GLENDIVE, Mont. – Take a look around this snow-topped ranch where draft horses gather at the fence, and baby lambs are born inside the nice barn – starting life inside upside-down recycled barrels with heat lamps to make it warm and cozy and the mommy ewe nearby in the jug.
“Oh, Duchess is coming up and she goes right by me and turns so she can have a belly rub. That what she likes,” said Leanne Hoagland, at the draft horse pen.
This is Big Sky Shires and Equine Services, a unique ranch outside Glendive in eastern Montana.
Leanne and Brett Hoagland built this multi-animal operation almost from scratch. Here they raise registered and commercial Hampshire sheep, draft horses, quarter horses, a few goats with bells, and mini Aussie dogs for working dogs on ranches.
The couple has a son, Connley, who is 12 and helps out as much as possible on the ranch. He is in 4-H, and raises lambs for the fair. Leanne is a 4-H leader, as well as an FFA teacher and ag education instructor.
In addition, Leanne offers online instruction in many horse education courses, such as nutrition for horses.
“We had our first online classes on choosing and purchasing online draft horses. Last Wednesday, we had equine nutrition and quite a few people signed up for that,” she said. “I love teaching certified online classes.”
In one large pen, beautiful draft horses with white manes and thick white hooves eat in a special net feeder, which keeps their nutrition and energy up.
Monty, Lacey, Bug, Duchess and Jazz are some of their draft horses.
“The horses have good snow on their back which means they are not losing energy from the extreme cold,” Leanne said. “We do all the foot care, too, on the horses.”
Leanne was born in Browning, Mont., and is a descendent of the Blackfeet tribe. Her parents moved around a lot, and her dad, John Pfizer, started the ag program in Hysham, and finally settled in Roundup as the Extension agent. Now he is a regional director for Montana State University Extension.
“When my family raised horses, we raised quarter horses, and later, kept saddle horses,” she said.
When she was a teen in Roundup, Leanne worked on the G-7 Bar Ranch.
“At one time they ran over 1,000 sheep and that is how my interest started in sheep. I enjoyed the sheep and loved the lambing. We fixed fence, farmed hay and raised cattle,” Leanne said.
She went to three years at Northwest College in Powell, Wyo. As a student, she worked in the lab as a meat lab technician and judged horses on the collegiate level. She competed at the 1997 World Quarter Horse show, with the team garnering the reserve championship, and Leanne finishing fifth.
Leanne finished her bachelor’s in ag education at MSU. At MSU, she competed on the Intercollegiate Horse team.
Then Leanne went on to receive a master’s degree in ag business at Kansas State University.
She met Brett in Bozeman at MSU. Brett graduated with a degree in pre-veterinary science and wildlife biology.
“After college, I got a teaching job at Chinook,” Leanne said. They went there, but Brett really wanted to be a game warden. “One way to get into being a game warden is to work in law enforcement, so Brett got a job in law enforcement here in Glendive.”
When they arrived in Glendive 13 years ago, they bought the Big Sky ranch for sheep and horses and leased some acres, too, for hay for the horses in the summer.
Brett started as a sheriff, but has been recently promoted to detective at the sheriff’s office in Glendive.
Leanne is currently teaching ag education and welding at Dawson High School. This is her first year, and she formerly taught at Dawson Community College.
In addition, Leanne is a certified addiction counselor, and they use the horses as equine therapy certified through the EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth & Learning Association) program.
“The first place I did equine therapy was at the regional prison in Glendive, where we brought in the horses and did addiction treatment with our inmates,” Leanne said. “We also have a contract with at-use risk for youth locally.”
Leanne explained how equine therapy helps.
“There is something about those draft and quarter horses that pull things out of people, and it helps them to trust, learn patience, and find they have feelings,” she said. “Some were afraid of horses, but eventually learned they can communicate with horses. It is a phenomenal process when they learn the horse’s body messages, as horses communicate with their bodies.”
