Farming and feeding, Vigils take unique approach to cattle, farming operation
Worland – Michael Vigil and his family have owned farm ground in Washakie and Big Horn counties since the turn of the last century, and they continue to carry out their family’s tradition on the land.
“We own the farm that my mom’s family started in 1906,” Michael, known by many as Mitch, says. “It is still in the family after all these years.”
“Grandpa started working for the beet factory and bought a farm,” he says.
Michael’s wife Karen also has a history in the area.
“Karen’s family ranched at Hyattville, and she worked on two of the big outfits outside of town,” he says. “We met in high school, got married and started farming in 1984.”
Today, Michael and Karen operate a farm and feeding operation with their family.
“There is always something going on here,” says Michael.
The Vigils raise sugarbeets, beans, malt barley, whole corn, corn for silage and hay.
“Along with the crops, we also custom feed cattle and have our own calves, as well,” Michael says.
In addition to their commercial cow/calf operation, they feed up to 4,000 cows and calve out an additional 1,500 each year.
The Vigils calve beginning March 15 on their river bottom pastures, which provide adequate protection for cows, even during snowy springs.
“We usually plant grain the same time we calve,” says Michael and Karen’s son Bryce. “Then we start with beets and corn.”
During that same season, Michael says they begin feeding beet pulp and silage to the cattle.
“Nearly all the cattle we custom feed get calved out here, as well,” adds Karen.
“We end up branding around 1,500 head around here, so we are terribly busy in the spring,” continues Michael. “We are trying to brand while planting all these crops.”
In April and June, the cattle are shipped out, and Bryce says he is allowed to progress with the farming.
“After cattle are shipped, we plant beans and start irrigating,” Michael says.
To improve irrigation efficiencies, Michael notes they farm under 19 pivots, 15 of which they own.
“The pivots have really improved our efficiencies and decreased labor,” he comments. “We have higher production, and they help our regrowth.”
Summer is busy with irrigating, spraying crops and checking cows.
When planting is complete, Michael notes they take their cattle to the Big Horn Mountains to graze during the summer.
“We truck our cows to Ten Sleep, then truck them up to the mountain later,” he explains. “They are trailed back off the mountain at the end of the season.”
“The end of July, we start harvesting,” Bryce continues. “Once we start, it seems like we continue from one crop to the next until we are finished.”
First, barley is cut, then beans and corn silage, sugar beets and shelled corn are harvested.
As soon as September hits, the cattle start coming back from the mountain.
“It can be terribly busy that time of year,” Michael says.
On finishing beet harvest, they begin to take in more custom-fed cattle and begin to transport beet pulp from the factory in Worland to their ranch.
“We stay busy feeding the rest of the winter months,” Bryce says.
Then, they start their year over and continue to farm and raise cattle.
While they take on a number of cattle to custom feed, Michael also notes that they raise their own herd of commercial Angus cattle.
“We have to have high altitude cattle because we graze on the mountain,” says Michael.
Bryce adds, “Since we are feeding them down here in the winters, we’d like to see a little more frame than some of the guys running on the range.”
They have raised their own herd for nearly 15 years, though they have been custom feeding for 20 years.
Double cropping strategy
“The cows graze our fields in the winter,” he says, noting that the farming operation works well with their cattle. “We re-seed the barley fields after harvest and grow a second crop.”
The double cropping strategy allows the Vigils to realize up to five animal unit months per acre, allowing them to feed large numbers of cattle.
“After we bale the straw, we irrigate again within a week to help the regrowth,” Michael says. “We also harvest the corn and graze cornstalks.”
Sugarbeet pulp and tops are also fed to the cattle.
Nearly all of their cropland can be utilized again by the cattle, says Michael, adding, “It helps that we are multi-cropping many of our crops.”
Continuing the family
The Vigil’s continue to run cattle and farm as a whole family.
“We are a family operation,” says Michael. “That is one huge thing that I really appreciate.”
Michael, Karen and Bryce work full time on the operation, while the Vigil’s daughter Brittany and son Brian work on the operation when they aren’t busy going to school.
Bryce’s fiancée Leann is also joining the family operation in the near future.
Michael and Karen’s other daughter Justine and her husband Brenton Paxton also farm in the area with their children Hayden, Brooklynn and Carston.
“My brother Danny also farms next to me,” Michael says. “We’ve farmed side by side, but we don’t compete. We help each other and give each other ideas.”
Working close to his family is important to Michael, and he hopes to continue, noting, “It’s pretty cool to work with our family.”
Benefits and challenges
Despite their incredibly busy schedule, the Vigils appreciate their operation and location.
“The nice thing about where we are is the population,” Michael comments. “We are pretty rural.”
At the same time, he sees benefits in the quality of the resources.
“We have really excellent ground through this valley, and we have good water,” he explains. “Our production is outstanding because we have a lot of heat units to raise corn. That is true down the Worland and Manderson area.”
Karen also says they are fortunate enough to be close to many good facilities.
“The MillerCoors facility is here, and we have Yellowstone Bean and Wyoming Sugar Company nearby,” she says. “We don’t have to truck things too far.”
Michael and Karen both note that they also work with a number of good people, mentioning, “We work with some excellent people in the Basin. There are a lot of really good people that we work with.”
In addition Michael says, “My dad has also helped to give us really good focus and direction.”
Michael’s parents Ted and Patsy Vigil, as well as Karen’s parents Roy and Virginia Frisbee, have helped to shape their operation.
At the same time, while they enjoy benefits in the Worland area, the Vigils also experience some challenges.
“Farm ground is short around here,” says Karen. “There isn’t a whole lot of ground to pick up, and everyone is looking for it.”
Bryce adds that grass isn’t abundant during the summer.
“We have a lot of feed for cattle in the winter, but in the summer, grass is kind of short,” he explains.