Beef/Cattle Extension Program
Rancher Profile: Details make the difference at the
Curlew Cattle Company
Jack Stivers, Lake County MSU Extension Agent
Describe your operation
cows are also under strict guidelines to produce
offspring that consistently perform well in the
feedlot and yield a top-quality carcass."
Located two miles west of Dixon, Mont., is the Curlew
Cattle Company, owned and operated by Howard and Lynn
Moss. They have owned the operation since 1976 when
they purchased it from Lynn's parents. Lynn's grandfather
originally purchased an Indian homestead and ran it
as a dairy farm until 1948 when Lynn's dad started raising
beef cattle. Howard grew up on his own family's ranch
just across the Flathead River from where they live
today. This high-elevation ranch receives less than
15 inches of precipitation per year; however, irrigation
from Flathead River tributaries make hay production
and pasture irrigation possible, which gives the ranch
a higher carrying capacity than other operations its
and Lynn Moss raise Herefords near Dixon, Montana.
Recognized as leading commercial Hereford ranchers,
Howard and Lynn maintain over 250 cows. By taking advantage
of the superior Line One genetics, Howard focuses on
raising replacement females that produce low birth weight,
high weaning weights and good maternal characteristics.
Howard's cows are also under strict guidelines to produce
offspring that consistently perform well in the feedlot
and yield a top-quality carcass.
Now that their three girls and two boys are grown,
labor is a limited resource. Howard and Lynn work together
organizing each facet of their operation to use time
and effort to their best advantage. They calve the 2-year-old
heifers in February and cows in March so heifers get
the attention they need. Hay harvesting is done on a
50/50 share arrangement with a neighbor to reduce capital
equipment investment and save labor for their demanding
How does your ranch differ from others In your
Situated within the Flathead Indian Reservation, agriculture
in the area is dominated by tribal grazing districts.
Curlew Cattle Company is unique in the area, not only
for its straight-bred horned Herefords, but for its
concentration on strictly producing cattle.
What has been your most effective management
strategy in recent times?
The need to increase yields under the same or dwindling
conditions and physical resources has forced the Curlew
Cattle Company to remain on the cutting edge of an intense
breeding program. Howard applies concentrated line breeding,
paying attention to future industry needs and being
ready to fill those needs when they arise. This requires
diligent record keeping and research. Those efforts
have paid off by producing modern uniform Hereford cattle
that have notoriety within the breed and with crossbreeding
operations across the United States.
The breeding program is only part of the equation,
which also involves nutrition and marketing. High performance
genetics work best with a scrupulous feeding program
that meets the nutritional requirements of each age
group and production level of the herd. Marketing brings
it all together. The Mosses built a solid alliance with
the Wilson family of Trout Creek, a neighboring commercial
herd that also uses Line One genetics. Each family also
has built an alliance with two purebred seedstock producers
as their genetic suppliers, Holden Herefords and Cooper
Herefords. Predictably superior cattle have been the
Photo: Agriculture in the area of the Curlew
Cattle Company, situated within the Flathead Indian
Reservation, is dominated by tribal grazing districts.
What is the biggest challenge to your operation?
Even the most progressive producers realize that a
line breeding program progresses faster with a greater
number of cows. Herefords' high fertility helps with
the number of offspring per female per year, but reality
is that cattle have a long generation interval. Maintaining
a cow herd large enough on limited resources and increasing
quality is constantly a challenge.
Though the cost of hired labor is significant, the
biggest challenge is finding willing and qualified employees
on a seasonal basis. The work is certainly available,
but in the Dixon area, there are a finite number of
hirable people. This makes for extremely long hours
and the need for efficient planning in order to maintain
the attention to detail with which the Moss family operates
Curlew Cattle Company.
What do you think are the biggest challenges
to the livestock industry?
Although Howard and Lynn are positive about the future,
Howard points out "hazards to the cattle industry's
health:" issues that need to be monitored to protect
cattle producers' interests, such as the North American
Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and how the Endangered
Species Act laws can affect private landowners. He mainly
highlights the challenge to react positively to consumers,
stating that the cattle industry as a whole is making
progress in this direction, but a higher level of awareness
and sensitivity must be taken. Meeting the consumer's
needs, likes and demands, leads to repeat purchases
and perhaps beef loyalty.
"Let's not let any facet of the industry dictate
how beef should be produced, processed, prepared or
presented that doesn't appeal to the consumer,"
Questions & Answers is a joint project between
MSU Extension and the Montana Beef Council. This column
informs producers about current consumer education,
promotion and research projects funded through the
$1 per head checkoff. For more information, contact
the Montana Beef Council at (406) 442-5111 or at firstname.lastname@example.org