One thing about WLJ Ranch Tours is that, when we go somewhere, we’re always blessed with good weather. Last week we hosted 150 ranch folks on a weeklong tour of north central Montana. The week before it was cold and wet. While we were there, we didn’t have a drop of rain until the last day when we had a light five-minute hailstorm.

We had beautiful weather for touring some of Montana’s finest livestock operations. We visited the Castle Mountain Ranch, run by the Fryer family for an absentee landowner, who is lucky to have the Fryers carry on Western culture and improve the landscape. They were regional winners of the Environmental Stewardship award. They run an Angus cow herd in what they consider rough country; it looked very productive to most of us on the tour. A big attention-getter were the draft horses they use to pull a hay sled for winter feeding.

Next, we visited Ehlke Polled Herefords who got their start purchasing the Bayers’ Hereford herd nearly 20 years ago. They showed us a very consistent cow herd that thrived in hills north of Townsend. Everybody in the family is involved in this ranch operation.

Then we traveled west to Helmville to visit Mannix Ranch, which is also a family operation. They are working to produce Choice grass-finished beef, which they market within the region. They use a rapid rotation grazing system for their Angus-based cow herd. We then traveled across the valley to Meyer Company Ranch owned by Bob Meyer, who started the ranch in the 1990s with a Red Angus cow herd. They now operate one of the largest natural beef programs in the U.S. and Canada. A couple years ago Manager Jim Phillips decided to try and grow corn, at 6,500-feet elevation. They tried an irrigated circle of early-maturing corn to graze cows during winter. They use a hot wire fence to control grazing and can graze 200 head for 180 days.

The next day we visited the famous Ox Bow Ranch, which is a registered Angus operation right next to the Missouri River. The ranch dates to 1882 but has had many owners during its long history. The cow herd must work for a living covering this rough mountain ranch. We then traveled up to Great Falls for a bit of sightseeing. We took the group to the C.M. Russell Museum. Russell was perhaps the most famous Western artist of all time. When in Great Falls you must learn a bit about Lewis and Clark’s famous trek looking for the Northwest Passage. The group enjoyed a fabulous prime rib dinner at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center on the Missouri River, where the two explorers had to portage the five great falls.

The next morning, we dropped by Historic Fort Benton, which was once the center of commerce in the Northwest. Initially it was a trading post but quickly became a river port for hundreds of steamships running goods up and down the river from St. Joseph, MO to Fort Benton. The railroads quickly killed the riverboat business. We visited the IX Ranch, which covers over 100,000 acres in Big Sandy and the Bear Paw Mountains. The Roth family runs the ranch and is very conscientious about grazing plans. Rich Roth manages the grazing with his smart phone. They have been using Leachman genetics for over 20 years with great success.

On Friday, we visited the Curry Ranch. Gene Curry and his family have put a very functional ranch together the hard way. They entered the business in 1988 with they’re first land purchase. Then an adjoining ranch came up for sale in a sheriff’s auction, and the expansion was on. By Gene’s own admission they had a lot of luck putting this ranch together. I’m not exactly sure how many acres they operate but it is a very efficient ranch with outstanding water rights. We then went to Hereford Mecca—Holden Herefords, perhaps the most famous Hereford operation in the world. Aside from the world-class genetics, this ranch is well watered, and they introduced us to a forage from Turkey—“sainfoin,” a bloat-free legume. Jack Holden told us he has some irrigated fields they planted 40 years ago that still produce three tons per acre on their first cutting. Then they graze off another ton-and-a-half.

Sieben Land and Livestock was our final stop of the tour, managed by the John and Nina Baucus family. This ranch also dates to the 1860s, and the Baucus’ have worked hard to maintain the living history on the ranch; they run sheep and cattle on this outfit.

You never know what you’ll learn on a WLJ tour, but I think we can guarantee good people, good weather and definitely a good time. — PETE CROW

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