Cattle Journal 2023: Zumbrunnen Angus, Wyoming

randdad Melvin ZumBrunnen looking over part of the herd he started in 1948. | Photo courtesy of Zumbrunnen Angus.
Zumbrunnen Angus

Northwest of Lusk, Wyoming, the ZumBrunnen family has ranched since 1888 with Jacob ZumBrunnen homestead. His grandson Mel left his career in structural engineering and moved back to the ranch along with his wife Lola in 1975 to raise their family. The couple bought into the operation to continue building the registered Angus herd that was started in 1948. Their son Jason a  successful engineer along with his wife Shirley returned to the ranch with their young family in 2012, to partner in managing the family beef cattle business and to continue the ranch legacy for the next generation. “My parents sold everything privately, usually around 25 to 30 bulls,” said Jason ZumBrunnen. “After we moved back, selling privately was hard, everyone wanted to come see them first. So in 2014 we held our first public auction. My parents were running around 180 registered cows. We have grown the herd and now have 400 registered cows, along with share cows we place embryos in.” 

Currently the family offers about 100 bulls and 40 heifers every year. They used to have a separate female sale, but as their family grew it was easier to combine the sales since the  ZumBrunnen kids are involved in school sports.  

ZumBrunnens offer customers a nice variety of bulls, with both yearling and almost 2-year old bulls available. They hope to, in the future, be able to offer 50 of each. Jason likes the older bulls as the additional year gives more time to learn about each animal’s feet and structure. These bulls are raised on a slower ration and stay in the pasture until around September, before being brought in for more feed through the fall and winter.” 

All the calves are tagged and weighed so they can maintain accurate records. They also make the first bull cut and any calves not being kept for bulls. At branding they make their second cut on bulls, banding any that do not pass their pasture evaluations. “At weaning, we weigh each calf individually and do a third round of sorting and banding of bulls based on further pasture evaluations,” Jason said.  “Bulls remaining after our third cut go on grow ration at home. We have upsized our bull lot to give them more room to roam, and feed an AminoGain pellet and free choice sorghum baleage. The bulls are ultra-sounded for carcass data, semen tested, and weighed. They are also vaccinated twice for warts and foot rot.” 

ZumBrunnen says their operation doesn’t stand still. “We aren’t afraid to go look for new and different genetics to improve our herd. We are very progressive on growth and carcass, yet maintain what a cow does best every year. We don’t want to screw that up. We are very selective on what we breed to, they have to have the numbers and all the other stuff. Our ultimate goal is to raise a pretty cow that has everything, good looks, performance and raises a calf.” 

The heifers are developed at home on a moderate ration and ultrasounded for carcass data. They will be bred by AI in May. Then they will turn in cleanup bulls for 60 days. “We ultrasound and keep only the early-calving heifers,” Jason said. “We will AI about half of the registered cows to start, with a second set the following week and embryo implants a little later. Bulls are turned in about a week later. Bulls are left in with the cows approximately 45-50 days to sort out low-fertility cows, we want to calve at the latest in the third cycle. If they can’t do that, we don’t need them.” 

The steers are fed out to fats. “We collect the feed efficiency and carcass data on them to measure our performance. We use this data to select AI bulls to increase premiums on carcasses and reduce feed costs in the lot and in the pasture,” Jason said. “We also buy back some of our customers’ calves. By feeding them out we are able to make sure what we are selling is what we thought it was. Initially it wasn’t, but we have made big strides in carcass quality and feed efficiency.”  

While Mel and Lola aren’t as heavily involved anymore, Mel still helps every day, and Jason and Shirley’s kids are also active in the operation. They also hired another young family full-time and it has worked out very well. 

The weather has been the biggest challenge for their operation, and developing animals that are able to handle high elevation. They have added genetics to help weed out heart failure in cattle that are used at high elevations.  

Most of their bulls stay within a 200-mile radius of the ranch, but many of their females are purchased by breeders and go much farther afield. 

“One of my biggest successes was when I received an email from a guy who purchased one of our bulls at the Midland Sale. He said he had bought this bull years ago and that he is the best thing on the ranch and wanted a catalog,” Jason said. “We have guys who are really impressed with our bulls when it’s been a dry year and they are early weaning their biggest set of calves.” 

The ZumBrunnens also believe in helping their community. At their bull sale they give away a heifer to a kid every year, to help get kids involved and interested in agriculture. “This past year the kid who won the heifer had also purchased one, so he called this one BOGO. He showed them both in 4-H and did well. We told him if he raises a nice bull or heifer he is welcome to put them on our sale in the future,” Jason said. 

Getting to share the lifestyle with their own kids is one of the reasons ZumBrunnens do what they do.  

“There are a lot of things to love about our business and what I do, especially because I do it with my family,” Jason said. “My kids get to learn self-confidence, problem solving, and how to do things on their own. I love cattle, I could spend my whole day just looking through cattle, there is something about a cow that makes me happy.”