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The average size of a beef herd in the United States is only 40 head, and as Kit West of Chugwater read those words he saw an opportunity for himself.

“Producers with ranches that small only need to keep a few replacement heifers each year,” he says. “Where they need so few, it is not very economical to grow their own. That is where I can fill a niche.”

The result of seeing that niche is Heifer.Pro, a company started by West and his family that allows ranchers to purchase quality replacement heifers in any number from one on up. The ranchers can also bring heifers to West, and he will grow and breed them at his facility.

West is a third-generation rancher who lives and works on the family ranch near Chugwater. He became interested in growing replacement heifers while seeking ways to expand the family’s ranching operation.

“We are in a transitional phase right now,” he explains. “My dad and one of his brothers want to retire from the operation, and we’re trying to keep our operation stable and expand it, and still provide them with enough money to retire.”

West says he and his family actually started raising and purchasing replacement heifers to grow and sell a few years ago, and since they have done quite well with those they’ve decided to expand the business. West created a website,, where he not only advertises what he has for sale, but also allows other ranchers to advertise their heifers for sale at no cost to them.

“I advertise the website in most of the major agriculture newspapers, so it provides ranchers who list heifers for sale on the site free advertising,” he explains. “It is my way of helping the industry increase their cow numbers, and a way for me to market the heifers I have for sale.”

West said that, ultimately, his goal is to build a small social network of like-minded producers who can utilize the heifers he produces.

“Right now, most of the ranchers I work with are here in Wyoming, but I am starting to get some interest from producers in other states like Montana and Kansas,” he comments.

The West family cattle operation is comprised of quality Red Angus and Black Angus cattle.

“I hope to expand the number of bred heifers I have available, and be able to get into more breeds,” notes West. “I look for lots of 20 to 25 heifers, grow them, A.I. them to a quality bull of their own breed and sell them as bred heifers.”

West has a local A.I. technician, Kim Cullen, who pelvic measures and evaluates the heifers when he purchases them.

“Anything that will not make a quality cow is turned into a feeder calf. Kim does the heat detection and A.I.s them,” he explains. “If there are 100 head of heifers, she can synchronize them and have them bred up within a couple of days. About 60 to 65 percent of them will be bred, while the rest will be bred using cleanup bulls.”

When selecting heifers, West says he looks for healthy heifers in body condition scores of five to seven.

“I don’t like to purchase heifers with a body condition score over eight. They are just too fat, and when I put them on grass they won’t gain like they should,” he says. “The heifers with a body condition score of five to seven perform the best. I want to see them thrive on grass.”

West also looks for larger-framed heifers with very feministic characteristics, a nice udder and a good disposition. He says he aims to grow heifers that will weigh around 925 to 975 pounds in October after they are bred, and mature at about 1,100 pounds.

Most of the heifers West sells go to smaller operations with 200 head or less, but he can accommodate larger ranching operations.

“If a customer needs to purchase some heifers, I don’t require them to take a set amount. We have corrals we can set up out in the pasture, and they can just go and pick what they want. If they only need a few replacement heifers, then they can just purchase a few. We can work with producers who have small or large operations,” he explains.

In addition to raising and selling replacement heifers, West also grows replacements for ranchers. He asks most of the larger ranch operations to bring a minimum of 25 head.

“If I have several groups with smaller numbers, I would have to work something out as far as cleanup bulls if they are different breeds. We use Red Angus and Black Angus low birthweight bulls for cleanup,” he notes.

West is also stringent on what he will accept for the heifer development program.

“I evaluate the heifers to make sure they are good quality and will perform well,” he says. “They have to be some pretty high quality heifers to be in the program.”

For the heifers that are in the heifer development program, Kit manages disease by making sure they are Bangs vaccinated. The heifers are also tested for BVD PI when they are pregnancy tested.

The heifers are pregnancy checked by blood, because it eliminates the false positives and is more precise.

“We have a laboratory in Laramie we use for pregnancy testing,” says West. “For 20 dollars we can also have DNA samples taken to make sure the heifers have no defects in their genetic makeup.”

The heifers can be bred to calve anytime from January through April. If the heifers are bred for May calving or later, West says they are bred using natural service.

“The heifers will be on grass by then, so it is much tougher to get them in to A.I.,” he says. The natural service bulls are leased from Cullen and are based on Genex semen.

West says ranchers can take possession of the heifers at any point.

“Some may want to take their heifers home sooner if they have earlier calving,” he explains. On the other hand, he also takes in cattle for producers, and can put the heifers on grass. “In May, I can put these heifers on grass and run them the rest of the summer and deliver them back to the producer in mid-October.”

