Building a successful operation: Monoyios utilizes land and good employees to build successful Eagle Valley Ranch
Nikos Monoyios and his wife Valerie put together several properties near Salmon, Idaho to create Eagle Valley Ranch.
Nikos was born in Greece, came to the U.S. for college and worked in the investment management business in New York from 1977 to 2008.
Valerie was born in Plains, Mont. and is a retired physician.
In 2003, the two bought the Swahlen Ranch, 12 miles east of Salmon along Bohannon Creek. The ranch had 4,000 acres of deeded ground and 6,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) leases.
Over the next three years, the Monoyios’ purchased adjoining properties, making a total of 5,900 acres of deeded land and 12,000 acres of BLM leases.
“We’ve been fortunate to have employees who worked hard to make it into a first-class cattle operation. When we bought the ranch, we knew nothing about ranching. We were determined to find honest, hard-working and knowledgeable people to manage and operate the ranch. We give a lot of credit to Mike Kossler, our manager for the first 14 years and Chris Kirby, who replaced him upon his retirement in 2017,” says Nikos.
“We were fortunate to have Mike with his many years of experience and local knowledge. His impeccable character and work ethic shaped and guided the operation. He treated the place like his own and hired the best people who reflected our values and formed a stable, tight-knit team,” Nikos says.
He continues, “When Mike retired, we were concerned about how we would fill his boots. Chris Kirby was recommended by the director of the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management, where he was completing a two-year master’s degree program. Chris and his wife, Sara, accepted the position after visiting Salmon in sub-zero January weather and decided this is where they wanted to raise their family of six kids.”
Cattle numbers have increased from 500 to 750 cow/calf pairs.
“When we bought the ranch it had a mixed herd of mostly older cows. We bought replacement cows for several years and gradually evolved to a Black Angus operation, keeping our own replacement heifers. Average age in the cowherd has come down significantly, and quality has improved,” says Nikos.
A few years ago, Eagle Valley Ranch started synchronizing and breeding replacement heifers via artificial insemination (AI). The heifers calve about three weeks ahead of the cowherd under the supervision of long-time employee Lothar Eichner.
This practice puts a little more size on their calves by fall, and gives first-calf heifers a few more weeks to recover after calving.
“We have expanded the AI program to include not only 200 replacement heifers, but most of the cowherd. We have changed the tag identification system to distinguish the early-born heifers, more likely to be AI bred and suitable for replacements, from the later-born heifers that will be sold,” Nikos explains.
“We developed a quantitative system for rating bulls and bidding at bull auctions. We score bulls in four or five bull sales by the EPD characteristics we deem important for a cow/calf operation and rank them from best to worst,” he continues. “It’s easy to overpay for a good bull, but we’ve been able to buy bulls in the top quartile of our ranking system at below median price for the sales. We feel this has improved the quality of our calves and genetics of our replacement heifers.”
Grazing and facilities
The ranch has made significant progress in grazing management and facilities.
“Early on, we hired Jim Gerrish as a consultant. He helped us design an intensive grazing system. We divided our pastures into segments with fixed and moveable electric fences and installed water troughs. We trained our employees to measure grass, keep track of grass growth and move the cows every few days. This has greatly improved the productivity and quality of our pastures,” says Nikos.
The ranch has hosted the Lost Rivers Grazing Academy for 10 years.
“We make our facilities and cattle available so other people learn about grazing management,” he says. “People who come to the grazing school can see some examples and try the ideas themselves, such as innovative ways to set up water tanks, move wire fences, measure grass, etc.”
Jerry Elzinga is the grazing manager and has a good system for keeping records. The ranch does cell grazing on 2,250 acres of irrigated ground and rotates pastures on private rangeland.
Rotational grazing is a year-round task to promote the best utilization of pastures.
“Another thing we’ve done that’s a change from the previous management is how we utilize our BLM pieces,” says Nikos. “The previous owners put cow/calf pairs on the BLM during summer. We keep our cow/calf pairs on private, irrigated fields during summer.”
“After weaning, we put dry cows out on BLM in late fall. This has given the BLM ground a chance to recover. Our calves stay on irrigated ground until shipping and gain better with higher-quality feed,” he explains.
The cows calve in March and April, calving in about 40 days. Even calving that late, the ranch sells 550 to 650 pound calves by fall.
“We’re reducing the average size of our cows, selecting more efficient, smaller-framed cows. When we got the ranch, the cows averaged about 1,400 pounds. We are looking to reduce this to 1,100 to 1,200 pound cows so they are more efficient, yet still produce a good calf,” Nikos explains.
“This year, in order to manage our weights better, we installed scales on two of our chutes so we can record individual weights for cows and calves,” Nikos adds.
It takes a while to make changes. When buying cows, producers get everyone else’s genetics and most of them are large. To help reduce frame size in future cows, Nikos says they select moderate-frame bulls.
“We’ve made an effort to improve the quality of our soils by planting cover crops including a variety of legumes, grains and grasses on a rotating basis. This has improved feed quality and production, with long-term benefits in reduced fertilizer needs and better soil health. We have expanded the intensive grazing system infrastructure of the ranch,” says Nikos.
“As part of a multi-year river restoration project on the Lemhi River, we gave up two pivots and 120 acres of irrigated ground so Idaho Fish and Game can create side channels and improve conditions for survival of juvenile chinook salmon and steelhead. With the help of the Idaho Department of Water Resources, we were able to transfer a senior water right from the Lemhi to a more productive part of the ranch,” he says.
“This year, we completed a project coordinated by the Upper Salmon River Watershed office to install three new pivots fed by gravity from Bohannon Creek or pumped water from the river for a new intensive grazing system on this ground,” says Nikos.
“We expect to get better production and more efficient forage utilization to compensate for the ground we gave up for the river restoration project,” he continues. “This is an example of how private ranch owners and government agencies can work together for lasting environmental progress while also improving productivity and efficiency of the ranch.”
For more information, visit lemhilandtrust.org.
Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.