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The advantage of cattle and sheep: Boner family maintains diversified operation

Written by Saige Albert
Glenrock – For Brad Boner, ranching isn’t just a way of life – it’s the way that he grew up. The family operation involves both Rambouillet and Targhee sheep and Angus and black baldy cattle, and it’s very much a family business.
    “My family on both sides has been in ag their whole lives,” comments Brad. “I’m the sixth generation to live in Converse County on my mom’s side, and I was born on a ranch north of Lusk.”
    Brad’s grandparents homesteaded north of Lusk in the early 1900s. When their children, Brad’s father and uncles, decided to expand, they bought land near Glenrock.
    “My dad and his brothers bought this place in 1964, and later split up the two ranches between the brothers,” explains Brad. “I was four when we moved here from Lusk. In 1992 and 1993, we bought the farm at Orin Junction and another ranch north of Douglas.”
    Brad’s dad, Bob, and his brothers Rob and Jeff are also partners in the ranching operations, and Laurie’s family also ranches and owns land just west of the Boners’ property. The operations run as four entities: M Diamond Angus, M Diamond Livestock, Cole Creek Ranch and Boner Bros.
    Brad also notes the family has held the tradition of raising both cattle and sheep since the beginning.
    “We’ve found over time that we can run between 25 and 30 percent more animal units by running both cattle and sheep together than if we just ran one species or the other,” explains Brad. “The grasses and environment in eastern Wyoming dictate that.”
    Brad continues that the cattle utilize the bigger grasses while sheep prefer sagebrush and finer grasses.
    “We’ve always had both. My uncle in Lusk just sold his sheep, and it was the first time since they homesteaded that place they haven’t had sheep,” adds Brad. “I think we were fortunate enough to be able to experience the benefits of cattle and sheep combined.”
    Their sheep are raised for lamb and wool. Lamb receipts make up the biggest percentage of sales on the sheep, with about 85 percent of the total revenue coming from lamb sales and 15 percent generated from wool.
    “The ewes  we raise are considered ‘wool breeds,’ but about 40 percent of the white face ewes get bred to black face bucks to raise what is called a smut faced lamb,” explains Laurie. “The rest are bred to white face bucks for replacement ewe lambs.”
    Both Brad and Laurie grew up in the Casper area, and Laurie’s family land borders Brad’s on the west. The contiguous properties provide conditions that allow for good range conditions year round.
    The Boners calve their heifers at the end of February, while the cows calve mostly in March, and the calves are sold via video sale or private treaty.
    “We bring the registered cattle over to my mom’s land in the fall and run there until we have to start calving the end of February,” says Laurie.
    “Occasionally, we’ll feed our steers out,” says Brad. “We look at what we think is going on in the market place and try to make a wise decision. We’re not afraid to feed our calves, though.”
     He also spends numerous hours studying the genetics of his cowherd to improve them.
    “It’s a lot more fun to work with the livestock if you like what you are looking at,” says Brad. “I have to live with them, so I’d rather like what I’m looking at.”
    Brad prefers to run Angus because he notes that English breeds are a better fit for the eastern Wyoming environment.
    “We run on 40 to 50 acres per cow, and one or two years out of 10 it is pretty dry,” explains Brad. “I believe their fleshing ability and mothering ability are more conducive to the range conditions here than the Continental breeds.”
    Brad also notes, “I think in certain situations there are some advantages in three-way crossbreeds or using a continental breed as a terminal sire, and there are some people who do a good job of that.”
    To diversify their operation on the cattle side, the Boner family runs a herd of registered cattle and has a bull sale on the fourth Friday in March each year. The 2012 sale marks the 20th year of the sale.
    “Through the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative, we are completely vertically integrated on the sheep side of our operation. We are producers, feeders, packers and wholesalers,” says Brad. “As they say, we own our lambs from our gate to the consumers’ plate.”
    The sheep aspect of their operation has stood the test of time, although the sheep markets have caused a significant decrease in the amount of sheep production seen in recent years in Wyoming.
    “The markets have caused the sheep business to not be too lucrative, but that has changed recently,” says Brad. “Someone said that, at one time, every sheepherder’s dream was to be the last sheep herder around, and we almost got there. Hopefully we’ll see a little turn around in numbers and things will start to get better.”
    Brad also adds that the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative has helped to ease market fluctuation and eliminate that challenge.
    Regardless, both the sheep and cattle industry have brought a number of trials to Boner Ranch.
    “As a whole, the biggest challenge that the sheep industry faces is predators,” comments Brad. “The next challenge that we have is that some of our infrastructure is starting to go away – things like truckers and sheep shearers. As the industry shrank, it is harder and harder to keep those people viable, so we lost some of them.”
    “Every year, it seems like there is a new challenge,” Brad adds. “This year it’s the cost of feedstuffs that have proven to be the challenge.”
    Brad explains, because of the droughts in the southern United States, hay isn’t available for purchase.
    “We try to get by on as little hay as possible during the winter,” comments Brad. “No matter what you might want to pay for hay, it is just not here right now. It’s a big risk and something we have to keep in mind.”
    Despite the challenge, Brad says they work to manage their range the best they can, despite environmental conditions, and to combat the challenges they adjust their carrying capacities.
    His passion for the operation helps it to remain strong.
    “It’s all fun. We spend a lot of time with our livestock, and we really enjoy both the cows and the sheep,” he says.
    Brad and Laurie also have three children – Braden, 21, and twins Meghan and Ryan, 18. Meghan is a senior in high school, looking to continue her education at the University of Wyoming and study dentistry, and Braden is a member of the Wyoming National Guard and is currently deployed in Afghanistan.
    Ryan, also a senior in high school, is looking forward to attending UW and studying ag business, with the intent of returning to the ranch. He currently runs his own small flock of registered sheep.
    Laurie says, “Right now, things are awesome.”
    “For most of us who are involved in agriculture, it’s our passion. The good days outweigh the bad days. The positives are numerous, and it’s what we love to do,” says Brad. “We get to get up every morning and do what we love to do, and we count our lucky stars for that.”
    Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..