Continuing the tradition: J F Ranch Inc. raises commercial cattle with modern techniques
Jay and Sandy McGinnis are continuing the tradition of the J F Ranch Inc., producing commercial Angus cattle. Sandy grew up in Big Piney and has remained involved with agriculture in one way or another.
“My side of the family has been involved with ranching, farming and the oil field,” Sandy says, noting her background varied before marrying her husband, Jay.
The whole family is very involved, including Sandy and Jay’s children, Max and Lizzy. Each family member is involved in one way or another.
“We are a working family ranch,” Sandy says. “My son works more with the machines, and my daughter works more with the animals, so it works out really well.”
“Our children are the fifth generation on the same ranch, so the J F Ranch goes back to 1912,” Sandy shares.
Throughout the years, the McGinnis family has worked to modernize certain parts of the ranch.
“There are many ranches that ranch the old school way,” Sandy says. “We believe in motorized things.”
With Jay and Max on dirt bikes and Sandy and Lizzy on four-wheelers, gathering cattle in big country becomes more efficient.
“The main reason for this is we have 86,000 acres of Bureau Land Management (BLM) forest and state lands we gather on,” says Sandy.
She shares in a given day, the McGinnis family could put nearly 50 miles on a four-wheeler, and riding horses would not get the job done.
The original family brand – the lazy J F brand – is dated back to Bill McGinnis, Jay’s dad. Eventually, the ranch incorporated the F bench brand after the addition of Jay’s aunt’s property.
The J F Ranch is also non-traditional in the way they brand their cattle.
“We’re non-traditional in our branding process because Jay and Max built a table that mounts to a skid steer,” Sandy says, noting this process allows the family to rope, drag and table an animal in order to brand and administer yearly vaccinations.
J F Ranch cattle
“We mostly have Angus cattle with a few baldies,” Sandy shares. “Most of our cattle are polled, so we don’t have many to dehorn. Our bulls are all Angus-bred and we focus on raising commercial cattle.”
Typically, the J F Ranch runs 1,200 mother cows, but Sandy notes their numbers are down this year due to drought.
Today, the family focuses on small-framed, heavy-muscled Angus cattle.
“Years ago, we used to think the longer-bodied cattle were better, but we found when working them, the cattle didn’t fit into chutes as well and did not breed back well either,” says Sandy. “We went back to a more normal length of cattle that are more of a meaty-type cow, rather than a taller, longer bodied cow.”
Within their breeding program, the McGinnis family shares one of their main goals is increasing breed-back rates.
“We put replacement heifers on protein pellets and they reach pretty good size by breeding,” Sandy says. “This year, we actually reached a 93 percent breed-up on our heifers.”
On top of reproductive and growth expectations, cattle on the J F Ranch have to be acclimated to travel far distances between water and feed.
“Our cattle cover a lot of acreage in Big Piney, with elevations reaching up to 10,000 feet,” Sandy explains, noting successful cattle on the J F Ranch thrive with little intervention.
“Cattle don’t get anything special other than salt, blue salt, minerals and grass hay,” Sandy says. “We keep it pretty low-key.”
The J F Ranch sells fall cattle through the Riverton Livestock Auction.
“We have been very happy with the results we’ve had at the sale barn in Riverton,” Sandy says.
Years ago, the J F Ranch raised and sold yearlings.
“One year, we decided to try selling calves and found we liked this a lot better than selling yearlings,” says Sandy, noting selling yearlings came with many of its own challenges. “It wound up being easier on us to sell calves, with many going to Nebraska.”
Challenges on the ranch
One of the biggest challenges for the McGinnis family this year has been drought, in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“The ranch itself owns 10,000 acres and we only had one place we couldn’t hay,” Sandy shares, noting water availability was a challenge for their properties in Sublette and Lincoln counties. “We hayed a lot earlier than we normally do on some of those places, and we had to move cattle around quite a bit because of the drought.”
Sandy mentions it is important to limit cattle congregating near watering sites in BLM pastures, so they work to keep cattle moving while grazing.
“In these moves, the big question is breedup,” Sandy shares, noting when cattle travel long distances, they might not breed up as well. “We’ll see what happens there as far as pregnancy rates in a drought.”
In addition, drought has brought challenges besides water access to many ranchers, including the McGinnis family.
“Certain plants grow that we are not used to having and we see different issues than we have in the past,” Sandy says. “It’s a tough business, and each year is a different deal.”
Advice for young producers
“I think right now for a person to get into ranching it is tough going to the bank, trying to take out a loan for a startup ranch because land is very expensive,” Sandy shares. “It’s a tough, tough business.”
“For now, ranching is good, but I am not sure what the future has in store for the ranch to continue on,” she says.
The love of the J F Ranch will continue with Jay and Sandy’s children and grandchildren, with many generations to come.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.