Flying M Ranch
Randall Shinn and Mickey Steward; owners and operators
Steward and Shinn ran a beef cow-calf-yearling operation at their Wyoming ranch from 1984 to 2005. For many years during that period, they also ran large lease-based stocker operations on several ranches throughout Wyoming. The base operations were moved from Wyoming to Nebraska, for two reasons: first, to build a larger, more diverse operation located in an area of the country with great access to more production segments of the beef business than was practical in the remote areas of Wyoming. And second - to operate in a soil, vegetation, and climate regime in which intensive grazing management would yield more immediate results than in eastern Wyoming.
The Flying M Ranch in Nebraska has three units. The Home unit is about sixty percent subirrigated (sometimes flooded) meadows, twenty percent relatively flat, fertile bench-land just above the subirrigation zone, and twenty percent rolling sandhills. When purchased, the home unit was somewhat overgrazed, lacked stock water and the sandhills pastures had problematic sand blow-out areas. Now, the home unit has an extensive buried pipeline water system with risers serving twenty five locations. It is fenced and cross-fenced, with conventional barbed wire and three-wire galvanized electric fencing, into 32- permanent pastures, most 80 acres but some smaller, some of 120 acres and one sandhills pasture of about 200 acres. Management intensive grazing has been in use since 2001 and the former problem areas have improved significantly.
Each permanent pasture is served by a waterline riser, windmill or flow-well. During the growing season the pastures are subdivided with polywire. Water is provided to most subdivisions with surface waterlines extending from the water system risers to water each paddock. The water tanks are 300-800 gallon, light-weight polytanks that are moved from paddock to paddock along with the advancing or retreating water lines. The water system is very successful and is operated without creating erosion or damaged areas. The system enables creation of an infinite number of paddocks, but typically the operation will operate with 100-120 paddocks per growing season with some grazed once and most twice. Some pastures are only hayed and some are grazed lightly in the growing season and hayed later.
The South unit is a leased unit twelve miles away and is about half meadows and half sandhills. The meadows are divided into several paddocks served with water by a flowing creek, windmills and spring fed ponds. The meadows are grazed on a rotation with weekly moves. The sandhills are grazed as a single unit; once early and once late. The North unit is 10 miles away. It is divided into 5 pastures and is watered by a flowing creek, spring fed ponds, and windmills. This unit is all mixed meadows and rolling sandhills. It is grazed lightly in the early spring, rested until it will yield maximum quantities of hay, and then hayed. Round bales are left in the fields and later are bale grazed by the wintering cow herd.
Operating Goals and Business Plan
The financial goal is to make sufficient sustainable cash flow to pay off the mortgage, pay the operating costs, and yield a return on partners' capital and labor. The landscape goal is to make sustainable continuous improvements in the quantity, quality, and diversity of the forage base while maintaining the current quality and quantity of wildlife habitat. The business plan is based on a beef herd that is moderate frame score, easy fleshing, and primarily English breeds, genetically tailored to supply high quality feeder steers to the conventional cattle feeders as well as to grassfed and natural beef finishers. Heifers to be produced primarily for herd replacement, with a certain percentage sold as seed stock. Non-qualifying heifers are sold to the feedlot or grass finisher markets. All the bulls used on the ranch are to be produced on the ranch.
The ranch typically runs five herds during spring summer and fall. During the growing season, the home ranch herds; that is, the main cow herd, the yearling steers, and the yearling heifers are run on controlled grazing programs calling for moderate stock densities, one day moves and about 50 percent residual. Variances from this depend on ground conditions, pasture conditions, goals for vegetation manipulation, heat index and cattle condition. High stock densities and ultra high stock densities, multiple within-day moves, occasional severe grazing and other methods are employed at times to achieve specific landscape goals. The bulls are also kept at the home ranch, and graze certain pastures on a one week or two week rotation. First-calf heifers and some other cattle are run on a weekly move rotation program at the South unit. The North unit is mostly hayed for winter bale grazing of the main herd. Cows and heifers begin calving about April 15. Calves are weaned in late October. Weaned calves are wintered together and sorted by sex in the spring. Bull prospects are also selected at this time.
