There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but as it turns out there is also more than one way to run a successful ranch. During the first week of Ranch Crew, a majority of time was spent indoors learning concepts and ideas from the esteemed Dr. Brian Mealor at the University of Wyoming Research and Extension Center in Sheridan. Luckily, Brian was willing to get us out in the land with the help of John Heyneman, the director of the Plank Stewardship Initiating. As a collective group we visited a few local producers to learn about alternatives in the ranching industry according to historically successful and new and emerging management alternatives.
Our first major outing from the classroom in Sheridan was to John Heyneman’s family ranch, more formally known as the Padlock Ranch in Ranchester Wyoming owned by the Scott Family since the 1940’s . This large ranch spans into southern Montana, across north central Wyoming, and part of the northeastern corner of Wyoming. The Padlock Ranch Company is the perfect example of diversification by western producers. The Padlock Ranch includes a cow-calf enterprise run year round, an irrigated and dryland crop production, and a feedlot enterprise that uses the silage crop from the farmlands and the calf crop from the cow-calf enterprise to finish cattle on the ranch. By using the calf and silage crop to finish cattle at the feedlot, the Padlock ranch removes the need to sell calves at weaning weight and rather finish them for sale as slaughter calves at full maturity. Most ranches are not large enough to run a cattle and farm operation, but the sheer size of the Padlock Ranch allows it to successfully diversify. What’s even more impressive is the Padlock Ranch focuses heavily on five purposes that are key to success as a whole. These purposes include financial excellence, excellent people, natural resource sustainability, being positive members and of the community, and to be an emblem of the Scott Family. The ranch crew course provided a lot of firsts for our group, and this opportunity to visit the Padlock Ranch simply added to the list. As local producers, some of our team was still new to the massive level of diversification that the Padlock Ranch had created. As a whole, our team was introduced to the need for careful planning and maintenance of running a successfully diversified cattle business.
Our next ‘visit’ was to the Bauer Ranch in Ucross Wyoming. On this outing the Ranch crew was introduced to another possible ranch business scheme. Barry Bauer, along with the Ucross High Plains Stewardship Initiative, has implemented a highly intensive rotational grazing system. A large number of producers in Wyoming rely on large pastures that they turn cattle into for months at a time. A common set up is to have 3 or 4 large pastures that you rotate cattle through in order to allow certain pastures to rest for certain parts of the year. Often times producers lack fencing and infrastructure to split pastures for more rotation. The Bauer Ranch has invested in portable electric fence that they use to divide large pastures. The system works by setting up a smaller electrical pasture, releasing cows into it for one to two weeks, and then setting up a new small pasture and releasing them into it. As an added factor, the Bauer ranch also owns and runs sheep on the ranch. There is a complex system of timing release of cows and later sheep into different electrically fences pastures throughout this ranch. This intensive grazing system allows for very specific grazing levels to occur before livestock are moved. The system is very flexible, but also very important to keep track of. With so many cows and then sheep in one small area, it is necessary to keep track of the biomass eaten so that livestock are moved exactly when they should be. On a positive note, this system proves to be more successful in getting more complete grazing in a pasture, as cattle are confined from focusing in one area and are rather pushed into a new area as needed.
Another interesting idea to point out is that the Bauer Ranch diversified into a cattle and sheep business due to week problems. Owner and manager Barry Bauer swears by the fact that cattle will enter a pasture to graze on grasses, then the sheep are later released into the pasture to focus their attention on a weedy plant species known as Dalmatian Toadflax. The sheep create a control over the toadflax and create a good use for the weedy species by providing a forage source for the sheep.
Our time spent in Sheridan during the Ranch Crew course was packed with learning and exploring alternative management options for cattle businesses in Wyoming. Actually getting out into the field and seeing the differences in production on local ranches is an amazing opportunity, just one more opportunity we can add to the list of Ranch Crew. Having more than one way to ranch is a new but highly intriguing concept in western agriculture.