Fluer utilizes niche opportunities in small acreage
Lander – “We run yearlings on leased acreages, have some Red Angus pairs, registered Targhee sheep and raise certified horse hay,” says Scott Fluer of his diverse and multi-faceted operation near Lander. “We have five leases in addition to 500 acres of sagebrush on the mountain. In total, we run on about 700 acres, but most of our leases are about 20 to 30 acres.”
Fluer’s cows run on the mountain lease, and purchased steer calves are put on irrigated leased acres during the summer months. He purchases between 50 and 70, 500- to 550-weight calves between February and April. Any leftover hay is fed to them prior to turning out on the multiple small, irrigated leases.
“In the spring we will worm, vaccinate, tag and brand the calves. We try to clean up any horns, and I stick with steers so I don’t have to worry about bulls,” notes Fluer. He adds that he also tries to stay mostly black and purchases all of his cattle through Riverton Livestock.
“I try to buy mostly local cattle. I just travel with a trailer and panels and am able to keep production agriculture alive on these small acreages through grazing them. The owners of the deeded land also like it, because of the ag taxes, so there are benefits for them, too,” notes Fluer.
Cattle are sold through Riverton Livestock again in the fall. Fluer says in 20 years the best gains he’s ever had were 2.8 pounds a day, and the average is around 2.3 to 2.5 pounds per day on irrigated grass.
“It’s great to buy good quality cattle and I try to do that whenever possible. But, with irrigated grass I feel I can take lesser quality cattle and make them better sometimes, too.
“Although these leases are small, they’re very productive and have their unique benefits,” says Fluer. “Some I give money for the lease, and others all I have to do is irrigate and take care of the weeds and fences for the owner. It’s a niche that works for us. I focus on rotational grazing using electric fences with solar chargers.”
“With the Targhees I graze the ditches on our deeded land. I use portable woven electric fence from Premier Supplies out of Iowa, and I corridor graze with the sheep to keep the ditches clean and the weeds down. It also makes setting a dam easy. Sheep don’t crumble ditches like horses or cattle will, and the electric fence keeps the coyotes out. Overall it works pretty slick, but it is time consuming,” explains Fluer.
He adds that it would be great to have a large operation all in one piece, but that land prices are so high in the Lander area it’s almost impossible.
“It would be great to have a big operation, but what I’ve found is the option to do it on your own and to make agriculture pay, not only for the cattle, but also for the land, is just not there anymore. You’re looking at $10,000 to $20,000 per acre for irrigated land around here. If you’re not from an old family that’s had the land and been able to pass it down from generation to generation, it’s really tough. Leasing works in our case,” explains Fluer.
The hay side of Fluer’s operation produces between three and 3.25 tons per acre of grass hay in one cutting without fertilizer. “We have been doing the hay thing for over 20 years and it used to be a great market. But today, instead of selling horse hay, we’re putting more of that into our pairs and these yearlings.”
He adds that he is looking to expand his operation in the Riverton area, where winters are milder and land is more affordable.
“Land there costs about 20 percent of what it does here. It would make perfect sense to summer everything here and on the mountain, then haul them down to Riverton for the winter,” comments Fluer.
Fluer worked for the BLM for a number of years as a rangeland management specialist and has been in and out of the Lander area since 1983. He says people came to him asking if he wanted to put up the hay or lease the pasture on their small places, and it’s gone from there. In 2008 the Fluers were rewarded for their efforts when they received the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts Small Acreage Cooperator of the Year award.
Today Fluer keeps a position as program lead of the BLM Lander Field Office’s wild horse program. “I also auctioneer for the horse program. I’ve been working with the people in Fremont County for over 20 years. Prior to that I was with the Soil Conservation Service in Torrington for about five years. With today’s economy and working in agriculture, you better have someone with a job in town,” he notes.
Scott and his wife Kelly have four kids: Ella, Alec, Craig and Sara. Sara, the oldest, is an animal science major at UW. “We stay pretty busy. By no means are we getting wealthy, but we are able to make a go at this and it does supplement our income. It’s truly a family operation. I think something like this makes for better kids,” Fluer says. “It gives them responsibility and goals, and it helps them learn about nurturing and caring for animals. This also gives our kids more choices in life, and it definitely brings our family together.”
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.