Summer Cowboys: Cummings semi-retired, but still committed to beef production and promotion
Steve and Linda Cummings ranch in Sheridan, Wyoming, in steep, rough country that, Steve said, would certainly benefit from a wet winter. The couple left Franktown, Colorado, in the early 1990s for Lusk and sparsely populated Niobrara County, where they operated yearling and cow-calf operations.
When they bought the Lusk ranch on Boner Road north of town in the 1990s, Steve’s daughters say there was nothing but snakes, and a phone on a pole two miles from what was eventually the house. Steve, a longtime private pilot, spent many hours flying to check the water pipelines on the ranch. His daughter, Stephanie Vetter, said he even painted stripes on the backs of the herd bulls so he could count them from the air. Once their daughters were grown, the couple and a hired man ran the operation. With 500 mother cows in addition to yearlings, they had their hands full.
In 2001, the Lusk place caught the eye of a potential buyer and that interest coincided with the couple’s desire to slow down and pare down the cow herd. With Lusk in the rearview mirror, they settled near Wyarno, a wide spot in the road with a café that alternates between operational and shuttered. The ranch itself is 25 miles southeast of Sheridan and 30 miles north of Buffalo.
They are now, Steve said, strictly summertime cowboys. Having sold their mother cows when they left Lusk, they now run yearlings exclusively. They buy some yearlings for themselves, and run yearlings for another producer with whom they’ve had a long business relationship.
The summertime cowboy designation is especially attractive during a calving season blizzard, though he said none of those wet, heavy storms has hit the ranch since 2016.
“We’re needing some,” he said. “This year turned out really good grasswise just because the moisture we got was extremely timely, right at the end of May and first part of June. We’ve cut our numbers by a third this year because the past two years have been so dry.”
Without aquifers recharged, he said the pastures are crisp. Shipping day arrived the first week of September. Though this summer’s set of yearlings is shipped, next summer’s set has already been purchased and will winter in a backgrounding lot in Worland. They’ll take delivery through October at the lot, and they’ll make their way to grass next May.
Two days after selling at the Superior video sale in Sheridan, they purchased next year’s yearlings. He said there are a number of certifications and designations and labels on video cattle, but the one that matters to him is the health program. Steve graduated with his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Colorado State University, where he met Linda, so it stands to reason that he values both health programs and solid relationships with reputable breeders.
Worland, where the calves will spend the winter, is located in the Bighorn Basin where it’s high, dry, and cold. He said feed production is strong along the Bighorn River, but the farther from the river, the more desert-like it becomes.
When it comes to buying calves, they look for Vac34+ program cattle. The vaccination requirements for that program are two doses of 7-way, 8-way, or 9-way Clostridial at branding and two to four weeks prior to shipping; two doses viral 5-way (IBR, PI3, BRSV and BVD Type I and II) at branding and two to four weeks prior to shipping; one dose Mannheimia haemolytica and/or Mannheimia multocida two to four weeks prior to shipping; and recommended internal and external parasite control.
“We don’t worry about the all-natural, we don’t worry about any of the other bells and whistles,” he said. “By the time we get through a backgrounding lot to summer here, we’re going to treat quite a few of them so the all-naturals, the non-implanted NHDCs, we don’t select on that at all. We’re pretty much looking for quality cattle.”
For the past decade or so, he said they bought calves from the same handful of producers. That changed a bit when one ranch dispersed and another cut their numbers due to drought, though he will continue to return as often as possible to operations he knows and enjoys some familiarity with.
The target weight, depending upon their spring weight, is around 1,000 pounds headed to the feedyard in Nebraska.
When winter blows in what they hope will be moisture, their semi-retirement will mean more time for the Steve and Linda to hit the road–or take flight–to watch their grandchildren’s track meets, livestock shows, and other events. Steve spends his winters in his wood shop, turning intricate bowls and trays, some with hundreds of pieces. Likewise, Linda’s quilting stitches together small squares of fabric to become hand-pieced treasures.
Linda is also active in the Sheridan County Cattlewomen’s group. With a goal to keep beef top-of-mind for consumers, the group hosts an agriculture expo for the fourth graders at the area schools in September. They serve the buyers’ dinner prior to the junior market livestock sale at the fair, and have, in years prior to COVID, hosted a blood drive. They also participate in the First Lady’s Wyoming Hunger Initiative, donating ground beef to the state’s food pantry system.
This year, the pair shipped yearlings off the ranch and celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary the next day. With their shared appreciation for long relationships – and fishing – it’s a fitting way to mark the end of their summertime cowboy season.