2022 Black Hills Stock Show Stockmen of the Year: Ray and Linda Gilbert | TSLN.com

2022 Black Hills Stock Show Stockmen of the Year: Ray and Linda Gilbert

Ray and Linda Gilbert, 2022 Black Hills Stock Show Stockmen of the Year.

Anyone who is lucky enough to take home a pint of Linda Gilbert’s canned beef is getting a treat. 

And each jar, sealed with cubes of beef and rich gravy in it, is a symbol of what Linda and her husband Ray Gilbert stand for: taking what the grass and the cattle give them, and turning it into sustenance for friends and family.  

The Gilberts are honored as the Silver Spur Stockman of the Year for the Black Hills Stock Show.  

They ranch ten miles southeast of Buffalo, S.D., with a commercial Angus cattle and a cow/calf operation. 

Ray was thirteen years old when his dad, Lloyd, passed away, leaving the fourth generation, Ray, his sister and their mother, Helga, to run the place.  

Linda was born to Ken and Ruth Halligan in Valentine, Neb., and grew up near Pierre on a ranch. 

The two met while in school at South Dakota State University and married in 1970. They came back to Buffalo and began ranching.  

It wasn’t always easy. Prices were low, days were long, and there wasn’t always enough money to pay bills. 

But they persevered, learning and adapting as times changed.  

The climate in the northwest corner of the state is harsh, nearly arid, with sandy soil. It required a delicate balance between caring for the land and making a profit on a ranch. 

The Gilberts found that balance. Forty years ago, they changed their operation to rotational grazing, adding twenty miles of electric cross fencing and not putting cattle out to graze till June 1, to allow the warm season grasses a chance to get started. 

It was a good move. Since then, they’ve doubled the carrying capacity of the ranch and improved the quality of the grasses, too.  

“We had a lot of prairie sand reed grass,” Ray said, “so we were just trying to figure out a way to get some use out of it. One of the things we researched was we could rotate graze it, and we did. And we’re still getting tremendous use out of it.” 

They’ve noticed the native grasses are returning because of the rotational grazing, he said. “We’re getting a lot of western wheat grass and blue grama, a variety of grasses coming up within those pastures.” 

They don’t put up a lot of hay, either, allowing cattle to graze instead of feeding them bales. “We feel like the cattle are the best way to harvest that grass,” Linda said. “We try to use the resources that are here.”  

At one time, they added yearlings and sheep to supplement income, and Linda went back to college, cramming 54 credit hours in seven months, so she could teach school. She taught for three years, getting them over the financial hump, “paying for insurance, all those things a ranch wife does.”  

The couple competed in rodeo in their younger days, Ray as a steer wrestler in high school, college, and the pros, and Linda barrel raced in college. But once they came back to the ranch, they quit. “It was too hard to travel and be gone” from the ranch, Linda said.  

Ray and Linda have two children: a son, Lloyd, who is married to Patty, and a daughter, Andrea. Both of them competed in rodeo; Lloyd won championships in high school and college as a steer wrestler. Now the next generation is getting in on it. Lloyd and Patty’s daughter Sawyer and son Grey are rodeo competitors. Sawyer was just crowned the 2021 WPRA Breakaway World Champion. Ray and Linda were in Las Vegas to watch her compete. “It’s pretty fun to cheer for a world champion,” she laughed. “I can’t deny that.” 

Grey is a junior in high school and competes in the steer wrestling, like his dad and granddad did. His great-granddad, Ken Halligan, rode broncs. Grey is the 2021 S. D. High School Rodeo steer wrestling champion and won fourth at the National High School Finals.  

The kids and grandkids are part of the team on the ranch that Ray’s parents incorporated in 1962. “They’re very involved in it. They know about the grasses, the rotation, they work really hard. We really miss them when they’re gone and we have to work cattle without them.” 

“As we sit here, Sawyer is taking out salt and mineral,” Linda said. “We like to keep it real. We don’t put them on a pedestal.” 

The grandkids are just as capable as their parents and grandparents, Linda said. “We could walk away today and Sawyer and Grey could run this ranch. They’ve been out there from the beginning.”  

The Gilberts are well-invested in their community, too. Ray and Linda have served as directors of the S.D. Stock Growers Association. Ray was on the Resource Ag Council for the BLM, was a Harding County Stock Growers director, a director and president of the Western S.D. Buckaroos, a volunteer with the group that hosted the Harding County High School Rodeo, and, in college, a regional director for the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. 

Linda was a S.D. High School Rodeo director and state secretary, was on the Harding County School Board, the Black Hills Stock Show Foundation, the S.D. Grasslands Coalition, and was appointed to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. Both she and Ray were 4-H leaders when their kids were young.  

“We feel really strongly that you need to give back to your community,” she said.  

They are always trying to learn new things. “We try to be lifelong learners,” Linda said. “We utilize what we have, because it’s a gift that we’re given, to have this land, and we need to take care of it.”  

Linda’s canned meat ends up at fundraisers and auctions, and in the hands of friends and strangers. She’s given it to people who have never tried it and they are hooked on its good flavor.  

She calls it “steak in a jar,” and with a good seal, it lasts indefinitely. 

It’s even been found in the trailer of their granddaughter Sawyer, the world champ.  

“I sent jars of it with her in her trailer,” Linda said. “So no matter where she is, she has a good protein source. Maybe that’s what made the world title for her,” she laughed.  

She and Ray find pleasure in their kids and grandkids.  

“It’s exciting to see ideas come to fruition,” Linda said. “The beef industry is always a tough one. There’s never been a big margin and you’re always on the edge of being broke, or a big drought, or something.  

“But the excitement, when your children can saddle their own horses, and they talk about what bulls they want, and when you see the calves that come in, that makes us feel like we’ve done something right. 

“It’s easy to second guess yourself in this business. Your faith has to be strong, that God will be with you, but also that you’re where you want to be.”  

The couple has great hope for the next generations.  

“I think our generation was lucky because we could stay so focused. For Lloyd, Patty and Andrea’s generation, they have outside influences, and it’s certainly going to be very different for Sawyer and Grey. They will all have different goals and that’s a good thing for this industry. 

“And there’s room for everybody and everybody’s ideas.”  

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User


Loading comments...