Less is More: Increasing quality, decreasing numbers makes for profitability for Little Goose Ranch
Little Goose Ranch is tucked away in the canyon for which it is named, with the Bighorn Mountains serving as its visual and actual backdrop. Not only is the setting picturesque, the surrounding land provides the perfect opportunity for a purebred Angus herd to flourish.
Owned by the Meredith Family, the Little Goose Ranch has been managed by Chad Bradshaw since 2001. For ten years, the ranch was a commercial Angus operation. During that time, Bradshaw and his coworkers began to record specific data about the commercial herd. “As we got more involved and disciplined, we started following the genetics. I could see the difference in genetics, and we started keeping records of our own cattle. That led into the owners deciding to use what we were doing there and diving into the purebred business,” he says. The transition into a registered herd began in 2011.
The decision was made to stay with Angus cattle for their maternal traits, carcass quality, and overall hardiness. The operation eased into dispersing the larger herd and moving to a smaller purebred Angus herd. Currently, they have 150 purebred cows, with 2022 being their fifth production bull sale.
The most difficult part of transitioning for Bradshaw and his crew was creating connections and marketing. However, they have high goals of establishing the type of bull that works for everyone. “We hope to have something that works for us but also helps other producers that buy our animals,” he says.
The first three years as a registered operation involved selling bulls private treaty. From there, the ranch transitioned to an annual bull sale with the help of a sales manager. “Since then, we’ve gotten on our feet a little bit. We’ve got the feel of the business–of putting on a sale and marketing,” Bradshaw says. With the help of Matt Wznick with Tri-State Livestock News, Kurt Kangas with the Angus Association, and friendships with purebred breeders, Bradshaw has received invaluable guidance for marketing strategies.
Still, he admits moments of trial and error and the openness of learning. Bradshaw was not raised around the ranching lifestyle, but had a passion for the outdoors and the Sheridan area. After serving in the Army and receiving a degree in wildlife and fisheries biology, he worked for the Forest Service and railroad for several years. Yet, he always felt called to his home in northeast Wyoming. He began working for Little Goose Ranch part-time, slowly working his way up to a managerial position, proving that availability and willingness to work outweighed any lack of experience. According to Bradshaw, he continues learning from his coworkers, surrounding himself with knowledgeable friends, and sometimes, the “school of hard knocks.”
The location of Little Goose Ranch comes with its own challenges and blessings. “It’s really beautiful. The winter is a little bit longer because we’re in the canyon. Daylight comes up late in the morning and goes down early in the afternoon. […] In the summer it’s really nice, tranquil, and peaceful. The mountains are the best neighbors you could have,” Bradshaw says. “The mountain is right there and it’s vertical on the west side of the ranch.” Some of the ranch is too steep and rocky to be usable. However, being in rough country helps to determine which cattle are hardy enough to make it. “It gets rough. It tests cattle with their structure and feet. It’ll cull things out for you in a hurry just because it’s so rough and rocky,” he says.
Yet, the valley and Little Goose Creek below the mountain provide essential meadows and hay ground. Another ranch just 10 miles east is also part of the Little Goose Ranch. “It’s not quite as close to the mountains. We kind of go from the rocky temperate to the sagebrush. That offers us some good grass that way too. We run them all one and the same but in two different locations,” he says.
A third ranch, about 40 miles away east of Sheridan, is owned by the operation, as well. The commercial herd used to dictate that they used all three locations, rotating with the seasons. Bradshaw says that with just two employees then, time and manpower got strung out between locations during haying, calving, and irrigating seasons. Since the transition to purebred, the smaller herd meant that the owners could lease out the third ranch, increasing income, and in turn help the employees be as efficient as possible close to home. “With the smaller numbers, we were able to condense things a little bit more and still maintain income,” he says.
With the move closer to home and the help of his coworkers, it leaves Bradshaw the necessary time to grow his network for their business. “Having the other employees has been very beneficial,” he says. It also leaves extra time for the men to spend with their families, which is important to the crew. Though establishing a reputation takes years of dedication, he feels they are making a name for providing quality bulls for their buyers.
Bradshaw credits the Merediths for their support in every task on the ranch. “The owners are phenomenal people. The Meredith family is top-notch and very family-oriented. They’ve been good about giving us any resources that we need on the ranch. From a crescent wrench to a tractor,” he says. The bull sale is the culmination of year-round work, including irrigating, haying, weaning, feeding, marketing, and planning.
Though Bradshaw does not own Little Goose Ranch, it has become a part of him. “I run it like I own it,” he says. “You have to take pride in it. I give all the credit to the owners.” Looking to the future, he hopes to continue to improve the agricultural land in his care. He plans to keep noxious weeds under control, improve grasslands and hay ground, and possibly produce enough hay for selling in the future. In a year like 2021, this is a valuable venture. Along with that, he hopes to improve upon irrigation to be more efficient with water. “I think that’s a good goal to strive for,” he says.
On the cattle side, he is growing more content with the progress they have made in both reputation and genetics, but plans to fine-tune their existing bloodlines. “I feel like we’re going the right direction and we’re getting there. When we get a little more dialed in, we’ll try to find that outcross to infuse and keep things fresh and going the right direction. I am not a fan of chasing fads or trends. I like to keep things current, but I don’t like going to extremes. There’s a lot of good cattle out there, but you’ve got to find some that fit with your environment and what your resources allow, and hopefully leave you with great females. For me, hopefully finding the right bulls and bloodlines will create the ideal females to become our replacement heifers. The bulls will hopefully enhance somebody else’s program as well. It goes hand in hand. What I get at the end of the day is the heifers to keep building the herd and progressing forward.”
“It’s a slow process and it just takes a lot of time. With that said, I think we’re paying our dues and we’re going the right direction. You’re always moving forward,” says Bradshaw.
The 5th Annual Little Goose Ranch Production Sale is scheduled for Jan. 22, 2022. See their website, http://www.littlegooseranch.com for more information.
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