A Blessed Life: Fred and Kay Thomas lead an enchanted life raising docile, sound and efficient Angus cattle
Nestled at the base of the Absaroka Front, seven miles west of Meeteetse, sits Obsidian Angus, a small family-operated seedstock business dedicated to raising good-looking, high-performing and well-mannered cattle.
The operation dates back to 1979 when Kay and Fred Thomas purchased two heifers from the Northwest Wyoming Angus Association’s (NWWAA) First Annual Sale. From there, the couple built their herd with select Angus bloodlines, purchasing cattle from sales across Montana including Vermillion Angus, Van Dyke Angus and Mydland Angus.
Raising efficient black cattle
Originally a commercial Hereford producer, Fred explains he turned to raising straight black cattle after one of his registered Hereford heifers had difficulty calving. The couple landed on Angus because they appreciated the growth efficiency and mothering ability of the breed.
“We like the easy-calving genetics Angus provides, and calves can still grow with the best of them,” he says. “The mothering ability of a good black cow is hard to beat. She can be as gentle as a dog to humans and as mean as a Tasmanian devil to wolves and bears, which we have plenty of up here.”
He also notes black cattle don’t suffer from sore teats like white-faced cattle often do, recalling how his father used to have to grease the udders of his Hereford cattle up to three times a day before they were on their way back to the hills..
“It was a lot of work, and it didn’t do him any good at all,” Fred states.
Today, the Thomas’ run their purebred Angus cattle similar to a commercial operation, with a focus on raising gentle, sound and efficient cattle.
“They have to start small but grow huge by the time we wean,” says Fred, noting bull calves are usually born in February through March and weaned in October, weighing 75 percent of their dam’s weight on average.
“We have had calves weaned at 90 percent of their dam’s weight, and one of our smaller cows has weaned a calf at 100 percent of her weight the last couple of years,” he shares. “The two-year-olds’ calves wean at 850 pounds, and the older cows’ calves weigh somewhere between 900 to 1,000 pounds. Last year, we had a February calf wean at 1,100 pounds.”
Docility and sound feet and legs are also a priority at Obsidian Angus.
Fred explains his bulls walk a minimum of two miles a day up and down their hillside playground, and Kay notes the family spends a lot of time gentling bulls down.
“All of the bulls that go out have great feet and legs,” Fred states. “And, they will be the gentlest bulls a guy can get his hands on.”
Leading the NWWAA
Coming full circle, Fred and Kay are now in charge of the very same sale that got them started in the Angus business – NWWAA’s Annual Sale, which takes place every fourth Tuesday in March.
Fred notes when he first got started, there were 10 to 12 breeders who got elected as president and secretary/treasurer in husband and wife teams every two to four years.
After having a few different stints in charge of NWWAA over the past 40 years, Fred and Kay have been leading the association for their 12th consecutive year now.
“There is no more change of guard,” laughs Fred. “At a recent meeting we asked if there were any new nominations, and everyone said no. They think we are doing a fine job, so that’s how it stays.”
“It is a big chore,” he continues. “My wife does it all, and she does an excellent job. We really appreciate her.”
In addition to putting on the sale, Fred and Kay sell their bull calves through the sale. They also offer females through private treaty sales.
Living a blessed life
Although the cattle business can be tough at times, Fred says the only major challenge he has had to overcome is finding feed.
“We have had a pretty blessed life, so when you ask what challenges we have had to overcome, I have a hard time answering,” Fred states. “Probably the biggest challenge we have had to face is finding feed, which is nothing big.”
He adds, “I always tell myself ‘If that’s the worst thing that happens to me today, then I have led a pretty enchanted life.’”
This positive mindset, in addition to their dedication to the breed and passion for the industry, has helped Obsidian Angus accomplish quite a long list of noteworthy achievements including breeding the 1994 North American International Livestock Exposition Junior Show Champion, Obsidian Madeline 462, and the 1994 National Western Junior Show Champion, Obsidian Lady Ace of Spades.
However, Fred and Kay agree their biggest accomplishment is their two hardworking children – their daughter Trinity and their son Darryl.
“Our girl is driving trucks in the mine, and our son paves everything in Alaska – not just the roads. When he gets done, he comes and helps work cattle all winter,” says Fred. “It’s pretty good to have some kids who are willing to go out and work hard.”
“My biggest hope is at some point in time the kids can come back and take care of the cows in their spare time, while having fun and not losing any money while they are doing it,” he concludes.
For more information about Obsidian Angus, visit greatbearreflection.com/obsidian-angus-cattle-sales.php.
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.