Tippetts adapt practices: Father and son raise cattleWritten by Saige
Lovell – Brad Tippetts is at least the fourth generation farming their land at the base of the Big Horn Mountains outside of Lovell and runs a farming and ranching operation with his father Wilford.
“We’re kind of a small operation,” says Brad. “I guess you could say we’re franchers – farmers and ranchers.”
Together the Tippetts run a cow-calf operation on their deeded land, rented ground, BLM and Forest Service leases.
“We used to get on our BLM allotment in the spring, but our cows gave us so many problems,” explains Brad. “It’s right next to the Game and Fish Habitat and the cows just weren’t happy there, so they were tearing down fences and getting into fields.”
In the drier years, when salt sage didn’t grow as well, Brad and Wilford spent a significant amount of time keeping cows in the pastures instead of farming.
“We were wasting our time messing with cows when we needed to be on tractors and in the fields, so we changed to fall usage,” adds Brad.
The Tippetts also run on Forest Service leases with a small group from the area called the Shoshone Stock Growers Association (SSGA).
The SSGA has been working to put lay-down fences on the allotments to make maintenance easier.
“The deep snow we see up there doesn’t tear the lay-down fences up so much,” says Brad. “We lay it down in the fall and put it back up in the spring.”
He explains that as part of the SSGA, the Tippetts pay dues to hire a rider who maintains the fences during the season.
“If there is a big job, we go up as a group and see what we can do to maintain or replace fences,” says Brad. “Our rider is pretty much in charge of the maintenance, though.”
Brad adds that the Forest Service has also been working to help get water to a wide range of land on the allotment to keep cattle out of the river bottoms where they may conflict with sportsmen.
The Forest Service allotment runs around the Medicine Wheel in the Big Horn Mountains.
“We’ve had a good relationship with the Forest Service and we try to keep that up so we can maintain our permits without being penalized,” explains Brad.
In a typical year, the Tippetts usually bring their cattle to the Forest Service allotments around July 4.
“We didn’t get up there until July 25 this year because there was too much snow and the grass wasn’t growing. It has to be a certain height before we can turn cattle out,” explains Brad.
He also comments that they are one a few ranching operations that still trail their cattle up to the Forest Service and BLM allotments on the mountain.
As for their calf program, the Tippets background calves, wean them and fatten the calves to about 850 pounds. Brad says they increased their target sale weight from 700 pounds to 850 pounds several years ago, and they use shell corn ground into a flour, as well as hay, corn and corn silage.
The Tippetts grow and grind all the rations they feed their cattle.
“For the past five years we’ve been selling our calves on the video auctions and had some really good successes there,” says Brad. “We didn’t consign any cattle this year, though, because we’ve changed our program a bit.”
“We weaned these calves earlier this year. We usually wait until the beginning of September to wean, but the calves were here almost an extra month, so we went ahead and weaned them,” says Brad. “We face a tremendous death loss on the mountain.”
When the young calves are let on the mountain in high elevations between 8,500 and 9,500 feet, the drastic temperature fluctuations cause a form of pneumonia in their calves know as high altitude or brisket disease.
“They swell up and get a lot of fluid in the brisket. It’s basically a liquid pneumonia,” explains Brad. “We tried something different this year and weaned them before the cows ever went to the mountain.”
“We don’t know how to predict our weights because we weaned so early, so we didn’t consign with the video sale,” says Brad.
Brad and Wilford hope that in changing their weaning date they are able to keep their calves healthier and get a similar amount of gain, but they realize there are a lot of factors that could affect their calf crop.
For long-range plans, Wilford says, “Our biggest change right now is we’re just trying to figure out how not to lose so many calves. I’d like to slow down, but I don’t want to just sit on the couch all day. My health is good and I am able to do the work.”
Eventually, Brad will take over the land and run the operation.
“We run a gifting program and try to gift a little bit every year so that inheritance taxes aren’t unreasonable when Brad takes over,” adds Wilford.
Brad’s son is also involved in ranching, but works out of Torrington and on Governor Matt Mead’s ranch outside of Laramie.
Colleen, Brad’s wife, works off the ranch at one of the local bentonite plants to provide an additional income as well as insurance for the family.
After Brad’s mother passed, Wilford remarried and his wife Cynthia also helps with the farming and ranching operation.
“Cynthia comes along and helps whenever we are doing things,” says Brad. “She’s around once in a while and does things like cut hay for us.”
Brad’s two younger brothers are also in the area. Both brothers work in other jobs off the farm and ranch.
The Tippetts have lived and ranched in Big Horn County and enjoy where they are.
“I don’t know any better than here. For years we always wondered why our grandparents settled here until about two years ago,” says Wilford. “When everyone else was out of water, the Shoshone River just kept running. They came because of that, and because no one else wanted this land.”