Diversified operation: Cross raises cattle, sells equipment
Douglas – Though he has been involved in ranching all his life, Richard Cross broke away from his family operation in 1974 to start his own cattle business between Douglas and Glenrock.
Boot Ranch raises Red and Black Angus with some Gelbvieh influence for growth and fertility. Only three percent of Richard’s cows are open this year, which he attributes to the Gelbvieh, adding that it makes sense to utilize a bigger cow, as well.
“I think the bigger cows are better off,” says Richard. “Look at evolution – the further north you go, the bigger the mammals are, and they have evolved that way to cope with the cold. Bigger animals were selected for.”
During the summer, Richard runs his cattle on mountain pastures and leased lands.
Richard says, “This place is off-balance. There is more irrigated land than summer pasture, and I always have to rent summer pasture.”
He utilizes rotational grazing systems to ensure his range is healthy and capable of supporting his cowherd.
Richard notes that he keeps them on pasture until the first of January because they do well in cold weather, supplementing their diet with cake. He has added trees to the perimeter of some of the pastures to create a wind break, snow fence and additional shelter for his cows.
Richard also raises hay, saying the ranch can put up nearly 5,000 round bales. He has worked to improve the land to increase production.
“When we got this place, we only put up 600 round bales,” says Richard. “With the price of hay, people who have to buy their hay are spending a lot of money.”
The ranch begins calving in the middle of February and continues into April.
“The calving shed is probably the most valuable asset on the place,” explains Richard. “If my house burned down, I could pull a trailer in, but if the calving shed burned down during calving, I don’t know what I would do.”
At weaning, Richard puts all relevant information for the calf on the ear tag, noting that it is much easier to simply look at the tag, rather than to attempt cross-reference data from a computer.
“I feed distillers grains and silage to my calves,” says Richard, noting that he sees gains of about 4.5 pounds per day.
He adds that the silage bales are wrapped with 40 to 70 percent moisture content.
Richard sells his calves via video auction in two groups, utilizing a scale to select his calves. He delivers 650-pound calves in the middle of November, waiting to sell 950-pound calves in January.
“I sell my smaller calves early,” says Richard. “It’s worked out pretty well as far as not putting my eggs all in one basket. I have two different markets, and this year it looks pretty good.”
He also utilizes age and source verification to expand his market.
“I’ve been age and source verifying about five years, and they are all-natural,” says Richard. “I think I get better prices, and I usually top the market when I sell them. My calves have got about everything done to them that I can do.”
Aside from the cattle aspect of the operation, Richard also sells Vermeer implements and has for the last 30 years.
“I’m a farm dealer and sell to farmers in the area,” says Richard. “It’s become a good business.”
Ultimately, Richard sees production agriculture as a good place to be, recognizing that the worldwide demand for beef is increasing.
“There is a big demand for cattle, and we can’t feed the world right now,” says Richard. “If we can’t get ahold of the situation, there will be a food crisis.”
The rapidly inflating population around the globe will influence this crisis. Predictions say that world populations will reach nine billion by 2050, creating the need for an increased food supply.
“I think we are in serious trouble,” he adds. “If we have a food crunch and prices get high, I can see that the administration might freeze food prices and nationalize agriculture. That would kill us – it would cause chaos.”
To expand his world perspectives, Richard spent over two years in his youth traveling abroad with the Peace Corps, where he worked in agriculture.
“We drove to Panama and jumped a ship from Panama to Uruguay and Ecuador,” says Richard of the experience. “I worked with a guy in agriculture extension and I learned lots – probably more than I taught. As I gave more, I learned more.”
“I developed some radical political views down there,” continues Richard, describing the flaws of pure capitalism. “In many of the Latin American countries where there is pure capitalism, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We are starting to see that here.”
Richard says that three slaughter plants currently buy 80 to 90 percent of the cattle in the U.S., and the only thing keeping prices up is the low cattle numbers.
Richard sees land prices, taxes and government regulation as some of the largest problems facing agriculture.
“We need a strong voice,” continues Richard. “We’re divided now between so many different organizations, and we’ve always been our own worst enemy.”
“If you leave an American farmer or rancher alone, they’ll produce, but if the government starts interfering, we will start getting more ‘gentleman’ farmers, and they aren’t efficient,” he says.
Richard is concerned for the future of agriculture, saying, “I hope we don’t get regulated out of business.”
Issues in agriculture such as a national identification system are also concerning.
“Anything that is government run won’t be good,” says Richard, referencing a national identification system as one area of concern. “I hate to see identification become bureaucratic. We’re very proud of our brand system, but there are some instances where it doesn’t work, but they are the exception.”
As a final note, Richard adds, “It will continue to be an interesting business.”
Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.