Beef/Cattle Extension Program
Rancher Profile: DeMars Ranch, Winifred
by Dave Phillips, MSU/Fergus
County Extension Agent Describe your operation
lot of time and resources have gone into water
development and stock watering systems."
The DeMars Ranch began in the Winifred area in March
1963, when Tom and Jackie purchased the Gus Nelson place
on the Missouri River northeast of Winifred. They began
with 85 head of cows and rented a house in Winifred
during the school year so the kids could go to school.
Since that time, the ranch has gradually expanded to
include the Carson place (now considered the home place
where children Joe, Jodi, Rebecca and Samantha live),
the Williams place, the Judith River place (where Tom
and Jackie live), and the Brooks place.
Sons Tom and Kenny also live in the area. Tom does custom
farming and some trucking; Kenny owns and operates a
livestock and grain trucking business. The oldest son,
Kim, is the Vocational Agriculture teacher in Malta
and works on the ranch during summers. Another son,
Brian, operates a farm/ranch supply business in Dillon.
Daughter Denise lives in Great Falls.
Photo left to right: Three generations
of the DeMars Family: Samantha, Joe (holding Rebecca),
Jodi, Tom and Jackie DeMars.
"A lot like other operations in this area" is how Joe
and Tom describe the ranch. It is a diversified cattle
and grain operation with the focus toward the cattle.
Replacement heifers are raised on the ranch so they
have complete control over the genetics. In 2002, steer
calves averaged between 640 and 650 pounds. One heavy
load averaged 675 pounds. About two-thirds of all spring
seedings are focused toward forage production. The irrigated
land on the Judith River place is all in alfalfa hay
production under a combination of center pivot, side
roll and hand line systems.
When buying bulls, "we pay a lot of attention to genetics",
says Joe. "We maintain a herd with more frame than some
of the other operations in the area. When we buy bulls,
we look first at the visual conformation ("length, depth
and overall muscle") and then we check the numbers
for weaning weight, birth weight, scrotal circumference,
yearling ratios and milk." The Angus cow herd is
heavily influenced by the Traveler, EXT, and Triple
Threat bloodlines. Some cows were artificially inseminated
one year to raise some replacement heifers. Otherwise,
the breeding program relies solely on natural service
in a pasture breeding system. For the past eight or
nine years, calves have sold on the video auction.
The ranch is also known for always having good horses
and being well mounted.
How does your ranch differ from others in your
The ranch keeps a lot of winter grass; the cattle are
on grass from mid-May through December. According to
Tom, all the ranches are well-watered. A lot of time
and resources have gone into water development and stock
watering systems. The irrigated hay ground along the
Judith River gives the ranch a fairly consistent hay
base. Over the last few years, a consistent supply of
winter forage has been a challenge for many ranches
in central Montana.
What has been your most effective management
strategy in recent times?
According to Tom and Joe, work on renovating range and
pasture lands has been productive. Sagebrush management,
mechanical renovation of some rangeland, and the seeding
of some of the most highly erodable fields to improved
pasture have been their most effective practices. Improved
pasture seeding mixes, which can be used either for
harvested hay or grazing, have included several different
wheat grasses, creeping alfalfa, and sweet clover. Tom
says, "The recent dry years have been tough on the range
and pastures. It kills me to see the way we've had to
use our range these dry years".
Water development has been another effective management
strategy. "We need to concentrate on better management
and improvement of what we have rather than lease pasture
or more land," says Joe. A local marketing club, consisting
of neighboring cattle and grain producers, helps Joe
analyze costs of production. The break-even cost on
calves for the last two to three years on the DeMars
Ranch is about $450 to $470.
Incidentally, Joe serves as secretary of the marketing
club, is a director for the Fergus County Livestock
Association and is currently in training to become an
What is your biggest challenge?
"Weather! If we get rain, we're alright," says Tom.
Markets can be managed to a degree. The tools are available
if we want to use them. Sitting at the kitchen table,
Tom said, "It has been a long hard road but I'd probably
do it again". Jackie adds, "It has been good to us."
What do you think are the biggest challenges
to the livestock industry?
Global trade, imports, packer concentration, and the
importance of Country of Origin Labeling are some on
the greatest challenges seen by the DeMars family.
Questions & Answers is a joint project between
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