Well, 2021 has just flown by...
This year has brought about a lot of changes at Sims Cattle Company, and yet a lot is still the same! We began a new business venture of sell/buy cattle trading. We witnessed Kagan finishing out his senior year of high school in style and beginning a new adventure at the University of Wyoming. We saw Jentry become full time help for us this summer. Shanon and Melinda saw huge horizons open up for them in a way they never thought possible (more to come on that later!). And Scott wrapped up his presidency of WSGA and was named the winner of the 2021 Kurt Bucholz Conservation Award! We began leasing bulls, and saw the fruits of our first year as a closed herd. Tomorrow we will ship our calves - fingers are crossed they will make weight. We were fortunate to have adequate moisture in a year where so many suffered extreme drought. Preg testing is next week, and that will be the true test of how our year has gone! We feel confident the pregnancy rates will be higher than last year as our cows look the best they have in a few years.
A wrap up of 2020...
This was an... interesting year. Besides all the pandemic and election hoopla, Sims Cattle Company saw a difficult winter, an odd calving season, higher than normal calf deaths, drought, a smoke-filled summer, light calves, a horrible breed up on young cows, poor open cow prices, and we're looking at another dry year coming. Here's what else we saw: extra time with our kids working by our side during quarantine, a beautiful spring (beginning in May), cows in great condition for calving, a perfect branding season, the first summer in over 40 years that we haven't AI'd cattle (very bitter sweet...lots less labor, though!) an easy haying season, a fruitful county fair, better-than-last-year calf prices, more steer calves born than we planned on, endless opportunities to market cull cows, a new business opportunity, and a profitable year, not to mention a great trip to Devil's Tower and that the kids are back in school, playing their hearts out in a basketball season we thought wouldn't happen. All in all, 2020 was whatever you made of it, and for us, it was a GREAT year in so many ways!
Melinda's Breakfast Sausage>
1 lb ground beef
1 TBSP water
1 TBSP sausage seasoning (see link below)
1 TBSP butter
Mix beef, water and seasoning together and fry in butter - I really like using a cast iron skillet!
These next two images go hand in hand. They are of the same reservoir! This reservoir hasn't seen water in it for many decades. One result of improving our grazing management is that our water cycle has improved and we don't see runoff into pits. The soil has the ability to let water infiltrate, which is amazing for plant growth.
However, when we get a rainstorm that dumps over 2 inches in about 1 hour, we saw reservoirs fill! Luckily, there wasn't any damage done by the runoff, and now we know exactly how our infiltration rates stand - and we definitely have room for improvement! Plus, all of this water is slowly soaking into the ground - it's not water we need for livestock - and is helping grasses green up again.
Monitoring our rangelands is not very time consuming, but it is one of our most important management tools. We use a program called SamplePoint. We take 10 pictures on 3 transects a year, and the program takes 100 samples per picture, giving us 3000 monitoring points per year. We are looking at cover by life form, in other words, what is covering the soil. Over the past several years, we have been decreasing bare soil, and have found that the smaller the pasture size, the less bare ground there is as well as an increase in available Animal Days per Acre, or an increase in forage. This is information that we can make management decisions from!
Branding season offers us the opportunity to drastically affect landscape. Although it's a small area, the herd impact that happens in a branding pen changes plant community for years to come. This picture is about 2 weeks post branding and the green grass is already starting to come in. The sagebrush in this area is removed and lots of nutrients in the form of dung and urine have been worked into the ground. As of today, this circle is very green with new grass. Each year, we will put our branding pens in new areas, slowly changing the landscape one pen at a time!
Biological weed control doesn’t have to mean tiny insects- it can be 1600 lb bulls! Our cattle LOVE eating Whitetop! We got curious as to why - what did the weed contain that they were craving - and discovered that Whitetop is about 20% crude protein. That's just as good as alfalfa! And we would much rather see the weed go into the bellies of our animals that to have chemical killing it.
Our itty bitty twin needed a little playtime between feedings, but I'm not sure Manny the Corgi appreciated his antics!! There's never a dull moment during calving season!
We can't have all work and no play! Although this might be the last time Shanon decides to pick on Kagan - I'm thinking he has met his match!
Twins aren't super common in our herd - the most we've ever seen in a year is 7 sets. Last year we didn't have any. This little guy (and I mean LITTLE!) is only about 35 pounds! And he was the bigger twin! We bottle fed him for a few days until another cow's calf died, and then we grafted him on to her. They are a very happy pair!
This is an example of how rough the winter was! Taken March 29, this drift is in our calving meadow. It is completely blocking off the brush that we rely on for protection of calving cows.