For more information visit or call 307-331-0357. Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Dubois – “We are a mother cow outfit, and are big Forest Service users. The total acreage we deal with is close to 70,000 acres, and just over 5,000 of those acres are deeded,” explains Diamond D manager Reg Phillips of his operation near Dubois. “The beauty of this place is we’re contiguous with our forest permits. The gate we go in on the first of July is the same gate we come back through the first of October.”
Diamond D cows are composites. Phillips explains they all have a Black or Red Angus base with the rest being mostly Saler. “They get around well, and they need to,” he notes. Everything is wintered at the ranch base, and calves are sold after weaning and preconditioning.
The Diamond D also owns a farm northwest of Shoshoni, which allows Phillips to produce additional hay.  “We have 625 irrigated acres here, and another 400 acres of good ground from which we can usually get three cuttings from by Shoshoni. If we need more hay, I either take the cows down there or bring the hay here,” explains Phillips.
Phillips has been with the Diamond D for 29 years, and the ranch has switched hands once during his time as manager. “Jeff and Susan Sussman have owned it for over 20 years and are very involved in the ranch and community. They live in New York City, but spend a lot of time on the ranch and are some of my main help, especially in the summer on the forest,” notes Phillip. The ranch also has three full-time employees and tries to hire a college student in the summer.
The biggest issue for the Diamond D today is the exploding predator population on their forest permits.
“We’re big forest users, and up until about four years ago it was pretty good. We had some wolf and bear predation prior to that, but our cowboy was with the cattle and able to handle it.
“Four years ago we started getting cattle just coming back and coming back, and cattle and elk were crashing fences. From then on it’s been more and more difficult,” says Phillips.
“The wolf thing is crazy. We picked up another new pack this year, so we have three packs on us now. One is in the middle of our forest permit, one is on the east side and another on the west.
“With this new pack we can’t even get ahead of our cattle to find out what we’ve got for death loss. They keep our cattle scattered all over and I’ve seen cattle in places I didn’t think they would ever go. It’s showing in our calf weights this year, too,” says Phillips of the wolf effects.
“With bears we experience predation, but our cattle typically just move a little bit and go on grazing. But a wolf is like a dog, and once they start chasing they don’t want to quit,” he explains.
The politics and number of people involved in the predator issues is another aspect of ranching on Forest Service lands.
“They just keep throwing them back in here. We’re like a ghetto for endangered and landlocked carnivores. If a bear is killing cattle in Cody, they drop him in Moran. If they have one killing cattle on the South Fork, they drop him on us,” explains Phillips.
“The nice thing with the bear is at least he goes to bed for a while in the winter. But, they’re no longer wildlife, unfortunately. They’re now just a part of the landscape and they just don’t care. The grizzly bear and the wolf have taken a lot of the fun out of ranching here, especially for the owners,” adds Phillips.
He notes the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Wolf Division of APHIS’s Wildlife Services have been great to work with from day one. While Phillips will skin out animals whenever he can, and says that is not a fun job, whenever he needs a kill confirmed or a problem animal dealt with, everyone has been very responsive.
Other aspects of public lands ranching include dealing with the multitude of regulations passed down through the court system and managing forage for wildlife, says Phillips. Public use and recreation are also issues in managing the Diamond D.
“Everyone wants us off, and we’ve actually read the letters. People will say they love driving up the mountain in the summer. They love our meadows and how green and beautiful they are, but then they get out and step in a pile of cow manure, and they just wish those cows weren’t there. We just ask what part of the picture they don’t understand, but that’s part of it,” notes Phillips.
The lack of ranching neighbors is another challenge Phillips says is somewhat unique to his area. He only touches one private neighbor, with the rest of his bordering neighbors being the Game and Fish, the Forest Service and the town of Dubios. Phillips notes the community is no longer based on a ranching infrastructure. “It’s difficult to get a crew together for brandings,” he says.
“The benefits include my three children growing up here, prior to the wolf and bear taking over. They were able to see wildlife in its heyday, and loved it,” comments Phillips. “It’s also nice that the owners truly love ranching. It was foreign to them when they bought it, but they love it here and are very keyed in on everything.”
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

ThermopolisThe 11th Annual Diversified Ag Tour, sponsored by Wyoming Women in Ag and the Wyoming Business Council Agribusiness Division, brought producers from across the state together to examine different ways to diversify their operations. 

“Several years ago, the Agribusiness Division did quite a bit of work with local agricultural producers, trying to help them diversify their operations,” said Cindy Garretson-Weibel, director of the Agribusiness Division. “We decided to partner with Wyoming Women in Ag to put on this tour and have producers see firsthand how others are supplementing their incomes with these ventures.”

“We try to pick different areas of the state for the tours each year,” continued Garretson-Weibel. “We rely heavily on the feedback of the participants from the tours to decide where to go the coming year.” 

