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

Rancher Profile: DeMars Ranch, Winifred

by Dave Phillips, MSU/Fergus County Extension Agent Describe your operation

"A 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 area?

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 EMT.

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. 

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 beefcncl@mt.net

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