When the farm and cattle town of Wildorado, Texas, expanded its small school district from K-6 to K-12, new vo-ag teacher Cody Bonds and a group of fiery freshmen were given free reins to develop their FFA program.
Three years later, the passionate group of 14- to 16-year-olds is gearing up for their second purebred Black Angus consignment sale.
With support from other Angus breeders, the Texas Angus Association, Boehringer Ingelheim and an entire hometown, these youngsters and their Wildorado Cattle Co. are all business.
Their sale is March 7 at Amarillo West Stockyards. And they star in a new documentary movie produced by the American Angus Association that is scheduled for release on RFD-TV on Dec. 26.
Wildorado is like many small towns. With a population that pushes 200, the Texas Panhandle community supported an elementary school until 2016. Before then, students attended junior high and high school in neighboring towns.
Feedyards, cow-calf and stocker operations and farming were and remain the town’s leading economic factors. But that wasn’t enough incentive to lure new families or keep high school and college graduates from moving away.
With new growth in mind, the town voted in 2014 to build a new school and add 7th through 12th grades. Grades 10, 11 and 12 would be added a year at a time. The school district hired Bonds to build an ag department from scratch for freshmen, who would become seniors in the 2020-21 school year.
“The school board said we had a blank slate for the ag department,” Bonds says.
Angus seedstock program is born
He and his students considered projects that would help teach animal production and health, record keeping, finance, marketing and other aspects of livestock management.
That’s when he pitched the idea of a student-led seedstock program. The entire freshmen class of 15 loved it.
Their parents got behind the plan but advised them that it was the students’ responsibility. By putting together a nifty, info-packed PowerPoint, the kids garnered the school board’s support.
It was a tall order. None of the students were even old enough to drive. But with the excitement of an ultra-modern new school building and pride in the freedom to build their own cattle operation, Wildorado Cattle Co. (WCC) was born in 2018, near the same time the Wildorado FFA chapter was chartered.
WCC, a Black Angus seedstock program, started with the purchase of 20 heifers from Brad Harris of Tatum, N.M. Bonds says the herd had ties to the Hardesty Cattle Co. and Stevenson Basin/Diamond Dot bloodlines.
“There were five first-calf heifers and 15 cows already bred back,” Bonds says. “Since there were 15 students, we wanted each to have a calf for the first sale. We wound up with eight purebred bulls to sell and held back seven heifers.”
To help attract more buyers to their first sale, they invited other Angus breeders to consign cattle. There were 73 bulls and 27 heifers sold. The eight WCC bulls had an average sale price of $3,500.
Advice from Minnie Lou
Getting to that point required participation by all the students. They sought input from Angus industry leaders, such as legendary Minnie Lou Bradley, founder of Bradley 3 Ranch. Amarillo-based rancher-cattle feeder Mike Smith also provided advice.
Added support from Boehringer Ingelheim, the Texas Angus Association, Plains Land Bank, West Texas A&M University, Livestock Nutrition Center, Hat-Creek Land & Cattle and Amarillo Livestock Auction helped the kids get their feet wet.
After the 2019 sale, the WCC team started analyzing what they’d done right and what they could improve on. “They do it all,” Bonds says. “They AI, palpate, do all the processing and use data to measure ADG and other performance. They work with Livestock Nutrition Center to know which rations to feed.”
It’s all about learning. As an example, while one student is palpating, another one is recording it with a camera and a third is explaining the process to younger students. They beam with passion and love for WCC.
A salty group of juniors makes up the WCC board of directors. Here’s what they have to say about their experience:
“Every day I grow when I’m involved with this company,” says Kayla Stephens, head of the WCC finance department. “This company helps you define and find out who you are. When your heart’s in something, you realize what you can do.”
Harris Albracht grew up around an area feedyard. “But being part of WCC has helped me learn more about the business side of the cattle production,” he says. “I’ve learned more about genetics, EPDs, as well as marketing. We’ve learned more about how to keep cattle calm.”
The director of marketing is Angelica Esparza. She spent most of her childhood in Amarillo before her family moved to Wildorado. “I had never had access to cattle,” she says. “I’ve learned how to help keep them healthy. And with marketing, I taught myself how to make ads, shoot and edit pictures and prepare marketing materials. I plan to go to college and study marketing.”
Jake Kenedy, director of herd management, adds, “My best learning experience is through hands on. I’ve learned how to keep them healthy. Genetics is very interesting. We’ve learned about EPDs and to select sires with the genetics we want.”
Jessica Merrell, communications director, contacts other consigners who will be part of the sale. “I have worked at a feedyard in summers. The cow-calf industry is much different,” she says. “Our ability to meet with so many industry leaders like Mike Smith, along with many at the American Angus Association convention, have provided connections that will last a lifetime.”
Benson McAlister heads research and development. “I’ve learned how to work with others and be more efficient,” he says. “You won't find a stronger bond of students than you find here. It’s like a family. We can work with each other. I hope to continue in ag business and hopefully cattle.
“This is a company. It is the real thing. I’ve grown with passion and love for it.”
“This company is our baby,” adds Merrell. “We want this to be a self-sustained company. When our younger classmen step in, we want them to have full knowledge of how to run it. We want them to feel confident. We pour every ounce of knowledge we have to them. We match their strengths with assignments.”
Bonds is not surprised at the growth the WCC crew has shown in managing the seedstock operation. “It was evident early on that these kids were eager to make this program work,” he says. “Their confidence and ability to meet the challenges they face demonstrates much maturity and character.”
Yep. They may be adolescents in age, but when they’re running WCC, there’s little horseplay allowed.