Cattle business diversification, family are Micheli Ranch underpinnings
Fort Bridger — Agricultural diversification can be limited and hard to come by at 6,800 feet, but Fort Bridger’s Micheli family has found it through the different classes of cattle they raise. The ranch is home to a commercial cow-calf and yearling operation, as well as registered herds of Angus and Hereford cattle.
“We look at the purebred part of the operation as a value added product,” says Ron Micheli, who along with his brother Dale, operates the family ranch that’s now home to members from the third, fourth, fifth and sixth generations of the Micheli family. Among the generations to call the ranch home are the brothers’ parents, Joe and Rebecca.
“We don’t really like to put all of our eggs into one basket, so that’s why we’ve kept the seedstock, the commercial herd, the yearlings and we used to have sheep,” says Ron. “You can’t farm here.”
Dale adds, “The commercial cows are a good reality check in terms of what you’re doing on your purebreds.”
The Micheli family arrived in southwest Wyoming in 1901. “Our great-grandfather came to Kemmerer to mine coal,” shares Ron. During a shift he’d missed as a result of being ill, his entire crew was killed in an underground mine disaster.
Grandma Micheli, who had lost her first husband to a similar fate, said it was time for a change in careers. It was a decision that set the young family on the short trip to the Bridger Valley and on the course to establishing what would become the Micheli Ranch.
“They said they were not going to keep doing this,” says Ron of their original coal-mining occupation. “They took over a relinquished homestead and eked out a living as best they could. They couldn’t make a living by ranching alone so he did have to go back to the mine at times.” Much of the Micheli family’s early day income stemmed from the potatoes, carrots, milk and cows they raised and sold to families in mining camps.
“We’ve been here for six generations now. Dale and I are fourth generation,” says Ron.
“Grandpa Micheli,” says Dale, “sent some money in for some polled Hereford cattle in 1915 and never got the cattle and lost his money.” He didn’t, however, waiver in his determination to bring quality cattle to the ranch. “He started a couple of years later with some horned Herefords,” says Dale. The cattle were used to improve the Longhorns and other various breeds prevalent in the area during the early 1900s.
Herefords have been part of the Micheli operation since that point in time, although seedstock wasn’t sold from the ranch until a much later date.
In recent years the family has added a herd of registered Angus to the ranch. Cattle from both breeds make up their commercial herd. Ron says, “We have a cow-calf, yearling operation and sell yearlings. We have essentially three operations on one place with the registered Angus, registered Hereford and the commercial cattle.”
Those who’ve been around registered herds know that it’s a labor-intensive business. Dale laughs, “Sometimes it seems like all we do is weigh cattle and keep records.” Despite all the “number work,” the family takes great pride in the cattle they produce and the opportunity to help other ranchers positively influence their herds.
What’s kept the family successful in the purebred business? “We try to be aggressive,” says Dale. “We spend a lot of money on herd bulls and on artificial breeding. We try to study all the latest techniques.” EPDs, carcass information and a wide range of data, aid in the continual work to improve the ranch’s cattle.
“It’s a balance,” says Dale. “You get in trouble if you shoot after one trait. You have to look at it all.” He says he’s enjoyed working with the Angus breed, a breed accompanied by a wealth of information and numerous good options.
Marketing is yet another aspect of what keeps the Micheli program working. “I think we’ve worked really hard at maintaining our customer base and presenting a product that will satisfy them,” says Ron. “You can have the best product in the world, but if you don’t go out and market it, whether it’s bulls or peanut butter, nobody will buy it. I think we have a pretty good reputation.” He says that philosophy is one aspect of their decision to add registered Angus cattle to the operation. It’s something, he says, customers were looking to purchase.
Dale says they often think about the rancher phrase — “There’s always another bull sale.” He says, “To us, there’s isn’t another bull sale. This is the one that matters. People have been loyal to us over the years and we try and work hard at it.”
Beyond its status as a key marketing event on the ranch, the Micheli’s October bull sale date is a family affair for the brothers’ large families. “It’s the highlight of the year,” says Ron. After the more than two years spent preparing the bulls for the sale, Dale says it’s also a family celebration.
The registered business is one aspect of day-to-day life on the Micheli Ranch. Come springtime the brothers irrigate with water from the High Uintas to ensure they’ve stacked ample wintertime feed.
“We have a center pivot, but predominantly we use flood irrigation,” says Dale. “We have alfalfa under the center pivot, but the rest is native grass. We cover a lot of ground to put up that much hay. We’re very fortunate if we get two crops of alfalfa.”
“Economists keep saying you’ve got to cut back,” says Ron. “We know that; we’re smart enough to figure that out.” Environment, however, he explains, can determine how possible that goal is to achieve.
“When I talk to guys on the eastern side of the state some of them winter out without feeding much hay,” he explains. “Haying is our operation — we’re either irrigating, putting up hay or feeding it. It puts us at a competitive disadvantage. We’re a high cost operation. We have to have tractors and all of the hay equipment you use for two months and it sets around 10 months. You have to do it.”
The Michelis’ cattle summer in desert country between their ranch and Evanston. The property lies within the checkerboard, a land ownership pattern where every other section was granted to Union Pacific to encourage construction of the railroad beginning in the 1860s.
“Family operations are tough,” says Ron. He and Dale are proud of the multiple generations that comprise the Micheli family’s presence on the ranch.
With Dale and wife, Terry, and Ron and his wife, Patty, raising their families just across the yard from one another Ron says, “We just really love the fact that our two families love each other so much. They’re really close. That’s really cool to have cousins that are best friends.”
“This is a great place to raise a family,” says Dale. “We’ve both got large families so it’s very important to us that we’ve been able to do that.”
During those years when the Micheli children were young, the family often made a noteworthy appearance at the Wyoming State Fair. They’d arrive in Douglas with several head of cattle and a fitting crew large enough to earn the envy of their competitors.
Ron and Dale have both been active in their local community and in state level activities. Dale spent six years on the Wyoming Livestock Board, wrapping up his tenure after spending a year as the Board’s Chairman. His service spanned some of the agency’s more difficult years as they dealt with budget shortfalls and turnover in state veterinarians.
Active in the local community, Dale announces football and basketball games on the radio for Mountain View and Lyman. He says he and Ron also spent around 30 years as referees for both sports. Involved in the 4-H and FFA programs over the years, Dale also coached several winning meats and livestock judging teams. Both of the Micheli brothers’ children have been heavily involved in 4-H and FFA.
Ron was a member of the Wyoming Legislature for 16 years. He spent eight years as Director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture as part of the Geringer administration. His work their earned him the recognition by the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts and entry into the Wyoming Agriculture Hall of Fame. Most recently, he has announced plans to run for Governor of Wyoming. He and his wife Patty have begun traveling the state attending functions and visiting about their campaign. They have launched a website at www.micheliforgovernor.com.
Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.