Most children, at some point or another, play cowboy. Some even dream of growing up to be a cowboy.
For a few days a year, Bryan Overy, first vice president of commercial lending at Hills Bank in Washington and president of Washington County Cattlemen’s Association, gets to live that dream.
In late September, Overy traveled to his native southwest Wyoming, to help his uncle and cousins round up cattle before winter weather sets in.
“They run their cows on a national forest permit in Wyoming and Utah,” Overy said. “Those cattle run up on the national forest.
“Each day, we would get our horses all ready to go and drive up about 45 minutes in the truck up to the mountains, then get out and go look for cattle.”
The day starts at sunrise with a hearty breakfast.
For Overy’s 83-year-old uncle, that includes half a grapefruit, an egg and a big glass of milk.
“I’m not a big breakfast person, so I usually ate half a grapefruit and a bowl of cereal, but I would suffer later on because I would usually get pretty hungry,” Overy said. “Any time you can fill up in the morning that’s best.”
At the ranch corral, the team picked which horses to ride that day.
“You take the horse inside the barn, brush them off and get them saddled up,” Overy said. “Then we load the horses in the horse trailer.”
Once the horses were loaded, the team hopped into the pickup truck for the 30-45 minute drive to the mountains.
“We would drive some state highways, then county roads, then the Forest Service roads,” Overy said. “As soon as we got onto ground my uncle was running cows on, we would start watching for cows.”
They took mental notes of where they saw the cows.
“If we’d see come cattle, we’d say, ‘Whoever rides this side, make sure you ride that area and pick those cows up,’” Overy said.
They drove as high up as they could until they did not see any more cattle.
They stopped the truck, got out and mounted their horses to begin their search for their cows.
“We got out of the pickup at the top of the allotment around 9 a.m., and I took a big drink of water and a last bite of food and away we went,” Overy said.
Overy’s uncle and cousins run a commercial and feed stock Simmental operation in Fort Bridger, Wyo., near I-80 in the southwest corner of the state, about 120 miles northeast of Salt Lake City, Utah.
As part of the operation – the Crowfoot Ranch – they own a national forest permit, allowing them to run 249 cow/calf pairs and 10 bulls on approximately 20,000 acres in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest in the Uinta Mountains from early July to Oct. 1.
“They take cattle up there, so the cows can raise that calf,” Overy said. “A calf is born in March, usually weighing 100 pounds. They forward sell their calves on a contract for delivery in November. They know those calves need to weigh 650 pounds.
“Those mountains are full of very nutritious grass. They know when they turn the cows out up there, they will come home with a 650-pound calf.”
Every July, they turn the cattle loose in the national forest, then come back in late September to round them up.
“The cows know the drill,” Overy said. “The cows know when it’s time to come off.
“They knew it was getting kind of late in the year, so they knew they needed to start heading home.”
The Forest Service allows ranchers to use drones to help locate cows in some areas of the national forest, which helps with the roundup.
“My uncle has a drone that he can fly and go and check a lot of those parks and areas for cattle,” Overy said. “That saves us a lot of time from riding our horses out to check for cows that weren’t there. It saved us several hours with that technology.”
Still, it takes a lot of riding to find all of the cows.
“It’s exactly like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” Overy said. “Basically, you have to check every possible spot a cow would go.”
Overy was tasked with riding away from the main trail in search of wandering cattle.
“I got to ride up to a lot of the areas that aren’t close to the road and look for cows in those areas,” he said. “I ended up at a ranger station and campground and found about eight pair in there.”
Overy drove those cattle back to the trail where the main group of cows were.
“People would pick those cows up, and I would go off to the site and check more parks, meadows and water holes,” he said. “As we drove the cattle down the mountain, a lot of the cattle would go down on their own, so we could check other areas.”
A lot of the mountain terrain is thick timber that opens up to big grassy areas in some places.
“You have to check every one of those to see if there are any cattle there,” Overy said. “You always check water sources and where there’s grass and such.
“There’s a river that runs down the middle of it, and we made a big push down that valley, and that’s where a lot of the cows came from.”
By the end of the first day, Overy managed to round up about 10 cow-calf pairs. As a group, they managed to find 130 pairs that day.
“I didn’t make it back to the pickup until about 4 o’clock in the afternoon,” Overy said. “That’s when I ate lunch and rehydrated myself.”
Overy grew up on the ranch that his uncle now owns.
His father was the second generation on that property.
Rhroughout his childhood, the family had their operation on that southeast Wyoming ranch.
