McGinnis family strives for balanceWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Michael and Amanda McGinnis run a commercial Hereford ranch in the Upper Green River Valley. Their cow/calf operation sits between 6,500 and 8,500 feet of elevation, and they also background their own yearlings. Cows are bred by natural service out on the range and calving begins on March 15.
“Michael’s family has been in this area for five generations, and my family started ranching in Nebraska before moving to Idaho during the Dust Bowl era. When I was young, we moved to Alabama,” Amanda says.
Her family runs a purebred Hereford operation and has since returned to Idaho while Amanda and Michael have taken over his family’s operation in Wyoming.
Achieving a balance
“We really try to keep everything balanced,” notes Amanda, explaining that focusing too much on one trait doesn’t work out well with limited resources.
“We try not to focus on weaning weights on these larger ranges because we can’t produce a better calf than our resource can provide,” explains Michael.
The couple focuses on producing cattle that work well in their environment, incorporating maternal traits with productivity in mind.
“We really try to maintain a good balance, so we can have a calf every year of good quality and size, rather than having a cow that produces a really big calf and then has a hard time getting bred to calve the next year,” notes Amanda.
The couple also tries to maintain a successful and productive operation, even in years that are not as favorable for cattle production.
“Weather is always the determining factor in agriculture. We try to plan ahead and be prepared for the worst, so we can really excel when we do have those good weather opportunities. We want to capitalize on those for the years when we come up a little bit short,” Michael explains.
For example, the McGinnis’ use species that are developed and adapted for harsh winters in their hay crop, such as winter-hardy alfalfa and improved pasture grasses.
“Keeping our allotments looking good is one of our priorities,” he adds.
One of the ways the couple keeps track of a balanced operation is through good record keeping, putting an emphasis on organized documents and paperwork.
“We take a lot of time to make sure we are keeping our records up and tracking our cows’ productivity,” he says.
“We started using RFID technology in 2007 to assist with record keeping.”
The couple investigates EPD data for their bulls and analyzes production data when they discover new or different management techniques.
“Michael is really good about researching. If we hear something new or get curious about something, we really try to research it out and decide if that’s a path we want to take,” Amanda explains. “We try to see what the industry has to say, what the university has to say and what studies are out there. We want to know what information is available, so we don’t necessarily have to repeat somebody else’s mistakes. What can we use and gain if we do our own trials?”
Michael adds that as young producers, it’s especially important to analyze the different options and support management decisions with good reasoning.
“One of the challenges of the cattle industry and certain crops is the time to maturity. Sometimes, to see the fruits of our labor, we’re looking at three to five years before we can say something was a really good idea or it didn’t work out so well,” he comments. “We can always make a mistake, but then we just have to fix it. We aren’t afraid to make mistakes.”
Michael and Amanda both attended college, graduating with bachelor’s degrees related to agriculture, and they also stay involved in organizations that support the industry.
“We are part of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) and the Young Producers Association (YPA). We are excited about the opportunity to be involved in YPA and would encourage other producers to get involved,” they mention.
YPA is a developing segment of WSGA. Young producers are collaborating to address issues that impact agriculture and the younger generations of farmers and ranchers in Wyoming.
“There are quality people in these organizations, especially the YPA. I’ve been super impressed with them,” notes Michael.
Located in the Upper Green River Valley, Michael and Amanda are involved with the Green River Valley Cattlemen Association as well.