For a man raised on a commercial cattle ranch, taking on the challenge of direct marketing beef to customers wasn’t something Lamont Herman thought he’d be doing. But as the business has grown into an operation that includes a storefront in Billings, Mont, he said it makes “total sense.”
“Putting on my best going-to-town clothes and sitting in a booth on a side street in Billings selling beef isn’t what I thought I’d do. I grew up on a horse and a tractor, but I like that our cattle are not getting filled full of shots and traveling 700 miles to feedlots,” he said. “In the course of their life, commercial cattle get on trucks five or six different times. There is a better way to do this.”
Montana Prime Meats sells seasonally at the Billings Farmers Market and they also opened a storefront located at 524 Liberty Street in Billings that is open seven days a week and sells beef, pork, and lamb to customers.
Lamont and his wife, Jennifer, along with their three children, Brooklyn, Jolene, and Colton, live on a ranch south of Billings that was founded by Lamont’s great-grandparents in the 1930s. The ranch had been a commercial cattle operation while Lamont was growing up, and although he went away to Sheridan College for two years, he was eager to get back to the ranch.
“I always wanted to be on the land where I am at today,” he said.
But looking to the future, Lamont knew that something would have to change if he wanted his kids to be able to have a part in the outfit. After many years in the cattle industry and 14 years of hauling livestock and feed as a truck driver, Lamont said he saw firsthand how much food was not staying close to its place or origin.
“I would haul seafood from the East Coast to the West Coast, for example. Lots of times we were putting wheels under something that didn’t need it,” he said. “But at that time, we were doing the same thing at home. We were selling our live animals and then buying cheap beef in bulk at the store. At one point Jennifer asked me why we weren’t eating our own beef, and if we were, why we weren’t eating the best of it?”
Lamont said when they decided to start eating their own beef and exploring direct marketing, they tried a variety of methods from grass-fed to grain-finished and also took a close look at their Angus genetics.
“We have spent a lot of time, over 35 years, examining our genetics to raise the best animal possible,” he said.
People are also reading…
One of the biggest challenges for the Herman ranch in getting into direct marketing was the amount of time they would need to hold over their calf crop until they were butcher-ready animals.
“The hard part was finding the right time to keep animals out of our revenue stream,” he said. “Instead of selling calves after they have been weaned off for seven months, we were looking at holding animals for up to a year and a half before it would generate money and be ready to kill.”
In order to make the leap, the Herman ranch looked at cutting their expenses and chose to only hold back 120 calves from the roughly 350-head herd.
“We knew just by selling to family and friends that we could sell two, three, or four animals at a time, but we wanted to really commit to selling more, so we tightened our belts and made it through that transition period,” he said.
Instead of selling the calves at 700 pounds, they held over the 120 head until they reached between 1,300-1,400 pounds, making a butcher-ready animal.
Lamont credits much of the success of the business to Jennifer’s marketing ability.
“Jennifer is a school teacher, but her family has been in sales for a long time and she has really helped to market what we raise,” he noted.
Moving forward, the ranch hopes to sell their entire calf crop on the direct market – either by selling whole or half beef to customers or cuts that are sold at the farmers market and at the retail store.
“We have put a lot of effort into our cows and calves and the butcher says he can see the difference in the texture and fat content,” Lamont related. “We are working to get a good product out there and are proud to have a Montana product staying in the state.”
For more info, visit montanprimemeats.com.