Hybrid Vigor Johnsons utilize crossbreds on 100+ year family ranch
La Grange – In 1907 Archie Johnson’s granddad came to Wyoming from Sweden by himself when he was in his early teens, and the Johnson family still occupies the same ranch he put together in southern Goshen County.
The original Johnson family ranch lies just south of the Goshen County line in Laramie County, while a 1940 addition by Archie’s dad and uncle is located north of the line and east of La Grange.
“It’s the only place I’ve ever lived,” says Archie of the 1940 ranch. “My dad and uncle gave five dollars an acre for it, and Grandpa Johnson told them they were crazy and would never live long enough to pay it off.”
A barn engineered and constructed at the Laramie County homestead was built in 1937 and housed the workhorses. The Johnsons have worked hard to keep it up, including the recent addition of red tin siding, and today it still serves as their saddle horse barn.
Today Archie runs the ranch with his sons Patrick and Matt, who both have families on the place. “Matt is the welder and mechanic, and when we break something down we wait on him,” says Archie. “Patrick rides our young horses.”
The family runs crossbred cattle, breeding red cows to black bulls and black cows to Hereford bulls.
“We like the hybrid vigor, and the calves are always a little heavier,” says Archie of the cross. “We have mostly red and crossbred cows, and some black white face cows bred to black bulls. Any straight Angus cows are with Hereford bulls.”
While the ranch used to put up two circles of hay, they now irrigate one circle and buy the balance of their hay. “This year we had a really good hay crop,” says Archie of 2009. “A year ago, with pump trouble, we put up 140 big squares on the first cutting, while this year we baled 440.”
In keeping with tradition, the Johnson family works all their cattle horseback, although Archie acknowledges a four-wheeler might be nice for jobs like fixing fence in the hills in the southeast part of the ranch. He says using horses also helps save fuel and keep their input costs down.
“I had a woman ask me if I was still gung-ho enough to feed with a team, but I like my pickup in the winter,” says Archie. “I didn’t take too many trips feeding with my dad, but I made enough to know that it was cold.”
Archie says he was 10 when his family sold their last team. Although Patrick keeps a mare to breed, Archie says the family mostly buys young horses to train, including the pick-up horses Matt uses when he works rodeos like Cheyenne Frontier Days.
The Johnsons calve in February, when Archie says it can be cold, but it’s dry before the spring snow and rain in April and May. “Last year we were about done calving when we had the blizzard March 21, and after that we had a blizzard every five days until the first week of May.”
The Johnsons sell their calves each fall through Torrington Livestock and purchase bred heifers every year, mostly from local seedstock producers.
“We also go to complete dispersals that offer cows that have been on vaccination programs and taken care of, and we buy three- and four-year-olds,” he adds. From those cows, he says a lot of the heifers they produce sell as replacements, with most of them shipping to Kansas this year.
Of selling calves this fall, he says all the area’s calves were light, despite the good grass year. He attributes the weight loss to the snowstorms that hit the area in October.
Of the open grassland in southern Goshen County, Archie says they don’t grow many trees in the area. “All our wind protection is either built or planted,” he says. Until recently the ranch utilized old tires out of Gillette baled together and stacked to block the wind. However, a current restriction from Wyoming’s Department of Environmental quality has stopped any additions.
Although the area can be windy, Archie says wind developers haven’t contacted them, but he adds that it’s generally either so still the windmills wouldn’t move, or blowing 40 miles per hour.
However, the Johnsons do have two large power lines criss-crossing their ranch. One comes from the Wheatland power plant, while the other originates in the Dakotas. “We got along with them good,” says Archie of their construction in the ‘60s and ‘80s. “We had some windmills we wanted to move and they helped us lay them down and load them with their boom trucks.”
“We have a lot of antelope, and we’re getting more deer,” notes Archie of the ranch’s game, adding there are usually 35 or 40 does and fawns at the silage pile. “We have some guys that come up from Houston every year to hunt, and a couple local guys that come early for bow season.”
“There are a lot of things that have nothing to do with ranch operation that we have to keep track of,” says Archie of managing a ranch in today’s cattle business. “We did age and source verify our calves this year, and I don’t think it helped us because we don’t finish them. I don’t think we’ll do it again, because good calves that weren’t verified sold every bit as good as ours.”
Of the area in which his family’s ranch is located, Archie says he likes its sparse populations. However, he says land values are increasing. Of looking to add land to the ranch, Archie says, “A real estate guy told me you can’t figure what the land’s worth based on cows and calves, but that’s what we have to pay for it.”
But, Archie says his sons enjoy operating the ranch. “It’s a way of life, not just a way to make a living,” he notes.
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.