Growing up the son of a working cowboy, Jim Keyes thought he’d be a cowboy all his life, and he did a little of it when he was first married — until he realized “you can’t make any money,” he said.
But years of watching his dad practice low-stress cattle handling, long before the concept came into vogue, has influenced his choices ever since.
It’s been the backbone of his teaching career at Utah State University, his work with ranchers and 4-H youths and his own cattle operation, where he raises red Angus on rangeland in the Four Corners area.
Keyes spends half of his time working with ranchers, and much of that involves working one-on-one to solve problems — usually in regard to public lands ranching, he said.
He also gives as many as 12 clinics a year on roping and handling cattle to cattlemen groups, private interests and feedlots. His goal is to help people with their horseback skills to enable them to better handle cattle, he said.
“Dad was a working cowboy; that’s where I started this way of handling cattle. It was very important to him,” he said.
He didn’t learn the low-stress techniques from sitting in college classrooms. And while there are a lot better ropers and horsemen, “being able to teach it is different,” he said.
Handling cattle in a less stressful environment for the animal is his primary goal, but his first message is safety — of the person, the horse and the cow, he said.
He told cattlemen at a clinic in Twin Falls last week that he wasn’t going to tell them anything they didn’t already know, but he hoped to have them step back and consider what they do in a different light.
Then he proceeded to work cattle in a calm, unhurried manner, pointing out how different techniques produce different results.
Low stress cattle handling is good for the animal, the beef the animal produces, the industry’s image and building consumer confidence, he said.
In addition to promoting good stockmanship, Keyes wants to help people realize the importance of ranch horses. All of the new research agrees range management and animal handling is best done by a man on a horse, he said.
“I’m helping them be better horsemen, stockmen. That’s where it’s at for me,” he said.
While a lot of people are using four-wheelers to tend their herds, the man on horseback taking care of cattle on the range will never be replaced. There are just some places you can’t get to any other way, he said.
Keyes said his work brings a lot of satisfaction.
“It’s nice to be able to help people with their problems and solve that issue,” he said.
He also wants to help the next generation of cattle producers and developed a curriculum for young 4-H members titled, “4-H Working Ranch Horse: A Practical Guide to Livestock Handling.”
The book is in its third edition and is being used in many states and Canada.
Profession: Utah State University Extension range and animal scientist
Business: Keyes Cattle Co.
Home: Monticello, Utah
Family: Wife, Linda; six children; six grandchildren
Education: Master’s and bachelor’s degrees in animal science with a minor in range management, Utah State University; post graduate work in agricultural economics, University of Arizona
Affiliations: Member and past vice president, Utah Cattlemen’s Association; committee for private property and public lands rights, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association