Care of the land: Warbonnet Ranch uses cutting-edge management strategies to optimize grazing
Moorcroft – In 1916, rancher Thayne Gray’s family began homesteading the land that is now part of the Warbonnet Ranch in Moorcroft.
His great-grandparents originally leased the land out while working in town as the postmaster, which gave the family a unique opportunity to expand their land base.
“As homesteaders would come into the post office and say they were moving, my great-grandfather would ask what they would do with the ground, and they’d say they’d just leave it, so he would give them pennies on the dollar for the land. That’s how he built up the ranch as it is today,” says Gray.
“There are quite a few facets to our operation, and we don’t do things traditionally,” explains Gray.
The ranch is primarily a cow/calf operation with a herd of approximately 225 mother cows and 200 yearlings.
“We graze the yearlings until August, and then we retain ownership into Schramm Feedlot, just outside of Yuma, Colo.,” he says. “As far as the feedlot is concerned, we retain ownership, and then we put the animals on the grid. We’re paid premiums on the carcasses.”
Over the years, Gray notes his family has experimented with a variety of breeds through artificial insemination (AI).
“In 1964, my father got certified as an AI technician, and we’ve experimented with at least 11 breeds on the place, including Tarentaise, Salers, Gelbvieh and Simmental,” comments Gray.
Currently, the ranch uses a two-way cross between Red Angus and Charolais.
“The reason we’ve chosen those breeds is because they seem to do well in the environment,” he continues. “They’re low maintenance and easy doing, yet they do well hanging and provide a good carcass premium.”
The Warbonnet Ranch prioritizes holistic range management, says Gray.
“When I was a kid, on the 4,800 acres, we had eight pastures, and we could run just over 100 cows,” he explains. “Now, we’re running on just about 7,000 acres, but the original 4,800 acres is broken up into about 50 pastures.”
He notes the cattle are rotated through the pastures throughout the year, and the groups never stay in a pasture for more than one week.
This change in management has dramatically increased the carrying capacity of their land, he notes.
“Management changes have allowed us to go from the traditional 30 acres per animal per year to a stocking rate of 22 acres to the animal,” comments Gray.
According to Gray, the native grass on their ranch cures out to approximately seven percent protein, so the ranch primarily grazes the cows on the dormant grass in the winter time with minimal supplementation.
“We used to purchase a little bit of hay and throw five to 10 pounds of hay to them a day, but if there’s sufficient grass, all cattle are supplemented with is fodder, which is a hydroponic sprouted grain,” he explains.
Gray can produce about 1,700 pounds of fodder per day on the ranch.
“Here in a couple months, we’re hoping to put 2,300 pounds a day out with the modifications we’re making,” Gray says.
Returning to the family ranch was actually a decision that Gray made after establishing a career in mechanical engineering, he explains.
“I actually went to college and got a degree in mechanical engineering,” he says. “I worked for a defense contractor for seven years and then came back to the ranch.”
Gray continues to utilize his engineering degree in addition to managing the family ranch.
“Every once in a while I’ll do some engineering work to support my ranching habit,” he notes.
Gray also stays active in the community, serving as a school board member, working in the local church and being involved in mentoring activities, which is one of the most rewarding aspects of ranching for him.
“Probably the most rewarding thing about ranching for me is mentoring kids who are my own, their friends and friends of friends who come work on the place with us,” Gray says, “It shows them a different way of life and a different way to approach things.”
As they look toward the future, Gray notes that continuing to increase efficiency is a top priority for the ranch.
“We’re looking at cutting costs to be more efficient, and get more net income per cow. Cutting feed costs and all other associated labor costs for taking care of the ranch is the direction we’re pushing,” he says.
Gray explains the ranch is also planning to expand the range they’re utilizing in the next few years.
“We currently lease some ground out in the summer for a neighbor to graze, but I think we’re going to try and grow to be able to utilize that ground ourselves in the near future,” he concludes.
Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.