Calving 2020 has begun! This little heifer is 12 days early based on the 276 day gestation period we figure for heifers. Normal gestation is 283 days, but our heifers routinely calve much earlier than this, so that's why we figure 276 days for them. So 19 days early based on a normal cow! This heifer, 8233, is very distinct looking - very brown - so when I saw that her mother is 0237, I said "Of course!" She looks just like her mama, and just like her mama, she is an early calver! We've gone to the meadow before to be surprised by 0237 having a calf at her side when we're not quite ready to calve. Hopefully this heifer will prove to be just like her mama - still in the herd as an old lady!
Education happens every day with the life that we live. We are committed as parents to turn everything we can into a learning situation and we ourselves are committed to lifelong learning, of which we hope our kids take notice and do themselves. Part of their learning this week was to become BQA (Beef Quality Assurance) Certified. This program provides assurance to beef purchasing customers that we are committed to selling a product that is healthy, nutritious, and treated humanely. Our kids are a little young for the program, but a call to the state director allowed them to go ahead with it. Both kids handle a lot of cattle and are very involved with our health program. Jentry alone vaccinates around 2000 head of calves every year for us and for the neighbors at brandings, Kagan routinely castrates, and both kids vaccinate cattle here at home, besides the everyday handling of cattle, so I feel that the BQA Certification is a good program for them to be competent in. Both kids did excellent on their test (in fact I think they both got a better grade than I did), but neither was satisfied until they got 100% - which they both accomplished on their second try!
With the world pandemic of COVID-19 happening, we have found that life for us isn't much different at all. The only real change has been that the kids are now home full time. I guess that just goes to show how much we live in isolation every day! We always cherish Kagan and Jentry being around more - they are so fun and such good help! Kagan has spent the last 2 weeks with Scott cleaning up an abandoned oil field on the ranch. It's so nice to not have to look at big hunks of metal left to rust in our meadows!
One of the benefits of the Ranching for Profit school is the networking! We were invited to join a WhatsApp group of like-minded producers, where we share and bounce ideas off one another. Incidentally, we do share some odd info with each other... This is a litmus paper test of cow urine we collected... Another member clued us in to the fact that cow protein intake can be loosely measured by testing urine pH. So yes, Shanon followed the cows around until he could get a good sample. And according to the theory, our cows are getting the right amount of protein!
Oh the snow!! I know I have already explained how much snow we've gotten this winter, but this picture really snows it, I mean shows it! The wind has really piled up the drifts and we're seeing drift where we usually don't. At least this girl is taking advantage of the cozy little nook the drift has formed!
This winter is shaping up to be a bit harsh! Our early snow in October never melted or blew off, and it has just been accumulating since then! We rely on the wind (it might be our unfair advantage!) to blow snow off the meadows so that grazing is available to the cows in addition to their windrowed hay, but this year it has taken a long time to blow off! And now that it is blowing, there's a lot of snow to blow! In 26 years of windrowing hay, this is the first that we consistently have to use a tractor to reach the cows. Hopefully all this snow will translate to a whole bunch of grass this spring!
This bit of green was found on Christmas Eve, and what a great present it is! We typically find a little green hiding in the tall stockpiled forage, but we purposely left our mowed hay stubble quite long this year in hopes of providing more insulated areas for the green to hide out. Initially we weren't seeing much green in the mowed meadows, but as some snow softened enough for the cows to push through, they found tons of it! Not only is this a win for soil and plant health, but it's also a nice little supplement for the cows on a cold winter day!
We rough our bulls through part of the winter, meaning that we don't supplement them. They aren't working during this time, so their nutritional requirements are quite low. We left them up in our summer country as long as possible, but with a forecast of lots of snow, wind, and extreme cold, we decided it was time for the boys to come home right after Thanksgiving. We do like them to be within tractor range in case we have to feed them! They ultimately end up with our bred cows to finish the winter out so that we have as few herds as possible to manage for.
And this is the final moments of preg testing 2019! Jentry and I decided it was cozy huddled between our horses while waiting for the rest of the riders to meet us. In three days we moved, retagged, and vaccinated 200 head of heifers, moved, preg checked, vaccinated, sorted, and moved again, 650 head of cows, all while having one of the best working weekends I can ever remember with our whole family! In our line of work things rarely go perfectly - in fact we had a mix-up that had to be resorted - but I still think it was perfect!
Not many kids get to do exactly what their parents do, or have every day as a "go to work with Mom" day! I love the expression on someone who's never been in a cow before and then they finally make sense of what they are feeling! And I really love that my kids have an amazingly patient Papa who loves nothing better than to teach them all he knows.
