Cattle company focuses its genetics to meet marketplace

Focusing on genetics and paying close attention to the market is on the collective minds of the operators the Wildorado Cattle Company.

What makes the Texas-based Wildorado Cattle Co. unique is that high school students are in charge of the program. Wildorado High School junior Abigail Albracht and teacher Cody Bonds have high expectations for the program they say must operate like a commercial business. The school district is the owner of the program.


“We put it around a spin of raising next generation genetics from next generation ranchers,” Albracht said. “With our genetics program we are working every day to improve what we already have and make it better.”

Producers and consumers want to know more what is going into beef and ultimately that can mean dividends in the marketplace, she said.

It requires students to have precise records that note the expected progeny differences on the bull and cow performance. “We also make sure we track sale prices because in the long run money is always going to trump most other aspects. We look at our sale averages and prices and we look back and review with the phenotypes and genotypes and whether or not our customers were more interested in looking at the physical traits of our animals or the papers on our animals or looking for higher milk production or more muscular bulls.”

The operation features Black Angus. Black Angus is a popular breed with ranchers in the Wildorado region and that helps with consignment opportunities.

“Black Angus is also the ‘business breed.’ We figured it was smart for us considering they are one of the easiest to market and they could help us to be more profitable,” Albracht said.

Traits sought by the Wildorado Cattle Company include maternal bulls because of the harsh conditions found in the Southwest, Albracht said. They also need to have high breedability and low maintenance. Ultimately the livestock have to be sound based and provide calves that perform in the feedyard and on the grid, she said.

Wildorado has 78 head that includes stock with a cooperative arrangement. There are 28 cows, the rest are the cooperative’s calves, bulls and sires.

Detailed records keep track of rations, she said. Keeping track of weight gains and EPDs are a must. Sale prices tied to essential phenotype and genotype of the cow are kept in a database to follow trends of buyers.

Future cattle opportunities

People are becoming more aware of what is going into the cattle and into their beef and it is the way people live.

“We’re trying to help expand that line of genetics because we are an all-natural ration,” Albracht said. They are all grading 100% Choice or better and 45% Prime. We are trying to take our genetics and make them the best they can be to help feed people with the choices they want.”

The industry constantly evolves and Albracht says Wildorado has to be ready for changes.

“We have a fresh outlook on the cattle industry with us being so young,” she said. “We can see it from a different perspective.”

Student-based roots

Wildorado is a 1A school that has about 180 to 200 students from pre-K to 12th-grade in a community about 30 miles west of Amarillo. In 2017 students and teachers wanted to start an FFA charter because it made sense to develop a program that worked well with students’ agricultural backgrounds.

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“We’re a small school but we wanted to make a big statement and get our name out there since we were new,” Albracht said.

In 2018 the Wildorado Cattle Company was formed when the freshman class came together and started the cattle company. They put together a plan and made a presentation to the school board, and the board and the community loved the idea, she said. Much work went into starting the cattle company as students and teachers worked together to identify and find sponsors.

The Wildorado Cattle Company is considered a school-based enterprise program for a supervised agricultural experience to meet state standards. The three-circle model of ag education suggests that to have a well-rounded and complete ag education department the program should include classroom instruction, FFA, and a supervised agricultural experience. Albracht said she draws upon the resources that FFA offers as do other students.

The project is important to Albracht because it is a tangible way for Wildorado students to learn basic life and business skills they can take with them after they leave high school whether it is in college or in a career, she said. The program succeeds because of teachers and advisors who can help students with their many questions.

Albrecht said the program is designed so that students care for the livestock, keep detailed records, ensure sponsors and the community are informed about what they do, promote the project and make sure it stays profitable so not only the students benefit and learn but also to be good stewards for future classes, she said. Each year students are awarded scholarships based on the success of the program.

The program reaches out to middle school-aged students so they can “get their toes in the water” on what the cattle project is about and to answer questions they have about each department. Albracht herself was one of those middle school students when the program started and she knew right away it was for her. Albracht has grown up on a farm, her family owns a feedlot and she is involved with 4-H, too.

Although Wildorado is a rural school, she said the makeup of the district includes students who transfer in from neighboring communities. The program has been helpful to students who want to participate but did not grow up on a farm.

“A lot of them at first may have been thinking ‘Oh, this is a cattle company. I have not been raised in the country like so many of these other kids,’” Albracht said. “Then they do find out there really is a spot for everybody in the cattle company, whether it is graphic design, taking pictures or even make a video. There is a spot for you regardless of your career pathway.”

Keeping up

Students recently attended the American Angus Association’s national conference, she said, so they could get insight into the industry and stay up on trends. The association also was helpful in a documentary that was featured on RFD-TV.

There are nine directors who cover herd management, finance, marketing and communication, for example, and a department manager coordinates the work of about 50 people including students. “It’s all one well-oiled machine,” Albracht said.

She hopes students will continue to gain an appreciation of the importance of business and life skills. “This will be something that we can take with us the rest of our lives.”

Real-world experience can help. “Everyone has a good takeaway,” she said, noting that Wildorado graduates who were past participants have been eager to come back and offer their help. They want to see the program continue to grow and flourish. They are also able to offer current students good advice and insight.


The cattle are kept at the Gray Ranch about 10 miles away from the school. It is operated by Ty Cleavinger and his family. The cattle company has a relationship in exchange for a partnership so the animals have access to pasture and other amenities.

The program is year round. The program has garnered additional interest from other school districts and Albracht can understand why.

“It is changing the way we are learning,” she said. “It gives you another aspect and a different perspective.”

Bonds said he wanted to be in on the project, in which students could take something and make it their own while developing life skills that would benefit them their entire life.

As the program progressed and evolved it has grown in value, and what he has noticed is the students are the ones who adapt and learn, he said.

Livestock also give students a project they could embrace regardless of background and as a teacher he could help guide the students even if it might seem a little unconventional.

“I try to be like the bumpers at bowling alley and keep the ball out of gutter,” he quipped. “Overall, it has worked very well.”

Natural challenges

Some of the challenges and learning curves are there just like conventional producers face from weather, drought and finicky markets.

With her cattle background, Albracht understood some of the traditional challenges but also the power of positive thinking. When students initially sought donations or sponsorships they faced rejection but as time went on they were able to start getting “yes" messages and that started to build confidence.

Although they were teenagers, Albracht said, they were determined to be successful and that message of perseverance was something cattle producers can relate to.

Now people contact the class and want to help in any way they can, which she says the students appreciate.

The other challenge is balancing schoolwork, commitments and other extracurricular activities that are all part of what a high school student undertakes in his or her life.

“All of the kids do an amazing job. They prioritize what they need to do,” Albracht said.

Bonds believes students will continue to be successful with a focus on improving the program. Improving genetics, marketing and the experience of the students is an all-encompassing goal—just like commercial producers.

The Wildorado Cattle Company will have a production sale on March 12 that will feature 1- to 2-year-old registered bulls, including Black Angus from the high school seedstock program. A catalog is sent out in advance that carries EPD and other pertinent information for buyers and sellers. A buyer’s meal is planned March 11 as part of a Preview Day to thank sponsors.

The 2021 sale generated $280,000. Monies were reinvested for the following year and provided $12,000 scholarships for participating seniors who graduated in 2021.

“We are doing all of this to get our names out,” Albracht said. “We are a small school making a big impression. We want everyone to know our name.

“It is amazing over the past five years how the program has grown. It all starts with an idea.”

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Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].