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Trail Rides: 'Horn wrap' ideas shared at USCA

Progressive Cattleman Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 22 September 2017
Cattleman's Association panel

Ropers use “horn wraps,” which are strips of leather or rubber wrapped around the saddle horn to provide protection and give the rope a little grip after a dally.

When editors need a “horn wrap,” we attend conferences to visit with producers and make ranch visits; it secures our connection to the industry. My “horn wrap” this past week was a trip to Billings, Montana.

If you ranch in Montana, you had plenty to complain about this year. During the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association annual meeting last week, I overheard several conversations among ranchers that began with, “Did that fire burn any of your country?” What invariably ensued was a discussion on which fire (there were several) and which range (these ranchers commonly graze across several counties).

Joe Holden had one of these conversations. Holden came to Yellowstone County (which has a 30 to 35-acre AUM) from Wyoming (where an AUM was 70 acres) because the state condemned a substantial portion of his land for an airport. He moved to a ranch in the Billings area about six years ago. His challenge now is that he has to fight wildfire. Holden said in Wyoming there wasn’t enough feed to worry about wildfires, but as a rancher in Montana he now owns a CAT dozer and equipment to fight fires, and his son and daughter, who ranch with him, fight fires right alongside other ranchers.

Wildfires are one thing: selective. But drought is another: It affects everyone. Montana also experienced severe drought with literally no measurable precipitation from early spring until the very week of the conference in September.

With over 2 million acres burned in Montana this year, the market working against ranchers and no rain, it’s been a tough year. But adversity breeds character, they say, and tough times call for tough leaders. The conference was replete with tough leaders.

The conference was also attended by a very diversified group. One table included a rancher from Virginia, as well as a producer from Oregon. And operations of all sizes were represented. I met Adam Wagner from Michigan. Wagner runs 45 cow-calf pairs with calves sold as freezer beef to the local markets. His operation is more or less land locked, so he looked at his resources and said, “Hey, we have a grain mill left from the days when we finished hogs, and we can grow most of the grains needed. Let’s make our own feed to sell.” So he did. He partnered with Hubbard Feeds for ration mixes and began growing crops to bag in his mill. His highest demand? Chicken feed. He says there aren’t any commercial poultry farms around, but everybody has a few backyard chickens. He also bales horse hay for customers.

I also met Mike Heaton, a rancher from McKenzie, North Dakota (near Bismark). He sold light calves a few years ago when the price was so high, but has backgrounded calves since then. His ranch has been in the family for over 100 years.

And I met Tayla Thorstenson, a high school junior, who attended the conference with the Indian Agriculture Council. Tayla won last year’s essay contest sponsored by that group and came to the conference to learn more about the upcoming farm bill issues for this year’s essay contest. Tayla rodeos – breakaway, heeler for team roping and other events – and likes writing. I talked like a “Dutch uncle” trying to get her interested in pursuing ag journalism when she heads to college, and then encouraged her to call me for an internship when she’s ready. (We’ll see how that works out.)

That same week I made a ranch visit to Ned Tranel’s place near Roundup. Tranel has over 60,000 acres of crested wheat range, 3,800 cows, 1,000 yearlings and 10 employees. And he wasn’t raised on a ranch. But I hate to tip my hand on that interview. Watch for a write-up in a future issue of Progressive Cattleman.

And that’s this month’s horn wrap.  end mark

Lynn Jaynes
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PHOTO: Bryce Cotton (Cotton Cattle Company), Jordan Bebee (Crowd Cow) and Cole Mannix (Western Landowners Alliance) took the stage at U.S. Cattlemen’s Association annual meeting for a panel discussion on “The next big thing is already here.” Photo by Lynn Jaynes.