honored for Top commercial herd
for Tri-State Livestock News
Living in one of the windiest corridors of Wyoming can create its own set of challenges, especially for ranchers, but the family ranch of Rodger and Lindy Schroeder has managed to survive and thrive for the past 140 years, and recently was honored by the American Gelbvieh Association as their Commercial Producer of the Year for 2019.
“It kind of floored us,” Rodger says. “We didn’t expect anything like that. It’s a humbling experience, there’s a lot of good breeders out there, commercial breeders, but they picked us and we appreciate it.”
The Schroeders have been raising Gelbvieh cattle since 1980 when they liked what they saw at the National Western Stock Show in Denver. They bought their first bull from the Valhalla Ranch’s pen of bulls at the stock show, and thus began the transition from a black baldy cow herd to a Gelbvieh herd.
“When we started in the Gelbvieh business, we did consider going purebred and selling bulls, but that turns into a whole lot more work than what we had help for,” Rodger says. “So, we abandoned that idea and just concentrated on a commercial herd.”
Rodger and Lindy built up their cow herd to about 500 head, most between five eighths and 100 percent Gelbvieh, and ran that way until 2007, when they began using Gelbvieh Balancer bulls.
“We wanted to keep a little black stirred into our cows,” Rodger says. Eighty percent of the Gelbvieh Balancer genetics of the calves come from bulls purchased from Swanson Cattle Company and Warner Beef. The other 20 percent are from Graff Cattle Company and Reyes Angus, he said.
Today, the cow herd on the Schroeder Ranch is nearly all black, the red cattle mostly phased out, and genetics are pretty much all half Angus, half Gelbvieh throughout the herd.
The ranch has seen a few different breeds of cattle since 1880 when Lindy’s great-grandfather, Donald McDonald came to Platte County from Scotland to raise Hereford cattle and horses. From there, the McDonald Ranch was passed along to Hugh and Rissa McDonald. Rissa was known to be a strong-willed business woman and she purchased nearby homesteads and ranches until the McDonald ranch was nearly 55,000 deeded acres. When Hugh and Rissa passed away in 1966, the ranch was passed down to their only daughter, Ruth, and her husband, John Braunschweig, but the two inherited much more than just the ranch: a lot of debt and an even bigger estate tax bill.
“Ruth vowed not to sell any of the land to pay bills,” Lindy says. “They sold all of the Hereford cattle, leased half of the ranch and started the Diamond Guest Ranch in 1968.”
As the debt was paid down, the couple slowly began to restock the ranch with Angus cattle. Ruth wanted to alleviate her children of a similar burden, so through estate planning, she divided the ranch between her three daughters and their husbands.
The parcel that Lindy and Rodger inherited, although plentiful in springs that run year-round and natural protection from the wind and elements, is short on ground that could be used to put up hay. Fortunately, the Balancer cattle know how to make a living in such conditions, and do it well.
“They’re out on pasture all winter until it gets close to calving, then they come in and they start getting hay and extra feed,” Lindy says. “But we have learned how to operate utilizing the pastures and the cows get along pretty good.”
While there is limited hay ground on the ranch, Rodger and Lindy buy alfalfa hay from their daughter and son-in-law, Holly and Will Crowley, who live nearby and run cattle on the ranch, but work full time in nearby Wheatland.
Their other daughter and son in law, Tricia and Jeff Sagner, live on the ranch and “are our top hands,” Lindy says. Their two daughters are sixth generation on the ranch.
“We always employed our daughters,” Rodger says. “They took right to it and took care of things for us as we needed it.”
While their daughters were growing up, the Schroeders hired some part time help seasonally, but couldn’t afford a full-time hand, or a place for a hand to live, so necessity brought the Schroeders to re-think some aspects of the operation.
“We shortened up our breeding season to two heat cycles on the cows and we started using more bulls and phased out the AI operation.” Rodger says that eliminated the extra work required with heat detecting and breeding, and the cows have been averaging 94 percent at preg testing. Calving season for the bred heifers was beginning to string out a little too long, so they began keeping more bred heifers than they needed and breeding one heat cycle. The open heifers are then marketed as grass cattle after pregnancy testing.
“It shorted up our calving season pretty good in doing that and then they go into the herd pretty fertile. We like the fertility of the Gelbvieh breed. We’re 85 percent bred up in the first heat cycle usually and a lot of times with in 30 days we’re well over 90 percent calved out, so it makes a pretty tight set of calves,” Rodger says.
The Schroeders have been marketing their steer calves through Cattle Country Video for the last ten years, and recently, with help of the Gelbvieh Association’s Feeder Finder Service, the steers have been purchased by the same feeder four out of the last five years.
“This feeder likes the herd health as well as the performance of the Gelbvieh Balancer calves,” Rodger says.
Although the ranch has seen many changes over the years, one thing that has stayed the same and helped the Schroeders immensely is the help from family, friends and neighbors.
“Whenever we need extra help in the summertime, we’ve got some neighbors come and help us, if we’re sorting they’ll come and get horseback and help us, when we brand, we rope and drag and it’s a big gathering, then of course we go and neighbor with somebody else,” Lindy says. “They’ve helped make all this possible.”