Salers cattle continue to get the job done for 30 years
Salers cattle arrived on the Pitchfork Ranch in 1983 just outside of Meeteetse, Wyoming. Ranch manager Dan Morris and his wife Darcy oversee the 1,000 cows that run on over 100,000 acres. The land consists of private deeded land, Forest Service and state leased land. The ranch is held in partnership, but has been majority owned by Lenox Baker for the last 15 years. Dan has worked on the ranch for 37 years and knows firsthand what Salers cattle have contributed.
“When we started with Salers cattle, we needed something to graze the mountain and get out of the creek bottoms. We knew they originated in mountain country, so we thought we should give them a try. Dan continues, “After we got into them, we saw improved calving ease and calf vigor, we just had no problems calving and our incidence of scours decreased as well. There is just a lot less maintenance to the cattle – the cattle worked for us and not the other way around.”
Allowing a ranch to run more cows with less labor in today’s world is a blessing. Labor continues to be a challenge across the country for farms and ranches. Salers have helped make this component less of a concern than it would be otherwise.
The Pitchfork Ranch was involved in research conducted by Oklahoma State University that looked at the benefits of crossbreeding in a commercial cattle operation using Salers cattle. The project compared the production of Salers x Hereford cows to black baldy Hereford x Angus cross cows to straight bred Hereford cows over a three year production. The Salers cross cows weaned more live calves at a heavier weight (153 pounds) than the black baldy Angus cross cows over the three year period. The Salers cross cows weaned over 415 pounds more than the straight bred cows during the 3 year period. The study was further confirmation of how well Salers cattle contribute to a crossbreeding program and overall ranch profitability. The Pitchfork currently uses Optimizer Salers bulls to maintain hybrid vigor and allow a simplified crossbreeding program to be implemented.
Salers cattle continue to improve things at the Pitchfork. Salers, together with good management, allowed the ranch to wean off the heaviest set of calves ever in 2012. Then in 2013, the calves weighed up 10 pounds heavier than they did the previous year. “Our calf buyer said this year’s calves were one of the best sets of calves they shipped and we were very pleased with how uniform they were,” adds Dan.
“Our feeder calves have sold well historically. We try to have a good vaccination program to allow the feedlot that is getting our calves to have a good experience with the health of the calves coming into the feedlot. The ranch used to retain ownership on all of the calves and yearlings we raised, so we understand the need for healthy cattle,” confirms Dan.
The Pitchfork Ranch was one of the participants in the NCBA Strategic Alliance Field Study to demonstrate some of the value opportunities in the cattle business. Their Salers cattle were the highest grading continental cattle in the study and second most efficient pen. The pen was also the third most profitable group overall.
“These Salers cattle really make our job easier on the ranch,” comments Dan. We had a 98% breed-up in 2013. Out of 150 heifers, we had three opens. And, the heifers will calve in a 45 day period. It has just been that way. We have never had less than a 95% breed-up since we started using Salers.” In order to get that kind of breeding results, it takes both cattle that have fertility and good management, running 1,000 cows on 100,000 acres.
The cattle will start calving the 10th of February on the heifers. The cows will start calving the 20th of March. All of the cows are range-calved in some big river bottoms. The river bottoms offer some protection from the elements up away from the river.
Salers cattle have worked for the last 30 years on the Pitchfork Ranch. Dan says, “If it is working, why would I change? I want to continue to make progress and gain more, but at what cost will that come?” He feels there is still room to improve and will do so in the individual selection of the bulls he is using and will continue to strive for improvement. After all, in the 30 years they have been using Salers cattle they continue to see improvements in how well the cattle graze the high country and meet all of the demands placed on them. “Salers are here to stay as an important part of the ranch,” says Dan.
Working with Wildlife
The Pitchfork Ranch has always been one to work with the different agencies involved with wildlife and range management. They have received the Wyoming Landowner of the Year for the last 2 consecutive years in the Cody region for their work with the Game and Fish Department. The ranch has been a participant in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Hunter Management Access Program. Landowners work with Game and Fish to allow access to hunters to harvest cow/calf elk on their private property. Brucellosis samples are also collected in addition to harvesting elk.
The ranch was the original Environmental Stewardship winner at the national level from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. The ranch discovered the black-footed ferret on their property. At the time, the black footed ferret was thought to be extinct and they worked with different entities to re-establish a population.
Now, the ranch has both grizzly bears and wolves to contend with. Darcy is quick to point out, “Fish and Game has been really good to work with on any issues we may have with predators.” The problems they have had have been minimal compared to some of the neighboring ranches. Dan adds, “For some reason we just don’t have much predator loss. We had two calves lost to bears. Our summer range is at 10,000 feet and we came home with all of our cattle. We attribute it to the people taking care of the cattle on the mountain and the breed that we run. Fish and Game is working with them on a five year study to see why the predator loss is so low on their ranch.