There may be life off the ranch, but any Fremont County farmer or rancher will tell you – The #aglife is “the good life!” #Aglife is a County 10 series, brought to you by Wyoming Community Bank, that pulls the curtain back on farm and ranch life in Fremont County.
“The flavor of the land.” It’s a phrase with a lot of sentiment if you’re tied to the agricultural community that is most of Fremont County. It’s a special phrase for Tyler and Angela McCann on their main operation north of Pavillion.
The couple and their daughters Annabella and Arianna, ages 9 and 6, live on their 300-acre farm/ranch operation on North Pavillion Road.
The ranch was owned by Angela’s grandparents, Bill and Ada Hancock, and was known as the Y K Cattle Company.
Angela grew up east of Jeffrey City on Agate Flats Road and was one of the last high school students to attend Jeffrey City High School before it closed.
Tyler was born in Ft. Collins, Colorado, but started school on his parent’s ranch near Wellington Colorado raising race horses. His parent’s divorced and Tyler found himself in one of the tougher neighborhoods in Denver living with his mom.
“I was a Colorado convert,” Tyler said. “I came to Wyoming to work for her dad on the Circle Bar Ranch at Jeffrey City.”
Trained as a farrier, he shod a lot of racehorses, but he and his back were glad to leave that profession behind when they were married and moved to Pavillion.
Their operation is spread between 75 miles of Fremont County real estate. They have a total herd of about 100 heifers, and approximately 500 cows, with 450 of those on winter range near the Gas Hills.
Angela’s father, Calvin Hancock, manages the herd at his place on the Gas Hills Highway, to the south side of the road near the exit to Castle Gardens.
“The winter has been hard on us,” Angela said.
Wyoming ranchers carefully calculate how much hay they’ll need from the time the pasture is grazed down in the fall until the grass returns in spring. With the severe snowfall and extreme cold beginning in November, shortages are common. For the McCann’s that shortage amounted to about 200 tons, or almost $60,000 when feed and transport costs are totaled.
“I haul hay to the Gas Hills a couple of days a week. The snow is so deep that semis couldn’t get in this year, so we sometimes cut across the sagebrush with a trailer load to feed,” Tyler said. “We’ve had to chain up a couple of times to get in.”
With proper timing, a ranch can have its heifers and cows calving at nearly the same time each spring.
The McCann’s cattle will begin dropping calves in February.
“It keeps us busy,” Angela said.
“We’re full-time ranchers,” Tyler commented. “No one has a town job here.”
Living north of Pavillion with clear, brilliant views of the Wind River Range to the south, buttes to the west, and the Owl Creek Mountains to the north, is a selling point for the McCann’s and their Wyoming Cowboy Cut beef.
“We make sure people can see where we live on our advertising,” Tyler said. “It makes what we offer special.”
For Angela, the isolation many express when they come to their ranch seems a little extreme.
“This is pretty crowded compared to where I grew up,” Angela said. “When you can see three neighbors, that’s crowded.”
For generations, ranchers have tried the direct marketing method of bringing beef to consumers without the middleman, and most have failed in the process.
You might call it fate, or perhaps serendipity, but the McCanns discovered a system that works for them by accident.
“We had a first calf heifer calve in a snowstorm. The calf had a frostbit tail and ears, and just a touch on its nose,” Tyler said. “This was a great calf, as heavy or heavier than any of the others its age, but we knew we’d have to pay the livestock auction to sell it.”
Instead, they bought a pallet of cob at the Cenex in Riverton and fed the calf until the feed ran out and processed it.
“Everyone we had over for dinner to eat this beef was amazed. They kept asking us how we raised this calf,” Angela said.
It sparked an idea for the McCanns to change from a traditional cow/calf operation that relied on selling their steers at auction to one that raised beef, finished it, and sold the beef whole or in halves, or packaged into consumer-sized hamburger, steaks, and roasts.
In 2013 they started feeding half a bucket a day of grain to two calves.
“Our plan was to double the number each year,” Tyler said. “We fed about 80 head last year.”
They planned to grow production gradually, but events well beyond their control changed the trajectory.
In 2019 they incorporated Wyoming Cowboy Cuts as an LLC, planning to feed out 20 head in 2020.
“By the end of January, we had three or four fully processed steers in the freezer, and the same number hanging at the meat processor,” Tyler said. “It wasn’t selling, and we had to step out on faith.”
The COVID-19 Pandemic hit, and everything changed, almost overnight.
