BY LAUREN CHASE (Montana Stockgrowers Association)
I had the opportunity to meet Walker Milhoan at the Cattle Industry Summer Conference in July — had to go to Denver to meet someone who lives in my own state! Walker volunteers on the Promotion and Recruitment Committee for the Young Producers’ Council and is a great advocate for the beef industry. Let’s all meet Walker on today’s Cattle Call feature…
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
Where do I start? I wouldn’t consider myself much of a cattleman. I am however working my tail off day-in and day-out trying to get the hang of deciphering a heifer from a steer in the sorting alley.
Having grown up in Vail, Colorado, herding tourists was the most challenging part of much of my life. Although I worked for some of the areas now extinct ranches, the majority of my typical year (8 months of winter to be exact) was spent teaching people how to ski on the slopes of Colorado’s largest ski resort. This doesn’t mean that I’m 100% greenhorn as both sides of my family have been very closely related to ranching and farming for the better part of the last century. My father’s side farmed near Lexington, Nebraska and my mother’s side operated a small commercial cow-calf ranch above Parachute, Colorado. I can rope and doctor a calf, but I really prefer to do so in the absence of other people in the hopes of saving myself any embarrassment. Also, I’m not sure if I should admit this, but team roping has been a very large part of my life since I was very young. I have competed in Little Britches, high school, and college rodeos from Nevada to Nebraska and on south to Alpine, Texas. I love that area of Texas by the way.
I would say that I am a jack-of-all-trades and most certainly master of none. I have worked as a helicopter ski guide in the Chugach Mountains of Alaska, whitewater kayaked the River Nile in Uganda, Africa, and sorted cattle in 113-degree heat with dust so thick you had to wear ski goggles and a dust mask, near Marfa, Texas.
These days I help my incredible wife raise our two children in St. Regis, Montana while completing a Bachelor of Science in Business Management at the University of Montana. Most recently I have been working part-time for Missoula Livestock publishing their online market report and shaking a paddle at the hind ends of the bovine species. In my spare time I read every article, publication, and blurb about cattle and the cattle industry, oh, and about Futures and Options too.
Tell us about your experience at TCU Ranch Management.
Behind my wife and the birth of our two children, TCU Ranch Management is the most memorable, moving, and beneficial part of my life to date. I can’t say enough good things about that program or TCU in general. Not only did the ranch management program teach me how to think, it taught me more about ranching, and the business of ranching, than any four year university could ever dream of. The information a student draws out of that program is 100% empirical, not theory. Real ranchers with Masters degrees, not academics, teach the classes. The professors go home each and every night to feed livestock, market livestock, bale hay, clean pens, whatever. They are also the most honorable and ethical group of individuals I have ever met and they truly changed my life for the better.
A huge part of TCU Ranch Management is the field trips. Students travel over 10,000 miles across Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas and get to visit every kind of agricultural operation around: Feeders, cow-calf, stocker, seed stock, wheat, poultry, etc, and get to ask those producers any question imaginable about how they operate. I have stacks upon stacks of pocket notebooks filled with tips and insight from those field trips.
One myth I’d like to dispel about the yearlong program is that many people from the north think that it only teaches about ranching in Texas. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Completing the program gives you the tools and the skill set to go anywhere in the world and ranch on any scale.
To say that TCU Ranch Management is top-notch would be an understatement. The networking it provides is invaluable.
What drives your passion for the beef industry?
The people: cattle ranchers (and farmers) are the greatest people on the face of the earth! I can say that with confidence because I have worked in many different industries and have traveled much of the globe, and in those experiences, I have never met a group of people with such a love of the land that are so real. And I’m talking worldwide: Turkey, Greece, Uganda, Kenya, Denmark, New Zealand, etc., but of course, the ones I hold dearest to me are the U.S. producers, they are the best ones for sure! No one can compete with beef grown in the good ‘ol U.S. of A.
You are currently attending the University of Montana to earn a degree in business management…. how do you feel that knowledge will help you in your future?
Ranching is a business that just so happens to come with a pretty nice lifestyle. If you choose this business simply for the lifestyle, it’s probably your hobby. I could be wrong, but I’m going to say that ranching is probably one of the most complex businesses anyone could ever be involved in. These days, who else in the world besides ranchers has to be an agronomist, a soil scientist, a meteorologist, a veterinarian, a mechanic, and engineer, a stock analyst, a commodities whiz, a carpenter, a farrier, a welder, an environmentalist, an accountant, a blogger, a Facebook guru, a regular employee, middle management, CEO, and a legal expert all coupled into one body?
The skills I am acquiring through school are helping me to write a business plan for a start-up company of mine called A.G. Whitney & Company that will focus on leasing ranchlands and keeping or making them as productive and profitable as possible. At the core of the company will be the best and brightest employees in the business. Some of the land we will lease will be owned by investors that know nothing about agriculture and I want to make myself and the company as marketable as possible to those individuals. I feel that a strict Ag-business/ranch management degree will more or less pigeonhole me into a limited audience of potential investors.
Also, as most people know, there is limited use of Information Technology in agriculture and ranching today and I hope to incorporate that into my future ranching operations. The marketing, budgeting, social media, and risk management a producer can do today, from anywhere, with a personal computer is huge and will only grow in the future. Business school has taught me a lot about that technology.
What do you hope to teach your children about agriculture?
Anything and everything I can! The most important thing to me is to make every job fun even if it isn’t. Like I said before, I love agriculture, specifically the beef industry, almost as much as I love my family and it truly is my passion. I love every aspect whether it is sitting in a tractor and farming all day, changing a hand-line, learning how Hops grow in the Willamette Valley, or moving cattle horseback through a stand of Quakies (Aspen trees), you simply can’t beat it and I can only hope that I will be able to impress that passion upon my children.
How do you advocate for the beef industry and why do you think sharing the beef story is important?
I advocate for the beef industry by simply telling our story and never speaking ill of even the most ardent opponents. Let the Naysayers waste their breath bashing what ranchers and farmers do. Once people here what that story is the majority of them say something like, “oh, that’s it? What you do is sustainable, and healthy, and environmentally sound. Wow, I had no idea.” It’s not really in a rancher’s nature to talk much, much less talk about themselves, but they are going to have to start, and I mean like yesterday start!
I also use Facebook and Instagram. People love visuals. And because most people are inherently lazy (I know I sure am) looking at a picture is much less work than reading some text. A picture easily conveys a message that people can understand but it has to be the right photo, because people can just as easily misunderstand an image.
Why do you choose to be a part of the Young Producers’ Council?
Because I truly believe in the organization, what it stands for, and where I think it is helping to take the beef industry. I have only been a part of the YPC for a short time but I can honestly say that every minute has been worth it. The people I have met and have been able to work with are fantastic. For example: I have been a co-member of the Promotion and Recruitment Committee with Ansen Pond, I’ve never met the guy in person, but feel like he is one of my good friends that I have know for years. I share the same feeling for all of the YPC members I have met so far.
And finally, what is your favorite beef meal?
To narrow the scope of that question: if I could only choose one beef product to eat for the rest of my life it would be a prime grade, bone-in, rib eye steak, cooked on the rare side of medium rare, with a healthy dash of salt and pepper, side dishes optional.
Anything eles you would like to share?
My marketing professor at TCU Ranch Management, Jeffrey Geider, always said a quote that I will take to my grave, “Never define reality in your own self interest.” With the adversity and complexity we as an industry face today I hope everyone who reads this will find the same wisdom in this phrase as I do.