This year’s tour focused on diversified operations in the Thermopolis area. Attendees visited Merlin’s Hide Out, Lucy’s Sheep Camp and Wyoming Whiskey. 

Lucy’s Sheep Camp

Just outside of Thermopolis lies Lucy’s Sheep Camp, a diversified agricultural operation owned by Billie Jo Norsworthy and her husband Jason. 

 Lucy’s Sheep Camp began when stay-at-home mom Billie Jo Norsworthy took up knitting. 

“Knitting led to spinning, which lead to buying sheep,” chuckled Norsworthy. 

The business was named after Lucy Morrison Moore, who was known as “The Sheep Queen of Wyoming.” Her sheep ranch was located on Copper Mountain, where Norsworthy’s family and her parents Jim and Terry Wilson now ranches. The legend said that Lucy was a tough, independent woman who overcame many challenges in order to hang on to her sheep herd.

“I bought my first couple of sheep from a lady who lived in Pavillion,” she continued. 

Her flock has steadily grown over the years, and now Norsworthy has 300 sheep that provide the wool for the sheep camp. The family raises Teeswaters, Wensleydales and Rambouillets for their fleece.

“I have crossbred several Rambouillet ewes with a Teeswater buck in order to produce a fleece that has the high luster of the Teeswater breed along with the tighter crimp and diversity of the Rambouillet,” Norsworthy told the group. 

The process

“I try to sell as much raw fleece as I can to people who use it for spinning or fiber arts,” said Norsworthy.

Although she sends the fleeces out to be milled, Norsworthy and her crew skirt the wool themselves.

“The process has gotten more efficient over the years and now I have a pretty good crew that I have trained for skirting,” she continued.

She stated that there are two people per table that worked to clean as much of the debris from the fleece as they can before the fleece is bagged up once again. Norsworthy then analyzes the fleece and determines if it should be sold raw or milled. 

When it returns to the shop, color is added to the fiber.

“I do all of the dyeing myself,” said Norsworthy proudly. “It started in the garage, the bathroom and the kitchen. My husband said that if I was going to do this as a business, I needed to do something differently, and so we built the shop. However, I still do all the dyeing in the bathroom.”

Yarn, roving and fleece are then sold in the shop. Examples of projects are hung around the cozy and brightly-colored shop, sparking the imagination of the participants who gathered materials for their own projects at home. 

Educating others

“The best part of this whole process is raising the sheep, feeding them, truly seeing the fruits of your efforts and getting to educate other about it,” said Norsworthy. “We have a lot of school kids that come out. They always come out during lambing and they think it is the coolest thing in the world.”

Norsworthy always makes these trips fun but education for the school kids.

“I really try to connect how this,” she said, grabbing a handful of raw fleece, “turns into their mittens or gloves. It seems like people have gotten out of touch with those processes.” 

“Growing up in agriculture laid firmer roots than I ever imagined,” she continued, mentioning her childhood on the family ranch. “I believe that understanding where our products come from is important and have made teaching that concept a personal mission.”

Norsworthy invites local schools to come to the shop during lambing and shearing to see the processes and make the connections from the animal to the product they buy at the store. She also makes classroom visits to educate kids on the history and importance of agriculture to their community. 

