Bird family produces bulls, colts in Bridger Valley
Fort Bridger – Since 1942 the Bird family has raised cattle out of the home ranch on green meadows south of Fort Bridger in Uinta County’s Bridger Valley.
Vearl Bird says his family moved into the area from northwest Utah when his older brother and sister were old enough for high school and there wasn’t one nearby. Vearl’s wife Patsy Ann Bird is originally from the valley, and all four sets of her great grandparents were homesteaders in the valley.
“I had to move in so she had someone she wasn’t related to,” jokes Vearl.
Today Vearl and his son Lane Bird, who lives on the ranch with his wife and three girls, run the Crowfoot Simmental Ranch cow/calf operation. In addition to selling their calves in the fall they also sell a few yearling bulls private treaty each year. Vearl says Lane is chief bull-seller and PR man for the bulls, as well as doing most of the synchronization and AI work, while Lane refers to himself as “chief grunt.”
“We run cows here, on the other side of Mountain View, on a forest permit and on some BLM in the foothills,” says Vearl from his ranch house, a log home the family built themselves from timber brought from the mountains.
The Birds’ breeding program consists of synchronizing their heifers for AI and injecting a couple hundred head of cows.
“The best way we’ve found to market our calves is through Superior Livestock Auction,” says Vearl of the video sale, which is popular in Uinta County as it lacks a nearby livestock auction.
Of the yearling bulls, Vearl says the ranch starts with 70 held back each year. “We cull them pretty hard in the fall as calves, and by the time we start selling them as yearlings in March and April we’ve got the oddballs kicked out,” he says, noting they usually market about 50 bulls each spring.
The Birds sell the bulls through private treaty, print advertising and correspondence with customers. “It works pretty well. Some years it’s pretty smooth, but if the economy’s down a little bit ranchers tend to get one more year out of their bulls,” comments Vearl. He says problems with trich in area bulls outside their herd have also been a challenge.
The Bird ranch also produces Quarter Horses from three stallions. Lane and the ranch’s hired man Matt spend the winter training colts.
“The horse market’s gone to pieces,” says Vearl. “The only ones we can really sell with much advantage are the horses we’ve ridden for two or three years. Everybody wants a horse that’s well finished, not a 30- or 60-day rode horse anymore.”
“It’s not been a good situation,” he continues. “We used to sell cull horses at $350 to $600, anymore it’s $100 to $150.”
The ranch has cut back on bred mares, but Vearl says that’s also to get caught up on colt breaking and spend more time on their horses. “It’s a hefty drive to the market in Billings, Mont. And a three-year-old colt with 30 to 60 days will only bring $1,200 to $1,500, while a five- or six-year-old will bring $2,500 to $3,500. We ride them hard, then change them out.”
“Tourism and campers are our main issue on the forest allotments,” says Vearl of managing federal grazing permits, adding that they’re working with a new rangeland management specialist on pasture management. “His main push is to move the cows through so that the cows will only eat off a plant once during the growing season and not come back to it.”
Vearl says their allotments are in an area with a lot of sub-irrigated meadows along one of the main rivers that come into the valley, so there’s good water. “We have three pastures, and we rotate first into a different one every year,” says Vearl. “The Forest Service has also come in and fenced off the lakes and camping areas to create some buffer zones between the cattle and people.”
“Half the time when we go up there we can’t find any cows because they go back up into the parks,” he adds.
Vearl says his family has enjoyed their location in Bridger Valley because they like being away from everybody else. “Relatively, we haven’t had that many people come in, but they’re moving in steadily with ranches being sucked up.”
He says the area trona mines have kept the area alive since the mid-1970s. Wyoming has the world’s largest deposit of trona, and supplies about 90 percent of the nation’s soda ash. The trona is mined, then processed into soda ash or bicarbonate of soda, for a variety of uses, including glassmaking, which consumes about half of soda ash output.
“A lot of ag people have jobs out at the mines and farm and ranch on the side. We’ve tried to expand enough so we don’t have to go to outside jobs, although we might have been farther ahead,” comments Vearl.
Of the family operation, Vearl says they all work together. “Lane knows the bulls, breeding lines, genetics and cow records. I try to keep finance records and ranch books, while Matt’s the horse breaker. Any time he’s got spare time he’s supposed to be breaking horses.”
Vearl says cell phones have really helped the operation’s efficiency. “We cover a lot of the valley with our ground, and with cell phones if Lane breaks down he can call the parts house in Denver, Colo. from the middle of the field instead of waiting until he gets back to the house and calling them the next morning.”
One of the best things about a ranch is it’s a good place to raise kids,” says Patsy Ann.
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.