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On the ranch, On the road
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Answers out the window

I expected a typical interview. If I’m being honest, maybe even a rushed one.

I’d called Jordan Willis on the fly just a week earlier, asked him if I could snag an early morning on his Wyoming ranch.

“North of Randolph you’ll come to a junction,” he started. “From there I’m just a couple miles on the right.”

I turned my music down and drove the dirt road, thinking of questions I’d like to ask the young cattleman, and feeling pretty far from home.

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Jordan, alongside his brothers, James and Jed, grow their own feed for the herd for 150 days of the year.

Jordan met me near the front drive. His brood was still waking up so we decided to chat life and cattle outside with the sunrise.

“In our valley, the younger generation aren’t all taking over,” he explains. What could support a family in the ’60s and ’70s isn’t sustainable today, and neighbors and friends have sold out; some work day jobs.

For Jordan, that wasn’t an option – driven simply by the fact that he wouldn’t allow it.

Instead he’d expand. The leases, cattle and farming.

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To improve the herd, the Willisses run GeneMax® Advantage™ tests to on 500 females each year. About 250 will be kept as replacements.

“It’s always different,” he admits, “and there’re always challenges, but just about when you get discouraged, and don’t think anything’s going to go right, something positive comes out of it.”

Like the time he looked out his kitchen window.

“It was all in native grass,” he says. Originally from Laketown, Utah, it was Jordan’s grandfather who bought the place across the border in the early 1950s. Back then it sustained the cattle but Jordan needed more from the land. His passion was in place and his family was growing.

“We couldn’t find any pasture we liked that was reasonably priced, so we said, ‘Why don’t we just graze them here?’”

So the family plowed and planted.

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The larger herd still summers on state and federal land to the north but replacement heifers spend their time in that backyard, as do bulls in the fall.

Alfalfa up to my knees, pivots keeping it a vibrant green, that “here” is 50 feet from Jordan’s front door. Nineteen pivots cover nearly 2,000 acres of flood-irrigated soil and 1,800 Angus surround it.

“We graze around 250 head in the summer and it still grows enough for fall feed,” Jordan says.

By now his kids are up with the sun, we share a breakfast before taking a walk in that field and I feel like we’ve all been friends for years.

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Quite the view out of a kitchen window if I do say so myself.

“We probably put too much emphasis on data,” he says, acknowledging they don’t retain ownership through the feedyard right now.

We laugh and agree there’s no such thing.

“We’ve outbid registered guys our whole lives to get the bulls we want,” he says. In a sale, he’ll look for growth, uniformity and a frame score of 6 or higher.

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A family of five and growing. There’s a new Willis due in 2018!

“We’re kind of where we want to be,” he says. “Now we’ve gotta fine tune and move our herd forward.”

I’d say he has the generation to get it done.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story,

Laura

PS – To learn more about the Willises and the technology they use to grow a successful herd, check out this month’s Angus Beef Bulletin or February’s Angus Journal.

blackinklaura Visit Website
Born and raised in the Sunshine State, I grew up surrounded by more livestock than people on my family’s working cattle ranch. A willingness to address a crowd and an eagerness to ask questions led to my passion for spreading the word of agriculture. A lover of words, cattle and those who produce them, I couldn't ask for a better job. A Gator grad, blessed by years of learning and Tebow football, I’m a firm believer that people should be honest, lyrics should be moving and tea should be sweet. I love music, my family, my God, and of course writing for CAB.
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