Shanon and Melinda Sims spoke at a recent Chadron State College Range Day about holistic ranch management.
Shanon and Melinda Sims spoke at a recent Chadron State College Range Day about holistic ranch management.

By Gayle Smith

It’s been nearly 77 years since a banker took a chance on a Wyoming cowboy with dreams and aspirations of owning his own ranch. Roy Sims had worked hard to put away some money, sometimes working multiple jobs, to put toward purchasing a ranch a neighboring widow was willing to sell to him. 

With financial concerns in mind, the banker had to give Sims the bad news that the bank couldn’t lend him the money to fund his dream. Sims gathered up his paperwork, and headed out the door with the banker right behind him. Outside of the bank, the banker told Sims, “The bank can’t lend you the money to buy the ranch, but I will.” He gave him a personal loan right there on the spot.

It is a story of dreams and endurance the future generations of the Sims family will continue to treasure and share. Shanon and Melinda Sims are the fourth generation to live on the ranch, Sims Cattle Co, LLC., near McFadden, Wyo. They operate the ranch with Shanon’s parents, Scott and April Sims. 

Forward thinking has allowed the ranch to grow and expand, creating the ability for a fifth generation to work and manage the family operation one day, Shanon explains to fellow ranchers during the recent Chadron State College Range Day. But, the journey to where they are now hasn’t been easy. “Dad was riding across the pasture one day back in 1988, and noticed something alarming. There was no grass,” he says. 

The family had grazed horses during the winter, followed by cattle in the summer, and the animals had consumed all the grass leaving behind sagebrush and low quality forage that was basically waste. Knowing he had to make some changes, Scott sought out holistic management practices, learning and implementing them. “He set goals, and because of them and his diligence, he was able to operate successfully for many years,” Shanon explains.

Shanon was hired on the operation in 2001, after finishing an animal science degree at the University of Wyoming. By 2007, his grandfather decided to retire, and Shanon and Melinda were able to buy into the partnership. “At that time, a lot of changes took place on the ranch. Mom had been working in the oilfield, but came back to the ranch, bringing a new perspective. Grandpa was no longer managing things. Basically, there was a shift in the dynamic of the people actually managing the ranch. We realized, as a family, that it was time to rewrite a new list of goals,” Shanon says.

The family decided on a holistic goal, based on the conglomeration of everyone’s needs, wants and desires for the ranch. It was brought into one document that anyone can read at any time. “It is basically a road map of where we want to go in life, how we conduct business, and how we want to live,” Shanon explains. 

Members of the family met with a financial planner, and that meeting resulted in a lot of realizations. “All these goals, not just for the ranch, but for life, came out in this process,” Shanon explains. They tackled hard questions about what they wanted from life, and what they enjoy about the ranch. From the meeting came a three-part goal that addressed production, lifestyle and landscape.

“If we make a profit, and we expect to year in and year out, we have to control our expenses. I use a formula which is income minus planned profit equals expenses. We automatically lock away 10 percent of our income as profit each year. After that, we look at what we have left, and that is what we can use to cover expenses. We basically take the profit off the top, and then determine what our expenses will be for the year,” Shanon explains.

“The first year, we made a budget just to satisfy our lender, and we didn’t look at it again for a year,” Melinda shares. “Then Shanon took over the budget, and has made it a necessary tool for us. We update it every month, and it helps us keep track of our goals. We can see if we are behind or ahead of budget, and it helps us make decisions on what to spend,” she says.

They also find family meetings in a neutral location to be an important part of the family dynamics. During those meetings, they go around the room, and everyone has an opportunity to talk uninterrupted. “We are hoping to develop a business that will entice our next generation to come back. We work hard on the management-part of the business,” Melinda says.

Managing the ranch has provided the family members with an opportunity to manage the resources in a way that inspires others. The banker from many years ago was inspired by what Roy was trying to do, and believed in him enough to lend him the money, Shanon shares. “We feel obligated to share our own failings and successes to give something back from that opportunity Roy got back in 1942.”

Over the years, Shanon says they have learned to adapt the cows to the climate, and their management to the cows. “We produce a product, which is grass for livestock, but it is something that we are always looking to improve upon. Our business is really nothing more than capturing sunlight. The best way to do that is through grass. It is up to us to find the best ways to market that grass,” he says.