FORSYTH, Mont. – As the official start of winter approached at Larsen Ranch Angus in eastern Montana, the weather stayed mostly mild with no snow.
At the ranch, Jim and Carin Larsen and their adult children and spouses, Wendy and Lafe Warren, Lori Vance, and Tyler and Tisha Larsen, and their families, operate the seedstock and commercial Black Angus business.
With the nice weather, feeding and other projects have gone a lot smoother than in other years where it had been well below zero by the end of December.
“The weather has been very mild, with temperatures in the 20s to high 40s,” Wendy said. “It has been easy to get around and feed the cattle.”
Every day, Tyler, Lafe, and Seth (Flack), ranch employee, start the day with feeding the animals.
“They go feed every day because the vegetation is dormant right now. We use the pivots to raise hay to feed the animals through the late fall and winter,” she said.
The pivots provide water to raise high quality alfalfa/grass hay.
“One of the pivots is in a pasture, and in the summer, the commercial cow/calves rotate into different paddocks within that pasture,” she said.
The pivot is able to go through a fence that the cows can’t, so it continues to water the paddocks and the pasture. It keeps the grass nutritious.
“The cows aren’t hard to move because when we open the gate they know there will be better forage in there, so they are anxious to go in,” Wendy said.
At the main ranch, Tyler and Seth feed the registered bulls and cows, while Lafe feeds the registered heifers and the commercial herd, located at Wendy and Lafe’s place.
Every other day, Jim continues to feed another bunch of the commercial herd in a separate pasture about 15 miles away.
During the third week of December, the guys, along with Tisha, worked heifers in groups.
“They brought the heifers into the chutes, bangs vaccinated them and freeze branded them,” Wendy said. They used liquid nitrogen to make the irons very cold and put the numbers on the hair. The hair turns white against the black coat.
Wendy explained most seedstock operations freeze brand their registered cows.
“It is another identification tool for when the heifers are out in the pasture,” she said. “We put in ear tags, too, but ear tags can be lost or fall off, and freeze branding is another insurance against that.”
Wendy talked about growing up with her siblings – her sister, Lori, and brother, Tyler – on the family ranch.
They became immersed in all facets of the ranching/farming operation. The siblings helped out when needed, and participated in 4-H through school with showing livestock, and making static exhibits, like sewing, cooking and other fun projects.
“We were in 4-H. While I was more into showing cattle, Lori liked horses, and she would bring a horse to show every year,” she said. “I showed horses for a couple years, but I enjoyed training and showing heifers, cows and steers. Tyler did everything – horses and cattle – he loved it all.”
When she was young, Wendy’s first idea for a future career came after watching the movie “Big.” She wanted to design toys – thinking of designing and engineering even back then.
After high school, Wendy went to Bozeman, graduating as a mechanical engineer at Montana State University.
“While I graduated as a mechanical engineer, I mostly worked as a civil and ag engineer,” she said.
After college, Wendy worked for the Rosebud Conservation District. Because the district works with NRCS, she learned from other engineers how to design and manage stock and pipeline water systems, including designing pivot systems for farmers and ranchers.
After four years with the Rosebud Conservation District, she was hired at the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) for the state of Montana as an irrigation engineer.
“In eastern Montana, there are some reserve water rights that people can apply for that predate the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (water irrigation map), and my job was to help out those farmers and ranchers who were interested in those water rights for irrigation and plan for the most efficient water system,” she said.
An efficient water system with a center pivot can make all the difference in crop and hay yields in the arid, often-dry eastern region of the state.
At the Larsen Ranch, Wendy used her engineering skills to help design the family’s pivot system.
“Our family put up four pivots on dryland acres 375 feet above the river’s elevation and about a mile and a three quarters from the river,” she said.
Connecting the pivots to Yellowstone river water required quite an ag engineering project.
“We had to bore underneath the interstate and the railroad,” she said. “We pump the water out of the river, underneath the interstate and railroad and to a pump station that pumps it up the hill (to reach the pivots). There are no open pits to make it a more efficient system. It was an awesome project.”
The four pivots at the Larsen Ranch work off a variable drive pump that pumps water through a pipeline to the irrigation system.
“The variable drive pump is only pumping out the water that is needed (to operate the pivots),” she added. As they turn the pivots off and on, the variable drive pump adjusts to meet the water demand.
After working for the DNRC, Wendy began working for the Bureau of Land Management full-time. She has worked there for 20 years in different positions, starting off as an engineer for the first nine years. Today, she is the administrator officer, managing the engineers and the administration staff.
“It keeps me busy and I enjoy logistics,” Wendy said.
The families have a long tradition of spending Christmas Eve together, usually at Jean Larsen’s home in Forsyth.
“We plan on spending Christmas Eve at my Grandma Jean’s with the entire family where we serve up a traditional Danish meal and oyster stew made from scratch,” Wendy said during her interview prior to the holiday. They also make pizza and roast beef sandwiches.
Wendy said the Larsens wanted to wish everyone a “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!”