“As long as I can remember, I was up in the mountain riding, and you just get familiar with the layout of the ground and how it all lays,” Overy said. “I grew up in it, and every day, I loved waking up and going out, saddling up a horse going to check on the cows. It is living the dream that a lot of people have.
“It’s kind of a way of life. It’s something you’re proud to be able to do. It’s a part of me.”
Eventually, the family wanted to have a larger operation.
“The area we lived in did not offer the opportunity to grow, so we did the unthinkable and sold the family ranch and bought a different one in central Wyoming,” Overy said. “It was a little unheard of to sell off and move, but we did that.”
Unfortunately, the timing was not right.
While the original ranch, now owned by Overy’s uncle, remained viable, the family’s new ranch did not.
“When we were in ranching, financially we got upside down, and we lost our ranch and weren’t able to continue,” Overy said. “My immediate family is no longer in ranching. That’s why I go out and help my cousins and uncle when I can.”
The second day of the roundup was a repeat of the first day.
“They asked me to ride a different area,” Overy said. “I got a lot higher up on the mountain range.”
While riding in the mountains, there was plenty to see and appreciate.
“There’s just peacefulness when you’re up there in the mountains riding,” he said. “There’s no phone service. There’s no distractions. All you can hear is just nature and wildlife. There was lots of wildlife and such that I got to see.
“I ran into a herd of elk but couldn’t get my phone out quick enough to take any pictures.”
There was a job to do – find more cows.
“It wasn’t purely a sightseeing trip for me,” Overy joked.
That second day proved to be less fruitful than the first.
“It was a little discouraging for me because I was hoping to find a bunch of cows – that’s why I went out to help,” he said. “That day, I actually saw more elk and moose than I did cows. I only ended up bringing home three cows that day.”
When his family lost their central Wyoming ranch, Overy was 28, married and had three children.
“I had to make a decision on what I wanted to do with life,” he said. “I thought for sure I was going to be a ranch hand, working for somebody else, doing exactly what I had done up to that point.”
Ironically, the bank that took away the ranch, offered Overy a job at the same time.
“I thought, ‘My childhood dreams were just taken away from me, and I don’t think I could work for you,’” Overy said.
He developed a disdain for bankers based on his experience with them while he and his family struggled keeping their ranch afloat.
“One banker laughed at me and told me I didn’t know what I was doing,” Overy said. “Unfortunately, the bankers I tried to work with did not work with me. They just said, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing; come back when you do know what you’re doing.’”
Overy enrolled at Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho, with his sights set on becoming an FFA adviser and an ag teacher.
“When I got to college, I was 28, and the rest of the students in my freshman year classes were 18 and 19,” Overy said. “I realized I really didn’t want to teach kids at that point.”
Early in college, he took some ag business courses and fell in love with that aspect of agriculture.
“That was the nuts and bolts of why you do agriculture, how you do it and how can you better your operation,” he said. “I’ve always loved the numbers end of it.”
Overy’s academic adviser suggested he consider a career in ag lending.
“I told him, ‘With the circumstance our family just went through, I don’t know if that would be a very wise decision,’” Overy said. “He and I realized I could make a difference and could help people. I decided to look into ag banking and never looked back.”
He began working full-time for Hills Bank at the Hills office in April 2016 after doing a summer internship in the summer of 2015.
In July 2019, he transferred to the Washington office.
Overy said he enjoys working with people to help them to better understand the banking end of the business.
“I try to be educational with people, because I felt like I didn’t have anyone help me to try to understand,” he said. “My goal was to become the banker I needed.”
In all, the two-day roundup produced 185 cow-calf pairs and all 10 bulls.
“That meant we were short quite a few cows,” Overy said. “After I left, they were going to go up and try to find more.”
He said that, for the most part, the missing cows will be found either when the snow and cold weather come and the cows decide to head to lower elevations.
Some cow cows will come home with the neighbor’s cows.
“It is very common to have cows come home with the neighbors either by jumping the fence into their pasture, or going around the fence in the high mountains,” he said. “Some of the cattle will be gone due to death loss and sickness. but that is usually less than 2 percent of the total for them.”
Overy said that every calf that does not come home due to death equates to about an $800 loss, while if a cow dies, it equates to about a $2,000 loss due to the investment in that cow’s genetics and loss of future potential calf crops.
Still, Overy enjoyed getting back to his roots.
“Whenever I get to do that, I feel like I’m living my dream,” he said. “I hope they call me back next year to help.”
“My goal was to become the banker I needed.”
– Bryan Overy