They Ride Good Horses

The Van Norman Ranch remuda is one of the best.

An excerpt from "Best Remudas," by Jim Jennings

The Van Normans ranch in the Great Basin area of the Northwest. They are horseback every day, and their remuda is one of the best.

When I arrived in Elko, Nevada, the evening of June 10, I called Bill Van Norman to see what time he wanted me at his house the next morning.

"Oh, about 6 o'clock, Jim."

"Bill," I asked, "what time does it get daylight here?"

"About 5."

Relieved, I realized that at 6 a.m., it would be light enough to take pictures. Back home in Amarillo, two time zones away, it's barely light enough to see at 6 in the morning.

Bill added, "By the way, Jim, did you bring a jacket? It snowed two inches here this morning."

Not only was I two time zones away from the 90-degree heat in Amarillo, I was 3,500 feet higher and several hundred miles farther north. Elko is in northern Nevada, and although the small community of Tuscarora, near which Van Norman Ranches is located, is only slightly north of Elko, it is even higher up, around 6,400 feet.

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But the snow didn't last, and shortly after 6 the following morning we were in Bill's pickup truck, climbing a mountain. We were looking for a group of yearling colts turned out for the summer in a mountain pasture. Bill wanted to show them to me. He was proud of them and wanted me to know why Van Norman Ranches was a winner of the AQHA/Bayer Best Remuda Award. The Van Normans ride good horses.

It was Bill's father, Charlie, who put the ranches together. He and his wife, Della, bought a small homestead in Independence Valley, near Tuscarora, in 1945, and through the years they added to it. In later years, their sons, Bill and Robin, and their respective families, took over operation of the ranches. When Charlie died in 1996, and Della in 2000, the ranches were firmly established and continue to operate today.

Van Norman Ranches is a cow outfit. They run about 1,400 cows, calve in the spring, usually in April, and carry those calves throughout the winter. They are then sold as yearlings the next fall.

But winter comes early in northern Nevada and lasts a long time. Most years find the Van Normans feeding their cattle by mid-December, and they don't quit until the middle of April, when the snow melts. There have been years when they had to start feeding as early as the first of November, and the demands are high, from one and a half to two tons of hay per cow. Winter temperatures can get as cold as 40 below zero, but that's rare. Most winter nights are in the 10 degree range, and daytime temperatures are usually in the 20s and 30s.

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