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Raising kids through raising cattle: Wildorado Cattle Company

Kate James for Progressive Cattle Published on 25 January 2022
Students get hands-on-experience

In 2016, they didn’t have a high school.

Today, Wildorado, Texas, has a high school – and the only student-led registered black Angus seedstock operation in the country. Unlike traditional seedstock operations, Wildorado Cattle Company is headquartered in a classroom, and its breeding, marketing and management decisions are made by students ranging in ages from 15 to 18 years old.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and the idea for Wildorado Cattle Company sprung from the need to give the drive-by rural community staying power. With only 180 students from pre-K to 12th grade, and most of them being transfers from larger schools, the town was in search of a big idea to safeguard its longevity by providing a unique experience unavailable anywhere else.

Enter Cody Bonds, a former saddle bronc rider from Crossroads, New Mexico, who found his passion in agricultural education after graduating from West Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s in animal science. His vision of handing down a lasting legacy manifested itself in a group of passionate students who wanted to take on a project bigger than themselves.

The beginning of a business

“We wanted to do something that no other school had done, something that would give our town a reason to be proud,” 16-year-old Abigail Albracht says. Albracht transferred to Wildorado in the seventh grade and has witnessed the company’s growth firsthand. Now, she serves as its communications director, handling phone calls, interviews, emails, writing and public relations.

“The idea the first freshman class came up with was a seedstock company since we are in a rural area surrounded by cattle producers,” Albracht says.

Plans were drawn and pencil taken to paper to detail the ins and outs of the company’s structure, finances and management plan, all while the students continued their classwork and the young high school was still finding its feet. After extensive research and budgeting, Mr. Bonds and his ag students presented the plan to the school board for review.

“The school board and the community fell in love with the idea,” Albracht says. “We took out a small loan and went down to the H-V Ranch in New Mexico, where we bought our first couple head of cattle.”

After securing the town’s support and the beginnings of a herd, the students struck a partnership with the Gray Ranch, which is located a short 10 miles from the school. In exchange for keeping their herd on Gray Ranch land, the students work and advertise the ranch’s cattle in addition to their own.

Organizing for success

Wildorado Cattle Company has roughly 50 students and nine directors who are selected through an interview process to match their skills to the best position. The students split up by grade level and accompany the directors every Wednesday to care for the cattle; then whoever is available on weekends can also go out to the ranch to participate in additional hands-on operations.

Branding teaches herd and health management

“The herd management department is in charge of herd health,” Albracht says, “and they work directly with the records department, which is in charge of tracking weights, vaccinations and EPDs.”

The administration is broken into communications, marketing, herd, merchandise, events, finance, records, research, and development and media. This structure is representative of the diverse career opportunities in the agricultural and livestock industries, and it allows students who may have not grown up on a farm or ranch the opportunity to shine in their niche role.

“This company is giving students a more global look at an industry,” Bonds says. “While agriculture is definitely commodity-spaced, it also includes other segments such as marketing, communications and finance, so you can have an agricultural career without necessarily having to go out and work calves every day.”

Operating as a team to achieve collective goals also helps develop soft skills useful in crisis management and human resources, Bonds says. Though each student has a role unique to their strengths, they must evaluate how their decisions impact the other members in each department and the company as a whole.

Turning more than just a profit

In March of 2019, Wildorado Cattle Company held its first consignment sale, where breeders from the surrounding area, the company’s cooperatives and the students sold their cattle. Since then, the sale has grown tremendously. With the company’s mailing list increasing by 650% from just last year, the students are expecting buyers from Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and even Maryland for the 2022 sale, which will be held the second weekend of March.

Local cattlemen, sponsors and buyers enjoy annual dinner

Following the sale, the students have a few orders of business to address.

“First, we take our sale profits and offset the production costs,” Albracht says. “Everything we have left over is put into a scholarship fund for our seniors for the time and effort they’ve invested into the company.”

Next, Bonds and his students sit down to evaluate what worked for the company and what can be improved for both the students and the cattle.

“We’re at a point now where we’ve reached max capacity on our land, so we’re shifting our focus to quality instead of quantity,” Bonds says. “Looking forward, we’re beginning to incorporate embryo transfer to grow more of a replacement opportunity and help offer an even better product for our customers.”

Finally, the junior directors have a “Legacy Day,” where they choose a student from a grade level below them to train throughout their upcoming senior year. By preparing the younger students to take over, the seniors leave behind their legacy – and the company’s mission of raising quality cattle and kids continues to inspire the next generation.

“These kids are precocious. Passionate. Unstoppable,” Josh Comninellis, video production director for the American Angus Association, says. He directed Wildorado, the I Am Angus documentary that followed the first freshman class as they developed the company.

“What Cody has provided is an opportunity for those kids who didn’t grow up in agriculture a place to start,” Comninellis says. “This program is teaching not just the technical skills but the grit and the perseverance and the elements of working with a team.”

The students who graduate from Wildorado High School leave with more than a diploma. What began as an idea is now an all-inclusive operation teaching basic life skills, teamwork and the important and diverse roles agriculture fulfills.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Students get hands-on experience while working their cattle at the Gray Ranch in Wildorado, Texas.

PHOTO 2: Spring branding at the Gray Ranch teaches herd and health management.

PHOTO 3: Local cattlemen, sponsors and buyers enjoy attending the annual buyers’ dinner on the eve of the sale. Photos courtesy of Wildorado Cattle Company.

Kate James is a freelancer based in Texas.

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