HARRISON, Mont. – If you choose to raise cattle in Montana, you have to understand that the weather will most likely never be in your favor. As Chris and Jena Madrid caught horses on an early morning in late October, with snow spitting in their face, they were at least glad it was shipping day.
Chris and Jena are not your typical Montana ranchers. First off, they are a young couple, about half the age of the average Montana rancher. Most notably, however, is the fact neither of them is native to the state and neither of them really came from a livestock background.
Chris grew up in New Mexico. Although he claims he didn’t come from a family operation, he spent a large chunk of his youth working on farms and ranches in the area, gaining valuable experience. Chris took a job managing a ranch in eastern Colorado where he ended up meeting Jena, who had been born and raised in Denver.
Despite being a city dweller, Jena never felt like she belonged. Shortly after meeting, Chris was presented with a job opportunity in Montana. The couple made the move up north and ended up working for Sitz Angus outside of Harrison. Six years ago they bought 10 heifers from Sitz Angus and the rest, as they say, is history.
Fast forward to 2019, the Madrids are a full-fledged cow-calf operation. Chris and Jena do most of the work themselves, but occasionally call on others for seasonal help and on big days working cows. They currently run their cattle entirely on leased property, which keeps the couple constantly on the run.
“Our tire and fuel bill is pretty steep, but it’s not as bad as it could be. Most of our leases are within 40 miles of each other,” Chris said.
The fact the Madrids jumped into the cattle business in the middle of an ag depression has not deterred them one bit. Chris even pointed out that now is actually a good time to grow. The couple works hard and they supplement their cattle business through custom haying and fencing. In addition, Chris trucks cattle.
The Madrids might be relatively new to the cattle business, but they are already keen producers. This time of year they are busy with fall works, gathering cattle off of their BLM permits, weaning calves and of course, shipping. It’s a drag they have had to do most of this in the snow, but such is life for a Montana rancher.
Once the calves have been weaned, the Madrid cattle herd will graze for a couple months on some pivot ground that has not been hayed, but rather grown for fall and winter grazing.
“We like to leave those cattle out until at least the middle of December before we start feeding. We can get through the winter on about two and a quarter to two and a half tons of hay per cow,” Chris explained.
Looking ahead, the Madrids are transitioning a portion of their herd over to fall calving so they won’t be as busy during the spring. The Madrids started the process by giving Esturmate to a bunch of cows on Oct. 27. The Esturmate will help synchronize the cows so Chris can AI them. After that, it will be the normal rush to try and get things buttoned up before the ground freezes and winter really sets in.
Or is it already here?