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Sims: Communication key in family ranch

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Chadron, Neb. – It’s been nearly 77 years since a banker took a chance on a Wyoming cowboy with dreams and aspirations of owning his own ranch. Roy Sims had worked hard to put away some money, sometimes working multiple jobs, to put toward purchasing a ranch a neighboring widow was willing to sell to him. 

With financial concerns in mind, the banker had to give Sims the bad news that the bank couldn’t lend him the money to fund his dream. Sims gathered up his paperwork, and headed out the door with the banker right behind him. 

Outside of the bank, the banker told Sims, “The bank can’t lend you the money to buy the ranch, but I will.” 

He gave him a personal loan right there on the spot.

The beginning of a legacy

It is a story of dreams and endurance the future generations of the Sims family will continue to share. Roy Sims worked the ranch until the 1970s, when he had a wreck with a cow, his great-grandson Shanon Sims told producers during the Chadron State College Range Day. 

Shanon and his wife Melinda are the fourth generation to live on the ranch near McFadden. Shanon told producers, after Roy was hurt, he leased the ranch to Shanon’s grandfather and father, and in 1983, when an uncle also joined the operation, it was placed into partnership and became Sims Cattle Co., LLC.

Currently, the operation consists of Shanon’s parents Scott and April Sims, Shanon, his wife Melinda and their children. Shanon’s sister also helps with labor on the ranch around a chiropractic business she owns and manages in a nearby town.

The forward thinking of the current management of the operation has allowed them to grow and expand over the years, creating the ability for a fifth generation to work and manage the family operation one day. 

From the ground up

The journey to where they are now hasn’t come easy, Shanon said. 

“Dad was riding across the pasture one day back in 1988 and noticed something alarming. There was no grass,” he explained.

The family had grazed horses during the winter, followed by cattle in the summer, and the animals had consumed all the grass leaving behind sagebrush and low-quality forage that was basically waste. 

Knowing he had to do something, Scott sought out holistic management practices, learning and implementing them. 

“He set goals, and because of those goals and his diligence, he was able to operate successfully for many years,” Shanon explained.

Shift in management

Shanon was hired on the operation in 2001, after finishing an animal science degree at the University of Wyoming. By 2007, his grandfather decided to retire, and Shanon and Melinda were able to buy into the partnership. 

“At that time, a lot of changes took place on the ranch,” Shanon recalled. “Mom had been working in the oilfield but came back to the ranch, bringing a new perspective.”

He continued, “Grandpa was no longer managing things. Basically, there was a shift in the dynamic of the people actually managing the ranch. We realized, as a family, it was time to rewrite a new list of goals.”

The family decided on a holistic goal, based on the conglomeration of everyone’s needs, wants and desires for the ranch. It was brought into one document that anyone can read at any time. 

“It is basically a road map of where we want to go in life, how we conduct business and how we want to live,” Shanon explained. 

Road map to the future

The adult members of the family met with a financial planner, and that meeting resulted in a lot of realizations. 

They found Shanon’s sister just wanted to be a laborer on the ranch, and April had dreams of traveling to Australia. 

“All these goals – not just for the ranch but for life – came out in this process,” Shanon explained. 

They tackled hard questions about what they wanted from life, and what they enjoy about the ranch. From the meeting came a three-part goal that addressed production, lifestyle and landscape.

Managing the ranch has provided the family members with an opportunity to manage the resources in a way that inspires others. The banker from many years ago was inspired by what Roy was trying to do and believed in him enough to lend him the money, Shanon shared. 

“We feel obligated to share our own failings and successes to give something back from that opportunity Roy got back in 1942,” he said.

Managing the resources

Over the years, Shanon said they have learned to adapt the cows to the climate and their management to the cows. They adjusted cow size and changed their calving dates. 

“We produce a product, which is grass for livestock, but it is something that we are always looking to improve upon. Our business is really nothing more than capturing sunlight. The best way to do that is through grass. It is up to us to find the best ways to market that grass,” he said. 

“If we make a profit, and we expect to year-in and year-out, we have to control our expenses. I use a formula, which is income minus planned profit equals expenses. We automatically lock away 10 percent of our income as profit each year. After that, we look at what we have left, and that is what we can use to cover expenses,” Shanon explained. 

He continued, “We basically take the profit off the top and then determine what our expenses will be for the year.”

Financial records guide management 

“The first year, we made a budget just to satisfy our lender, and we didn’t look at it again for a year,” Melinda shared. “Then, Shanon took over the budget and has made it a necessary tool for us.” 

“We update it every month, and it helps us keep track of our goals. We can see if we are behind or ahead of budget, and it helps us make decisions on what to spend,” she said.

They also find family meetings in a neutral location to be an important part of the family dynamics. During those meetings, they go around the room, and everyone has an opportunity to talk uninterrupted.

“We are hoping to develop a business that will entice our next generation to come back,” Melinda said. “We work hard on the management-part of the business.” 

Planning family time is equally important. 

“Our kids are active in sports and other activities, and we make the time to go to those things. That time of their life is so short, and we don’t want them to say someday that we missed those things because of the ranch,” Melinda shared.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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