This October has nailed us with lots of early snow, and lots of really cold temperatures! These bulls found a bunch of trees to huddle in to try and stay toasty at -16F degrees ! It's not uncommon for these kind of temperatures to hit us in January and February, but the cattle are usually on hay and in lots of protection. So we adapt, put cows where they can find a little shelter, feed a little hay, and hope it warms up!
This picture means so much to me. It's amazing how this tall, lanky, perfectly capable young man started out as a preemie baby, struggling to breath and eat. He has grown and changed and become responsible, caring, and frankly, a much better hand than I could ever hope to be! I attribute a lot of what he is becoming to the way and place we are blessed to be able to raise kids. And what a way and place it is!
I can never get over the beauty and vastness of the country we operate in. I've traveled to other areas and I understand why, in the tree-lined, vegetation covered areas of the world, how the people who live there feel very uncomfortable where we live! And they also understand why we feel claustrophobic when we visit an area where you can't see for mile upon mile! This is my reality, my every-day, and I wouldn't trade it for the rest of the world! Well maybe in January I would...
Sorry - not the best picture! But this is literally the last few feet of windrow to be raked before haying season was done! It doesn't seem like much, but after hours upon hours in a tractor, either mowing or raking, and after multiple break-downs and days of not being able to rake because of the wind, this was a big deal! That feeling of relief, knowing that all the cows' feed is cut and raked into windrows to preserve the best possible protein that we can is a GREAT feeling. And knowing that we're done being bounced around on rough meadows and covered with grease, dirt and oil for another season is also GREAT!
We use 4 wheelers when the job requires 4 wheelers. But quite often, a horse is the best tool for the job. Our kids have been on horses since before they could walk and taking that step to trust a horse with your child is no small thing! We were fortunate to have Biscuit - the most bomb-proof mare ever! - to take care of the kids when they were little. As they've gotten older, each kid has stepped up gradually to more challenging horses, finally ending up here... Buying their own horses of their choosing. They each have found very gentle mares that are well broke (not dangerous) but have room for the kids to teach them something (like side passing), all while challenging them a little to become better horsemen. A horse can make or break you - literally. Never underestimate the power of a good horse to help a kid become a better person.
A kid's going to be a kid! Thankfully, Queen is quite tolerant of Kagan's shenanigans!!
Bulls. Such a hassle, but we can't live without them. We raise all of our own bulls and it's very satisfying to see a bull walk by when we're sorting calves off for preconditioning that embodies what we're striving for as a sire. Our biggest focus is if the guy can thrive in our climate. It's harsh here and the bulls don't get ANY special treatment. If they make it, great! If they can't, well, we don't want daughters out of him anyways! Next, we like to see a very masculine looking bull. One with big, hulking shoulders and a smaller hind end - imagine a wedge where the small end is at his rump and the large end is his shoulders. A large, bulky crest and some curly hair is a plus! This phenotype is indicative of masculinity, which translates to more femininity in his daughters, and leads to improved fertility. We also DNA test all of our bulls with IGenity. This company has figured out the markers in DNA for milk, ribeye, fat, etc., but most importantly for us, calving ease and cow longevity. The cows these bulls are bred to need to be able to have a calf on their own, and the bulls' daughters need to be able to stay in the herd.
Ai-ing is done and one bunch of calves has been preconditioned (received booster vaccines). I've been a little stressed about vaccinating calves this year as I implemented using a new brand of vaccines to try and combat our summer pneumonia issues. So far so good! We've only seen a handful of droopy calves and we were able to treat them right away and they've made a full recovery. The transition has been made so much easier with the help of our consultant, Jim Martin of Colorado Animal Health. He's super supportive, calls on a regular basis to see how things are going, understands our operation and our goals, and sends us caramel rolls with our vaccine order : ) Finding Jim was a huge lesson in working with people who want the best for our herd versus just wanting our business.
As parents, fair was quite the conundrum for us! As one child was experiencing a really difficult year because neither of her heifer projects were bred far enough along to be ultrasounded at fair, the other child was having his best year yet! Talk about ups and downs! In the end, Jentry was happy for her brother's successes, and Kagan swept our entire Supreme Cow program - both phases - to win $400, 2 buckles, a free heifer, and the Legacy Breeders award for the last free heifer he won!
We are so fortunate to be our own bosses! Even though it was a busy time of year, Jentry and I had the opportunity to travel to Maryland to see my brother take over a new command in our Navy. It was an amazingly patriotic experience and we are so happy that our management allows us to be totally replaceable! That's not to say that we aren't, as individuals, valuable, but that we all know enough about the operation to be able to function without a team member and nothing falls apart!
