Phipps Land & Livestock: A salute to quality in Nebraska’s Sandhills
August 30, 2013
Gary Phipps' great-grandfather arrived in the Sandhills of Nebraska in 1890, and started what would become a multi-generational, century spanning horse and cattle operation north of Whitman. While numerous changes have occurred along the way, quality horses and cattle remain the backbone of the long-standing operation's success.
"When my great-grandfather Luther came to the Sandhills, he shot and supplied meat to the railroad prior to filling a homestead and later relinquishing it. When he got off the train in Lakeside, NE, he had $46 in his pocket and it was 45 below zero. He had very little beyond the first two of what would be nine children. Eventually he moved back to Whitman and took another homestead there. The guy that owned the place we're on now was killed, and great-granddad leased it from that man's heirs for a while, then bought it in 1906," explained Gary of when and how Phipps Land & Livestock was started.
Gary's grandfather Russell arrived when he was just 18 months old. When he was twelve, he was left alone to run the operation while his parents managed another ranch and their mercantile store farther south. They would come north every couple weeks to check on Russell, but otherwise he was alone or assisted only by his six-year-old brother.
"You had to be a little tough back then," commented Gary. "When granddad got older, he still lived up here, but would go down south to the towns from time to time. In the 1920s they didn't have much money, and people traveled in passenger trains, so he and his friends would find some unbroke horse somewhere, saddle him up and put on a bronc ride alongside the train. Then they would pass a hat and collect a couple bucks off the train, and made pretty good money."
Gary's grandfather also went in with Earl Monahan and Ed Becker to put on the first rodeo in Omaha, which later became the Ak-Sar-Ben Rodeo. Russell is currently nominated for the Cowboy Hall of Fame for his part in Nebraska's rodeo history.
"He always had horses, and we've always raised horses. There was a time we had 65 broke draft horses on this place, and while we never had a remount stud, neighbors did and I remember granddad talking about taking mares to be bred by them," commented Gary.
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Gary's father Leonard purchased the operation's first two AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) registered fillies, which were Peter McCue bred, in 1960 from Dewey Norell. Five decades and numerous horses later, the Phipps were awarded the AQHA Legacy Breeder Award for 50 consecutive years of breeding American Quarter Horses. Then, in 2012, they were approved as a Ranching Heritage Breeder, also through the AQHA.
"Those have been two of our highlights and top honors in the horse deal. It's one of those things that wasn't necessarily a goal, but just snuck up on us and happened," commented Gary.
Over those 50 years, Phipps horses have excelled in a variety of arenas. They can be found winning 4-H shows, working at the National Finals Rodeo (NFR), chasing cows on various ranches across the country and occasionally running on the track.
"Our main goal on a horse is just what the AQHA stated as their initial goal, which is raising the all-around horse that you can do anything on. We breed them for ourselves and what we like first, and our goal for any we sell is that the person buying them can also do whatever they like on them," said Gary of the Phipps horse program.
Among specific traits he looks for are good bone and withers, and enough spring of rib to make it turned out in a pasture, adding there is very little grain in his horses diets. Of the many Gary has purchased, bred and raised over the years, the stud Gold Deposit, or "Goldie," is the one who stands out most, and is still seen on most of his mare's pedigree's today.
"He was born in 1970, we used him for 23 years, and you can still see his influence in our herd today. He was King and Band Play bred, and we really like crossing his daughters and granddaughters with Leo bred studs, which we've used several of over the years," noted Gary.
While the family always has a few horses for sale, today most of what they market are young, unbroke horses. Gary credits his wife Glenda for doing a superior job on the marketing end, and playing a significant role in maintaining the marketability of their horses even in recent years when the market was down.
"She also has her own program when it comes to sacking them out and getting them gentle, which we do after weaning them at nine to 10 months old. Then we turn them out in a 2,500 acre pasture and let them learn to be horses until they're old enough to do something with," continued Gary of how he and Glenda run their horse operation.
As important and central of a role that horses have played on the ranch, they have always been balanced out with cattle. In the beginning the Phipps raised steers to two-years-old, and both commercial and registered Hereford cattle. Gary noted with a chuckle that he remembers a time when if the neighbors Black Angus bull got in and guy got a black baldy calf, he was always sorted out and docked severely on price.
"In 1970 we bought my uncle out, and in 1974 we sold all the cows and have been strictly a steer operation since. We sold two-year-old steers until 1988, then went to yearlings because the genetics had changed that much," noted Gary, adding they decided to go to an all-yearling operation because his dad had always wanted to try it.
Today most cattle are purchased through order buyers over the course of the winter, then summered and remarketed private treaty or on the video the following fall. Gary said the family has learned a lot about how to, and how not to, care for yearlings over the years, and maintain a goal of keeping their death loss under one half of one percent.
"One advantage to running yearlings on our place is we have quite a few sub-irrigated meadows, and raise some really high quality prairie hay that those calves do well on when they arrive. We also have adequate protection, and have made improvements, including purchasing a set of scales and utilizing a Redman based mineral program to help on the management side," explained Gary.
The operation has always been family oriented, and Gary noted it has been wonderful having his son Brett return to the operation. His other son Wade recently graduated from the Butler Horseshoeing school in Chadron and works on a ranch in Wyoming, and his daughter Heather is an award winning journalist at the North Platte Telegraph. Three granddaughters and another grandchild on the way ensure the operation will have plenty of good help in years to come.
"We're just trying to keep our monetary stance and get the place paid off. It takes a little bit of luck, lots of hard work, and plenty of rain to make a place last this long. We get tired of dealing with the government, but I guess everyone has that issue anymore. The Lord has blessed us with a special lifestyle where we can't see our neighbor's lights, but where our friends and neighbors are exceptional people, throughout the entire Sandhills area," concluded Gary of his thoughts on he and Glenda's operation and lifestyle.
For more information on the Phipps family, horses and operation, please visit their website at http://www.phippsranch.com.
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