Wyoming Wonders: Modern-Day Pioneer Woman Teaches Homesteading Skills on Working Ranch

Guests flock to southeastern Wyoming to master horsemanship, herding, husbandry and rustic cooking

By Amber Gibson

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Anne Larson won’t make you get up at 4 a.m. to feed her menagerie of animals at Pine Ranch. But if you sign up for the full-day extreme homestead experience, you’ll certainly be put to work on the 34-acre ranch that she calls home.  

Anne Larson, owner of the Pine Ranch in Carpenter, offers homesteading experiences that allow local and out-of-state guests to live like 19th century pioneers for a day or a few hours. (Courtesy photo from Anne Larson) 

Since 2019, Pine Ranch, located in Carpenter, has offered homesteading experiences — the opportunity to live like a 19th century pioneer for a full day or a few hours — from April through October for locals and out-of-state visitors. The attraction to homesteading? It has a bucolic appeal for 21st century tech-addicted urban dwellers, allowing them to step away from city life and step into the ranch world, where they can unwind and get their hands dirty while socializing with the animals.

“I teach guests about each of the different animals and how these animals fit in the homestead lifestyle in the 1800s,” Larson explained. “I want people to come and feel like they’re part of my family. They do all the chores, but we do some fun stuff, too.”

Newbies can start slowly with simple tasks like collecting freshly laid warm chicken eggs or milking a goat. There’s plenty of work to do in the garden, and a lot of muscle to put into making cheese and churning butter. Guests will work up an appetite for a lunch they’ll make themselves, which includes  baking bread with organically grown wheat berry flour from Larson’s neighboring farmer friends. 

Cow cuddling, goat milking 

Larson, 53, is a one-woman show for most of the year, but a lone college student ranch hand provides assistance during summer months. She grew up in a small town in Tennessee and studied microbiology with a zoology minor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Although Larson always loved animals, as a young woman she never imagined that one day she would be the matriarch of an animal family that includes 19 cows, seven horses, 48 chickens, two turkeys, 22 Colorado mountain dogs, 11 cats and 13 goats with babies on the way in a couple of weeks. 

Goat yoga in the hay has become a popular activity at Pine Ranch. Guests also can take hikes with goats and then enjoy a picnic lunch. (Courtesy photo from Anne Larson) 

It all started out with some cows. Larson purchased a small herd in 2016, because her horseback riding clients wanted to practice cattle handling. Since 2000, Larson has given riding lessons at Pine Ranch, and she specializes in teaching children and those who are nervous around horses. (Larson holds certifications from the American Riding Instructors Association and North American Handicapped Riding Association, among others.) Soon after the cows arrived, when Larson would lay down in the hay to rest, they’d lay beside her, like she’d previously experienced with horses, dogs and sheep.

“It was a more powerful moment when the cows came over and started licking on me and laying down with me than any other livestock,” she recalled. “I’d always viewed cows as standoffish, wild and untamable.”

So Larson started offering hour-long bovine encounters on the ranch to let her horse clients experience cow cuddles. When she purchased chickens and goats in 2019, the homesteading experience evolved from there.

“More people wanted to learn how to milk the goats, trim the hooves, bottle feed the babies, and how to make bread, cheese, soap and butter,” Larson said. She expects to host nearly 300 guests this year — the majority from out of state. The full-day homesteading experiences ($65 per adult and $30 for kids ages 4 to 14) are most popular, although shorter options are available beginning at $30 per person. Children under age 3 are always free.

Some Pine Ranch guests – mainly children, but even some adults – have no idea that eggs come from chickens or that carrots grow underground. Larson finds their wonder at the basic facts of farm life both hilarious and endearing. Many local guests have become regulars, returning to snuggle and milk goats, as well as make fresh goat cheese and salted caramel yogurt – Larson’s personal favorite for its sumptuous silky texture and sweet flavor.

A personalized touch 

Over the years, Larson has become a mentor to several horse clients. Her homesteading lifestyle prompted them to buy their own animals and live in a similar self-sufficient fashion. “Emerging from the pandemic,” she said, “I’ve seen interest in the homesteading lifestyle explode.”

Niki LaBelle, 38, is one of the many people Larson has inspired. “Pine Ranch is truly life changing,” LaBelle said. She first visited Pine Ranch after moving to Cheyenne from Florida in 2012 and spent a few years helping Larson at the ranch in addition to taking riding lessons.  

“I would compare it to Narnia,” LaBelle said. “And Miss Anne is like the cool aunt that I never had.” LaBelle’s time at Pine Ranch has inspired her to launch her own homestead in New Mexico, where she now lives with her husband. 

This year, Larson is excited to launch puppy yoga and recommends goat hikes for families. “The goats are leash trained like a dog,” she said, “so we’ll go on a hike with a picnic basket.”

Larson will barbecue, make lasagna or prepare sandwiches for the goat hike—whatever her guests prefer. Like all of her homesteading experiences, Larson personalizes each day at Pine Ranch, like an old friend welcoming you into her home.

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