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by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

A Pine Bluffs farmer, rancher, feedlot owner-operator and a man of many hats in Wyoming agriculture has received an Outstanding Alumni Award from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

William “Bill” Gross graduated in 1961 from the University of Wyoming (UW) with a bachelor’s degree in animal science. Upon his return home, he set about doubling the Gross-Wilkinson Ranch cow/calf and stocker operation. He added a feedlot, which now has an 8,500-head capacity.

Irrigated and dryland cropping are also part of the mix. Gross and his wife Phyllis, contributed five children to the Gross-Wilkinson Ranch legacy. They are Greg, Pat, Paula, Mary and Jennifer. Sons Greg and Pat have joined the daily running and overall direction of the enterprise.

“Bill has utilized the formal education he received at UW to build an outstanding farming and ranching operation,” says nominator Paul Lowham of Jackson. “He has grown it financially and has included family members who will ensure its sustainability.”

The Gross-Wilkinson Ranch, established by Gross’ grandfather in 1890, was honored as a Centennial Ranch by the state of Wyoming in 1990.

“I had the good fortune of working closely with the Gross-Wilkinson Ranch in the 1990s when they agreed to feed cattle for the Wyoming Beef Cattle Improvement Association’s Feedlot Test and Carcass Evaluation Program,” says Doug Hixon, then a UW Extension beef cattle specialist. “Since I was active in administering that Extension program, I saw ‘up close and personal’ the high level of expertise and professional approach that Bill’s leadership stamped on the Gross-Wilkinson operation. It is first-class in every sense of the word.”

Lives by the Code

“Bill and his family have lived by the principles contained in the ‘Code of the West’ ever since I have known them and long before that became a formal program adopted by the state of Wyoming,” says Hixon, now UW professor emeritus in animal science.

Among the code’s principles are always Finish What You Start; Do What Has to Be Done; Be Tough But Fair; When You Make a Promise, Keep It.

Gary Darnall of the Darnall Ranch in Harrisburg, Neb., has owned a yearling operation with Gross for 20 years.

“I could not ask for a better business partner,” he says. “Bill is fair, honest and a good businessman.”

Of the family ranch and feedlot, Lex Madden, owner of Torrington Livestock Markets, says, “He has a vision for improvement and is willing to see it through to completion.”

Madden notes with enthusiasm, “Bill and Phyllis have shown their family and others what dedication and hard work means.”

Gross opens his gates to groups who want to learn about farming and ranching. He readily shares his knowledge with young people and producers across the region.

Says Madden, “Many times people call me, and I forward them on to Bill because he is so well-versed in all areas of agriculture.”

Gross has developed a thorough understanding of integrated resource management, as well as beef production systems and best management practices.

Hixon notes, “He has studied marketing to the extent he is one of the sharpest individuals I know in relation to buying and selling cattle.”

Gross was born in Kimball, Neb. and attended elementary and high school in Pine Bluffs.

He is a shareholder and director of the Farmers State Bank in Pine Bluffs. Founded in 1915, the bank serves agricultural producers, businesses and community members in southeastern Wyoming, western Nebraska and northern Colorado.

He has served as a board member of Farm Bureau; Laramie County Agriculture, Soil and Conservation Service; and Pine Bluffs Co-op Grocery Store and is a member of St. Paul’s Catholic Church and Laramie County Stock Growers.

Giving to UW

In 2004, Bill and Phyllis and Gary and Emilie Darnall gave UW the boot – the decorative five-foot-high cowboy boot that greets visitors in the lobby of the Animal Science/Molecular Biology Building north of the stadium.

Yaks? Yes. Gross is working with associate professors Mark Stayton and Scott Lake of the Department of Animal Science on a program to breed yak-cow crosses. The yaks are from the Tibetan Plateau, where the average elevation is 14,800 feet. Their goal is to introduce genes from yaks into cattle to bolster altitude resistance and reduce incidence of brisket disease and bovine respiratory complex, which is the single most common cause of death among feedlot cattle.

In the end, however, altitude resistance is only useful to Wyoming ranchers if the animals have the traits necessary for efficient beef production.  With his eye for beef cattle, Gross evaluates the hybrids for their commercial potential. 

The Gross-Wilkinson Ranch has participated in the Steer-A-Year Program. Their gift of a live steer, along with those of other producers, raises money for in-state student athlete scholarships, the UW rodeo club and the animal science judging team.

“Bill Gross has worked his entire life to help agriculture stay strong – and the university in the process. His heart is truly in Wyoming and with the university,” says Madden.

Hixon adds, “He’s everything we always strived for in students who graduate from the University of Wyoming.”

“I had the good fortune of meeting Bill and his fine family shortly after arriving in Wyoming as Extension beef cattle specialist in 1982. Phil Rosenlund, the Laramie County educator at that time, took me on a tour of one of the best operations in his county, the one operated by Bill and Phyllis Gross and their family,” Hixon continues. “I soon became aware that it was not only one of the most outstanding and progressive operations in Laramie County but also in the state of Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain West.”

This article is courtesy of the University of Wyoming.

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