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Historic Operation: Six generations of the McDonald family keeps their historic ranch thriving

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

In 1881, Donald McDonald made the long journey to the states from Scotland and settled on a homestead on the banks of Chugwater Creek 14 miles southwest of what is now Chugwater.

In 1890, Donald, his wife Jane and their four children built a large two-story, rock home and raised Hereford cattle and a large string of work horses. 

The ranch was passed down over the years through generations of the the McDonald family – from Donald to his son Hugh and his wife Rissa, then to their daughter Ruth and her husband John Braunschweig, eventually landing in the hands of Lindy and Rodger Schroeder. 

Today, Lindy and Rodger and their two daughters Tricia and Holly continue to uphold the McDonald family legacy on the historic operation.

Returning home to ranch

Lindy explains early expansion of the McDonald Ranch can largely be attributed to Hugh and Rissa, who were always buying homesteaders’ land and other ranches in the area. 

“The Whitcomb Ranch was acquired in the early 1940s, the historic Diamond Ranch was acquired in 1956, and the Foss Ranch was acquired in 1963,” Lindy says.

Because of this, she notes by the time her parents Ruth and John inherited the ranch, it was big enough to be divided between herself and her sisters Cindy and Valorie. So, following graduation from the University of Wyoming and a short stint working at a ranch in Saratoga, Lindy and Rodger returned to the family ranch and made it home.

“We purchased 25 head of crossbred two-year-olds from a ranch in Saratoga as well as some heifers from the neighboring Jordan Ranch,” shares Lindy. “Our daughters were born after we returned to the ranch, and they grew up participating in the ranching life. Babysitters were not close, so they always went with us.” 

She adds, “Growing up, Tricia and Holly were the best wrestlers at the brandings. They could ride and help with cattle work, drive trucks and back up the stock trailers.”

Lindy notes her and Rodger have wanted their girls to continue being involved on the ranch, and today, they both play integral roles in ranching operations.

Tricia, her husband Jeff and their daughters Nicole and Megan – the sixth generation on the ranch – do the majority of ranch work, while staying involved in the community. 

“Jeff has been a Wheatland middle school football coach for 20 years and a basketball coach for 15 years,” Lindy says. “Tricia has been a board member for Platte County School District Number One, is involved with the church and assists greatly in 4-H programs.” 

Holly and her husband Will also contribute to ranch operations with hay production from their alfalfa circle. 

“The McDonald Ranch was always short of a hay base, so we usually purchase all or most of Will and Holly’s hay. When it works into their schedule, Holly, Will and their daughters Emma and Madison will also come help with the cow work as well,” Lindy notes. 

Raising Gelbvieh cattle

In 1980, Rodger and Lindy were introduced to the Gelbvieh breed at the National Western Stock Show, where they ended up buying their first bull. 

“The disposition, milk, bone  structure and maternal qualities were traits we really liked,” notes Lindy. 

Since then, the Schroeder family has continued using mostly Gelbvieh bulls as well as some Black Angus bulls on their cow/calf operation. They have also used Gelbvieh Balancer bulls – 25 to 75 percent Gelbvieh with a balance of either Red or Black Angus – for well over 15 years.

“Balancer cattle offer a simple and powerful way to maintain hybrid vigor with British and Continental genetics,” Lindy notes. “They have good milking ability, muscle and are docile. The steer calves do very well in the feedlot, and buyers of our steers have been very pleased with cattle performance – our steers have outperformed on the feedlot ration.”  

When it comes to cattle operations on the McDonald Ranch, Lindy explains two-year-old bred heifers begin calving around March 10, and bred cows begin around the first of April. 

“The breeding season is kept tight. Yearling heifers are exposed for 21 days and cows for about 40 days. This keeps the calf crop fairly uniform,” she shares. 

Additionally, steer calves are marketed through Cattle Country Video with a delivery date in early October. 

Setting lofty goals 

Lindy shares the Schroeders strive for three overarching goals – involvement of the younger generation, sustainability and profitability. 

“In addition to the daily involvement of family members in the different aspects of ranching, it is important broader knowledge comes from interaction at ag industry meetings,” she states. “Wyoming Stock Growers Association membership and attendance at meetings provides good knowledge of agricultural issues at hand, networking with different producers, lifelong acquaintances and education.” 

On a larger scale, Lindy notes involvement with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is also a great avenue for agricultural knowledge. Lindy and Rodger have attended several NCBA conventions, and their oldest granddaughter Nicole has accompanied them on a couple of occasions as well. 

The Schroeder family believes attending bull sales, FFA and 4-H involvement and being able to make decisions on the ranch are all also important. 

Lindy notes her granddaughters are given the opportunity to help select and bid on bulls at bull sales and select sires for artificial insemination (AI). 

They also have their own cattle with different colored ear tags, and have participated in the Laramie Peak Stockgrowers Supreme Cow Contest with their 4-H and FFA projects. 

The Schroeder’s goal of sustainability encompasses a lot of things, Lindy points out.

“When producers are concerned about grazing practices and being good stewards of the lands, it affects their profitability. Maintenance of ranch property and soil and plant health will also affect profitability,” she says. “Bottom line, we need the younger generation involved with a desire to make this their lifelong livelihood.” 

When it comes to profitability, Lindy says it all comes down to Mother Nature. In addition, genetics, calving dates, pasture location and vaccination protocol remain constant on the McDonald Ranch, the only changing variable is the weather. Lindy notes this ultimately affects grazing practices, breed up and weaning weight.

“All other aspects of our operation remain relatively constant – except the weather,” she reiterates. “Our steer calves may vary from 520 to 610 pounds with all factors remaining constant, except the weather.”

Achieving noteworthy accomplishments

The hard work and determination of the Schroeder family to reach their lofty goals has lead to notable success. 

In fact, in 2019, the American Gebvieh Association (AGA) named Rodger and Lindy the AGA Commercial Producer of the Year. 

Additionally, the family was featured on RFD’s Cattlemen to Cattlemen program and in Working Ranch Magazine in 2013.

In 2012, the McDonald Ranch, which has been in the same family for 142 years, was recognized as a Wyoming Centennial Ranch.

“We are truly blessed to be doing what we love with family and raising the sixth generation with ranch involvement,” Lindy concludes.

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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