Traditional ranch embraces change: Four Three Ranch focuses on raising cattle and building horses
Redbird – “Ranching is a business for us,” says J.D. Williams of the Four Three Ranch, which is located about 40 miles north of Lusk. “We like to say it’s a lifestyle, but our organization has come to the conclusion if it’s not a profitable business, it can’t sustain a lifestyle.”
J.D. has been at the Four Three Ranch since 2000, when Tetrad Corp. near Elk Mountain purchased the ranch from the Pfister brothers. While he’s only been in Niobrara County for a little over two decades, J.D.’s family has been in the ranching business in Wyoming for three generations, and he has strong family ties to the ZN Ranch at Saratoga and the Double Eight in Elk Mountain.
He notes Niobrara County is the nicest part of Wyoming he’s been in when it comes to climate, com- pared to the wind and snow he grew up with in Carbon County.
“We are running cows in the best part of the state, and by this I mean we can winter a cow out here all winter long and might only have to feed her for a couple weeks,” J.D. says. “Usually, the profitability of a ranch boils down to how economically cows can be wintered, so this is a beautiful place to be in business.”
Four Three Ranch cattle
Cowboys on the Four Three Ranch like sticking to a moderately sized cow. As the cost of inputs increase, larger cows become more expensive to run. J.D. also notes he prefers the hybrid vigor of crossbred cattle.
“Crossbred cows are a little more thrifty,” he says. “Most of our cows are Angus with a little Hereford in them.”
The ranch typically calves in May, and J.D. shares this is purely for economic reasons.
“If I have a cow that calves in May, I move her highest nutrient requirements – during the late gestation and early lactation – out of the dead of the winter,” he says. “So, the cows spend the last trimester on green grass.”
By doing this, the Four Three can avoid additional supplements to meet requirements that spring grass can fulfill.
J.D. adds, “By fitting into Mother Nature’s schedule, calving in May cuts my winter costs by roughly $200 per cow. Now, I’m going to wean a little lighter of a calf because they are born in May, but he’s also going to bring an awful high price per pound.”
In addition, J.D. says many calving-time issues like grass tetany and scours are reduced.
Grass and water resources
J.D. shares most of the stock water on the ranch comes in the form of a pipeline. In fact, the ranch is home to one of the largest adjudicated stock water pipelines in the state of Wyoming. And there is a good reason for this.
“In most years from June 15 on, the surface water here is too high in selenium,” J.D. explains.
Because of this water issue, all of the grazing management on the ranch is dictated by water resources. Most pastures will be rotated through about twice each year, according to J.D.
“The most important factor in whether or not I’m going to have grass for next year is cover, so we leave a lot of grass for next year’s sake,” he says. “This business is built around dry years, average cattle markets and whatever disaster we’re dealing with. We are always optimistic in agriculture, but to me, it is better to plan.”
Open to change
“We are really grass farmers,” J.D. notes. “We use cows to harvest the grass, and we are open to changes – changes in the market, the prices of inputs, climate, whatever. We try to question everything and make sure whatever we are doing makes sense.”
Everyone working on the ranch is encouraged to question the practices in place, J.D. adds, because the best ideas typically come from the ground up.
“A lot of times, we want to do what the last generation did or the generation before will have a tradition, and if there’s one tradition we try to carry on from the generation before us, it’s pushing the num- bers,” J.D. explains. “Sharpening our pencils and making sure the business we are doing for four seasons of the year makes sense at the end of the day is important, otherwise we’re working for nothing. Everything we do has to make sense.”
Solid cattle, horses, dogs and kids
J.D. shares the most valuable asset there is on the Four Three Ranch are the families who live and work on the ranch. He notes as a company ranch and corporation, they have the ability to invest in the families in a way that fits their individual needs.
“We have to be accountable to each other, but we’re not so large that we can’t be personable,” J.D. says,
Because of the way the Four Three works – mostly by horseback – the families on the ranch enjoy building good horses. J.D. notes there has been a few good dogs and some good kids built along the way, too.
“Everybody here likes building horses,” he says. “We’re sitting on a horse most of the time, so we might as well be building the ones we are riding. A lot of people in this day and age need a good, solid, proven horse to do ranch chores on, so the boys here sell them at sales, private treaty and on the internet.”
J.D. shares on many days, the Four Three is a colt outfit, where somebody is on a colt every day.
“It’s easy to build one here because of the crew. You’re not out by yourself trying to ride a green horse around,” J.D. says. “The colt is following a broke horse, and everybody around you is a horse hand, so three or four guys are ready to help before the colt even knows what’s going through his mind.”
While it might be an old timed practice, J.D. says horses come around fast because there are lots of miles and cows to be ridden.
“This is a pretty good place to be,” J.D. says. “Some people may call it oldfashioned, but we’re in Wyoming.”
Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to roundup@ wylr.net.