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> Department > Home > Beef > Beef/Cattle > Profiles
Beef/Cattle Extension Program

Rancher Profile: Details make the difference at the Curlew Cattle Company

by Jack Stivers, Lake County MSU Extension Agent

Describe your operation

"Howard's 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 size.

Photo: Howard 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 irrigation schedule.

How does your ranch differ from others In your area?

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 result.

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," he said.

Beef: 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

View Text-only Version Text-only Updated: 08/14/2009
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