Gale Henry bullish on Herefords
Sometimes a person can’t point to just one reason why they do what they do. There are usually several reasons, and pretty specific ones. That’s true for what we drive, where we shop, whose news we read or watch, and a whole host of other decisions we face every day, month and year. It’s often that way for ranchers and why they use a particular breed of cattle: not just one reason but a whole slew of reasons.
Gale Henry of Harrison, Neb., can’t point to just the disposition, or aggressive breeding behavior, or the feed conversion although he mentioned all of those. For him it’s not solely the way that his fed-out Herefords help sell the rest of his cattle in the sale ring. Nor is it how his Hereford bulls keep on working every day, year after year with the dependability and ease of care that he wishes all of his cattle had.
So what is Henry’s bottom line for continuing to use Hereford genetics? “I’m fond of Hereford cattle,” he stated. “They won’t gore you in the ground. They feed good for me.” He added that when he mixes them in with his black and black baldy cattle they help sell those cattle, as well. And a major plus is that the packer has always been quite interested in his Herefords.
127 Years and counting
The Nebraska rancher comes by his Hereford partiality honestly. It’s his ranching background, a Jaycees competition during his formative years, and a life-long love of Herefords that has shaped his life. Gale and Renee Henry and their son Jay operate on 10,000 deeded acres and 5,000 government permit acres in northwest Nebraska and southwest South Dakota. Daughter Jana lives at Crawford and runs some of the family cattle there, also. Their ranching beginnings were modest.
Gale Henry’s grandfather came to Sioux County in 1886 from Columbus, Neb. “I’ve always had some straight Hereford cows,” Henry said. He started with two or three cows as a youngster. While in school, Henry’s father leased out the family’s ranch holdings, but once Gale graduated from the University of Wyoming, he took back one of the ranches and moved to Harrison with Renee, his wife of two years.
“I went two years to Chadron and transferred to the University of Wyoming,” Henry stated. While he student taught Vocational Agriculture for nine weeks in Newcastle, Wyo., he chose ranching over teaching for his life’s work. He bought odd calves and put together a herd. When there’s rain and thus grass he runs at least 400 cows and 400 straight Rambouillet ewes that produce a wool grade of 64.
Henry took part in the Jaycees Outstanding Farmer Rancher competition, winning the local and Nebraska contests in 1968. He went on to compete on a national level in Des Moines, Iowa. His appreciation for those experiences runs deep.
He belongs to two grazing associations: the Sugarloaf Grazing District in Nebraska and the Indian Creek Association in South Dakota. “I have three government permits,” he explained, “with 65 in Nebraska where I keep the Herefords, and 65 and 125 permits in South Dakota.” With cattle at different pasture sites and a carrying capacity of 30 acres per cow, his family needs to be on their toes when it comes to managing their operation.
“I’m tired of the bulls that fight or are broke down or crawl over into the neighbors,” he said, and thus pointed to the great disposition and breeding reputation of Herefords. “I love a Hereford bull on our black cows.” Henry said he has three or four different bunches of cows each summer. He runs one Hereford bull with three black bulls, and finds that his Hereford bulls will stay at the water tank and breed cows. He also likes a good black baldy and “the way to do that is to have a good Hereford bull on black cows.” For years Henry used Roy Cranston bulls from South Dakota. Cranston had his last sale in February of 2013, retiring after years in the purebred business. “He was a very good man to do business with,” Henry said.
Besides the challenge of running cattle in different locations and dealing with government leases, Henry said he is strictly on pipelines. “Nine of us have three wells northwest of Harrison. In South Dakota about five of us went ahead and drilled a 2,400-foot deep water well.” The latter uses a 30 horse pump. He uses gravity to bring this water to most of his pastures through two and seven-eighths inch pipe.
Drought forces choices
Permits. Check. Piped in water. Check. Drought. Ah yes, drought. As if ranching hasn’t provided enough challenges over the years, drought has been one more feisty companion to ranchers again this year. Thanks to the tremendous lack of rainfall, Henry has had his permits decreased by 50 head and has pared back his cow numbers on his deeded land. But not his Hereford cow numbers. Northwest Nebraska has faced down drought before. Lengthy droughts. And Henry has stayed with Herefords throughout.
“If we sell down some more” due to drought, he said with determination in his voice, “if we’ve got to sell down, I’ll sell the black cows. I’m pretty partial to the Herefords. The dispositions are gentle and good to get around.”
“I’ll keep my Herefords,” he said again. “They’ve always been good for me.”
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News