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
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
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