all grown now but we still like getting together as a family. We have spent a lot of years together working together to make the ranch a success.
Gallacher: Tell me about your kids.
Sharon: David is a middle school principal in Beaverton, Oregon. Our daughter Sandy is the principal at Glenwood Springs Middle School, Eric teaches at Glenwood High School and coaches baseball, and Thad and Jeff run the ranch.
Gallacher: You said that growing up the kids all worked alongside of you.
Jim: Yeah, most of the outside labor was the boys and the inside work was done by Sharon and our daughter, Sandy, although Sandy and Sharon had to help out a lot with fieldwork.
Sharon: Yes, Sandy liked to work outside more than in, but, with only one daughter, our four boys also had to take their turn inside. They each had to help with the meal preparation and clean up.
Gallacher: I imagine that skill has served them pretty well.
Sharon: I can tell you that when they went to college they didn’t bring their laundry home. Their wives tell me now that they are thankful for what we did because all of them are good cooks. Our oldest boy, David, does most of the cooking in his house.
Jim: All the kids are particular about keeping a good house and taking care of things, which is how we were taught. It saves you a lot of work in the long run.
Gallacher: Who managed the financial part of the business?
Jim: Sharon took care of the books. I’m not much of a bookkeeper, so she managed all that.
Sharon: He was the outside manager, and I was the inside manager.
Jim: Luckily, we’ve been able to turn a lot of that responsibility over to the Thad and Jeff and their wives.
Gallacher: When did you move to town?
Jim: In 1994 when Thad and Tonya got married. We just figured it was best for them. So I started driving from town to the ranch everyday.
Gallacher: Do you ever think about retiring?
Sharon: I’m not sure I would want him to retire completely, but there are some 12-hour days that are starting to show on him, and I just want him to slow down a little bit. I feel like he is a perfectionist and wants everything done right.
Jim: Well, when you get older it takes you longer to do things and sometimes the days can stretch out a little further than what they should. Yeah, I’m beginning to realize that it’s time to slow up a little bit.
Thad and Jeff are taking good care of things. They’re managing our place and the Hopkin’s ranch nearby, so there’s a lot of work there. But when you get to be 75 years old it’s probably time to slow up a little bit.
Sharon: Life in town has been good, but I miss the ranch and the wide-open atmosphere. When I look back on it all I have come to the conclusion that the ranch was a perfect place to teach the kids about responsibility and the importance of following through on a project. They learned to work together as a unit.
If the work didn’t get done the kids learned that we didn’t come to town for a show or a ball game, responsibility came before the fun things. So they pitched in and we got it done.
Jim: Yeah, we wouldn’t have been able to make the ranch prosper without their help, and I think they realized that early on.
Sharon: I was talking to an old friend of mine the other day and she was reminding me of the times she would come up to buy milk from us. She said, “I’ll never forget coming into the kitchen and there were all your little kids, each one with their job, lined up helping you with canning.”
Gallacher: How many quarts of food would you can in a season?
Sharon: It varied depending on what kind of a year we had, but we put up between 500 and 1,000 jars. We did fruits and vegetables, and I even tried sauerkraut and ketchup one year.
Canning for me was a hobby. I enjoyed it. I’m not sure the kids saw it that way. I liked the home economics aspect of the ranch.
Gallacher: It’s a good thing you did, because there was plenty of it to do.
Jim: It helps to have a good attitude. You’ve got to have a purpose for getting up in the morning or things can get pretty dragged out. So you’ve got to have something that interests you enough to get goin’.
Gallacher: What are the greatest gifts you’ve given your kids?
Jim: I think it’s learning how to work. I think living on the ranch helped them understand how important it is to do a job right.
Sharon: It comes back to that sense of responsibility and working with others that ranch life can teach. I think what our kids learned there has served them pretty well in their lives.
When I was young, both of my parents had to work outside the home, so I was responsible for my younger brothers and sisters. I cooked and cleaned for them so my mom could work. I think that experience prepared me to raise my own family.
Jim: It was the same for me. We had to help Dad and Mom make the ranch work. There was no time for foolin’ around. We had to be involved.
Gallacher: How has ranch life changed over the years?
Jim: Well things are different now with all this modern machinery. Back in the old days ranches were all pretty small with 70-100 head of cattle. That was a pretty good livin’.
Today we have about 300 mother cows, but the ranch has to support two families. We are leasing more land to make it work.
Sharon: I think the modern equipment has made some of the jobs easier and less time consuming because you can get so much done in less time.
I used to go out and drive the truck when they were picking up hay bales, which was a two- or three-day process. Now it’s once over the field and you’re done.
Gallacher: Looking back would you do it all over again?
Jim: Yes, I would. It’s been a good life.
Sharon: This last Thanksgiving weekend we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary, and we had a lot to be thankful for. Our kids were all home and we had over 200 people come from all over to wish us well.
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