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McFadden – Scott and April Sims, their son Shannon and wife Melinda ranch holistically near McFadden.

Many things have changed since Sims’ grandparents bought the place in 1942.

“When my granddad got older, he leased the ranch to my dad and me in 1976, the year April and I were married,” Sims says. “We fertilized our hay meadows, put up lots of hay, sold hay and built up cow numbers. Dad, April and I started with 75 cows. Now we’re running more than 600.”

A look back

During the 1980s the ranch was doing well, calves were getting heavier, the herd was growing and the ranch had extra hay to sell.

“Then in the late 1980s, my brother and I were riding across a pasture after we’d moved the cows to summer grass. We asked ourselves if we were really sustainable. We were doing well but perhaps at the expense of the land,” Sims recalls. “Riding across the pastures that day, we realized we needed to do something different.”

He continues, “The grass didn’t look healthy. We had a lot of larkspur and weeds, and we thought we should be doing something to correct this.”

Near water

“During the late 1970s through early 1980s, my family plowed up marginal range that was abused years earlier with previous owners – not from mismanagement but because this area was a large water gap for cattle, before there were fences,” he explains, adding that there was heavy cattle use because of access to water.

“To resolve that, we planted crested wheatgrass, which greatly increased forage production. This enabled us to go out on grass earlier in the spring. We started using artificial insemination in 1975, so this worked well – having crested wheat pasture to utilize while breeding cows,” he says.

Improving pastures

“My family was doing a lot of farming, putting in the crested wheat. About that time, in cooperation with University of Wyoming and Soil Conservation Service, we put in a test plot with several varieties of summer grasses to see which ones would do well in our area, at 7,200 feet,” Sims says.

“We noticed a lot of broom snakeweed in our crested wheat and also coming into our native range. Tom Whitson from University of Wyoming set up test plots to try different chemicals on broom snakeweed,” he explains. “We had success killing it, but within about three years it came back.”

“This was not a long-term solution. We also decided to do some spraying on the range,” he says.

Grazing efforts

In the winter of 1989, Sims and his brother went to one of Allan Savory’s schools in Montana.

“We came home and started dividing pastures. We realized we’d been overgrazing and needed to rest pastures,” Sims says. “Before that, it was summer-long grazing without much planning. We needed to create animal impact and rest periods.”

As a result, the family started fencing and realized they also needed to develop water. Many of their water sources, including both windmills and reservoirs, were inadequate or unreliable when grouping large numbers of cattle.

“We could no longer depend on a source that might water 15 to 20 head at a time, because we might have 100 cows coming to water at once,” he explains. “We started putting cattle together in bigger groups, moving through pastures faster, and saw a difference.”

Big changes

One of the biggest learning curves for the Sims’ was at the school when they talked about using a pasture and not going back until it had a chance to recover.

“There was talk about 30 days of rest, up to 90 or 120 days. It didn’t take us long to find out that our pastures didn’t recover that quickly,” Sims explains. “All we have is cool season grasses. After we graze that pasture, it’s not going to recover the same year.”

They opted to grazing each pasture once during the grazing season.

When Sims and his wife attended a monitoring school in Paso Robles, Calif. in 1990, they began to monitor their grass production.

“We could see changes and document things that were happening. We started to see plants closer together, more litter on the ground, higher numbers of insect populations,” Sims says.

Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Lodge Grass, Mont. – The Brown family made its way to Montana from Texas in the early 1900s, and Jim Brown says, “My granddad started this place in 1926.”

The ranch sits 10 miles southeast of Lodge Grass, Mont. on Owl Creek.

“We started out just like everyone else in the Hereford business,” he comments. “We still have Hereford cattle, but we have Salers, Angus and South Devons, too.”

“We also run some crossbred cattle that Leachmans call Stabilizers,” Brown adds. “The Stabilizer cattle are a four-breed cross that includes Angus, South Devon, Simmental and Gelbvieh or another red breed.”

The ranch strives to produce high-performing bulls that increase profitability for their customers.

Ranch evolution

MJB started selling Hereford bulls when they entered the seedstock industry.

“Bulls like DR Achiever and MJB Blazer 1000ET are two of the bulls that were heavily used as MJB,” says Brown. “We sold semen through Select Sires and ABS Global across the country.”

In 1984, they added Salers, and South Devon cattle were introduced to the ranch in 1988.

“We live in snow country, so we dealt with sunburned udders in the Herefords,” he explains. “We had to add some pigment to the udders, so we brought in the Salers and South Devon cattle.”

Most recently, they added Angus cattle to provide another option for use in crossbreeding programs.

