Ranching Heritage: Buffington Family Ranch focuses on raising high-vigor cattle
The Buffington Family Ranch, owned and operated by Jim Buffington, is located in Platte County and parts of Albany County. Jim’s parents, Don and Janet, are still involved in the operation.
“Our house is in Albany County, and all the rough grazing land is in Platte County. Our kids go to school in Converse County, so sometimes we get spread a little thin,” Jim says.
The Buffington’s homeplace ranch was started in 1909, but the original homestead was built at a lower elevation.
“I lease the land where our ranch was originally homesteaded now, but 1909 was when it all started,” says Jim. “My mom’s side of the family started this ranch, and then my great-aunt had it. We moved up here in 1990. Then my dad bought out my great-aunt. The ranch was in shares. My mom got her share from her mother. There’s a third share belonging to my great-aunt who lives in California.”
He adds, “I am fourth generation, and my kids are fifth generation.”
The ranch originally raised Hereford cattle.
“When my dad came here from Nebraska, he had some put-together cows. We got into South Devon and then switched to Red Angus. Now we’ve added a little Simmental for hybrid vigor,” he notes. “A good commercial crossbred cow can do the job on these rough pastures.”
The family does everything horseback in their big pastures. In 2012, they had a fire burn the entire place. Afterwards, they rebuilt fences and added more.
“We move the cattle a lot more than we used to,” Jim mentions. “When I was a kid, we just turned them out for season-long grazing, but today, we move them frequently. It’s better for the grass and the cattle.”
Half of the Buffington Family Ranch consists of rolling hills. The other half is rough and rocky, but cattle can still graze it.
“We try to raise cattle that are fertile, ambitious and can climb up into the rocks. They need to be like mountain goats,” he says. “We have good water, but it’s not next to the grass, so cattle have to travel between feed and water. We have a lot of good summer country but not much winter country.”
“We lease a place for winter pasture, but we have to trail our cattle there about 12 miles, usually in December. This pasture lasts longer in winter months, and we try to rough the cows with a little protein so they can keep grazing. We try to run them pretty cheap,” Jim explains.
Most of the cattle on the Buffington Family Ranch are bred through artificial insemination (AI). Jim learned how to AI in 2007 and uses only the best heifers as replacements.
“We AI all our heifers and half of the cows. I pick the better half of the cows to AI and raise replacements from them. We rough the heifers pretty hard. We like to keep the ones that will breed in those conditions – they make the best cows,” he explains.
After AI, Jim gives heifers 21 days with a bull and that’s it. He used to keep them in a feedlot over winter and have a great breed-up. However, they would start to fall apart and wouldn’t breed back for their second calf.
“The second calvers were falling out of the herd like crazy, so we changed our strategy,” Jim says.
He prefers cattle with some hybrid vigor. After trying to work with South Devon cows, the ranch switched to Red Angus.
“We used to have big, red South Devon cows, but they had too much frame and milk and were monstrous cattle. We needed something to reduce frame size, so we looked at Red Angus. My uncles raise Angus. My grandfather on my mom’s side had some Red Angus too, so we got bulls from him. We liked them, so we started using them. Once we started using AI, we could pick any bull we wanted,” he says.
“When I was a kid, I could see the Red Angus bulls out there breeding cows on a hot day, while the black bulls would be all shaded up. Red Angus are also a super maternal breed, so they make good cows,” Jim explains.
“When we select our replacement heifers, our most important criteria is who their mothers are. We like to choose heifers from our best cows. I probably select half the heifers this way and the other half based on looks,” he continues. “There are some that just don’t fit what we want when we are sorting them.”
Recently Jim notes he started adding Simmental lines into his herd for diversity.
“We were needing something else in the herd because it was becoming straight Red Angus. We needed more hybrid vigor. Since starting AI, I now keep some of my own bulls because buying bulls is so expensive,” he says.
He adds, “When a rancher keeps a bull from one of their own cows, they know a lot more about the cow’s line and her genetics. They can often raise something just as good and a lot cheaper than what they can buy. Ranch-raised bulls are also well adapted to their environment and don’t fall apart.”
Jim further notes, “I can’t afford what I like. I have champagne taste and a beer budget. We started raising our own bulls. We were spending money to AI the cows, so we thought we might as well keep a few bulls.”
Ranching in this area comes with many challenges, weather being one of the hardest.
“I make great plans in the spring but can’t always follow through with them, so we have to be flexible. The markets are also a challenge when raising cattle,” says Jim.
He shares input costs have gone up, especially with high inflation today.
“We have to be careful and keep inputs low. We just keep plugging away, being cautious and keeping our nose to the grindstone. Hard work and determination go a long way,” he says. “People say we need luck, but I feel hard work will lead to success if we keep after it. We also can’t be afraid to try different things. Trial and error is the best teacher because it’s not just what to do, but what not to do.”
“Wheatland and Douglas are good communities to work with. There are a lot of good folks and good neighbors who are always willing to help each other,” he adds.
Raising ranch horses
Jim raises and trains his own horses to use on the ranch.
“My dad used to work at the Haythorn Ranch in Arthur, Neb. and got some of those bloodlines. The Haythorn family was the first in Nebraska to register Quarter Horses, and are world famous for their working ranch horses,” Jim says. “We always have a handful of horses we are raising, and I usually break them. We have a lot of country to make wet saddle blankets.”
He notes going miles and miles and learning on the job is the best way to make a good cow horse. Giving a horse a job to do keeps their mind occupied. This way they learn more and don’t become as bored as working in an arena or round pen.
Horses learn how to handle themselves in rough country and become more surefooted and agile.
“It really helps to give them something to do. My dad and my brother like a fast horse, but I prefer one with a lot of cow smarts, so that’s what I like to raise and train,” says Jim. “Where we have a lot of rough country to cover to manage the cattle, a good horse is a big help. We move the cows around a lot with rotational grazing.”
Jim and his wife Jodi have three children, two boys and a girl.
“Our oldest boy Tate is 12 years old, Tinley is 10 years old and Ty is six years old. They are already good help. The two older ones are eager to help, always asking when we are going to go do something,” mentions Jim. “They help me with AI-ing and all of the cattle work. Sometimes, Tinley thinks she’s the boss and runs the show, thinking we need to do things her way.”
Jodi teaches Kindergarten in Douglas.
“She has to support me. It always seems like someone in the family has to work off the place to make a farm or ranch financially stable. Our place isn’t quite big enough to support us and my folks,” Jim concludes. “As some people might say, ‘It’s just big enough to starve to death,’ but it’s a great life.”
Jim appreciates the fact his dad has been willing to let him try new things and learn what works and doesn’t work on their ranch.
Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org