Wakely makes childhood dream a reality
Getting into the cattle business was never an if for 32-year-old Colten Wakely, it was a matter of when. In fact, his love for the industry started at a young age on the living room floor, where he fondly remembers spending countless hours setting up a ranch with Lincoln Logs.
“I knew I wanted it to be a reality,” Colten says. “I have always loved this way of life and the people associated with it.”
After years of hard work and help from a close-knit circle of supporters, Colten was able to make his lifelong dream a reality. He now runs a herd of cattle, alongside his wife Raelynn and his parents Ashlee and Forde, on their ranch in Lyman.
Colten explains his family’s operation started from the ground level around 1998 after his parents purchased an 80-acre pivot.
“After a couple years of putting up and selling hay, they decided we might as well run the hay through a few cows,” he says. “Our cow herd started with a couple of show heifers we purchased from a close family friend, Nate Lupher, and eight or so cows we got from my grandpa.”
“They weren’t the shiniest set of cattle, but it was a start,” Colten adds.
Things have changed drastically for the Wakelys since their humble beginnings.
“Today, we run quite a few momma cows,” Colten explains. “We have been fortunate enough to get in to some great leases that fit into the scheme of our operation. We also manage some Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service leases during the summer.”
“These opportunities have allowed us to grow over the past few years. We do most of our work horseback, which is just the way I think it ought to be,” he adds.
Colten also notes he artificially inseminates the majority of his herd to maintain quality and markets show calves, bulls and heifers.
Like any cattleman in the business, Colten shares he has had to overcome some challenges to get where he is today.
“Name it, and we’ve probably dealt with a little of it in the past 25 years, which I’m sure is the case for most everybody involved in the industry,” he states. “One that really sticks out in my mind would have been in 2010 when the drought was so bad we were out of grass by mid-summer and ended up liquidating the herd.”
He notes during this time, he was actually away at college and wasn’t around to help as much as he wishes he could have been.
“We all thought it was the most practical call,” he adds. “I’m not going to lie, it was kind of nice being able to do some of the other things I enjoyed. But, it didn’t take long for the itch to resurface, and before long we were back at it, more invested than we were before.”
Although agriculture comes with a multitude of difficulties, Colten believes the good exponentially outweighs the bad.
“God paints some pretty amazing pictures, from the early morning sunrises or the clear starry nights when we’re out checking heavies at two in the morning,” he says. “It’s the small victories keeping me going when things get tough, like when I finally get a baby calf to latch a teat and suckle or a grand champion slap at a county fair.”
“My favorite part of the whole deal is to see the cycle come full circle,” he continues. “From calving, to breeding decisions, to seeing calves climb on the truck in the fall, just to start it all over in a few short months. These are agriculture’s best kept secrets – we are truly the lucky ones.”
Colten also shares how grateful he is for everything the industry has taught him.
“I am very passionate about the industry and feel it plays a very integral part in how the world functions,” he shares “Ag isn’t the problem, as some portray it, it is the solution. I think it’s important to let people know that.”
When it comes to an accomplishment he is most proud of, Colten says, “I take a lot of pride when looking at where we started to where we are today. It wasn’t without its challenges and luck, to be honest. I’m not sure if I’m on the right track or not, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to live this life, and hope we can continue to do so for years to come.”
Grateful for support
In addition to overcoming challenges and sticking it out when things get tough, Colten also attributes his success to a few of the role models in his life.
“The industry is full of people to look up to. Around every corner there is someone who we can visit with and learn a thing or two from,” he says.
“Nate Lupher, in particular, is the one who lit the fire in me. He taught me a lot about how to properly handle cattle and horses and what they are supposed to look like. He was a genius. Unfortunately, we lost him to cancer nine years ago,” he adds.
“I’m very thankful for the time I got to spend with him growing up and the things he taught me,” he continues. “He holds a special place in my heart, and I operate every day with him in the back of my mind.”
Colten also recognizes his parents as a contributing factor to his success and notes he wouldn’t be where he is today without their help and sacrifice.
“Family is a big part of our operation. I think it is a very important part of what we do,” he shares. “It’s important to have someone to lean on when things get tough, and they have been the best in the world for that.”
Like his parents and Nate were for him, Colten has grown into a role model for the newest generation on the ranch.
“I enjoy watching the kids,” he shares. “My sister Bryell and a few of my friends have young ones who come help us out on the ranch from time to time. I enjoy watching them learn and grow.”
When it comes to offering advice for other young producers, Colten says, “Make goals and work toward them every day. Don’t get discouraged if you fail. Learn from mistakes and try again. Patience is key. These things take a lot of time and energy to build. Start small and work toward the end goal.”
He continues, “I think our generation has a lot on our plate. More and more people are going by the wayside and getting out of agriculture. I think it presents a pretty unique opportunity for the younger generation of agriculture. Go talk to those old timers and devise a plan. I’m sure there are a few who would be more than willing to help young producers get a start.”
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.