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The Beckton Story:
How the Foundation Herd Came into Being

Beckton is one of the oldest ranches in the Sheridan, Wyoming area.  It came into Forbes ownership in 1899, and has grown since then.  The home ranch lies in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains, near the original Bozeman Trail.

The site of the current ranch headquarters once included a post office and flour mill, founded by George Beck, from whom the name "Beckton".  George Beck's house, built in the 1880's, now serves as the ranch office.  During the early 1900s, Beckton became known for Clydesdale draft horses and Rambouillet sheep, as well as running a herd of commercial Hereford cattle.

Waldo Emerson Forbes,
first president of the Red Angus Association of America

Sally Forbes

In 1936, after college plus coursework in business administration, Waldo Forbes established his ranch home at Beckton and began to build a commercial herd of Hereford cattle.  He and Sal were married in 1939.

Waldo was interested in applying to beef cattle the ideas of performance testing and genetic selection for economically important traits.  In 1945 at the end of World War II, he embarked on the undertaking that he hoped could make a contribution to the future direction of the beef industry: the establishment of a new breed to be based on selection by performance traits of economic importance as well as by eye evaluation.

This photo of Waldo Forbes with a Shorthorn bull dates from 1952.
In its early years, the ranch experimented with a number of different breeds for potential crossbreeding.

He bought top red calves from 18 leading registered Black Angus herds across the United States, using these red-gene cattle to build the foundation herd of a new breed that was independent of existing breed associations.  During the next decade, Beckton added many more red bulls and females from registered Black Angus herds.  Beckton was also active with crossbreeding in the commercial herd and, later, with AI.

In 1954 this new breed was formally established when the Red Angus Association of America was founded with performance testing as the cornerstone of breed improvement.  Waldo served as the first president of the association until his death at the end of 1955.  Sal served as the association's first Executive Secretary.

Today Beckton is the largest pure-bred Red Angus herd in the country, running 1050 mother cows, 350 replacement females, and 100+ bulls (as well as several hundred deer and elk) on 15,000 deeded and State lease acres.  Each year, about 75% of the cowherd is moved to high mountain pastures in mid-summer - deeded land, plus Forest Service leases which provide 950 animal unit months (AUM's) of the 18,000 AUM's annual requirement.  The ranch grows all its own hay, primarily as grass-alfalfa mixes, on its irrigated ground.

The Beckton ranch barns and shop

The forage and other resources are managed as much for information as for production.  Simply put, we don't manage the cattle to maximize weaning weights or even conception rates.  Our business is maximizing information; therefore the cattle are pushed beyond industry norms.  For example, 90% of the main cowherd is bred in single sire pastures at a rate of 45 -50 cows per bull.  (The other 10% of the cowherd is bred AI, for trying non-Beckton bloodlines, and to maintain the integrity of our EPD's so we know where our program stands relative to the industry.) Heifers are divided into "balanced" groups of 25-30 per bull.  All yearling bulls potentially entering our program are used with a heifer group first, for comparative progeny testing and calving ease evaluation.

Likewise, the stocking rate we use is higher than most purebred or commercial ranches would use on the same ground, reducing weaning weights by about 50 pounds.  The high stocking rate plus the scattered nature of our pastures and the mountain ground, means the cattle are moved frequently.  We once calculated that by the time she is 5, the average cow has been trailed over 100 miles.  Our product is not the meat that comes off our own pastures.  Our product is a package of genetic improvements which contribute to the production efficiency of other growers, both commercial and purebred.  The value of our product derives from the information we can provide about its likely performance, combined with the reliability and consistency of our quality control.

The ranch office was originally built in the 1880's by George Beck

In order to collect a maximum of useful information, we keep as many animals as possible to a year of age or to slaughter and in the case of heifers, through to calving.  Likewise, we use random mating almost exclusively, and insist that every bull in our program be able to be used without difficulty on first-calf heifers as well as older cows.

We feel that the most important livestock component of a commercial ranch is its cowherd, the focus of nearly all ranch costs.  The cow is a production unit, with a set of costs attached, so the data we collect has to relate to the economics of that unit.  The overwhelming share of operating costs depends on the quantity of feed required, not on the number of cows being run (e.g. the cost of building and maintaining fence depends on the size of the pasture not on the number of cows in the pasture).  A focus on production efficiency has kept our cow size quite stable over the years.  Birth EPD's give us an effective selection tool for mature size.  We have also steadily improved the post-calving, pre-slaughter growth rate.  Our interpretation of the results obtained by David Schafer of CSU a few years ago is that we had achieved about a 5% extra increase in the slaughter weights of our cattle, relative to the size of the cows and bulls producing them.

In this 1889 photo George Beck appears second from right with two of his dogs.

The ranch house in 1899 at its former location
behind the Beckton barns

Winter at the ranch

In summary, we have four basic production goals; to maximize the validity, usefulness and repeatability of our genetic information; to maximize the health and lifetime production capabilities of the animals we sell; to maximize the sustainability of our own natural resources, and to do all these things in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.  Ultimately, our success is measured by the success of the producers who use our genetics.

The Beckton barns painted in 1923 by Edward W. Forbes (1873-1969), uncle of Waldo Forbes


The Beckton flour mill (below) operated nearby on Big Goose Creek until 1923; it was the first flour mill in Wyoming.
It was operated by George Beck and was located near the present ranch headquarters.

from a 1939 painting by Orman Henry Pratt

an early photo of the Beckton Mill from the book Big Horn City by Judy Slack


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