Ranching in the West: Murdock Cattle Company strives to keep tradition alive
Coke Landers is committed to keeping the spirit of the West alive with the Murdock Cattle Company, which produces commercial red and black baldy cattle. Coke, a fourth-generation cattle rancher from Cheyenne, has been ranching in Sublette County for 13 years.
“We are about a 400-head cow/calf outfit, and keep all our calves over into the next year as yearlings,” says Coke.
As manager of the Murdock Cattle Company, Coke shares he stays busy year-round. Coke also shares he is happy to have help from his wife, Molly and their three children, Mesa, Matazi and Madi.
The history of the Murdock Cattle Company is rich in its roots. Previously, a part of George Jorgenson’s outfit, the ranch changed ownership to George’s nephew, Stan Murdock after his passing, shares Coke.
“Stan has since been deceased but his wife, Madeleine Murdock and her son, Scott now own the ranch.”
“We run mostly on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service ground, which is a majority of Sublette County,” says Coke. “We rely heavily on our public lands for grazing.”
Coke takes pride in being part of the Upper Green River Cattle Association, sharing, “We’re what they call the Green River Drift.”
“Every year in the spring, we truck cow/calf pairs and yearlings out to the basin, which is about 25 miles south of the home place,” he continues. With cattle being there for only a few weeks, they “start driving cattle roughly 60 miles over 14 days to a pasture above Green River Lake on Union Pass – the Green River Drift.”
The cattle make the long move again in the fall on their own. Every spring, nine or 10 producers will have anywhere between 4,500 to 5,000 cattle on the forest allotment, shares Coke.
The process of the Green River Drift is unique, because in the fall, ranchers open the gates and cattle bring themselves home over a 14-day period, says Coke, noting “They kind of drift home.”
During the summer months, the cattle stay on the mountain, shares Coke.
“They usually start towards home around Oct. 1,” he says.
Hay and horse power
When the cows are not home, Coke stays busy baling native grass hay. “We hay about 500 to 600 acres,” says Coke. “It takes me about four weeks to hay in August and into the first week of September.”
“I call it a seasonal cowboy job, because when the cows are home, we are horseback,” says Coke.
The ranch relies heavily on horse power.
“We do everything horseback,” says Coke, explaining all fall work, doctoring and cow work is done from the back of a horse.
The only time Coke is not on the back of horse is during the winter months when he feeds hay.
“Depending on the snow load, there is a lot of tractor time,” shares Coke. “Once we start calving in March through May, we are on horseback all day, every day.”
“My role as a manager is to make sure cattle are taken care of properly nutritionally when they are home and take care of the cattle that live,” he adds.
“We have hardy cattle – I like to call them hardy,” Coke says. “Winters are tough and long here.”
Murdock Cattle Company, in to addition to many Sublette County ranches, faces many challenges when grazing up on the mountain.
Coke says, “Cattle have to fight grizzly bears and wolves, so I would describe our cattle as hardy.”
“The bears and wolves have been tough on my calf crop every year.” says Coke. “One of our worst years, by depredation of bears and wolves, was 13 percent on 5,500 head in death loss.”
When calculating loss every year, Coke has this number in his mind. He figures the average loss over the last 12 years is eight to 12 percent.
One of the biggest challenges for the Murdock Cattle Company is the death loss from wolf and grizzly bears.
“The state is our biggest ally,” Coke says. “We’re just a typical Sublette County ranch, but face many implications in raising livestock others might not understand.”
Sublette County ranchers work closely with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) to manage loss.
“It’s state statute that ranchers are compensated for any loss from a trophy or game animal,” says Coke.
He mentions there are several riders up on the mountain driving cattle during the summer months.
“If riders up on the mountain come across a bear or wolf kill, they contact WGFD. When WGFD confirms a bear or wolf kill, ranchers get compensated for their calf or yearling loss,” Coke shares. “Most years, Murdock Cattle Company comes out almost breakeven.”
With the most recent announcement of Gov. Mark Gordon to seek management of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear many ranchers are feeling relief.
“We’re pretty pleased with Gov. Gordon’s petition to delist the bear – it’s a constant political battle to ranch up here,” Coke says.
Sublette County ranching
“Producers have to stay open to new ideas and be flexible to stay competitive in the market,” Coke shares. “We can’t be stuck in the ways of ‘That’s how my grandpa did it, so that’s the way I’m going to keep doing it.’”
The spirit of the Murdock Cattle Company will continue with the management of Coke Landers and his family. Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.