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Beef/Cattle Extension Program

Producer Profile: Cross Four Ranch—Miles City

by Kent Williams, Extension Agent for Custer County

Fred and Gwen Wacker moved to Miles City in 1974 with a milk cow, her calf, a saddle horse and a crate of chickens. This start led to a ranching and backgrounding operation in Custer and Rosebud Counties that keeps them and their family very busy. They are both third generation ranchers from the Roundup country. When Fred was a kid, he started with 4-H animals and during high school he began buying light calves and backgrounding them.

The home ranch consists of about 42,000 acres and they have long-term leases on two other ranches. They also run on BLM and state leases. The cow herd consists of home raised one iron cows that are roughly one-quarter Limousin and three-quarter Black Angus. The cows are fed 1,000 pounds of hay and 400 pounds of cake in the average winter with the remaining feed coming from grass. Fred feeds free-choice mineral at all times and believes this is critical to good breed up for his cows and good health for his calves as they enter the lot. Calving is done in April. All raised calves are sent to the backgrounding lot on the ranch and the lighter ones are kept over and run as yearlings the following summer. Fred believes this gives him great flexibility dealing with drought, as he can send yearlings early in a dry year and not have to cull very deep into the cows. All livestock work on the ranch is done horseback.

The ranch has a backgrounding lot with most of the hay and silage produced on the place and grains purchased. All of the ranch raised and purchased calves are source and process veri- fied with an EID tag in their ear. The feedyard is not operated year round with the heavy calves going to a finishing lot and the lighter ones going back to grass the beginning of May. The people that work in the lot during the winter help with the farming and ranching enterprises during the summer.

The ranch and lot are now producing natural beef having received no antibiotics, implants, ionophers or animal by-product feeds. Any cattle that do not fit this system are fed in a different pen and marketed separately. Over the years, the ranch has been a major supplier of Ranch Fresh cattle to the ConAgra feedlots and now is one of the largest suppliers of cattle to the Coleman Natural Beef program.

Fred is proud of the fact that the ranch and business are able to give his family the opportunity to work and be a part of the operation. Fred manages the cow side of the ranch and his wife Gwen is the bookkeeper and, according to Fred, the overall boss of the outfit. Son Mike and his wife Nicole are in charge of growing the corn silage for the feedyard and also operate a string of trucks to haul the cattle to the finishing yards. Daughter Sara is in charge of budgeting and records and her husband Shane Rehm operates the feedyard and grows the irrigated hay. Daughter Julie is in charge of human resources and employee benefits and her husband Brian Nowicki is in charge of marketing and risk management. Opportunities in the Beef Industry Fred believes the industry needs to move forward at all times and to continue to work on healthiness, taste and quality for the consumer. He also believes that we need to maintain the highest quality and safest product or we will not be able to trade and that producers need to be proactive instead of reactive to future problems. Along these lines, Fred supports being proud of your cattle and individually identifying them. Fred also believes that Country of Origin Labeling is needed and it is the number one issue facing the industry today. He feels that Montana beef is the highest quality beef in the nation and we need to market them as such – they should not be commodity beef.

Fred’s biggest issue of concern is that it seems to him that agriculture is usually used as the first trade concession to allow more imports into the country. Fred also believes that, in many cases, we fail to produce what the consumer wants. For example, we would be trading with Europe today if we would simply listen to what they want and produce cattle for their market raised without implants.

View Text-only Version Text-only Updated: 08/29/2006
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