RAPELJE, Mont. — Cali Rooney’s family ranch has a history much like other Montana operations.
“My great-great-grandpa came over from Norway and homesteaded our place in 1913,” Cali said proudly.
Martin Opland left the motherland and decided that sheep would fair very well on the rolling grass hills of south central Montana, between the towns of Big Timber and Rapelje. He was right of course, and as the years passed he acquired more land and built up an operation that could sustain his family for over 100 years.
The last three generations of the ranch have been owned and mainly operated by the female decedents of Opland. So it was no question when Cali graduated from Montana State University in 2017 with a degree in agriculture education that she would carry on the family legacy as the fifth generation on her family place.
Cali married her husband, Tyler Rooney, in the summer of 2017 and the pair struck out to the ranch, remodeled one of the ranch’s original houses and started working the land and coaxing a living out of the same dirt that Opland himself had.
Quality, all Black Angus genetics are key to the Rooneys’ production goals. Cali’s parents, Calvin and Jodie Christensen, had worked over the years to develop a solid base herd so Cali and Tyler built off of that by purchasing some of the previous generation’s cattle. In addition, the duo bought short-term pairs and are in the throes of building on to the top-notch genetics already established on the ranch.
The Rooneys’ cattle all pack a very unique brand on their right rib. The brand, read as the “bracing bit,” was originally given as a gift to Martin Opland. The brand has remained in the family all these years and was given to Cali and Tyler as a wedding gift. Cali is proud of the brand, not only for its family connection, but the ties it has to Tyler and his family, as well.
Tyler was originally from Gallatin Gateway Montana and comes from a construction background. He was no stranger to various livestock prior to meeting Cali, but his construction and mechanical experience have made him a huge asset to the operation.
“The fact that I married into a construction family makes the brand even more special,” Cali stated.
Cali and Tyler are also very passionate about regenerative agriculture. Like the generations that proceeded them, Cali and Tyler plan to hold on to traditional operating practices while simultaneously making their own mark.
“It’s not just about sustaining where we live, but making it better,” Cali emphasized.
Growing up, Cali’s parents raised cattle and grew dryland wheat. Once Cali and Tyler came back, they wanted to focus more on the cattle side of the operations, but were also very cognizant of soil heath and condition. The couple decided to forego planting wheat and instead worked to develop and cultivate a fairly expansive cover cropping system that could be used for grazing the cattle.
The Rooneys graze their cover crops during certain times of the year in an effort to protect and sustain their native grasses. In addition to their cover crops, the couple also has several acres of dryland hay, which they bale to feed to their cows through the winter.
“My Grandpa Art used to always say, ‘What’s the best color of cattle? Fat cattle,’” Cali chuckled.
Although the Rooneys have shifted the operation to more of a cattle focus and they no longer grow wheat, Cali still jokes that she farms more now than she ever did before.
Spring is a busy time for the Rooneys. They are wrapping up calving while also being very busy planting the first round of cover crops. By the time it is all said and done, they will plant and farm about 2,400 acres. The next big thing on the Rooneys’ to-do list will be branding their calves and giving their cows all of their pre-breeding shots. At the same time, they will sort the steer and heifer pairs to run in separate pastures.
“We have a pretty extensive tagging system. When the calves hit the ground we distinguish if they are steers or heifers. When we let the cows out of the chute we just send them left or right, depending. We do the same with the calves,” Cali explained.
As if calving and farming won’t keep the couple busy enough. There is still fencing to be done in addition to the long list of other ranch chores that can now be completed since the weather has warmed up.