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Cattle ranching a way of life; Ron Eagon keeps it in the family

An overhead view of Ronald Eagon's Marmarth ranch, where he raises more than 200 cattle and recently took on raising alpacas.

Ronald Eagon dreamt of being a carpenter until he was in the eighth grade and was tapped to take over his father's farm.

He left the farm to work at the elevator in Rhames and later in the oil fields for more than 20 years, but something called him back to agriculture.

Now age 63, he wakes up each morning at 5 a.m. to begin work on his more than 200-head cattle ranch 12 miles south of Marmarth, near the Little Missouri River. The ranch is a family operation with his son, Neyl, working as his right-hand man and his wife, Lori, formerly of Mott, pitching in.

"The plans right now are that I'll ranch for three more years and then see where things are," Ronald Eagon said. "If my son wants to run it, I will help him out. I'll probably stay in the cattle business, if my health stays as is, for another 10 years. If my son takes over, I'll still be able to travel and just more or less help him out. This is a job that is hard to get me away from because I really like, especially in the winter when I feed cattle. It's fun to feed in the manger or the pasture. I just spread the chopped hay and watch the cows come."

Neyl Eagon, who has worked on the ranch for six years, focusing on the cows, spraying and fencing, shares his father's sentiments.

"I like it better than an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job," he said. "I get to set my own hours and do what I need to do without anyone overlooking me. Cattle ranching is great."

Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association, said there are approximately 11,000 to 14,000 cattle ranches of varying sizes across the state.

Among those ranchers is Ronald Eagon, who has about 25 years of experience working with cattle and is in the fifth year of running a hay grinding business.

"I bought the grinder for my own use, but it was more than I needed for my small operation on the ranch and decided to start the business," he explained.

He grew up on a ranch with cattle and sheep, but when he went out on his own, he decided to stick strictly with cattle.

"Out of the sheep deal, I pretty much just learned how to shear them," he said. "Work with the sheep was great, but they take extra time and the wool prices are not that great, so I decided to go strictly with cattle, and I really like cattle when you can build up the breed to what you want."

Ronald Eagon had to explain his business to his wife when the couple married more than a decade ago and moved to the ranch.

Lori Eagon said the farm life had never appealed to her growing up in the city limits of Mott, but she wouldn't have it any other way now.

"When I met Ron, we lived in Rhames and he rented this land we live on now and raised cattle. One day, I asked him to take me out to the ranch, and although it was strange for me to be living on a farm, I've decided that I would never want to live in town again," she said. "In Mott, there's a lot of vehicle noise and more traffic too. Out here, you can hear the birds, your neighbors aren't too close and you can see the stars clearly every night. It's peaceful on the ranch. The only thing I'm definitely still afraid of out here are the snakes."

The newest addition to the ranch came last August with the purchase of two male alpacas.

The ranching way of life is the only way of life now for the Eagons.

"It's the type of life that once you get into it, it's hard to get out," Ronald Eagon said. "It's not stressful like it was in the oil fields where you have people you have to answer to. There's always something to be done, but you're able to work at your own leisure for the most part. Yes, there are things that you have to get done, but so much of what you need to do can wait till tomorrow if need be."