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Ranch Woman Says Raising Sheep & Cattle is Only Career for Her

For more than a century Tammy Basel’s family have raised sheep and cattle on the native prairie she now cares for.
Lura Roti
For more than a century Tammy Basel’s family have raised sheep and cattle on the native prairie she now cares for.

Tammy Basel returned home to work on her family’s ranch near Fairpoint – 70-miles northeast of Rapid City in the early 1980’s.

With the support of her father - Basel built her career as a rancher. And in addition to caring for sheep and cattle, this rancher has also made time to advocate for South Dakota agriculture so that her children and grandchildren can carry on the tradition.

“You know when people say, it is what you’re bred to do, what you’re born to do – I 100-percent believe I might have been born in a barn, but not quite. It’s just where I find my peace and my satisfaction. My spot in life,” Basel said.

It seems only fitting that ranching is the only career Basel ever wanted because it was her grandma, Carrie Wilcox, who homesteaded the land in 1917.

But in the early years, she still had to prove herself.

“It took my dad and I a long time to figure it out, but my dad was very proud of me and he was very supportive, and you know, I can remember there were times when – so we used to put wool in a sack, and the old sacks we had were long like a cigar and the new sacks are what fits a shipping container, and he would always say to the males around me, “Tammy, show them how it’s done.” Or when it came to pulling a calf, there would be times when I might pick up a 100-pound calf that was too big and just carry it and he’d always say, “Tammy, show them how it’s done,”’ Basel said.

Her husband, Dallis always knew she was capable. His family’s ranch is next door to Tammy’s. Today, Tammy’s son, Ryan LaMont and his family raise sheep and cattle on Dallis’ land.

“It was our first date. He came over for supper and we were checking heifers and toes were up, this means the calf is backwards. And he let me pull the calf. He didn’t need to tell me how to do it. He didn’t need to push me out of the way to do it for me. He let me do it and he thought, “well this is okay. She knows how to cook and pull a calf.” And I thought, “this is okay, he didn’t tell me how to do it.”’

I was really focused on sheep, so the first years of our marriage, it worked really good because I fixed the bottom part of the fence and he fixed the top.”

Tammy Basel (center) with her husband, Dallis (far right) son, Ryan, daughter-in-law, Shilo and grandsons, Logan and Kole.
Lura Roti
Tammy Basel (center) with her husband, Dallis (far right) son, Ryan, daughter-in-law, Shilo and grandsons, Logan and Kole.

There are numerous reasons Tammy says sheep and cattle work well together grazing these western South Dakota plains.

“With sheep and cattle there’s actually three cash crops. Because of our wool, we have quality wools. Being a dual species grazer has been important to ranch for many years. When the cattle are high, the sheep might be low, when the sheep are high the cattle, but more importantly, the sheep and cattle graze differently. So, you can really raise more pounds of protein per acre by having dual species grazing than by raising just cattle or just sheep,” Basel said.

When she is not caring for livestock, Tammy makes time to advocate for the career and life she loves.

“I want the future to have what I’ve been given. I have had an amazing life and amazing opportunities. But the world is not the same as it was when I was a kid. The world is different. We have social media now and there’s a lot of people who don’t want to eat meat or wear wool.”

Even though meeting with policy makers in D.C. or consumers during the Sturgis Rally takes her off the ranch, she says it is worth it for a seat at the table.

And she said advocating today so her children and grandchildren have future opportunities on the family ranch means everything to her.

“You cannot put into words the importance of family. If it was not for Ryan and Shilo, very likely, you know, how are you going to retire? If there is no family, you would just call the auctioneer. Now, wouldn’t that be sad to think about all the heritage and how much sweat and how many years and generations of sweat equity is there to just call the auctioneer?”

Ryan and Shilo and their children, Brooke, Logan and Kole are grateful for Tammy’s efforts and the legacy she and Dallis are leaving to them.

Lura Roti grew up on a ranch in western South Dakota but today she calls Sioux Falls home. She has worked as a freelance journalist for more than two decades. Lura loves working with the SDPB team to share the stories of South Dakota’s citizens and communities. And she loves sharing her knowledge with the next generation. Lura teaches a writing course for the University of Sioux Falls.