It has been a really crazy spring/summer for us in the Rock Creek Valley. This picture was taken June 23, 2019, and yes that is snow! We can have snow all months of the year, although June, July, and August tend to be nicer. For the month of June, we have almost reached record moisture, as well as record low temps!! We're hoping that with all this moisture, and maybe a little heat, we'll have record grass growth!
Statistically, not many family businesses survive past the 3rd generation. Sims Cattle Company is blessed to be a 5th generation ranch, with 4 generations still surviving and thriving!
One of our traditions is that we get together to clean Rocky Mountain Oysters after our brandings. It's a great time to relax and listen to stories from long ago.
We have noticed an increase in our bird numbers as well as the species diversity. We attribute this specifically to our holistic goal and our efforts to achieve our goals.
"The grazing is well-managed to provide a habitat for wildlife. Through our management we encourage stable banks in our intermittent and ephemeral streams by reducing erosion and encouraging plant growth. "
(Sims Cattle Company Holistic Goal)
Not only have our bird numbers increased, but other wildlife routinely grace us with their presence, including deer, elk, antelope, moose, bobcat, coyote, red fox, swift fox, badgers, and the occasional bear and mountain lion. If it's good for the wildlife, it's good for the cattle!
CONGRATULATIONS!!! Scott was elected to serve as the Wyoming Stock Growers Association President for the next 2 years! We are unbelievably proud of him and looking forward to the work he will accomplish with the Association. This is a very large commitment as there is a lot of traveling involved with this position that will take Scott away from the ranch. He very unselfishly brought the idea of this to the ranch many months ago and we as a family agreed that we would do whatever it takes to support Scott in his new position. It does mean a little extra effort for those of us left at home, but his role is vital to agriculture in general and is definitely worth extra work!
Today is May 23. And we have more snow. We've been getting snow all week. May is a critical time for us to receive moisture, so we are thankful that it has been such a wet spring for us! BUT, ironically, we are prepared to implement our drought plan. Our long term forecast is for a much colder summer than usual, with plenty of moisture. We foresee that there will be plenty of green to the grass, but we are very concerned that the quantity will not be there. Grass needs moisture to grow, but it also needs heat. Without the heat, summer grass will be limited, as will our hay crop that we depend on to feed cows through next winter. And no grass is no grass, whether it's a result of no moisture or no heat, so our drought plan will apply to this situation.
Part of our plan will be to utilize our stockpiled forage. We routinely graze only 2/3 of our pastures every year, leaving 1/3 in a recovery phase. If it looks like a more serious problem, we will look at selling animals. We keep all of our yearling heifers, and half of those can be liquidated rapidly. Next to go would be older cows, so that if we do sell down, the best part of our "factory" is intact. Let's hope we don't have to sell younger cows... Come On Heat!!
It's Branding Season! Well, not for us, we're still calving! But our neighbors calve beginning in February, so throughout the month of May, we send 3-4 people to help at their brandings. Then when we're ready to brand in June, they return the favor. There are 4 ranches total that we trade labor with, and between May and August, our crew brands over 3,000 calves at around 11 brandings! It's the best way to do it - we always know the labor we are getting, everyone knows their jobs and every branding runs like clockwork. With reliable labor, it allows all of us to heel calves, and have enough crew to wrestle. Nobody uses a table here!
Calving is in full swing here! We currently have about 160 out of 180 heifers calved out and 150 out of 460 cows calved out. We did get a little snow this morning, but by this evening, it was really melting! We are very fortunate to have a son who loves to come help us after school and who is very capable!
This sweet little thing is Jentry's project. Jentry decided a few years ago that she wanted White Park cattle. Heifers were WAY to expensive to buy, so she bought a rack of semen! Last year only 1 of 3 cows conceived and it happened to be a bull calf. This year so far (there is still hope of one more to come!) there have been 2 half White Park heifers born! This heifer is very special as she is out of Jentry's own cow, is the first heifer said cow has ever had, and is the beginning of Jentry's dream herd.
Where we live can be so harsh, so when a day like this comes along, we soak it up - and so do the cows! We live in a little hidden valley - I-80 runs along the mountains and Rock Creek Valley isn't really visible from there. Plus, unless you are travelling that stretch of road during June, July or August (and sometimes not even then!) you are most likely going to run into horrible weather. That section of Interstate isn't called the "Sno-Chi-Min Trail" for nothing! BUT if you happen to be around when the wind isn't blowing and the sun is shining, you find yourself in paradise.
