Flying M Ranch
Rethink The Ranch: A Family Affair
Would you call Mays Ranch a family business?
Paula Mays (PM): We’re a cattle ranch in the Kittitas Valley. Our headquarters are here at the Mays Ranch on Wilson Creek Road in Ellensburg. We lease land and run custom cattle on it, and use rangeland in the summers to graze our cows and calves. I was raised on a small ranch in Ellensburg and Don was a livestock buyer from California and we both wanted to be involved in the ranching industry. So we bought our ranch in 1978. Started raising cattle and children – we have three sons. The oldest one has his own business – he’s a large equipment operator and helps us with mechanics here on the ranch. Our middle son runs the day to day operations of the ranch and our youngest son is the financial officer and does a lot of the book work. I love having all my family around and have fun with my grandkids. They all like being involved with the cattle and the ranch.
Miles Mays (MM): My primary role in our business is the bookkeeper and record-keeper, and part-time cowboy. Our ranch here in Ellensburg is the Mays Ranch and our family business is called Flying M Livestock. The "Flying M" is our brand. One of my favorite things about this job is that I can be in the office writing checks, building spreadsheets or working with software one minute, and then I can get a call from my brother and be on horseback gathering cattle, or irrigating, or in the corral sorting cattle the next minute. Our whole family is involved from top to bottom, and that's special.
What makes what you do here unique from other cow-calf ranches in the area?
PM: What makes us unique is that we are very diversified. We have a cow-calf operation of bulls, mama cows and calves. From the female calves each year we raise replacement heifers that cycle back into our cow herd. We also have a close working relationship with cow-calf ranches in Hawaii, so we receive cattle from the Islands and they are a big part of our beef business. We run custom cattle for other owners and have our own stocker cattle. We’ve, for the last five years or so, been raising grass-fed beef – which takes more than just feeding a cow grass, you have to target in on the right genetics so those cattle produce great beef.
MM: What makes us unique is that we participate in mulitple sectors of the beef market. We run custom cattle. We bring cattle over from Hawaii in "cowtainers" made specifically to keep cattle safe and healthy during their ocean voyage. Those Hawaiian cattle are still owned by the ranchers on the Islands but we manage their care and feeding while they're here, in partnership with those ranchers. We sell cattle to other ranches in the Northwest, as well as to stockers and feedyards at 600 pounds, 900 pounds, and 1350 pounds. We participate in the grass-finished beef market as well. We are very diversified and that makes us very unique.
How do you manage so many cattle?
Alex Francis (AF):
name is Alex Francis, I'm originally from Hawaii and I work as a cowboy at the Mays Ranch.
Like Miles, I wear many different hats some days I’m on a horse, next on a
four-wheeler, then on a tractor irrigating fields and maybe in the office too. But most important to everything we do here is the cattle. Even when we handle several thousand cattle in a year, we like to think we set up cattle to succeed. We use low-stress handling practices, we have a
wellness and vaccine program, mineral program and we pay attention to not overgrazing pastures. Whether on horseback, on
four-wheeler or on foot, we try to apply the minimal amount of stress on
our cattle. We are always trying to create a positive experience that keeps them
comfortable and happy. Sometimes the fastest way to move cattle is the slowest
way by keeping them quiet, comfortable and happy.
whole crew believes in holistic resource management which includes things
like rotational grazing practices and also grazing for fire prevention. Great grass results in great cattle, and great beef.
What do you do to keep your cattle healthy?
MM: Our main goal is to raise healthy cattle. We do that through vaccine and mineral protocols. So healthy cattle are happy cattle.
AF: Here at the Mays Ranch we have a wellness program for all of our cattle that includes a vaccine and mineral plan. But essentially to have happy cows you have got to keep fresh grass and water in front of them.
What does the future look like for Flying M Livestock?
PM: My hope for the future that our children will continue the legacy we have started. My hope is that our children and grandchildren will want to be involved in the cattle industry and continue the ranch that we have started.
MM: When I think about sustainability, I think about financial sustainability. So one of the things we need to do is remain well-diversified. By being diversified, we can achieve our main goal: to be around tomorrow to do business again.