When Leanne and Brett were not working off the ranch at their jobs, they built the ranch up to the nice, efficient buildings and pens the ranch has today. They did all the work themselves with help from their sons.
“We built everything paycheck to paycheck and are proud of what it is today,” Leanne said.
When they arrived at the ranch, it was really just a machine shed and one-third of a barn. They built two-thirds of the barn, adding recycled tin to the roof.
In addition, they built ram runs and pens for the horses and sheep, including a special space and individual pens for the large, registered rams.
“We have recycled a lot of material. The railroad tracks that run in front of us sold us railroad ties when they came by to do track maintenance,” she said.
Outside, they built all the pens. Inside the sheep pen are new feeders, which the Hoaglands “really like.”
They bought new feeders for the sheep, which they really like. They also have mineral and salt tubs.
Inside the barn, the sheep started lambing last month.
“We’ll have 50 head total this month,” Leanne said.
Inside the barns, they have jugs for the ewes that are lambing.
There are cameras in the barn so they can check on their lambing on their computers and phones.
“We have an ewe in her and she has twins that are wearing their little blankets (like a sweater) on them,” she said. “After the lambs are born, we dry them with a micro fiber cloth and an hour later put a blanket on them.”
The ewes have their lambs in little pens, and the lambs are placed in the bottom of turned-over recycled barrels Leanne bought the railroad.
“We tie the barrel to the back of the stall so the ewes won’t knock 'em over. They cut out a hole for the lamb and heat lamps are in every jug. Straw is placed in the bottom, and the lambs stay warm,” she said.
Brett hunts in Africa, and the big wood crate boxes that are sent from Africa are used for little pens in the barn.
“All the ewes and lambs eventually go in one pen, out of giant plywood boxes,” Leanne said.
When they are little, the lambs are put on creep feeders as soon as willing to eat some grain.
“We wean at eight to 10 weeks,” she said.
Connelly picks out whatever sheep he wants to raise for fair, and some are raised as replacements. Some are custom-fed for people, and the rest are raised as market lambs.
“We are selling lamb at the local Dawson County Extension food to table market,” she said.
The sheep are sheared after lambing because they lamb early and they want the ewes to keep their wool to stay warm.
“Brett does all the shearing himself. His dad and uncle used to run a shearing operation, so Brett learned how to shear,” Leanne said. “Brett has all the shearing equipment his dad used to use.”
On a typical cold winter morning, the animals are fed while Leanne walks through the ranch, checking mineral in the tubs and making sure “everyone is healthy and warm.”
Duchess is due to foal this month, and Glory is also due to foal.
Leanne watches Monty play in a pen with a sheep. The sheep would run with Monte to the end of the pen and Monte would turn around and chase her. Monte tires and watches over the fence.
In another video, the two Aussies, Eddy and Chevy bring the sheep into the barn with ease.
Leanne maintains a Facebook page that is very interesting and has many videos to watch.
“We have exciting things coming to both our Hampshire and Shire programs this year. Be watching this spring as we unveil new and exciting changes,” she said. “We all start somewhere with a dream and we work to build that dream. This year will mark big adventures and growth for our programs. As a family we have put a lot of time, energy and effort into our livestock programs.”
Big Sky Shires had a booth at the Glendive GATE show this year. Glendive-area farmers and ranchers and townsfolk stop by their booth to check out their products.
Leanne offers a full-service equine facility, specializing in producing Shire horses, offers clinics, lessons and overnight boarding.
Leanne is certified with the American Riding Instructor’s Association (ARIA) in Level II Western, Reining and Level I Hunt Seat, driving.
Leanne also has attained her Equine Breeding certificate through Colorado State University. She continues lessons and clinics in driving, reining, pleasure and English riding.
Check out Leanne’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/BigSkyShires) to find out about courses and watch videos of life on their ranch.
For more information, call Leanne at (406) 687-3004.