Recently, Scott had the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC as Wyoming StockGrowers Association First Vice President. He and others were able to meet with our representatives to discuss issues important to Wyoming ranchers. A position like Scott's does take a lot of time and energy and often takes him away from the ranch, but the work he does is important to ours, and other ranchers', success. The really special part of this, is that when Scott was presented with the First Vice President opportunity, he made sure that it was a family decision. He knew what the time commitment would be and that more work would fall on other family member's shoulders during his service. We all agreed that it was important for him to take this opportunity and that we as family members had no problem making things work at home.
We don't calve very much during February/March, but the 4H projects and milk cows are bred to calve then (five head). The 4H projects need to be able to be ultrasounded pregnant at County Fair in late July, so that means calving at a less than desirable time. Participation in this program is really important to our family, however, so calving early it is!
I like to have the milk cows calve early so they are ready to accept a bum calf from the heifers if need be, who calve beginning April 1.
There are sooooo many reasons for us to NOT calve early, beginning with weather! Thank goodness the generations before us did calve early - we have an abundance of sheds to help keep new babies warm. And even though a shed keeps the snow out, it didn't keep it from being -11 degrees F when this little gem was born!
And speaking of milk cows, meet Lola. She is a full blood Brown Swiss and just a peach to have around! For us, milking provides so many benefits like fresh colostrum for new babies that might need it, fresh milk for our family and to sell, a bit of quiet time every morning to reflect while I milk, and the therapeutic benefits I receive from getting to be in such close contact with cows every day. They truly are my favorite animal and Lola is just a giant dog to me!
Every winter/spring, we get a fairly substantial snow - for three years in a row it was on Mother's Day! This year it happened in March and was big enough to be categorized as a bomb cyclone. Fortunately, we were on the edge of it and only received about 14 inches of snow. Our cows were in very protected areas, the wind wasn't too bad, and we have the tractors to be able to bring the cows hay, even in a bad blizzard.
With a bomb cyclone moving our way, the school district closed down for 2 days. The kids of course enjoy not being in school, but they also enjoy jumping in and helping! Kagan was a trooper helping unwrap bales during the storm. With snow plastered to his face and it getting deeper all the time, he never complained. Seeing Kagan and Jentry show their dedication and love for our business could warm the coldest heart... in the middle of a blizzard... at 7200'... in McFadden.
After the storm. With plenty of fed feed in front of them. Choosing to get out and work for a living! This. THIS gives us hope that maybe someday, we won't have to feed hay. That someday, even in the face of a large storm, we can have faith that our cows will be truly self sufficient. These girls had no problem finding standing feed that was buried and will hopefully pass their capabilities on to future generations. If a cow can thrive in McFadden, she can thrive just about anywhere.
I guess you could call us lazy, but we really don't like being outside much in the winter here. But we like being productive, so we work with horsehair! This hatband is an example of Shanon's and my work - he hitches (the body of the hatband) and I braid and do finishing work (the knots and pulls). Seasons change in so many ways other than weather - horsehair season begins when the fall work is ending and ends when calving season begins. If you like our work, you can find more of it on www.facebook/RockCreekHorsehair or at www.RockCreekHorse.com
Hopefully this is the last time we will have to buy Catgut! For years we developed our heifers in a feedlot, in a much nicer climate, and then brought them home to breed. They were big and beautiful and costing us a fortune! For the past 4 years, we have kept heifer calves on their mommas until February/March, weaned them at around 10 months of age, and then put them on a minimal growth ration of hay and alfalfa until they are turned out to pasture around the middle of May. The compensatory growth the heifers experience on green grass is incredible - and cheap! They are then given 30 days to breed and whatever is pregnant becomes a cow in our herd, and whatever isn't is sold. It's a very profitable model for us, but we have had to come to terms with how many crutches we had propping up our cows all these years. Hopefully the repercussions of babying them have about run out. One of the repercussions is calving difficulties. We had 3 C-Sections on heifers last year which used up our suturing supplies. So, like I said, I hope this is the last time we have to buy Catgut!
As I said before, so many things in our life are seasonal besides just the weather. Basketball season for Kagan has just come to a close, which is a reminder that he only has two more such seasons, which will lead to the season of him being a kid coming to an end. But a new season will start - his young adulthood. And we are beyond excited to know the man he will grow to be!
Jentry, however, has many more seasons as a kid! This is just the beginning of her AAU Volleyball season, and her team already has a tournament championship under their belts! This little team, between their Jr. High season in the fall and now AAU, has a record of 25-1!!!! They are amazing girls with an amazing coach. The skills they are learning from the sport are valuable, but more so are the skills they are gaining in life. Being so successful with so much humility will take them far as adults. Knowing that hard work pays off. Being able to lose graciously and step on to the floor for the next match and play in the moment. Learning from mistakes, but not letting them define you. Life.