Brown comments, “When Leachmans dispersed from Montana, we bought some of their Angus cows and started an Angus herd.”

They continued to grow and developed their operation through the years, and performance testing has been an integral part of their business model.

Testing bulls

Brown began performance testing the bulls on the operation when he graduated from college.

“We started testing our bulls at Midland then, and we started measuring the efficiency of our bulls,” he explains. “We think that efficiency is a key to profitability.”

MJB Ranch is the longest continuous consigner to the Midland Bull Test, with 47 years of bull testing underneath their belt.

He continues, “Today, we select our bulls and heifers out of efficient sires.”

As they look at cattle, Brown notes that efficiency – or pounds of feed required for a pound of gain – is important.

“Residual feed intake, or RFI, is another important trait,” Brown comments. “Cattle with low feed intake that still perform are very profitable. However, if we have low feed intake and no performance, that’s not good.”

“We have to balance everything,” he explains.

GrowSafe data

The GrowSafe systems at Midland Bull Test allow the ranch to determine how many pounds of feed are required for a pound of gain.

“The system is constantly sending data about the weight of the feed that is consumed by cattle to a computer,” Brown says. “When a bull steps up to the feed bunk, it records how much feed he ate.”

Similar technology can be used for water intake, Brown comments.

The data is important enough for MJB Ranch that Brown takes cattle to the facility year-round.

“It takes about 70 days to test cattle,” he says. “They can do four or five bunches in a year, so we take our cattle to the Midland Bull Test, but we also take them during the rest of the year.”

Brown says, “We are working to identify and utilize genetics that excel in feed efficiency.”

Efficiency traits

As the beef industry continues to make improvements in efficiency, MJB hopes to stay at the top of the curve to enhance profitability for their customers.

“It is important for our cattle to be efficient not only on our rangelands and in a reproductive sense, but we want them to work in the feedlot, as well,” Brown explains. “We believe – and the data is beginning to show – that those animals that test efficiently using the GrowSafe bunks are also efficient as cows on grass.”

The incentive for high-quality, efficient cattle extends beyond just this generation and a high-performing cattle herd today.

“We don’t know where it will lead, but I don’t think it’s not going to be long before efficiency is going to impact the market,” Brown explains. “I think that the market will start to discount producers who don’t have feed efficiency data on their cattle.”

He continues, “If we can tell a feeder buyer that we have performance-tested and efficiency-tested cattle, I think we’ll have a leg up.”

Family business

Brown and his wife Mary run the operation with their son Matt and his wife Jenna. Daughter Sherry Doubet and her husband Jim are also involved in the operation.

“Sherry is the CEO of the American Salers Association, which is headquartered in Parker, Colo.,” says Brown.

Brown notes that the beef industry isn’t always easy, but it’s a life that he enjoys.

“Ranching is a struggle all the time, it seems like,” he says. “It's been a pleasurable learning experience working with the McDonnell family over the years.”

He comments, “I’m going to keep raising good cattle just as long as I can.”

Saige Albert is managing 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.

Kemmerer – Domestic sheep flocks have grazed the Upper Green River region of western Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest for more than 100 years, but when flocks belonging to W&M Thoman Ranches came out of the mountains at the end of September, the book closed for domestic sheep in this northern portion of the Bridger-Teton.

Long pressured by environmental groups and federal officials, the Thomans at last conceded this week, waiving their Elk Ridge Allotment Complex grazing permit back to the Bridger-Teton National Forest without preference to another livestock producer.

Buy-out deal

The deal involved a buyout of an undisclosed sum of the allotments and was orchestrated by the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation. The Thoman’s fine-wooled Rambouillets had grazed this range for 40 years.

Citing the potential threat of interactions between domestic sheep and Bighorn sheep, as well as the history of wolf and grizzly bear depredations, the Bridger-Teton National Forest has committed to not allowing the allotments to be restocked with domestic sheep. The agency has indicated it will consider allowing the currently permitted cattle grazing in the Upper Green to spread into a portion of the Thoman allotments “in order to better address ongoing predation issues” but not until further environmental review is conducted some years in the future.

The loss of the Thoman allotments – four allotments that grazed up to a total of 3,900 sheep from July through September – is the latest in a series of domestic sheep allotment closures by federal Forest Service officials throughout the West.

Making the choice

The decision to give up the allotments was a difficult one, and one that members of the Thoman family voiced displeasure. Family matriarch Mickey Thoman and daughter Mary said they believe that the situation had become such that it was best to accept the buyout offer and put their days in the Upper Green behind them.

“I feel in my heart the timing is now or never,” Mary said. “They are running us into the ground.”

