A prestigious new degree in range management at Montana State University may not be that easy to get into.

“We want that student who is passionate about ranch management, has critical thinking skills and a strong work ethic,” said Patrick Hatfield, head of MSU’s Department of Animal and Range Sciences.

The Dan Scott Range Management degree, a brand new degree, is the result of years of work by the top cattle organizations in Montana, including the Montana Stockgrowers, ranch owners in the state, and other stakeholders.

“In 2015, The dean of MSU’s college of Agriculture was approached by representatives of the ranching community and allied associations to investigate both the need and structure of a ranch management program at MSU,” Hatfield said. “As a result, a working group of ranchers, ranching agencies and academic representatives was tasked with assessing the need and detailing what the program might entail.” 

In 2016, a MSU College of Business survey of more than 200 individuals, mostly in the ranching industry, showed there was a great need for the degree at the university.

The survey found that existing family ranches had the greatest need for a ranch management graduate, but it also found that the degree program was something the entire ranching industry desired.

“The survey showed that the need for the degree was not only increasing rapidly, but that it could be effectively be addressed at a bachelor of science level, so long as it integrates systematic thinking education with learning through experience,” Hatfield said.

No one can apply for the degree program until their sophomore year, and all students interested in the degree must spend their sophomore year on campus at MSU.

“We want the students to gain that ranching community spirit of working and learning together as one unit,” he added.

While students could attend their community college for the freshman year in their hometowns, they must be in Bozeman for the sophomore year.

“We aren’t expecting to have a large class. We’re not going to sacrifice quantity over quality. Only the very best students will be accepted into the range management program,” Hatfield. “We want to set these students up with a foundation for lifelong learning.”

Students accepted need to show that range management is truly their chosen career.

“If they haven’t had experience in ranching, I would recommend they work at a ranch for a summer. We only want students who are passionate about the ranching industry, because only the most committed are going to be succeed,” he added.

The main reason students in the program must be willing to work hard is the degree will use a systems-level approach, with a strong emphasis on business and economics.

In addition to economics and business, the curriculum combines animal science, livestock management and industry, and ranching systems with natural resources and rangeland ecology.

In addition, a ranching management internship for two summers at a top ranch in Montana will be a main focus of the program.

“The internship should have major impact on students. Students will need to be good at communication, because they will need to become teachers, as well,” Hatfield said. “We expect them to come back from their internship and teach us all about that operation, so everyone learns. We are calling it ‘flipping the classroom’.”

Internships will reflect the diversity of the ranching industry in Montana.

For example, students may be matched to seedstock operations, commercial cow/calf operations, grazing intensive operations, grass finishing ranches, ranches that keep their livestock out on the range 365 days a year and employ winter grazing, or any one of the large number of other diverse ranching operations in the state.

Students will be expected to learn to manage the land resources well, using good soil regenerative health principles to keep stewardship of the land for future generations a major focus.

The program, while in the works for years, was finally brought into reality by a gift from Dan Scott’s daughter, Risa. She gave MSU a $2 million gift in 2018 in her father’s honor to support the program.

Dan Scott managed his own ranch before becoming the CEO and manager of the Padlock Ranch, which he managed for more than 50 years. The Padlock Ranch, located between Montana and Wyoming, is an esteemed ranch that has won many stewardship and conservation awards. After retiring from the Padlock Ranch, Scott purchased a new ranch near Pompey’s Pillar and also developed a feedlot at Custer.

“The legacy of Dan Scott and the Padlock Ranch with their commitment to the land, people, and the Montana Ranching Tradition represents the skills, values, and commitment our graduates will bring to Montana agriculture,” Hatfield said.

With the addition of the Scott gift, MSU has raised a total of $3.5 million for the program. The goal is to raise $6 million.

Hatfield said to ensure the program fulfills what the ranching community needs, they are currently in the process of hiring a Ranch Management Program leader.

“That person will lead the entire program, and we expect to hire someone very soon,” Hatfield said.

The Montana Board of Regents earlier approved the Dan Scott Ranch Management Program.

In the future, the program may also include outreach workshops and professional networking for the ranching community.

The ranching systems degree will be housed in the Department of Animal and Range Sciences in the MSU College of Agriculture.

Most likely, the first sophomores in the ranching management degree will be freshmen in 2019 and apply for the degree as sophomores in 2020.

Hatfield has been teaching at MSU since 1996, and has been the head of the Department of Animal and Range Sciences since 2015. Before joining MSU, he had significant experience in ranch management. He spent eight years at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Idaho, and worked on a ranch in Wyoming. He did his master’s degree working and lambing on the range in New Mexico where he slept in a tent and stayed out on the range 24 hours a day. Hatfield received his doctorate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

For more information, contact Pat Hatfield, Department of Animal and Range Sciences, 406-994-4850, hatfield@montana.edu.