SPRINGDALE, Mont. – Whether grazing on native prairie grasses dotted with tiny wildflowers in the rocky, rough, high mountainous areas or grazing on the green tame and native grasses across the rolling plains, cattle in Montana have nutritious forages to feed on throughout the year and good hay when the snow is deep in the winter.
The cow/calf commercial herd and working ranch horses at Lone Star Land and Cattle Co., near Springdale in the southwestern region of the state, are fortunate to have both types of landscapes to graze in.
Taylor and Sophi Davis work on the ranch, with its vast landscapes, diverse wildlife and clean water. Taylor manages the ranch, while Sophi helps him and also manages the ranch owners’ homes and horses.
The couple has two kids: Ella, 4-years-old, who loves her cowboy boots, and a little cowboy, Hunter, 2-and-a-half years old, who could follow in Taylor’s footsteps one day.
The ranch is divided into three units. While weaned replacement calves are on their winter feed ground, the cows graze native grasses at the base of the Crazy Mountains. The ranch staff check water sources often and deliver loose mineral as needed.
“We’re trying to keep the cows up there until the snow pushes them down, so we can get as much use (of the grasses) as we can up there,” Sophi said.
Each year, the ranch puts up alfalfa and alfalfa-grass mix hay in the summer, so the cows will have hay as forage, usually from January to when the grasses are ready again in the spring.
“This year, we only took one cutting off our mountain hay pastures and left the rest for the elk,” she said. “This time of year the cows are kind of on their own unless we get a big snowstorm.”
This is a transitional year for the ranch.
“We’re hiring new staff, doing end-of-the-year records, talking to our veterinarians about next year’s immunization program, and looking at last year’s immunization program to see how we can tweak it,” she said.
Sophi added they were well below their carrying capacity, so they are planning to bring that back up over the next two years.
Ranch owners are focused on revitalizing the ranch, learning how to use the ranch’s natural resources in both a sustainable and profitable way, that will keep the land and water resources in good condition now and for generations to come.
Back at the ranch, Sophi said they weaned replacements and pre-conditioned calves in September, and shipped calves Oct. 10 to a sister ranch/feedlot in Wyoming.
“This is the first year we have shipped them to the feedlot,” she said.
In mid-October, they preg-checked the cows, culling all cows over 8-years-old, regardless of breed back. Usually in mid-December, they will bring the cows down the mountain to their winter feed grounds.
“We like to pull the cows out before it gets too deep, and we really shoot to not have to feed hay to the cows and horses until after January. That is our goal,” Sophi said.
When it is close to calving in March, they bring the cows closer into their calving lots. Calving officially starts March 8, which is also Sophi’s birthday, so Sophi usually knows what she will be doing on her birthday.
They calve in three units, with the Davis family calving out a group of 3-5 year-olds. Ranch hands at another unit within the Lone Star ranch calve out the heifers, and the rest of the cows are calved out by ranch hands at the upper ranch unit.
Part of the ranch transition will be a new grazing program, with the goal to improve the soil quality in grasslands and pasturelands.
They are also working with consultants on planting the kind of forbs and diverse plants that support bird nesting and wildlife, so both livestock and wildlife can thrive.
That already naturally happens, but they want to put more of a conscious effort into supporting and building a sustainable ranch with good soil health, good grasses, diverse plants and solid wildlife habitat.
That will be helped by irrigation, and the ranch has pivots and wheel lines for irrigation.
“We are changing from a pure commercial enterprise to one with infrastructure that supports both livestock and wildlife and stewardship of the land,” Sophi said.
The learning curve will be steep this year, but by the time the winter is over and spring is bursting anew, there will be new guidelines in place on the ranch.
“The grazing management will be important,” she said. “For two pretty traditional cow/calf kids, which is what we have been for most of our lives, it is kind of a steep learning curve. But stewardship is really important to us and the ranch owners, and we are dedicated to doing it the right way.”
Sophi and Taylor both have ranching in their backgrounds. Sophi grew up around racehorses and worked with performance horses before meeting Taylor. Her grandparents managed some of the historic ranch operations in the late ’60s and early ’70s, including Inverness Land & Cattle and the Silvertip Ranch near Yellowstone National Park.
Taylor is a fifth-generation rancher, who grew up on his family’s ranch in Paradise Valley, and he is a licensed big game outfitter, who guides private hunts for ranch owners and their guests.
Before returning to the ranch fulltime, Sophi was premium account manager for Montana Silversmiths. Recently, she was named Fellowship Director for the Art of the Cowgirl Fellowship program. The Art of the Cowgirl Fellowship Program encourages, promotes and invests in the development of emerging artists and makers engaged in the unique arts, trades and horsemanship of the western lifestyle.
Sophi is currently working with Tammy Pate to produce the Art of the Cowgirl event in Phoenix, Ariz., this February.
Last year, Sophi won the Montana Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Discussion Meet, with the final question or the final round being, “How can Farm Bureau help members with increasing legal and regulatory obstacles so they can focus on farming and ranching?”
Sophi said that one of the greatest benefits of belonging to Farm Bureau is that the organization condenses information on regulations to make it accessible and understandable.