Kelsey Tramp is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Laramie – As a young man, Lefty Cole enjoyed the time he spent on his family’s ranch in the Laramie area. Cole attended college at the University of Wyoming and began working for a company that would one day give him an executive title.
    “When I got out of college I thought it would be nice to make enough money to be a rancher. When my career started out I was able to be outside for most of my work. It then became a suit and tie job when I was given the title of executive. Executive just didn’t fit me well. I decided I would come home and buy a ranch,” recollected Cole.
    The Vee Bar Ranch was one of three stops on the Wyoming Business Council’s annual Diversified Ag Tour, which was held on June 19 in the Laramie and Centennial areas this year.
Financial options
    Upon buying the ranch, Cole and his family knew they needed to make changes in their operation in order to make money, and pay off the loans that were taken out to purchase cattle. Cole’s son Kelly, an engineer, started to build log homes. He wanted to start a business constructing the houses.
    They started putting their log homes in their first of four subdivisions in the Laramie area. The family saw this as their opportunity to make the money they would need to make ends meet, and would eventually bring them to financial stability.
    Vee Bar Ranch, their current location, was the last of the four places they purchased. The Coles sold 40-acre parcels of land along the river. Each easement provided the buyer with a building site to ensure each home and its outbuildings would be out of sight of one another.
    Fences were not put up on the land to ensure the Cole family could ride through the area. Those living on the Vee Bar Ranch could ride on a portion of the land as well.
    “We turned as many people down as we let in. We wanted people who would fit into our lifestyle and our family,” said Cole.
    A few of the parcel buyers asked Kelly and his crew to build their riverside homes. Kelly was also responsible for the renovations made to the guest house, where the staff is housed, and the building of the cabins for guests.
Running the business
    September through May the Vee Bar Ranch is a bed and breakfast. The guests are provided a breakfast and are given the option to add a dinner to the mix. On Friday and Saturday the ranch is open to the general public for dinner.
    During the summer months the guest ranch is in full swing. Vee Bar Ranch has a three-day lodging minimum. During this period of operation, guests can take in the beauty of the ranch from atop a horse.   
    Just as in any business endeavor, marketing must be done to inform the public of the options Vee Bar has to offer. Vee Bar does marketing through the Dude Ranch Association as well as the Wyoming Board of Tourism. The Vee Bar Ranch has recently started to work with the ski resorts to provide ski tickets and lodging.
A family affair  
    “We are so lucky to have our grandkids grow up in our backyard. I grew up in the Laramie area, and now our family gets to do the same. When I was working in the construction business, I missed out on watching my own kids grow up. We have had seven of our grandkids grow up right in front of us,” said Cole.
    Not only did the grandchildren of the Cole family grow up on the ranch – they have been involved as part of the staff from early ages. Cole’s granddaughter Carrie has been working at the ranch since she was about 13.
    “My involvement just kept growing,” said Carrie.
    “Carrie and her husband Brent are doing a great job, and I am so proud of them,” said Cole.
    Cole may have joined the ranching community late in his life, but the family-owned operation has brought he and his family close to one another.
    Allie Leitza is an intern at the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Diversified Ag Tour hits Albany Co
    The Vee Bar Ranch was one of three operations that a 50-member group visited as a part of the Wyoming Business Council’s (WBC) Diversified Agriculture Tour in the Laramie-Centennial area. June 19 was the tenth year the Wyoming Business Council has put together the tour. The Wyoming Women in Ag group has been in collaboration with the Wyoming Business Council to put the tour together.
    The tour started out in Casper, as it is nearly in the middle of the state. Each year the WBC chooses a different location that is only a few hours from Casper to ensure that the tour is something that can be done in a day.
    “We select the places we visit based off the people we have met in our everyday jobs. Some of the operations we find through referrals. We make sure that the places we tour have diversified their operation. On the tour, we have never been to the same location twice. When we started out, the tour consisted of mostly women. Now, we are starting to get more men involved,” said Wyoming Business Council Agribusiness Director Cindy Garretson-Weibel.      

Shell – Bree Dooley of Shell welcomed the first progeny resulting from the Future Cattle Producers of Wyoming program into the world on Feb. 16 when her Black Angus heifer Clara gave birth to twins. 

“It was really surprising and really exciting to have twins,” says Dooley. 

Dooley got involved in the Future Cattle Producers of Wyoming program after her ag teacher encouraged her to apply for the program. 

“After I interviewed, I was accepted into the program and received a heifer,” she says.

Martin and Kellie Mercer of Paintrock Angus in Hyattville donated a heifer to Dooley, who was responsible for showing, breeding and raising the animal to maturity. 

“As soon as I got my heifer, I started to halter break her,” Dooley explains. “I showed her at the Big Horn County and Wyoming State Fairs.”

While preparing for the shows, Dooley also mentions that she had to select a bull to breed her heifer. 

“There were two bulls on my family’s ranch that I had to choose from,” Dooley says. “They were low birth weight bulls, and I was looking for one that would complement Clara’s genetics.”

“Clara fits into our herd really well, and she has proven to be a productive cow so far,” she adds.

After a successful show season at both the county and state fairs, Dooley notes that Clara was turned onto pasture for the fall and winter grazing seasons. 

“She was scheduled to calve at the beginning of February when my family calves all of our heifers,” she says. “I’ve been keeping an eye on her.”
“Clara was the first from our herd to calve this year,” Dooley adds. 

After a full year in the program, Dooley mentions that the Future Cattle Producers of Wyoming has been a really rewarding program that has helped her connect with great mentors. 

“Martin and Kelly have been absolutely fantastic,” she says. “They have helped me all the way through the process, and they are great mentors.”

She continues that the program is one she would recommend to all young people who qualify. 

“This is a great program that can really help young people get started,” Dooley remarks. “We have to start somewhere, and the Future Cattle Producers of Wyoming program is a great way to jump in.”

Dooley’s experience in the program will continue through August 2015, as she completes her record book and creates a presentation of the overall experience. The winners after the two-year program will be selected at the 2015 Wyoming State Fair.

“I’ve had an amazing learning experience over the past year,” she continues. “I’m really excited to see where this experience takes me.”

Learn more about the Future Cattle Producers of Wyoming by visiting Applications for this year will be available the second week of April and are due May 15.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..