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Ritthaler Cattle Company: Reuben and Shelly Ritthaler raise hay and cattle on unique country

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Reuben Ritthaler is the third generation on his family’s ranch near Upton, where his grandfather and great-uncle were some of the first to homestead in the 1890s. 

“My great-uncle Frank came up on a Texas Trail drive, bringing cattle to the area where the 101 Ranch used to summer cattle,” Reuben says.

“Frank and my grandpa Billy ranched together for awhile, then split their holdings. My parents bought the ranch from grandpa and grandma. Then, my wife and I and my brother and his wife bought it from my dad,” notes Reuben. 

“My brother and I named it Ritthaler Cattle Company when we took it over. After my brother passed away in 1990, my wife and I bought out my sister-in-law,” he adds.

Good hay country 

Today, the ranch runs a lot of cattle and grows a lot of hay – without irrigation. 

“This is probably the only area in Wyoming that can put up 2.5 tons of alfalfa hay per acre on a dryland farm,” Reuben states. “There is some irrigation, but there isn’t much water to irrigate with and we can still grow a lot of hay.”

“It’s a good thing because we have nasty weather and a lot of snow in the winter, so we need to feed a lot of hay,” he adds.

Reuben points out the ranch’s location – settled on the banks of Buffalo and Raven creeks – makes good hay country

“Just 30 miles south, toward the Cheyenne River, it’s a totally different ecosystem,” he says. “They can’t grow hay, but they can graze cattle year-round with supplement because they have open winters.” 

He continues, “This part of the country is unique – it’s good hay country. The Lord gave us good hay country because He knew we’d need it. We get snow that shuts down grazing, no matter how much grass we have.” 

Reuben explains the grass in his region is native shortgrass bunchgrass and very strong, with good nutrition. The cows do well grazing it.

Black Angus cattle

In addition to growing good grass, the Ritthalers run a sound commercial herd of Black Angus cattle. 

Reuben notes this wasn’t always the case, as his grandfather, like many cattlemen back then, ran Herefords. But, after running a set of Hereford heifers for a while early in their marriage, Reuben and his wife Shelly turned to black cattle instead.

“Some of the rapid change to larger Angus was possible because it’s easy to add different genetics from other sources, and the black hide covers it up,” he says. “Herefords are hard to change by adding genetics from something else – they are obviously just Herefords.”

Reuben and Shelly calve out their cows during the first of May.  

“We used to calve in March, but I got tired of dealing with frozen ears,” Reuben admits. “In this country it works well to calve later because calves grow fast – their mamas milk better on green grass.”

“A couple of us here started May calving a while ago, but today I see more people holding their bulls out until later,” he adds. “Our weaning weights didn’t change – our May calves are just as big as the March calves were.”

Today, most of the Ritthalers’ business is centered around raising replacement heifers and selling extra heifers to other producers looking for good females.

“We’ve been selling replacement heifers for more than 30 years, with many repeat customers,” Reuben remarks.

“I keep all of my heifers and select my bulls for making good heifers, with good maternal traits,” he continues. “Our genetic program is based on Juan Reyes’ breeding program at M.R. Angus Ranch in Wheatland. These are the only bulls we buy, and we have been using these genetics since 1991.”

A dependable team

Reuben shares the success of his operation wouldn’t be possible without the dependable team of people he has put together over the years. 

Two of these individuals are his veterinarian and his nutritionist. 

“I don’t try to figure out which vaccines, drugs or feed to use. This is what vets and nutritionists are for,” he states. “They went to school for it and they can really help, so it’s important to learn how to utilize these professionals.”

He continues, “I buy my vaccine from my vet, and I always ask him what to give at branding, weaning and preconditioning. This makes herd health easier. A vet can help a lot more than just coming out once in a while for an emergency.”

“A good equipment dealer can also be part of the team,” adds Reuben. “Shelly and I are loyal to the ones we do business with – we don’t shop around.”

Even more important, is the hard-working family Reuben has by his side, including Shelly, who, Reuben admits, makes a great teammate.

Reuben and Shelly also have two granddaughters who they hope will continue the family legacy on the ranch, as well as a nephew who has been helping with operations. 

“Part of our exit plan is to turn more of the decision-making over to him,” Reuben shares. “I learned my best lessons by making my own mistakes or seeing other people make mistakes. It’s not as easy to figure it out when you’re just watching someone who does it right.”

Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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