Summer forage production is managed to leave considerable residual in many pastures with good access to winter water and shelter. The summer forage program provides the basis for the winter feeding program. The current goal is to provide 50% or more of the winter forage requirements for the main cow herd, bulls, and replacement heifer/young cow herd with residual from the growing season. The balance of their needs is provided with continually evolving combinations of grass hay, alfalfa hay and/or ddg as determined by forage analysis and nutrition tables.
The calves graze cool season grasses after weaning and then put on full feed of hay and supplements after the quality and quantity of fall cool season grasses diminishes. Their winter feed is grass hay, alfalfa, and some energy and protein supplement. The specifics of the supplement are determined by the marketing plan for the steer calves. Calves, bulls, bred heifer/young cow herds are kept at the home place in the winter. The main cow herd is trailed to the north unit and bale graze the bales there until all are consumed. They then return to the home place sometime in the early to middle of the third trimester. Last winter, the main herd left the home ranch the first week of November and returned the third week of March. At home they feed on some combination of residual, grass hay and alfalfa hay. The bred cattle typically begin calving at about the onset of green grass and are fed some grass and alfalfa hay until there is sufficient spring green grass that they will no longer eat hay.
Gerald Fry was engaged in 2001 to assist in a genetic development program. The objective was to develop a line of home grown cattle with the following characteristics:
- moderate frame size
- high fertility and longevity
- moderate input requirements
- balanced, high yielding style and conformation
- calves that grow out and score well in conventional grade and yield, provide tender cuts, and do so mainly on grass and a moderate quality and quantity of supplements
Since 2001, the ranch has used the Fry plan and considerable AI to develop all their own bulls, replacement heifers, grow the cow herd and in the last few years sell bred heifers to others desiring like-kind cattle. The genetics have developed largely from OCC Anchor and his derivatives in the Red Angus line. A secondary line has been the addition of some Shorthorn from Albaugh Shorthorns of Fallon, NV. This last year, the operation branched away from the Anchor line and began using a line of Red Angus Genetics from Calvo Red Angus of Bassett, NE.
For many years the centerpiece of the operation was the sale of yearling steers. Steers were marketed either at auction or private treaty to natural beef finishers, grass finishers and feedlots. Some were finished and sold directly to the packers to assist us in learning more about the productivity qualities of the herd. The cattle have been sold to conventional feeders often enough and received conventional close-out and grade and yield information sufficient to provide benchmark information of animal finishing performance. In the last few years the centerpiece has begun to shift towards the sale of bred heifers to those seeking cattle to operate in low input operations and/or those planning to work towards entering segments of the grass fed business. We have marketed these by advertising them on the PCC and other niche market websites.
Ranch operations are planned and directed by Randall Shinn. Laura Sheffield, formerly of Kohle Cattle Management, has a Vet Tech Degree from UN Curtis, works full-time and is assistant Manager. Bill Schmidt is a long-time, local cowman and works part-time. Mickey Steward is able to work at the ranch on an on-call basis and always during calving. Good horses and good stock dogs are also an important part of the work force.
What you will see and hear. . .
You will see the ranch layout and hear a description of the current stage of the operating plan; one or two herds in the operation; an example of the pasture and subdivision layout of the day; and the water system - riser, pipe and tank couplings, a waterline and tank, and tank move. You will see the bred heifer herd to see the expression of the Flying M genetics, and you will see some of the ranch-raised bulls. You might see some stock dog work depending on ranch activities the day and time of the tour. You will hear some discussion of the pros and cons of various summer grazing tactics, particularly with regard to potential grass finishing, a discussion regarding raising your own home-grown bulls and some talk about winter swath grazing and bale grazing.
This is an operation that is carefully managed and run with low input and relatively little labor with respect to the scope of the operation. The operation is not extremely innovative, yet it is not entirely conventional, either. It is a good example of the positive results derived from effective long-term working relationships and of how an operations and business model can succeed in agriculture as long as there are clear goals, decision making is good and multiple approaches to success are considered and integrated.