The Thomans have spent decades trying to comply with ever-increasing burdensome federal regulations and operating instructions, while adjusting their operations in an attempt to minimize conflicts with recovering grizzly bear and gray wolf populations.

For instance, when grizzly depredations continued to rise despite the presence of herders and guardian dogs, Mary took the initiative to begin the use of portable electric pens for the sheep at night. That voluntary action evolved into a mandatory program in which the pens are required every night, and every detail of their use – from how many panels to voltage, from location restrictions to pen movement every night – is determined by a federal agency.

“We’re going to go bankrupt. How much more trying can we do?” Mary asked, noting that federal officials can say that the Thomans weren’t forced off their allotments, but cooperative efforts from agency officials over the years could be classified as half-hearted at best, and hostile at worst.

“We’ve learned how to deal with bears and wolves, but the bureaucrats I haven’t figured out,” Mary said.

Looking forward

The Thomans aren’t sure where they will be taking their sheep for next year’s summer and fall grazing season.

Federal officials have been unable to identify currently vacant grazing allotments or grass banks where their flocks would be allowed, and the Thomans are hoping that some of their current cattle permits can be converted back to sheep, but federal land managers are again balking, citing concerns for sage grouse and the need to conduct environmental reviews.

Many members of the extended Thoman family, including Laurie Thoman, Kristy Wardell and Dick Thoman were on hand to bring the family’s flocks out of the Upper Green for the last time. Normally this would be a time for celebration as the fat lambs were brought off the mountain, but this year it was a somber affair.

Cat Urbigkit, a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and publisher of The Shepherd Magazine, authored this article. Send comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Following the Wyoming State Fair Hay Show, a number of Wyoming producers sent their highest quality alfalfa hay to the 2016 World Forage Superbowl, held in Madison, Wis. in conjunction with the World Dairy Expo.

“In the World Forage Analysis Superbowl Contest, forage producers enter their highest quality forages in seven different categories to compete for more than $25,000 in cash prizes,” says the event website.


Scott Keith, executive director of the Wyoming Hay and Forage Association, says, “Wyoming did really well at the World Forage Superbowl this year. The event is in its 33rd year, and Wyoming producers consistently do really well.”

Among notable accomplishments this year, Dave Hinman of Hardrock Farms in Wheatland again took the title of Grand Champion in the Commercial Hay Division. He was followed by Kelly Hinman of Lazy 2K Livestock, also in Wheatland, in second place.

Other results include a ninth place finish for Cole Hill of Basin, 10th place for Nicholas Gutierrez of Casper, 12th place for Ervin Gara of Torrington, 13th place for Clay Scott of Triangle X Ranch in Kinnear and 15th place for Camey Fegler of Fegler Farms in Arapahoe.

Young producer

“One of the neat things that came out of this year was Nicholas Gutierrez winning 10th place,” Keith adds. “Nicholas is only 13 years old.”

Gutierrez won the young producers category in the Wyoming State Fair Hay Show, and he also came in second with his open class alfalfa.

“My family has been growing hay since 2002,” says Gutierrez. “When I was nine, I was given the chance to drive the tractor.”

“Since then, I’ve been hooked on hay production,” he comments.

Gutierrez is involved in every part of producing hay – with the exception of running the stack wagon.

“I do all the dirt work, planting and irrigation for my hay,” he explains.

The secret to producing the best hay possible is to make sure the moisture content is right, Gutierrez says, which involves getting up in the middle of the night to put it up.

“For good alfalfa, I have to get up in the middle of the night and make sure the moisture is just right and that the weight is good,” he explains. “Also, if I’m going to produce the really high-quality stuff, I want to make sure it’s stored in an enclosed area.”

Showing hay

2016 marked the second year of Gutierrez’s participation in the Wyoming State Fair Hay Show, and he says their family started entering hay to market their product.

“Last year, we had a lot of hay and needed to get it out there for people to see, so we entered the State Fair Hay Show,” he explains. “We did well, but not as well as we’d like. This year, we put more hay into the show and did really well.”

Gutierrez’s father Jason comments, “As parents, we are very proud of Nicholas and continue to be impressed with his self-discipline and sense of accomplishment to produce great hay. These experiences have provided Nick with lifelong lessons and opportunities that will provide benefits for his lifetime.”

His mother Elizabeth adds, "Nicholas enjoys what he does on the farm. While many farm kids play games on their phones, Nicholas enjoys experiencing production agriculture."

As he looks to the future, Gutierrez also notes that he’ll continue to produce hay and continue to enter it in the show.

“I love the way alfalfa grows, and I like baling it,” he comments. “I think it bales and feeds better than grass hay, but that’s just my personal opinion.”

