Featured Farmer: Clay Conry
Connecting ranchers with new ideas and practices to better manage their land, animal, people and financial resources has been the goal of the Working Cows podcast since it launched nearly five years ago. After recording more than 250 episodes, host Clay Conry is excited about the network of ranchers working to improve their businesses and putting “paradigm changing practices” to work.
Conry and his family own and operate a small ranch near Faith, South Dakota, where he has served as the pastor of Prairie Home Church since December 2018. He grew up near Belle Fourche, South Dakota, where his parents Cliff and Cheyenne, built a first-generation cow-calf operation.
“Growing up, I was involved with the ranch, but it wasn’t my favorite thing at the time. I went away to bible college in Milwaukee and experienced living in a metro area for two years,” he said. “I remember coming home and getting of the car in western South Dakota and smelling the fresh air and recognizing it wasn’t a bad place to be.”
He returned to Belle Fourche and spent 12 years as a youth and associate pastor at an area church. He also worked parttime on the ranch to supplement the family’s income, and his father suggested taking continuing education courses to better understand the business and management of the ranch.
“I participated in the High Plains Ranch Practicum created by University of Nebraska and University of Wyoming, “he said. “It gave me a new framework for looking at and thinking about ranching.”
The experience not only sparked a new approach to ranching and managing key aspects of the business, it also launched the Working Cows podcast. A comment from one of the practicum leaders that the conversations were so valuable to a larger audience that they should be turned into a podcast started the ball rolling.
“I thought, I have experience with posting sermons, so I could probably handle the technical parts of it, and I could ask people questions about cows,” said Conry.
Five years later, Conry said he has been blessed by the experiences of talking with innovative guests and with the network of listeners who reach out to share their own stories and connect with each other. He has interviewed more than 200 people from not only across the U.S., but also around the world.
The podcast focuses on what Conry highlights as “paradigm shifting practices” that give ranchers new ways to look at how they manage four pillars of resources: land, money, people and animals. A key element is for ranchers to see themselves as entrepreneurs and business owners to ensure that their operation is financially stable.
“We talk a lot about the lifestyle of ranching, but we have to start with making the best business decisions to ensure the financial sustainability of the operation,” he said. “There are lots of opportunities if we are willing to look first as business owners and entrepreneurs, and be willing to think differently and operate differently to get a better return on our investments of both time and money.”
For example, calving in sync with nature is a practice that times the animals’ highest nutritional needs with when the grass quality and nutrition content is typically the highest.
“Deer and antelope have timed their season of birthing with the highest quality forage. It comes down to sustainability,” said Conry. “The biggest expense many ranches face is supplemental feed costs, but if we can time grazing to let the land produce more of the nutrition the cow needs, it is better for the animal, the land and the financials.”
Balancing the emotions of working with people and animals is also key, he said.
“We have to manage our people with an eye toward emotion,” he said. “We know that there are going to be times when stress levels are high and it will draw down our emotional ‘bank account,’ so we need to make sure we are putting positive deposits into that account on a regular basis.”
At the same time, keeping emotions to a minimum when managing animals is better for both the bottom line and health of animals. Staying calm when working with cattle minimizes their stress and allows them to perform better.
Conry has put many of the practices to work on the ranch he manages with his wife, Miranda, and four children: Braden, Calvin, Charley, and Glover. They’ve built their operation around the time and resources available.
“My full time employment is pastor of Prairie Home Church, so the amount of time I have to spend working at the ranch has to be very efficient and effective,” he said.
The family has a custom grazing operation, bringing in other people’s cows during the growing season to graze. They also raise sheep, noting that sheep thrive in the drier climate and are easier for kids to manage and work with.
Learn more and listen to the podcast at www.ranchingpodcast.com.