“We sold three processed steers in just 72 hours,” Tyler said. “We had eight beef and no money one day and started selling the next. It put us five to 10 years ahead of our planned schedule.”
At the end of 2020, they were averaging one beef per week.
“The elderly were afraid to go to the grocery store,” Tyler said. “They’d call us for beef and I’d take flour and other things out of our pantry to give to them to get them by.”
The change in direction was both profound, and profitable.
“We were very fortunate, we began to cut our beef for maximum profit,” Tyler said. “It changed the way we worked. We made up smaller boxes for people who didn’t have the need or the space for a whole or half side of beef.”
They’ve now added pork and lamb to their plan, processing about 20 hogs and 10 to 20 lambs a year through their Wyoming Cowboy Cuts business.
They get the lambs from Marvin Schmidt and contract for the pork with other producers.
“We’ve worked out in concentric circles from where we started,” Tyler said.
Those concentric circles include retail marketing outlets for their finished and packaged beef, pork, and lamb.
In Fremont County, they have retail cases at the Fast Lane in Shoshoni, the Kinnear Store, and Messenger Girls on Main Street in Lander. They also offer their meat products at Fremont Local Foods in Riverton.
Bunk’s Barbeque, the Roasted Bean and Cuisine, and the Brown Sugar Roastery in Riverton all feature Wyoming Cowboy Cuts beef on their respective menus.
Statewide they market through “Eat Wyoming,” an online farmer’s market that brings Wyoming grown meat, vegetables, and fruit directly to the consumer.
Their operation consists of raising beef at their two ranches in the Gas Hills and Pavillion, finishing the steers in Pavillion, then shipping the finished animals to Sheridan for processing, and then hauling the frozen, wrapped beef back to Riverton where it is held in a cold storage facility at Central Wyoming College.
CWC has been a partner with the McCanns since incorporating Wyoming Cowboy Cuts as part of the college’s local foods initiative.
The McCann’s steers are finished to about 1300 pounds, which creates an optimal size for steaks and roasts.
“I think it’s important that we’re willing to offer ways to cook beef,” Angela said. “So many people don’t know how to cook, but are interested in learning.”
The bulk of their business is producing hay, raising, feeding, and processing cattle, but they’ve picked up a few new ideas along the way.
“We sell beef sticks and jerky to REMAX Realty,” Tyler said. “They give it to their clients as a thank you for closing with them. With each package, we have a business card with a QR code they can scan and order more from us. It’s worked well so far,”
Other things they do were once part of every farm and ranch operation, but the McCanns are bringing the past back to life.
Angela milks their jersey cow Chauncy each day and has a flock of laying hens. They use the milk and cream, along with the eggs for everyday use.
“I’d like to have a better garden,” Angela said. “Maybe this summer.”
Tyler discovered another unmet need in Fremont County when he began grinding corn, oats, and barley for a few customers to feed their chickens and other livestock.
They buy the corn from Rich Pingetzer and purchase barley and oats from various suppliers.
“We buy beer barley that doesn’t meet Coors standards, or someone with less than a full truckload of oats or barley will call and drop it off here,” Tyler said.
At present Tyler grinds a couple of loads a week with his John Deere grinder and tractor.
“Some people just bring a couple of dog food bags to fill, others have barrels in a trailer they want filled, and others have me fill a pickup or truck bed full of ground grain,” Tyler said.
While making a living in agriculture is fickle at best, the McCann’s have found a niche in the market that works for them, and that fills a basic need in the community for locally grown food.
Their outlook for 2023 is promising and they have a few goals in mind.
“We’re working on nationwide shopping,” Tyler said.
The Eat Wyoming website has garnered a lot of additional business for them, and the idea of going beyond the region to the entire US offers much wider potential. There is a nostalgic connection to Wyoming, tied to the image of the Old West that endears itself to people, Wyoming Cowboy Cuts is a way of moving that nostalgic sensation to reality.
Angela had a more direct goal for 2023, “I’m going to work to quit saying yes,” she said.
Sometimes you can become overextended if you’re available for everyone, but then again, that is also the way of the nostalgic Wyoming rural life.
Recently, a film crew from the Outdoor Channel filmed Angela and Tyler at work for the first episode of a new series called “Ranch America.”
The future is bright, when it is marketed right, is the message for this young family trying to earn a living with a way of life that isn’t for the faint hearted in a climate that is often hostile.
Their story is the story of rural agricultural life in Fremont County dating back to the late 19th century.