Today, he’s pursuing involvement in FFA as an eighth grader at Poison Spider School.

“Ag is my favorite subject in school,” he says. “I plan to keep showing my hay. This is something I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”

Saige Albert is managing 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..

Savery – As she looks back at her life, Meghan Lally sees strong women who have guided her path toward the ag industry her entire life.

“I’ve been back on the ranch for 15 years,” Lally comments. “During that time, I’ve seen a large increase in the number of women in agriculture, and we’re seeing bigger acceptance of women in the industry.”

Strong women

Lally notes that she has a history of strong female role models in the ag industry, which was instrumental in her choice to return to her family’s ranch, Ladder Ranch.

“My mom is the heir to our ranch,” she says. “My dad grew up in Florida. My grandpa let my mom be the heir to his operation, and my parents have continued that and let my brother and I continue the operation.”

At the same time, she adds, “My mom is my best friend and a real inspiration for me.”

Growing up on the ranch, Lally says she never saw a resistance to women in ag.

“We grew up in the desert with my parents and the sheep. We were always there and always working,” explains Lally. “I hear that there is a lot of resistance to women in agriculture, but that’s not something I’ve ever seen.”

She also notes that her grandmother, while not intimately involved in the day to-day ranching activities, was a ranch wife who took care of the home.

“Grandma taught me how to cook, sew and raise a family,” Lally says. “She was incredibly involved in the community and always took care of us.”

“Even though she wasn’t working on the ranch, she was an important part of the place and an influence to us all,” she adds.

Lally says that she has felt strong support from her family throughout the entirety of her life.

“My family has always been supportive of me wanting to come back to the ranch,” she says, “but they were supportive of me when I didn’t want to come back, too.”

Coming back to the ranch

Though she grew up on her family ranch, Lally says that she had an Air Force ROTC scholarship, and she didn’t plan on returning to the family ranch.

“The summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I spent three months working in South America on ranches,” she comments. “I realized that I like working with livestock and being on the ranch.”

Lally continues, “I called my dad and said, ‘I think I want to come home.’ I changed my major to farm and ranch management and graduated from college. Then, I came home, and I’ve been on the ranch every since.

Today, on their family operation, Lally manages their sheep operation, does the bookkeeping and also manages the recreation portion of their operation. She and her husband Brian have four children – Siobhan, Seamus, Maeve and Tiarnan.

“Being able to have my kids with me, teaching them to appreciate where their food comes from, being able to see the wildlife and enjoying the beauty of our ranch is really important to me,” Lally comments.

Being involved

Outside of the family ranch, Lally has also jumped in to be involved in a variety of different board and councils.

“I’m currently vice chair of the Environmental Quality Council, and I’m also vice chair of the Little Snake River Conservation District,” she says, adding that she has also served on the Wyoming Board of Ag and the local clinic board.

“It’s important to be involved in the local community organizations to make sure that things are done, done right and that the community stays viable,” Lally explains. “As far as the state organizations go, it’s important to be a part of the industry that we are in.”

She adds, “It’s important to be involved in general because, if we don’t speak out for our interests and our industry, who will? By being involved, we get to know what the message is going to be, and we don’t rely on other people to do it for us.”

Moving forward

As she continues to ranch, Lally comments that she looks forward to continuing to work with her family.

“It’s important for us to work together,” she explains. “Even though I manage the sheep and my brother Eamon manages the cattle, we do what needs done every day and work together.”

Any large tasks on the ranch, such as gathering, docking or shipping are done as a family.

“We all do what needs done,” Lally says. “We enjoy working together, and our kids get along and work well. It’s important to us to continue to do that.”

She hopes to continue their work and make the ranch as successful as possible, not only with the ranch but in the conservation work that they do.

“Taking care of our land is important to us in the ag industry,” Lally comments.

Working the ranch

As they continue into the future, Lally says that continuing their conservation work will be important.

“The conservation aspect of our whole operation is really important,” she says. “We want to be the example of how agriculture and conservation can work together to not only survive but improve the operation.”

Ladder Ranch has been instrumental in installing structures on Battle Creek, the Little Snake River and Savery Creek to improve fish passage and the health of streams on their property.

The conservation district was instrumental in similar improvements on the rest of the Little Snake River and Savery Creek. “Enhancing Battle Creek and the Little Snake River have been really big, important projects,” she says.

“I love being able to go out and see the birds, wildlife and our livestock coexisting,” Lally comments. “Watching the deer, lambs, elk and Sandhill cranes all in the same pasture in the same spot is really exciting, and being able to show that all to my family is important to me.”

Saige Albert is managing 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..