Flying M Angus Ranch: Cattle built to survive and thrive in Wyoming
The average annual precipitation in Wright, Wyoming is around 13 inches. That’s about a third of the national average. Sagebrush and antelope do pretty well there. But so do the cattle on the Flying M Angus Ranch.
Larry Dobrenz, and his wife, Jackie, run registered and commercial Angus cattle on the windy grassland in northeast Wyoming, an area currently most valued for the coal that’s under the grass, not what’s grazing on it.
Larry and Jackie were both raised on cattle ranches in the area. When they got married, they had 13 Hereford cows. They worked for wages and built up their cow herd until, in 1990, they were set up to get out on their own. They initially leased a place that sold three years later, then they leased the place they’re on near Wright in 1993. In 2012 they had the opportunity to buy Jackie’s parents’ place, near Oshoto, Wyoming, about 90 miles away.
“We’re kind of scattered out,” Larry says. “We lease grass here and lease grass there.”
Since they started in the cattle business, they’ve learned it’s easier to change the cows to suit the environment, than to change the environment to suit the cattle. The Herefords were nice cattle, but the wind and the snow were hard on their eyes, and spring snowstorms with that wind left them with sore udders. For where they’re at, Larry says, “There’s less work with a black cow.”
The black cows they’re running now have to survive on the grassland and sagebrush that has adapted to the wind, snow and heat. “At Wright we get less rain than most people, and we don’t have much protection, so they pretty much have to survive. We winter the cows on cake and grass, and run the commercial and registered cows together,” Larry says. “We bring them home to calve them, and we take a little better care of them then.”
They AI the registered cattle to start calving about Feb. 20, then move on to the heifers around the first of March, and the commercial cows start around March 25.
Dobrenzes used bulls from Leo Schmaus from Dayton, Wyoming, on their commercial cattle for the first 15 or 20 years. They’d been running commercial Angus cattle and Schmaus had bulls that worked well for them. “There were a couple years I couldn’t get bulls from him and it just didn’t seem like I could find that quality of cattle.”
About 16 or 17 years ago, Larry and Jackie had the opportunity to buy Leo’s registered cowherd, after he passed away. “My cows were already pretty strong in his genetics,” Larry said. Most of those genetics trace back to the Scotch Cap lines. Once they had Schmaus’s registered Angus maternal herd, they changed their program and started using artificial insemination, getting semen from Schaffs’ Final Answer, Resource and Renown in North Dakota; Black Pine Farm’s Special Focus, from Montana; Schiefelbein Effective from Minnesota, and Paintrock Angus Ranch’s Trapper, from just over the mountain in Wyoming. “I kind of like balanced weaning weight and yearling weight EPDs. I don’t shoot for the new bulls with big numbers. I wait until they get proven before I’ll use them,” Larry says.
Larry has always focused on the maternal side. “The cows are what keep the deal going. We try to work in some calving-ease bulls. Nobody wants them 100-pound calves, including me. I’ve been building my cows, so what I don’t keep I just make commercial cows out of. We really cull on them. Seems like we’re culling all the time. I think that’s part of it. We focus mainly on bags, feet and disposition. We’re getting old enough we want gentle cattle. All my customers want gentle cattle. I go for deeper and thicker cattle than most registered Angus cattle. That’s the kind of cow it takes to survive. They’re not exactly show cattle, but I don’t believe in the show ring all that much. But they’re hardy, good-doing cattle.”
Dobrenz’s customers know the kind of environment the Flying M cattle thrive on, so they already know their bulls and heifers are ready to go to work in conditions that don’t make life easy for cattle.
Larry says, “We try to produce bulls that work good for ranchers. Our clientele is pretty local and they seem to be satisfied with them.”
Selling to the neighbors means it’s easy to get feedback, and to see how their cattle work in someone else’s program. “We put in the catalog that we appreciate feedback,” Larry says. “If they’ve got problems we want to know.”
Quite a few of their bulls have also gone to South Dakota, around Faith and Mud Butte, where conditions are similar to Wright, but where it tends to rain more, Larry says.
Larry has figured out over the years that he can market about 50 or 60 bulls each year that are consistent in price. He’s been pretty happy with the $4,000 average they’ve gotten for the last few years. “We don’t have a super high seller. About $8,000 is high for my bulls, but they sell pretty average.”
He keeps about 10 or 15 for private treaty, and is pretty selective about what makes it into his sale. “If you’ve got two you can always cull one of them,” Larry says.
When it comes to marketing, Larry and Jackie have developed a plan to maximize the profitability on all their cattle. They keep about half of their commercial heifers, and sell about 40 percent as commercial bred heifers, usually through the sale barn. The open yearling heifers hit the feed, and Dobrenzes market those as fall beef. “Our goal is to produce excellent beef, and when you get to see the end product a guy can kind of tell how he’s doing on his breeding program,” Larry said.
The steer calves are typically privately marketed to the same buyer. “They feed a lot of cattle and keep coming back and buying them. They’re fairly aggressive for what the market is.”
Rowdy and Ange Evenson have run the place near Oshoto for almost seven years. “We couldn’t do it without them,” Larry says. “Ange grew up in the registered cattle business and plays a huge part in the registered cattle, including keeping track of the records.”
Larry has had some health challenges over the last year, but he’s on the mend, and more thankful than ever for a cow herd that is mostly self-maintaining and that doesn’t require bullfighter agility.
But he’s not ready to slow down. “I’m going to keep expanding my registered cows. Someday down the road I know we’re gonna have to slow down. But hopefully that will be a little while.”
Growing up on a ranch, Larry knew ranching was all he wanted to do. That outlook is necessary, he says. “Every day is a challenge, seems like. There’s something new all the time. I’ve been through the blizzard of ’84–I was working for wages then. Droughts, fires, low cattle markets, it will test you. Definitely all you can want to do is be a rancher.”
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