Murray Grays, fine alfalfa the specialty of skinner operation
Torrington – After ranching on family land north of Fort Laramie for several years following his time in the Service, Ivan Skinner and his wife Barb moved to an irrigated hay farm on the east edge of Torrington where they also now board horses and run a trucking business.
“We were married at ages 19 and 16 and we’ve now been married 58 years,” says Ivan. “At first when we started ranching we lived off my mustering out pay, which was $76 per month.”
“Most things we’ve learned through the school of hard knocks,” he says, adding that he and Barb raised four children, one of whom they lost in the 1970s.
Of their cowherd, Ivan says they put together a group from auctions and began improving them through A.I., eventually using Murray Gray bulls. “We had black cows that were 800 or 900 pounds, and we thought we needed 1,000-pound cows, so we A.I.-ed 10 head the first time and got crossbred calves that seemed to be what we wanted,” he says.
The Skinners continued to A.I. five or 10 of their best cows each year, gradually improving their herd and eventually transitioning to a full-blood Murray Gray herd.
“That increased our economic value, because we were raising our own bulls and kept getting the best of what we had,” says Ivan, noting they eventually got to where they’d inseminate 50 to 75 head each year during their transition, culling the herd by 20 percent each year.
“In the 1980s the Murray Gray Association made the statement that we had the best Murray Gray herd in the U.S.,” says Ivan, noting that they were also the largest with 100 head, where most producers had hobby-sized herds.
Of the Murray Gray breed, Ivan says he can’t prove it but he thinks they have superior feed conversion. Barb says she liked them because they were really gentle, and good mothers.
“We were proud of them, and they were pretty sweet,” she says.
Following their move from the ranch to the Torrington ground, Ivan says they installed three pivots where he strives to produce hay that’s really fine-stemmed. “Normal alfalfa is bigger than a number nine wire, and this hay is more like baling wire,” he says of his hay’s characteristics. “We cut it four times each season, and that’s how we keep it fine-stemmed.”
“We rake the hay before it’s dry and bale it to keep as much moisture in as we can,” says Ivan. “We try to sell hay to horse people, and we take some of our hay in 3×3 bales to a dealer in Stephenville, Texas.”
He says they used to bale 3×4 bales, until they decided they were going to get out of the business, selling their equipment and leasing the pivots. “We rented it out for two or three years, but if you’re going to live on your farm, you’ve got to do the farming, because it’s better not to see what’s going on,” he says, adding that’s when they bought the 3×3 baler and got back into production themselves.
Today Ivan and Barb’s grandson Toby Skinner of Lingle helps on the farm in addition to working for Brown Company in town and driving truck.
Of the horse boarding business, Ivan says it was Toby’s idea to take in horses. First they filled the barn they’d built, then built two rounds of pens and filled them up, to where they now keep around 31 horses.
“We’ve met some of the nicest people,” says Barb of the boarders, who are mostly students from the Eastern Wyoming College rodeo team. “They’ve been great, and they help us out around the place.”
Ivan says he keeps board rates low, “I don’t look at it from money angle. If I can rent that to a kid on a rodeo scholarship on limited funds, and I can help them a little bit to get past that part of life, I’m doing ok.”
Of living in the Torrington area, Ivan says it’s a poverty area, but because it is ranches are cheaper and the cost of living is lower. “The climate is also a plus,” he adds. “It’s 15 degrees warmer down here and the snow is eight inches shallower than it was when we were north of Fort Laramie.”
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.