Frank family generations focus on quality cattle
Lander – “My dad moved to Lander from Nebraska in 1948, and we were a couple years on a place above Lander. Then we moved down on the river in 1950 and have been here ever since,” says Gary Frank of how his family arrived in the Lander Valley.
“I’m originally from rural, northern New Jersey and came to Wyoming for college,” says Gary’s wife Diane. “I hung out with the more rural kids, because that’s how I was raised. I became integrated in that crowd, which included most of the rodeo team, and Gary was on the rodeo team. We met through a mutual friend, dated, got married, and here we are. I learned everything I know about cows from this family. They are excellent, knowledgeable people when it comes to cows.”
Today the Frank operation is primarily focused on cow-calf production, in addition to running a few extra bred heifers.
“We’ve been taking our steer calves to a feedlot in Torrington and going to fats with them. We’ve improved the grading on our steers from 50 to 55 percent choice to 93 percent grading choice last year, so our cattle have changed a lot,” notes Gary.
Gary’s dad purchased summer range on South Pass in 1969, and added additional acreage around the home place in the late 1970s.
“When we were building our cow numbers we bought a lot of heifers from over by Kemmerer and those were Angus. We bred to Charolais bulls for while, and then got into Limousins. We had those for a number of years, then started crossing back to Angus. Today the younger cows are getting quite a bit of Angus in them and the older cows still have a lot of Limousin blood,” explains Gary.
“We’re really proud of how well the steers came out looking this year. The changes we’ve made are working,” adds Diane.
In addition to cattle, the Franks also put up hay to feed during winter months and some corn that goes into silage.
“It’s not a low-cost operation because we feed a lot of hay in the winter, whether it’s a good or bad winter. We just feed more when it’s bad. Once those cows come off the mountain the first part of November, they’re on aftermath and we’re going to feed them hay,” says Gary.
Feeding hay all winter is one reason the Franks start calving early, around Feb. 1, and only for about 60 days.
“We try to have everything calved out by the first of April. We keep enough cows so we can sell what hasn’t calved by that date, and then we’re done.
“We AI all our heifers after feeding MGA for five days and giving them a progesterone shot. We synchronize and AI almost all our heifers, then we turn a bull out. We keep the heifers that calve first, which are mostly those that stuck with AI. Then we sell the others so we’re done calving heifers in about two weeks,” says Gary. He adds they market the extra bred heifers in a variety of ways, depending on the year.
Cows are wintered and calved at the home place, prior to being scattered for the summer.
“We have a state lease on the other side of Lander where the bred heifers go. It’s large enough to allow us to run more heifers than we need. The commercial cattle are all run on the South Pass allotment, and we have some registered cows that spend the summer down here by the house,” says Gary.
The registered cows are part of a separate entity called SO Cattle, which is a partnership between Gary and Diane and their daughter Anjie McConnell and her husband Mike McConnell.
“We got started in the registered business by putting embryos in our commercial cows, then taking those calves and breeding them to registered bulls. This year we have about a dozen embryo calves running on commercial cows on the mountain,” notes Gary.
Of starting with embryos as opposed to buying live cattle, Anjie says it’s a longer process, but it also has it rewards.
“I think we were able to start out with better cattle than we could have purchased because we were able to pick out what we wanted our cattle to be, and what genetics we wanted to use,” she notes.
The registered business is growing slowly, and will include about 40 registered cows calving next spring. Bulls are primarily marketed private treaty, which has worked well the past couple years. “At least the ranch has access to bulls, if nothing else,” says Gary with a chuckle.
“It’s fun to see what we can get from the registered cattle through selective breeding,” adds Diane.
Prior to expanding the ranching operation, the entire family was involved in the Bill Frank and Sons Rodeo Stock Contractors business from the 1950s through the 1970s.
“We had bucking horses running behind our house and also had bucking bulls, roping steers and calves,” notes Diane.
“We supplied the whole package from the 1950s on. We even put on night rodeos in Lander for awhile,” adds Gary.
“It was fun, but took a lot of time. We were doing both the ranch and stock contracting full-time for a couple years, then Gary and Bill said we were either going to be ranchers or stock contractors. We really couldn’t keep doing both, it was like having our fingers in so many pies,” explains Diane.
Gary and Diane’s two daughters live right across the road from them, and their son and his family reside in Cheyenne. “This was a great location to raise a family,” notes Diane. She adds that other benefits to the ranch’s location include having a well-maintained, paved road at the end of the driveway, and being minutes from both Lander and Riverton.
“It’s a family operation, and it’s taken all of us. Everyone still helps whenever they can,” adds Gary.