Well-adapted cattle: Burgess Angus Ranch raises cattle to fit extreme environment
Doug and Janice Burgess have been producing commercial cattle for more than 44 years and registered Angus for 25 years. They both grew up in northern California.
“We had a ranch there, but the spotted owl and changing culture made it difficult. People were either involved in the drug culture or against it, and it was no place for people trying to run cattle on Forest Service lands. We lost our Forest Service permit because of the spotted owl,” Doug says.
The couple looked for another ranch, and in 1979, bought a place on Cow Creek in Jordan Valley, Ore.
“It was formerly Camp Lyon. The Army had a post there from 1864 to 1870. It was on the main road that used to go from the valley up to Silver City and had a stage stop. We’ve found a cannon ball and a few other relics,” Doug says.
“We have an Oregon Bureau of Land Management (BLM) permit on the west side of Highway 95 and an Idaho BLM permit. We ran commercial cows and raised hay. Then, in 1995, we bought a small group of registered Angus cows to raise our own bulls. We hadn’t been able to find bulls that fit the country or that we could afford,” Doug explains.
He continues, “We sold a few bulls to our neighbor, the 06 Ranch, in 1996. Now, they’ve bought well over 100 bulls from us.”
Most of the bulls sold by the Burgess Angus Ranch go to ranchers within 200 miles. The bulls are acclimated to the area and sire efficient cows that work well in range country.
“We try to raise cattle that fit this environment and periodic drought. It’s good country, but we can’t do well with extreme cattle regarding expected progeny difference (EPD) numbers,” Doug says, noting large-framed cattle that need a lot of feed or cows that milk heavily don’t handle the environment well.
“A person needs efficient cattle that can make a living on their own. This is what we have in mind for our purebred herd. We try to buy herd bulls or artificially inseminate (AI) to bulls that fit our program and are not extreme. This country is extreme enough,” he says.
Doug continues, “We run about 200 commercial cows and 200 registered cows. The purebreds are run as much like the commercial cows as we can. We have separate breeding pastures, but we run multiple sires and then DNA test the calves to determine parentage. Many registered people claim to run their purebreds under range conditions, but we do run ours like range cows.”
The calves go to branded programs. “We are Global Animal Partnership (GAP 4) certified, and we wean the calves for 60-plus days. We’ve had good feedback on carcass quality. We have a lot of repeat customers for calves. They go to natural programs, such as Whole Foods, the Neiman Ranch Program or Country Natural Beef,” he says.
Cows have a 60-day calving season, and heifers have less than 40 days. All first-calf heifers, both commercial and registered, are AI bred.
“We also AI half the purebred cows. We have a fall-calving herd and a spring-calving herd of purebreds,” Doug explains.
The fall-born bulls are more than a year old when sold and ready to go to work the next spring.
“We don’t overfeed young bulls. The fall bulls look really good by sale time, and our sale is the first week in February. We normally sell 70 to 80 bulls in our sale, both spring and fall bulls,” says Doug.
The bull sale is held at the ranch and the calving barn is converted into a sale barn.
“Everything inside the barn is portable so we just move panels out. Everything we have today has been paid for with cow dollars, so we have a different philosophy than a lot of purebred breeders. We make do and make things work because we have to,” he says. “We came to Jordan Valley with very little money, and over the years we have put together a nice little family operation. However, the BLM situation is scary, we look toward the future.”
Doug and Janice have put together enough deeded ground that hopefully they can survive if they lose some BLM permits to a proposed monument.
“It even takes in some of our deeded ground, so we’re not sure what’s going to happen with it,” Doug says.
“We have a lot of family help at sale time. Janice and I have four daughters, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The sale is a family affair. They all pitch in and help. We don’t have any hired help. Our family does it all,” Doug says.
Doug and Janice feel fortunate most of their family lives close by. Their kids started out young, helping at the ranch.
“We needed to give them something to do and a goal to look forward to. That’s how I was raised,” Doug says. “My grandfather ranched in California. Our brand, the bar X, was registered in California in 1917 and has been through several generations.”
The family uses horses to work and move cattle.
“We rodeo, and some of the grandkids rodeo. We’ve been all over the country pulling trailers and hauling kids to high school rodeos,” he adds.
Doug still team ropes a little.
Doug and Janice’s grandson Michael Babcock will be attending college on a rodeo scholarship this fall at the College of Southern Idaho.
“I enjoyed growing up with cattle in California and thought I knew a lot about cows until we moved here. It’s totally different. In California, we ran our cattle on Forest Service lands during the summer and deeded land in winter and didn’t have to feed hay,” he says.
It was a big transition moving to Jordan Valley where winter can be challenging. After more than 20 years on Cow Creek, the Burgess’ looked for additional land and bought a place at Homedale, Idaho, at a much lower elevation in 2001.
“We needed to expand, and needed a better winter place. The Cow Creek Ranch is nearly 5,000 feet in elevation, and down here it is about 2,300 feet. This makes a lot of difference in climate,” Doug says.
The Homedale Ranch has over 800 acres, and the Burgess family is currently installing their seventh and final pivot to raise hay and a little corn silage for the calves.
They sell two loads of commercial calves each year on the Superior Video Auction at Winnemucca, Nev. usually during the end of July or the first of August and have been doing so for more than 20 years.
“There are about 2,500 calves each year from our area sired by our bulls and sold at Winnemucca in the same grouping. They are all black and preconditioned similarly, so our bulls get a lot of advertisement from it,” Doug explains.
“Twenty years ago, when Jordan Valley cattle came on the video, all the people watching the video would leave and go to the bar. Now, when Jordan Valley cattle come on, people come from the bar to watch these cattle sell,” says Doug.
“Cattle in this area have totally changed in the last 25 years. It used to be we’d have to look hard to find a good set of cattle of any color. Now we can drive down the road to Jordan Valley and see a lot of good ones,” says Doug.
Burgess bulls have had something to do with this change.
Trailing home the cattle
According to Doug, the nice thing about the Homedale place is cattle can be trailed back and forth between the two ranches. The Burgess herd, both purebred and commercial cows, go to summer range in the mountains above Jordan Valley and are trailed home in the fall, about 40 miles.
“My brother comes from northern California to ride with us, and we have a good time. We raise a few border collies and most of my cows are well trained to be worked with dogs,” notes Doug. “My brother said, ‘Don’t tell anybody, but you and those two dogs could do this by yourselves.’ It’s probably true, but trailing the cattle is a great time for the family to ride together.”
Doug notes bringing the cows home normally takes three days.
In 2015, they didn’t trail them because of the fires.
“The Soda Fire started above our place in Jordan Valley, right along the county road. It burned about 1,000 acres of deeded land and 15 percent of our Oregon BLM permit. It burned clear down here, next to our feedlot at Homedale,” says Doug.
Fortunately, the Burgess Ranch didn’t lose any cattle to the fire.
“We spent a lot of sleepless nights up there at Jordan Valley and the neighbors all helped us fight fire,” he said.
Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.