Originally Posted Spring 2008
Ranching and agriculture are a major part of Montana. Everywhere you go in the state you can find a ranch or farm ranging anywhere from 2 to 30,000 acres. Owning and running a ranch is like running any business, from dealing with the safety of your employees, to pay roll and taxes. Anyone can be a rancher, it just takes time, dedication, and hard work.
Ranching isn’t just a job, it’s more of a way of life. You have to be committed and willing to push through the hard times. Ranching involves raising some type of animal, and quite possibly the growing of something to feed these animals with, and can be done in vast locations, from the plains to the Mountains. In Montana, the most common animal raised is cattle, and most of them are beef cattle, meaning sold for consumption. Because you’re taking care of many large animals, they need a lot of dedication, time and energy. They will have to be looked after year round, and depending on the time of the year more or less time and energy will be needed. During the spring and summer, you have to worry about how much feed your cattle have, the amount of water needed for them to live, calving, branding, and vaccinating. In the winter, you have to haul hay to feed it to the cattle, chop ice so they can get to the water, and check the heifers for pregnancy, and make sure that they are healthy. The rancher wants the biggest healthiest calves he can get. To a rancher, his most important equipment is his truck and tractor, both can and are used daily. The tractors plow the fields, swath the hay, bail the hay, and haul the hay, just to name a few of the duties. When you’re ranching you make your money off your crop or sales from the cattle. Some ranches set up contracts with big firms or other ranches, and they sell to a set price for a set weight, while other ranchers just ship their cattle to the ring for a cattle sale a couple times a year. A sales ring is where the cattle are auctioned off to the highest bidder. Because there are only one or two sales a year, you get one or two paychecks a year, so keeping track of expenses is a must. The beef will be sold for human consumption, so they have to be within the USDA standards.
Like all businesses, ranching has laws, rules, and regulations. The government wants to know everything you own and use. You have to get all your equipment registered, and in some cases licensed. When shipping cattle, you have to get a shipping permit that states the sex of each animal, the weight, the vaccines that have been used, and destinations to and from where this animal has been, and will be heading. Because of the mad cow scare, each animal is tested and checked to make sure the animal is safe. You need a bill of sale for each animal or animals bought and sold. Also brands are very important. By having your cattle branded, it lessens the chance that your cattle will be stolen, and if they are stolen, the brand makes it easy to determine ownership, as no two brands are the same. Some people are trying to enforce a chip ear tag that would be inserted so that the government can track all animals. In certain areas you can only keep your animals on range for a certain amount of time.
All of the rules, regulations, and laws make this way of life more burdensome, as everything that you do in ranching, must be documented in some form. All the paper work needed to ship cattle, paying for the little fee to get the permits, and you have to tell a lot about the cattle that are being shipped. Another big burden is the cost of vaccines. A small bottle of vaccine can cost as much as $60-$100, and that may only be enough for 20 head of cattle. You must keep record of everything that you do with your cows. In some areas you can’t pasture your cattle for over a set amount of time. This can and is a major problem because you may not have enough water in other places, and because of regulations, you can’t keep your cattle close to the water.
Even though these laws are set and followed, there are ways of getting around them, or lessening the burden. Because Montana is not highly populated place, most ranching communities know the people who live in the area, and know whether or not the ranchers are good and honest. If a rancher is honest, they tend to get a few breaks on things. For example, instead of getting a ticket for not having a permit, I might get a warning, and a certain amount of days to correct the infraction. At supply stores you might get a discount for buying something in bulk, or for being a repeat customer.
Originally Posted Spring 2008